Earth, Water, Pyre
This chapter introduces the reader to how protagonists Bains, Kaur, and Jaijee developed and strengthened different creative strategies—individual and collective—to respond to conflict violence. They worked cautiously with non-Punjabi allies; supported local leadership even when respectfully disagreeing with immediate tactics; and promoted the necessity to resist injustice as a cultural value.
The chapter begins in 1995 (popularly held to mark the end of the armed conflict), and the enforced disappearance of Jaswant Singh Khalra, the champion of Punjab’s “disappeared.” It traces the legal battle pursued by his wife and human rights defender, Paramjit Kaur Khalra. While highlighting the anatomy of impunity, this case also, Paramjit explains, exemplifies old-school Punjabi yaari, friendship, which Jaswant’s allies and supporters have faithfully upheld for the many decades they have marched by her side.
As promised in Chap. 1, this chapter also journeys back to where the protagonists often begin recounting the saga of modern Punjab: the period of Sikh self-rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. From the close of Ranjit Singh’s life in 1839, through the game of thrones that followed his death, British annexation of Punjab (making it the last in the Indian subcontinent to fall to colonials), World War I, to rising Sikh disaffection against the colonials, this chapter travels till 1917.