Ludhiana, January, 17 : The fire in his belly and the warmth of his voice warmed many hearts, as the Lohri fire burnt bright and warmed the cold winter evening, at a gathering organised by The Sunday Indian, a multi-lingual magazine.
Bant Singh, a Dalit poet, singer and activist is no stranger to the city. Singh’s minor daughter was raped by men from the higher caste in 2000, whom he dared to take to court. The trial culminated in life sentences for three of the culprits in 2004, but with this trial Bant Singh had taken on more than just those who harmed his daughter. In 2006, a bunch of men from the higher caste assaulted Singh with iron rods and he was left for dead, and missing an arm and a leg in the attack. Bant Singh today works as an activist fighting for the rights of Dalit farmers in his village.
He also sings songs of protest, fighting for the rights of oppressed Dalit farmers. “They thought, like many others before me, they could shut me up with their money and power. My daughter’s courage was exemplary. She said that I not only had to stand by her, but also fight with her and we lodged an FIR, with her standing tall and strong with me at the police stations and courts, right till the end,” Bant recalls, with quiet dignity.
As the evening progresses, the [singer settles in his wheelchair and promises to sing all night long the poetry of Sant Ram Udasi, as well as his own compositions. “I recite the poetry and songs of truth, appreciated by both God and man alike,” he says. His struggle, he says, is still on. As part of his Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, he continues going from village to village to make people aware of their rights and help them seek and find justice. “This is the 21st century, but just travel 100 kms from the city, and you will see that not much has changed,” he says, before breaking out in to a song: “Mere daaj wich dey pistol babra...mainu kapde te gehne nahin chaiede (Give me a pistol in my dowry father, I don’t need clothes or jewellery) “It’s his lust for life and positive attitude that’s so inspiring,” says city-based poet Nirupama Dutt, adding that Singh has been invited to sing at the upcoming Jaipur Literary Festival this week.