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Remembering a radical poet , Paash who died on March 23 for opposing fanaticism

Courtesy, People’s Forum Bargari, Punjab

Courtesy, People’s Forum Bargari, Punjab


Twenty-eight  years ago when leftists across the world were commemorating the hanging of Bhagat Singh—a towering revolutionary who fought against the British occupation of India—another progressive voice was silenced by the terrorist bullets in Punjab, India.

Paash, whose real name was Avtar Sandhu, was gunned down by Sikh separatists on March 23, 1988.

It was a sheer coincidence that his murder came on a historic day that commemorated the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, Rajguru and Sukhdev, who were hanged together by the British government on March 23, 1931. But the political ideology of Paash, who was born in 1950, made him inseparable from them.

True to his commitment toward the secular and progressive ideology of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, Paash was assassinated for his writings, which opposed religious fundamentalism. Much like Bhagat Singh, Paash was opposed to religious fanaticism of every shade and pulled no punches while criticizing both Hindu and Sikh extremists.

Yet the terrorists, owing allegiance to the Khalistan Commando Force seeking a separate theocratic Sikh homeland, shot him dead. His death shocked secularist Punjabi scholars in B.C. where a Paash Memorial Trust is still active and continues to hold events in his memory once a while.

Although Paash lived in California, he never made it to Canada. He was visiting India at the time of his murder.

It was thanks to Maxim Gorky’s Mother that Avtar Sandhu came to be known as Paash. Born in a peasant family, he loved to identify himself after Pasha, the hero of the classic novel by the same name.

This pen name gave him a new identity which remained with him until his assassination. There were some striking similarities between legendary Pasha and Paash as both stood for the working class and opposed both the establishment and theocracy.

Paash started writing poetry during his early teens and was an ardent reader, who had a personal library that housed books on range of subjects including science, philosophy, and literature. Though he wrote essays and published two Punjabi journals, Haak and Anti 47, as well as a “wall newspaper“, he gained much prominence as a poet. His poetry was so popular that its translation from Punjabi into other languages attracted attention widely, both outside Punjab and all of India. Even some Bollywood stars were among his admirers.

In the late 1960s he became involved in the youth wing of the Communist Party of India, but slowly he became fed up with its politics and instead joined with supporters of the ultra-leftist Naxalbari movement. It believed in an armed struggle for the sake of landless farmworkers.

He borrowed the idea of publishing a wall newspaper from Chinese revolution. It is a separate matter that he was not a sectarian leftist and remained critical of the flaws within Communist parties and groups.

Paash was briefly jailed for being a Naxalite but this did not deter him from writing for poor and against state repression. His poems were frequently smuggled out of prison and published. His rebellious poetry was widely circulated among the youngsters. Even a section of police and bureaucracy was influenced by his poetry.

It is not surprising that the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party of India, opposed an attempt to include one of his highly provocative poems in the school curriculum. Paash also opposed the state of emergency imposed by the Congress government from 1975 to 1977, and expressed his anger at the then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in his poetry.

He even returned a paycheque to a Hindi newspaper that censored lines about Gandhi in his poem as a mark of protest.

It was his journal Anti 47 that provoked the Sikh separatists. Since he studied a lot, he questioned and denounced their separatist ideology by quoting from Sikh scriptures. He shamed them by arguing that the real Sikhism was all about equality and compassion—and not fascism.

The title of the journal symbolized a challenge to another attempt to divide India on religious lines like in 1947, when Muslim Pakistan was separated from India.

As a result, he was gunned down by the extremists in his native village Talwandi Salem. As one says, you can kill a person but not an idea. Paash may have been murdered physically, but his rebellious rhymes will continue to live.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Canada’s 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings


Paash’s poetry recitation at the Martyrs Day Memorial Function organised by Indian Workers Association Great Britainat Summerfield Community Centre in Smethwick, England on 05-04-1987 . This was the function where Paash for the first time recited his last poem SAB TON KHATARNAAK HUNDA HAI.

Kirat di lutt ,Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi
Police di kutt,Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi 
Gaddaari-lobh di muth,Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi

Kapat de shor vich
Sahi hundia vee dab jaana,Bura tan hai
kise jugnoo di lo vich padan lag jaana,Bura taan hai
Sab ton khatarnak nahin hunda

Sab ton khatarnak hunda hai
Na hona tadap da
Sabh kujh sehan kar jaana
Ghar ton niklana kamm,
te kamm to ghar aana

Sab ton khatarnak hunda hai,
Saade supniaan da mar jaana




Mehnat ki loot sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Police ki maar sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Gaddari, lobh ki mutthi sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Baithe bithaye pakde jana bura to hai,
Sahmi si chhup me jakde jana bura to hai,
Par sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.

Sabse khatarnak hota hai murda shanti se bhar jana,
Na hona tadap ka, sab kuch sahan kar jana,
Ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se loutkar ghar aana,
Sabse khatarnak hota hai,
Hamare sapno ka mar jana.

