In this painting all the suggestions, including its title The Victim, are sinister – the broken image, bloody background, twisted bicycle, 4x4 motor jeep, thick deep line gashing in the landscape, the hills, the dark black sky on the horizon – everything, except the imposing withdrawn gentle figure of a man that tells that something terrible must have happened to him. But what? How? Why? When and where? Who was he? Who were the culprits?
Gathered at a murder scene, all such questions curious passers-by ask.
The man in the picture was a Sikh communist leader, Gehal Singh, of village Chajjalvaddi in Amritsar district in the Punjab. The year: 1947. India
A colonial operator Sir Cyril Radcliffe had drawn a dividing line to dismember the body Punjab. A new country called Pakistan – the land of the pure – purportedly on the basis of religion of Islam came into being. Migration of population on the largest scale in known human history was taking place and the Muslims and Sikhs were slaughtering each other. A full-fledged civil war was on. In the total madness, there were some sane voices around. The Punjabi communists of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds were actively involved in peace committees trying to save the lives of innocent people. Comrade Gehal Singh was one of them.
Instigated by some Sikh leaders who were behind the butchering of Muslims, Gehal Singh was abducted in a jeep one evening while he was cycling back home. He was tortured and later his body was said to have been thrown in the burning furnace in the community kitchen of the Golden Temple. That was the end of a great humanitarian – agurmukh – a true Sikh. The known culprits were never brought to justice.
Long time after the tragedy Kanwal Dhaliwal has paid his silent tribute to the life of the great man in line and colour in this unconventional portraiture.