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CRUSADE

Do
Bigha
Zameen
AMIT SENGUPTA

Bant singh can still sing

At 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 Punjab.

A 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

This 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.

That 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.

Feb 04 , 2006
 
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List of contributers
PHOTOESSAY BY RAGHU RAI
‘MY TONGUE IS THERE, I CAN STILL SING’

Shoma Chaudhury and Vikram Jit Singh travel to Mansa to find a rebel whose flaming spirit will not be doused
Bant, The Beginning of a Revolution
The assaulters wanted to destroy Bant’s spirit and his body. But they have only succeeded in igniting a mass movement against dalit oppression, reports VIKRAM JIT SINGH from Mansa in Punjab
A Torso Flaming With Spirit
After his daughter was raped, dalit singer Bant Singh fought back for justice. He now lies without his limbs in a Chandigarh hospital. But thousands of dalits are rallying in Punjab’s Mansa, in an unprecedented uprising against the Jat Sikhs, reports Vikram Jit Singh
Inquilab!
Every night, Bant Singh, a revolutionary singer admitted in the trauma ward of the PGIMER at Chandigarh regales the ward with inquilabi songs and stories of his struggles
Dalit Singer Attacked, His Hands, Leg Gone
The CPI(ML-Liberation) allege that a critically injured Bant Singh, a revolutionary Dalit singer from Mansa, Punjab, was left for 36 hours in the Mansa Civil Hospital, while the hospital authorities, influenced by Congress leaders, refused him treatment
Do Bigha Zameen
Bant Singh Can Still Sing

By Amit Sengupta

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