‘My darling daughter!’
A husband and wife team who create and sing songs for communal amity and social change
On the night of September 25, 1986, Baldev Singh Mann, a communist–activist fighting the extremists in Punjab, was killed while on his way to his village, Chinna Bagga, in Amritsar district, to meet his one–week–old daughter. Reproduced below is the letter he wrote to his daughter the day she was born.
Welcome to the world my darling daughter! I got the news of your birth from your dadi (paternal grandmother) on the 18th (September 1986). While intimating to me the news of your birth, your grand–mother did not express the joy that she undoubtedly would have shown had a son been born in your place. Because you are a girl, your birth did not bring joy to our home. "So, the guddi (doll) has arrived", said your aunts in a sad tone as if nature had given me an unfair deal. Your uncles did not even speak to me today. Perhaps they think it’s best to say nothing in the circumstances. I am sure that my friends and comrades who share or empathise with my ideology will congratulate me and demand a party in celebration of your arrival. Your dadi is surprised by the congratulatory messages she has received from your mother’s natal family. "Whoever sends congratulatory messages on the birth of a girl?" is how she sees the situation. Your dadi is saddened by the fact that I stand ‘diminished’ with your arrival; a son, on the other hand, would have ‘added’ to my status.
My darling, I am not in the least surprised by their reactions for I am aware that in the present social system a girl is considered a burden, a source of indebtedness. I had heard and read a lot on the subject. Today, I am having to live through the same experience. Perhaps your dadi is even more saddened because in her view I am unemployed and useless. So, at least, you should have been born to someone with a proper source of livelihood. This is how society has been for centuries. The enslavement of women is an integral part of the feudal, capitalist system.
Dear daughter, your father is neither a good for nothing, nor worthless. He is busy in the struggle to change the present social setup where the birth of a girl like you is greeted not with joy but sorrow. There is no doubt that even many progressive–minded people, who are regarded as path–breakers and leaders, have in their practical life behaved in much the same fashion as is to be expected from hard–core reactionaries. But I have resolved to live my life in a fashion where there is no dichotomy between word and deed.
My lovely one, it will perhaps be a long time — only after you’ve grown up — that you appreciate the ideal of my life and the struggle that I am engaged in. Perhaps I have been unsuccessful in explaining to your mother till date that I am not killing time but am in fact investing it in the fulfillment of very lofty aims. I am struggling for the birth of a social order in which the shackles that enslave human beings are broken to bits, where the oppressed can heave a sigh of relief. The struggle is on for the emancipation of starving children, of women who are forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their bellies, of workers who trade their blood for bread, of peasants groaning under the crushing burden of debts. And in this battle for a new world, your father, too, is playing his humble role.
In the times in which you have been born, Punjab stands divided along communal lines. In some places people are being killed because they do not grow their hair long enough, while in others people are being burnt alive for precisely the opposite reason. Humanity is being butchered in the name of religion. Having created divisions among people, having initiated a Holi that’s being played with blood, the Devil is having a good laugh from a distance. My baby, in the moment of your birth your father is engaged in a battle against the forces of darkness. Such forces are conniving to banish every sun that could bring light into this world.
My darling young one, it is absolutely essential to struggle against such an evil conspiracy, even at the risk of one’s own life. I cannot be certain that in this search for light, I too will not be done away with. Whatever may happen to me my little one, you will forever be proud to be born to a father who battled against the evil storm. Perhaps I will be unable to provide you with the comforts or fulfill the responsibilities that are expected of a father. But the legacy of principles I will leave behind will be precious. You are the flame of a candle that is destined to spread light. Beware, do not ever get mislead by the devils that conspire to torch homes of the poor in the name of humanity.
The struggle, the struggle of my people, is certain to end in victory. You might hopefully be spared the era of darkness in which people are today forced to live. Hopefully, the seeds of sacrifice that we are sowing today will give birth to a garden in which you can inhale the breath of freedom. Even if we are unable to win in our battle, my darling, try you must to be at the head of the caravan engaged in the battle for truth. It is far from my dream that you grow up to be a Sikh, Hindu or Muslim. Try you must to rise above such identities and be a human being. Beware, lest the humanity in you is diminished because of such divisions.
My darling daughter, these few words are my message to you in this moment of your birth. I hope you will accept them and try to act according to them. These few words are the foundation of your life, to build your dreams on.