By: GANESH SAILI
‘Like Saturn,’ rued a French revolutionary being dragged to the guillotine, ‘Revolution devour its own children.’
This came home to roost last week when a fellow fighter, a brave warrior of the Uttarakhand Movement – Rajendra Panwar – went away into the Great Beyond. Shabbier, poorer and dejected, I head to their family home in Landour where there are a few people gathered in a space where twenty-five years ago, you would have been hard pressed to fit into the throbbing nerve center of the movement for a separate hill state. This was where his father, the late Hukum Singh Panwar, the Convenor of its Joint Action Committee held meetings. Words fail me. They appear so petty that I cannot fathom how to express my grief.
How well I remember on August 2, 1994! An anti-reservation stir without warning changed track turning into a whirl wind for a small part to be carved out of Uttar Pradesh.
All of us (except a few wimps who insisted they were ‘guests-here’) were swept away by the tsunami that brought in its wake rallies, processions, dharnas and bandhs which blurred all political lines.
As I write, those long forgotten slogans still ring in my ears: Jai Uttarakhand! Aaj Do! Abhi do! Uttarakhand Rajya Do! and Jai Badri-Jai Kedar Uttarakhand ki ho Sarkar?
Two months later, September 2, 1994 arrived with a bang etching itself into collective memory. Gathered at a Children’s Park on the Mall, we were paying homage to those martyred the day before in Khatima. Mischief was afoot as a peaceful gathering found itself surrounded by menacing troopers of the U.P. Armed Constabulary. They were armed to the teeth: bayonets and rifles bristling. Forty-seven people were rounded up, shoved into trucks and trundled off to the police lines in Race Course, Dehradun, where as ‘special-guests-of-the-State’, they were mercilessly beaten – both young and old – by trainee police recruits. At midnight, herded into buses, they were taken through the dark on a horrendous journey to Bareilly Jail.
In Mussoorie, Rajendra Panwar along with others tried to pacify the youngsters. It was not to be. The police did what came naturally: they opened fire. When the cordite fumes settled, seven lay dead, including the soft-spoken Uma Kant Tripathi, Circle Officer of Police. Many others had gunshot injuries and were taken to the mission hospital.
That’s how I remember that fine fluff of a boy – Rajendra – soaked in his own blood from a bullet that had ricocheted piercing his lung and lodged close to the heart. Referred to a AIMS where he bravely clawed his way back. The voice, of course took much longer to return.
The first his father heard of it was from the screaming newspaper headlines while still in judicial custody. That more than anything else, to me was the tipping point; the die had been cast. There was no going back. Our hills had changed forever.
The new state’s creation saw a clamour for assistance by many who had suffered during the agitation. But this youngster stood his ground.
‘Why don’t you apply for a Statehood pension?,’ remembers Aaloke Malhotra, senior advocate and colleague. ‘Some friends suggested it to him.’
‘How can I?’ replied Rajendra. “Not whilst I have an income of my own.’
‘He was a saint – who lived like a saint!’ philosophically muses his old friend Sunny Sahni. ‘And he died like one – without a bother to anyone.’
Of course nearest the pain are the survivors: his ageing mother for whom he gave up everything to return home; there is Pamposh, the love of his life, a teacher of good standing in CJM Waverley and his son Abhijai, his joy and pride, who stands at the starting line as a third generation lawyer.
Often lives lived in the crucibles of small towns tell tales of lives well lived. Rajendra! As God holds you in the palm of His hand, we can only light a candle to dispel the dark. Nothing can ever cast a shadow on a family that gave of its life’s blood for the creation of this hill state. And revolution do devour their own children.
Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few who words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world wide.