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JAR­NAIL SINGH (1973-2021) — The Man Who Threw A Shoe At In­jus­tice

May 14, 2021 | By

S P Singh is a se­nior jour­nal­ist who knows where the shoe pinches but has­n’t mus­tered up enough courage to hurl one at so many de­serv­ing faces he has come across in a quar­ter-cen­tury of jour­nal­ism. Hence, this trib­ute, re­mem­ber­ing and de­cod­ing the one act of Jar­nail Singh that the world will find hard to for­get.

THE SHOE FLEW, EVER SO GEN­TLY, in front of In­di­a’s Home Min­is­ter’s nose, land­ing with a thud to his right. A sim­ple act of dar­ing, a jour­nal­ist cross­ing the blurred pro­fes­sional line, if it ever ex­isted, be­tween be­ing a hu­man be­ing with a heart and a hard­core jour­nal­ist do­ing his job, caught the In­dian es­tab­lish­ment by the scruff of its neck and forced it to stare it in the face, the gross in­jus­tice it has meted out.

On that fate­ful af­ter­noon of April 7, 2009, Jar­nail Singh hurled his shoe at the face of in­jus­tice in ut­ter frus­tra­tion. A quar­ter-cen­tury wait for jus­tice, liv­ing among the vic­tims, watch­ing them cry­ing for decades does strange things to a sen­si­tive mind.

Jarnail Singh Journalist

Jarnail Singh

Jar­nail Singh’s shoe missed In­di­a’s Home Min­is­ter P Chi­dambaram, but it hit its real tar­get – the deaf, dumb, blind Brah­man­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment of In­dia whose con­science had so hard­ened that men like Jagdish Tytler and Saj­jan Ku­mar could be Lok Sabha can­di­dates of a po­lit­i­cal party that was se­ri­ously plan­ning to rule?

Con­gress giv­ing tick­ets to these men was a slap on the face of every man and
woman with a con­science, but the world only no­ticed the shoe Jar­nail Singh threw.

What are you sup­posed to do when a com­mu­nity keeps fight­ing for jus­tice fordecades af­ter more than 3,000 mem­bers were killed in geno­ci­dal tar­geted bru­tal bar­baric at­tacks on the roads of the na­tional cap­i­tal of In­dia, most be­ing burnt to death us­ing cy­cle tyres lit aflame? What are you sup­posed to do when in­quiry com­mis­sions set up by the gov­ern­ment of In­dia keep find­ing the same men guilty over and over again but they keep dodg­ing jus­tice? And what do you do when the party that shel­tered them for years makes them once again can­di­dates for thecoun­try’s Par­lia­ment?


Some­times, a per­son with a heart and fire in his belly con­cludes that these peo­ple are “jutti de yaar”.

And that de­serves much worse than a shoe.

Well, they got it then. Jar­nail Singh will be for­given a thou­sand times over by every right-think­ing per­son who may have had a mo­men­tary qualm about a jour­nal­ist breach­ing pro­to­col, not us­ing his pen but rather hurl­ing a shoe to make an ex­tra-or­di­nary state­ment about an ex­tra-or­di­nar­ily ap­a­thetic state.

Oh yes, some peo­ple did find it a very bad thing to do.

To those who found ug­li­ness in Jar­nail Singh’s ac­tion, our hum­ble sub­mis­sion is this: the hordes that the likes of Jagdish Tytler and Saj­jan Ku­mar led when they tracked, chased, beat, maim, kill, burn hun­dreds of Sikhs alive at a pace of three days in Delhi were not very dis­ci­plined and did not come like good guests, ask­ing for a cup of tea in the Sikh com­mu­ni­ty’s draw­ing-room, and per­mis­sion to rape the daugh­ters and kill the young ones.

The prob­lem with this coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, its me­dia in­cluded, was that it found the acts of Tytler and Jar­nail Singh equally rep­re­hen­si­ble. “Woh bhee bura tha, yeh bhee bura kiya Jar­nail Singh ne”; we heard in those days of 2009 when the com­mu­nity was mark­ing the 25th an­niver­sary of a mas­sacre most gory and In­dian elite was dis­cussing Jar­nail Singh’s act on a scale of shame­less­ness to ob­jec­tiv­ity.

Clearly, such bal­anc­ing acts, such pre­var­i­ca­tion, such in­no­cent de­vo­tion to the
higher prin­ci­ples of jour­nal­ism, such as com­mit­ment to clin­i­cal ob­jec­tiv­ity, bal­ance and de­tach­ment as vaunted virtues of the pro­fes­sion was a lux­ury for those whose sis­ter or mother had not been raped, whose son or brother had not been made to run for his dear life and then burnt alive as the fam­ily mem­bers watched. Or per­haps it was pos­si­ble for those to do so who never con­sid­ered the vic­tims as their sis­ters or moth­ers, their sons or broth­ers.

It is sur­pris­ing to see who all de­served a shoe each, thrown slightly more force­fully than Jar­nail Singh did.

The in­hu­man­ity of the Saj­jan Ku­mars and the Jagdish Tytlers had been matched by every one of those who could sit back and wal­low in In­di­a’s growth rates thought coun­tries be­came great by car­ry­ing out nu­clear tests or strik­ing nu­clear deals and that deep wounds of a com­mu­nity can be as­suaged by mak­ing a Sikh Prime Min­is­ter apol­o­gize to the Sikhs.

God, how many shoes do we need for all of them? The brave Jar­nail Singh threw one.

