Along (centre) with cultural performers in Punjab

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would have heard about the world’s largest protest going on in North India right now. What started with protests at local levels has now ballooned into the largest farm protest in India, nay, the world has ever seen.

And even though I am over 2,500 km from Jalandhar, and I am not Punjabi, I could not be proud of my Punjabi brethren, because I have seen, first-hand, how well they treat people, no matter who they are.

And I have seen how passionate they are about their land. To put it simply, you either get their love for the land or not. But do not question why this is such a big issue for them. We Nagas love our land, and we have struggled to preserve the same. Hence, I will never, even for a second, doubt why someone else loves their land too.

I was lucky to spend five years in Punjab as a student. And it was an absolutely unforgettable experience. I met many locals who were kind and helpful, starting with the time when a bunch of university students from Nagaland and other parts of Northeast India were looking to rent a ‘kothi’ (house) in a totally new place.

After our first year in a hostel, we decided to rent an isolated ‘kothi’ in Phagwara, surrounded by khet (farm). It was peak summer, and I vividly remember waiting for the farmer uncle every morning to switch on the water pump so we could bathe in the cool and refreshing water. The locals would let us in every time we would go to the farm, and they’d even offer us potatoes and other vegetables before they got transported to sabzi mandi. Once, when we volunteered to harvest the potatoes, we paid discounted Rs 10 a kilo even when the farmer offered us to take them for free.

In 2016, Northeast Student’s Union Jalandhar (NESOJ) celebrated its first-ever ‘Northeast Fiesta’ to bring and connect the culture of Northeast to Punjab. As ambitious as the organizers were, the festival took off successfully on a very tight budget, without any funding from institutions or government.

We were successful mostly because of the kind donations made by the local businesses and got ourselves a free venue (Viva Collage mall), lights and sounds, as well as promotions through local radio and print media. If you want to celebrate an occasion, the Punjabis will always support you.

It was not as if their support for us extended only to the ‘less important’ issues of our lives. Any Naga who has studied in Punjab knows Karamyogi Jaswant Singh Ji. We Naga students would often refer to him as ‘Father of Nagas in Punjab’.

I met him the first time at a Convent Church in Phagwara. During a Sunday church service for Northeast students, a sardarji in his 50’s sneaked in and was sitting near the entrance. After the service, a fellow student came up to me and said that a local man wanted to meet me, since, at that time, I was serving as the President of NESOJ.

Singh introduced himself as an advocate and the founder of the Karamyogi Charitable Society. He told me that he wanted to help and provide security to students from the Northeast if they face any discrimination outside the campus. And from there, for me, started his invaluable service towards students from the Northeast: be it legal issues or just showing up for any event to extend support and to make us feel at home.

Karamyogi Jaswant Singh with Naga student during cultural event

I was also lucky to make friends with local classmates who were from Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. The two I was particularly fond of were auto drivers Harry and Jyoti, who always parked their autos in front of the university gate.

I met them through my cousin, who was also my flatmate. We could call them any day, any time and they were ready to take us to our destination, especially during an emergency. After years of his love and service towards students from Nagaland, Harry upgraded his auto with the sticker: ‘Harry from Naga’.

Despite the differences in language and culture, the bond that Harry and Jyoti shared with the students from Nagaland, especially those who rode their auto, will always be a beautiful memory.

Where else do you see a person take pride in being the friend of tribal people? In far away land, Punjab

Punjab is close to my heart and that’s why I have been following the farmers’ protest very closely. To me, it’s very disheartening to see how peaceful protesters are being treated at the borders, and being called terrorists. Despite being from a state that is located on the opposite end of the country, my solidarity goes out to the kind and big-hearted people and farmers of Punjab. I hope they win their fight and I know I will support them in every way possible. I hope to visit them soon. I’m looking forward to catching up with my paajis and also because, honestly, I miss chhole bhature, sarson ka saag and my most favourite Pehelwan Dairy di lassi.

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