Masterji: A Sansi Saga
This book is based on a true story. During the British rule, the wandering tribes were declared as “Criminal Tribes” by an act in 1870. The British had an opinion that most of the crimes were committed by these tribes. The Sansis were one among those many criminal tribes. The law had clipped their wings and forced them to settle down. They had to remain within the boundary of their villages and frequently report to the police.
Masterji, Nathu was born in 1921 and his mother had died at the time of his birth. His illiterate father Chhotu along with his two brothers lived in a tiny village called Narangwal in Punjab, India. Chhotu was forced by the Superintendent of Police to admit him into school during one occasion of reporting to the police. These tribes suffered because of the stringent law against them. They required proper permission to leave the boundary of their village. They were the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low castes. These families lived in small thatched huts built on the banks of the village pond. Nathu somehow managed to complete his high school education. To complete Matric, 10th grade, was a rare occurrence at that time. Both father and son were struggling for survival. Chhotu got Nathu married after he finished his schooling. Nathu could not get a job and ultimately had to start grazing buffalos in his village like the other illiterate people. After eight years, he got an opportunity to get a temporary job as a school teacher. In the meanwhile he began feeling listless most of the time. The Sansis were highly superstitious, so his father perceived him to be under some evil effect. Ultimately he found ‘The Sant’ who treated him. Nathu became a staunch follower of ‘The Sant’ and his life was quite eventful with him. Nathu adopted the Sikh religion and his life was absolutely transformed.
Poverty speaks for itself and on the top of it, being of a low caste it further added to his woes. Nathu had faced humiliation when he got an opportunity to go for a teacher’s training course. He came across inhuman treatment by some Brahmin students who consideredthemselves to be very pious. Circumstances forced the Brahmin students to live under the shadow of an untouchable. Nathu handled the situation in his own unique way. He had prepared himself for such a state of affairs before he departed from his village and had thus carried his own utensils. This training period was the most eventful one in his life.
The Sansi community had many unique features which were different from other castes. In the old times the Sansis heavily indulged in stealing from the fields and their women went begging in the village for their survival. They had their own spoken language which was useful for them for any secret operations. They had no religion of their own but followed some Hindu rituals at the time of marriage and death. The Sansis around Narangwal area had their own deity and worshipped him with self-prayer and without any sermons. They had developed their own justice system to resolve the disputes within the community. They would set up their own temporary court and cases were presented in a unique way. There was a proper provision to make an appeal. A very unusual technique was adopted to find out the truth and decide each case. The Government court would not accept a case if they knew that case was being heard in the community court. The Panth system among the Sansi community was an intricate ideology to observe the discipline within the community.
Nathu got a job as a primary school teacher, (thus Masterji), after completion of his training. During his long tenure as a teacher in the village school, he struggled to fight against the high caste social set up. He decided to stay away from the school and village politics but acted tough when circumstances demanded it. He vividly understood the psyche of villagers and armed himself with the complete knowledge of the subject to counter react when high caste people endeavoured to unreasonably stomp him. He willingly helped the people without any self-interest. The Sansis from the other villages approached to seek guidance from him. A minor theft had occurred in the village school when he was acting as a headmaster. He had followed a proper procedure by the book to inform the police. But the police had taken it very lightly and later on this case had become a thorn in the neck for them. Nathu sustained every kind of pressure tactic applied by the police. Fighting this case had now become a passion for him. It reached a stage when his own Education Department official and the village Panchayat members had turned against him. This small theft turned out to become an unusual story.
The Sansi community was divided into different factions because of the Panth system. The Sansis married off their children at an early stage. Most of the times parents had pushed their children into bonded labour by borrowing loans from the farmers or money lenders. They hardly cared about educating their children. Nathu was never in a hurry to engage their children even though his relatives had put pressure on him. He would straightway tell them that he wanted his children to be educated first. At the proper time when his eldest son was ready for marriage, he wanted his marriage to be solemnised according to the Sikh traditions. The girl’s family was scared to initiate this new tradition. Finally they accepted this condition and later on it became a new custom among the community. Nathu condemned the Panth system but he had to marry off his other children in the Sansi community as well. He adopted a marvellous way when his second son got married. This script not only narrates the story of Masterji but it also reflects the plight of criminal tribes and other low castes in social set up. It reveals the unknown past of the old generations.
Natha Singh alias Nathu is a retired primary school teacher in Narangwal, a village in Ludhiana district in the State of Punjab. He begins his day reciting from the Sikh holy books, then goes at dawn to the Gurudwara for morning prayers. Stooped and thin, he takes long, slow walks in the village fields, talks to other old men as they pass by and is greeted as “Masterji” by the younger men, many of whom were his students. Not many of them know the story of how he became “Masterji”, a respected school teacher.
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