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Sandeep Singh: Lakhimpur Kheri, A Mini-Punjab in Uttar Pradesh
“If you look at the Terai region consisting of Shahajhanpur, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur, Bahraich, and Sitapur, the majority of farmers are Sikh. This region is called Mini-Punjab.”
October 6, 2021 | 2.5 min. read | Original Reporting
“Ye Sardar UP mei kahan se a gye (From where did these Sikhs arrive in Uttar Pradesh)?” some pro-BJP Twitter handles said after the Lakhimpur Kheri incident that allegedly saw a Minister’s son run over and kill four farmers.
While it is common for Modi supporters to add a communal tinge to every issue in order to other and demonize minority groups, UP Sikhs have stood out in leading the local Farmers’ Protest in what is a predominantly Hindu state with a large Muslim population.
How Sikhs came to live in Lakhimpur Kheri’s Tikunia, as well as the Terai Region which falls in UP and Uttrakhand, is a story worth telling.
29-year-old Jagpal Singh narrates an oral story he had heard from his grandfather and father. His family had come from Deviwala village of Punjab’s Faridkot district and settled in UP in 1955.
“My grandfather’s brother still lives in Punjab but we stay here in UP. We came to UP and ended up becoming locals. There was no agricultural land here then, only jungle. Those jungles were home to lions. Physically strong, and with help from family, our grandfather started working to turn it into cultivatable land. My grandmother and father used to help our grandfather.”
The government had actually invited Sikhs from Punjab in order to turn the barren land into more productive use, and in turn, transferred ownership rights to the Sikhs.
“At that time, Punjabis from Malwa, Majha, and Doaba regions of Punjab came to this area. Now you can here meet third to fourth generation of Punjabi farmers here.”
Jagpal Singh goes on to add, “if you look at the Terai region consisting of Shahajhanpur, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur, Bahraich, and Sitapur, the majority of farmers are Sikh. This region is called Mini-Punjab.”
Jagpal Singh too could not escape the IELTS craze and he is a resident of Australia, but he came back to Punjab two years after his father’s death to stay with his mother and focusing on farming. His brother and sister live in Australia.
It is actually hard to miss all the IELTS hoardings with smiling faces of Sikh students. Another reminder of Punjab where such hoardings are also a common sight. The signs almost felt like they were welcoming me and adding a layer of comfort to my new surroundings.
This is the same region Lovepreet Singh hailed from, the 19-year-old that was killed after being mowed down by cars during the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. He too was an IELTS aspirant. 100 meters away from his home are two houses belonging to Sikh farmers.
One of them belongs to 70-year-old Kulwant Singh. He was born in a village in Punjab’s Amritsar district. When he was just 5 years old, his father sold land in Punjab and came to UP’s Bilaspur. After selling land in Bilaspur, he bought land in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district.
“It was completely barren land. Our father and mother worked extremely hard to turn this land into cultivatable land. We used Bullocks to plough fields and sometimes hired tractors. People also worked with spades.”
Like Jagpal Singh’s recollection of his family’s oral history, Kulwant Singh remembers when the migration to UP started.
“The majority of Sikhs here came nearly 50 to 60 years ago. Initially, there were few Sikhs, and our homes used to be far and few between. Then more came from Punjab to till the land here and now our homes are close to one another.”
Although they may be hundreds of kilometers away from Punjab, Punjab still resides in them.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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