singh can still sing
the time of writing, Bant Singh is still struggling in the hospital, at
PGI, Chandigarh, his two hands and leg gone, amputated after he was left
bleeding for hours, his body an epic battleground of caste society’s
resilient, ceaseless march from one brutality to another. In that sense
a woman’s body and a dalit’s body are permanently situated
in this permanence of violent violations of entrenched inequality; by
attacking the body they think they can destroy the mind, the community’s
sense of pride, the time and space of inevitable resistance, the hidden
rebellions which lie buried in the recesses of centuries-old repression.
Bant Singh is a dalit singer, a protest singer, from Mansa in Punjab.
His minor daughter was raped in 2000, allegedly by goons of the landlords.
He dared to fight back, with comrades of the CPI (ML-Liberation), and
the poorest of the poor in the prosperous rural landscape of super rich
woman’s body and a dalit’s body are permanently situated
in the violent matrix of entrenched inequality; by attacking the
body they think they can destroy the mind
was from the beginning an uneasy, unequal, impossible battle — between
the dalits and the Jat Sikhs, the landless and the landlords, the overground
Naxalites and those eternally backed by the feudal ruling regimes,the
Congress or the Akalis. In that sense, Bant Singh did the impossible.
He won the battle, in the court, and in the hearts of the dalits. And
he and his community set a lesson for history: if you resist, if you fight
back, there is hope. Or else, it’s eternal condemnation.
is why this apocalypse now, with his body devastated but his voice still
intact: he will sing, he says, they can’t take away his voice. Reminds
me of Manu’s prophecy: if the lowest castes and the shudras listen
to the Vedas, hot oil will be poured inside their ears; and if they dare
to even utter one note of the ancient Vedic recitations, their tongues
will be slashed. That is why this infinite tract of injustice: but the
tongue refuses to die.
This is the pattern of new resistance across large parts of semi-feudal
India. There was a time when mental and physical slavery was considered
a priori, subjugation was normal, to be inferior, low, the wretched of
the earth, to accept everything, all forms of indignities, to be passive
in this acceptance, that was the stated, unstated norm. So nothing changed.
The body was a commodity for the predator, like god’s divine right.
But then sparks started moving in the stagnating landscapes of the old
order, sparks of rebellion, retaliation, retribution; so they would, as
revenge, attack dalit tolas in Bihar and rape the women and kill the children,
especially the “male child”, the potential rebel. And the
woman’s body became a text of discipline and punish, both the message
and the medium.
But, as always, like Bakhtin’s peasants who used caricature and
parody to fight back the ossified oppressions of the past and the present,
the sparks became a prairie fire, the slave became the Spartacus, the
red flag became the landmark on captured land, and power often started
flowing from the barrel of the gun. Like the blacks of the ex-colonies
and the West, with poetry, literature, songs and slogans, collective organisation,
defiance and resistance, dalits learnt to use their tongues and their
hands. That is why the savage attack against Bant Singh. But history has
a way of turning things upside down: they can butcher his body, they can’t
take away his tongue. His eyes. His mind. Even the dignity of the historic
struggle he fought in the epic battleground for his daughter.