Sabse khatarnak woh ghadi hoti hai
Tumhari kalai pe chalti hui bhi jo
Tumhari nazar ke liye ruki hoti hai

Sabse khatarnak wo aankh hoti hai
Sab kuchh dekhte hue bhi jo thandi barf hoti hai
Jiski nazar duniya ko mohabbat se chumna bhul jati hai
Jo chizo se uthati andhepan ki bhanp par phisal jati hai

Sabse khatarnak woh chand hota hai
jo har katla kand ke baad
sune angan me nikalta hai
par tumhari ankho me mircha sa nahi chubhata

Sabse khatarnak woh disha hoti hai
Jisme aattma ka suraj dub jata hai
sabse khatarnak hota hai sapno ka mar jana

Excerpts from a poem “Sab ton Khatarnak” by a revolutionary poet Avtaar Singh Paash.He was killed by khalistani millitants in 1989.

अपनी असुरक्षा से

यदि देश की सुरक्षा यही होती है
कि बिना जमीर होना जिंदगी के लिए शर्त बन जाये
आंख की पुतली में हां ,के सिवाय कोई भी शब्द
अश्लील हो
और मन बदकार पलों के सामने दंडवत झुका रहे
तो हमें देश की सुरक्षा से खतरा है.

हम तो देश को समझे थे घर-जैसी पवित्र चीज
जिसमें उमस नहीं होती
आदमी बरसते मेंह की गूंज की तरह गलियों में बहता है
गेहूं की बालियों की तरह खेतों में झूमता है
और आसमान की विशालता को अर्थ देता है
हम तो देश को समझे थे आलिंगन-जैसे एक एहसास का नाम
हम तो देश को समझते थे काम-जैसा कोई नशा
हम तो देश को समझते थे कुरबानी-सी वफा
लेकिन गर देश
आत्मा की बेगार का कोई कारखाना है
गर देश उल्लू बनने की प्रयोगशाला है
तो हमें उससे खतरा है

गर देश का अमन ऐसा होता है
कि कर्ज के पहाड़ों से फिसलते पत्थरों की तरह
टूटता रहे अस्तित्व हमारा

और तनख्वाहों के मुंह पर थूकती रहे
कीमतों की बेशर्म हंसी
कि अपने रक्त में नहाना ही तीर्थ का पुण्य हो
तो हमें अमन से खतरा है

गर देश की सुरक्षा को कुचल कर अमन को रंग चढ़ेगा
कि वीरता बस सरहदों पर मर कर परवान चढ़ेगी
कला का फूल बस राजा की खिड़की में ही खिलेगा
अक्ल, हुक्म के कुएं पर रहट की तरह ही धरती सींचेगी
तो हमें देश की सुरक्षा से खतरा है.
(from here)

Apni Asuraksha Se

Yadi desh ki suraksha yahi hoti hai
ke bina zameer hona zindagi ke liye shart ban jaye
aankh ki putli mein haan ke sivaye koi bhi shabd ashleel ho
aur mann badkar palon ke saamne dandvat jhuka rahe
toh humein desh ki suraksha se khatra hai.

hum toh desh ko samjhe the ghar-jaisi pavitr cheez
jisme umas nahi hoti
aadmi baraste meh ki goonj ki tarah galiyon mein behta hei
gehun ki baaliyon ki tarah kheton mein jhoomta hai
aur aasmaan ki vishaalta ko arth deta hai
hum toh desh ko samjhe the aalingan-jaise ek ehsaas ka naam
hum toh desh ko samjhe the kaam-jaisa koi nasha
hum toh desh ko samjhe the qurbaani-si wafa
lekin gar desh
aatma ki begaar ka koi karkhaana hai
gar desh ullu banne ki prayogshala hai
toh humein usse khatra hai.

gar desh ka aman aisa hota hai
ki karz ke pahaadon se fisalte paththaron ki tarah
toot-ta rahe astitv humara

aur tankhvaaon ke moonh par thhookti rahein
keematon ki besharm hansi
ki apne rakt mein nahaana hi teerth ka puny ho
toh humein aman se khatra hai

gar desh ki suraksha ko kuchal kar aman ko rang chadhega
ki veerta bas sarhadon par mar kar parvaan chadhegi
kala ka phool bas rajah ki khidki mein hi khilega
akl, hukm ke kuen par rahat ki tarah hi dharti seenchegi
toh humein desh ki suraksha se khatra hai

From ‘Their Insecurity’ (Apni Asuraksha Se)

If ‘National Security’ means that a life without

conscience is the price for living,

And anything that is not a blind ‘yes’ to its dictates

is considered obscene,

And the mind learns to prostrate before adversity,

Then we are all endangered by ‘National Security’.

From ‘Most Dangerous of All’

Being looted of one’s labour is not the worst thing.

Nor is police torture.

Even betrayal out of greed

And arrest without warning

Are not the most terrible.


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