He is no more. He played his part, used his recog­ni­tion to un­der­line causes he be­lieved in, re­mained com­mit­ted to the com­mu­ni­ty’s cause, aligned with pow­ers he thought would do a shade more of jus­tice than the ones he de­tested and got his hands dirty in the rough and tum­ble of pol­i­tics.

He will be re­mem­bered for many other things, but he will be pri­mar­ily re­mem­bered by a grate­ful com­mu­nity and the brave sons and daugh­ters of In­dia an­gry with the sys­tem, for his one coura­geous act: a shoe he threw at bru­tal power.

He should have had more time. Be­cause he had an­other shoe, and there are many who de­served to be hit by a Jar­nail Singh.

The shoe missed Chi­dambaram but it did hit Con­gress hard; some said it ended up hit­ting Tytler who failed to save his nom­i­na­tion, then found the fo­cus of the ac­tivists back on him again, and went be­hind bars. That shoe was also thrown in the face of the ra­bidly na­tion­al­ist In­dian me­dia that for­gets about the geno­cide of the Sikhs till it is that time of the year again when Sikhs ran on Del­hi’s roads, sans tur­bans, some des­per­ately bor­row­ing scis­sors from neigh­bours to cut their hair.

Till he threw that shoe, Jar­nail Singh was a se­nior jour­nal­ist, not known for any ag­gres­sive streak, a fa­ther of two, a hap­pily mar­ried man who touched his moth­er’s feet every day be­fore go­ing to the of­fice. He was not even ra­bidly anti-Con­gress and was quick to un­der­line that his method may have been wrong but the is­sue was not.

The is­sue, Jar­nail Singh, was most cer­tainly not only “not wrong” but rather com­pletely, ab­solutely the most cry­ing one to be taken up. Jar­nail Singh had taken up the is­sue. No one was lis­ten­ing. He was an­gry, deep in­side. Then came along Chi­dambaram on that omi­nous af­ter­noon, ex­press­ing hap­pi­ness that the CBI had ex­on­er­ated “my col­leagues.”

And rage boiled over. The shoe came off. Jar­nail Singh let it fly. And the is­sue was back in fo­cus. The shoe had hit be­cause he had rage.

Rage is the miss­ing el­e­ment from jour­nal­ism to­day. Rage is what we need the most against con­tin­u­ing un­re­lent­ing in­jus­tice.

The prob­lem with in­jus­tice is that it does not ex­ist in a vac­uum. In­jus­tice hap­pens in a so­ci­ety, not in iso­la­tion. Its af­ter­math is a real mea­sure of a so­ci­ety. Does it pull to­gether its act to mit­i­gate in­jus­tice, or does it in­crease its ca­pac­ity to see, ab­sorb and be at peace with even more of it?

Jar­nail Singh’s shoe was aimed at every one of those who went on In­dian TV chan­nels within min­utes of the in­ci­dent to say that “Sikh com­mu­nity mein barra ros hai, bahut anghish hai”. “It is an eye-opener for Con­gress about how frus­trated the Sikh com­mu­nity is a lack of jus­tice,” the BJP spokesper­son was say­ing. The best and the bril­liant of In­di­a’s journos and TV an­chors took due note of “Sikhs’ anger.”

Thank you very much. Just make a note. That shoe was meant for you, too. Each one of you.

Why has this an­guish re­mained lim­ited to the Sikh com­mu­nity? Is it only the re­spon­si­bil­ity of a bunch of poor wid­ows ek­ing out a liv­ing at the edge of sub­sis­tence to sit down cross-legged on the roads every Oc­to­ber 31 and beat their chests to de­mand that jus­tice must be served?

“Pun­jabi bhaichara bahut gusse mein hai.” The inanity makes it to air­waves every time you bring the is­sue of geno­ci­dal killings of Sikhs into any de­bate, with­out re­al­is­ing that it was an in­sult to Madrasi bhaichara, Gu­jarati bhaichara, Tel­ugu bhaichara, Oriyya bhaichara, every bloody bhaichara that thought killing peo­ple of any re­li­gion on the streets riles only one bhaichara. Is that why we do not have enough rage against what has been hap­pen­ing to Mus­lims in In­dia ever since the the ad­vent of Naren­dra Modi to na­tional promi­nence?

Then, we de­serve that other shoe. That other shoe was meant for every Maya Kod­nani, every Babu Ba­jrangi, every killer politi­cian no mat­ter how high up the lad­der. That shoe was meant for those who for­get what the com­mu­nal Hin­dutva jug­ger­naut is do­ing to hun­dreds of thou­sands of Mus­lims. That shoe was meant forthose who poi­son our young.

Jar­nail Singh hurled that show at the face of in­jus­tice.

Jar­nail Singh had a pair. He threw one, he is still hold­ing on to the other. Close your eyes and vi­su­al­ize Jar­nail Singh, white tur­baned, olive green shirt, flow­ing beard, not great with aim­ing shoes, hav­ing prac­tised only once, and with an­other shoe in hand, and so many who de­serve to be hit hard. Look within your­self. Are you also the one who he may aim at? Be care­ful. He has had some prac­tice, and he may hit harder this time.

We mourn him, and we cel­e­brate his rage.

May he launch him­self into a thou­sand fights in the nether­world that can do with some rage, a shoe in hand, his heart, as al­ways, in the right place.

Note:This writeup was previously published by The World Sikh News at source url – It is reproduced here for the readers of the Sikh Siyasat News.

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