‘I, Baljit Kaur, daughter of Shri Bant Singh, am a resident of Burj Jhabbar in Mansa district, Punjab. I was gang-raped on July 6, 2002. I did not conceal the incident and along with my father waged a struggle for justice…’ As Nirupama Dutt met Baljit for the first time, this testimony played in her mind and she wondered if she would be able to talk with Baljit about it all, ask her to relive it all again. Dutt writes, ‘I was to realize later that my hesitation arose from the comfort of my own relatively privileged existence. Those who are pushed to the wall find the courage to tell their tale of woe over and again.’
living rooms of the relatively privileged wonder - In the coldest winter in decades,
amidst pouring rains, surrounded by indifferent citizenry and hostile state,
why are the farmers on the roads?
Bant Singh is a
member of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha. Apart from helping and organizing members of
his union, at all union events Bant sings songs of Sant Ram Udasi. ‘Maan
dhartiye teri god nu chan hor bathere, tu maghda rahi ve surja kameya de vehre.’
Bant was not one to be cowed down and he waged a battle for justice and in 2004
in a rare occurrence of a Dalit winning a legal battle against an upper caste,
got conviction for three. This legal win was to come at an even bigger cost and
an even bigger battle awaited him. On the evening of 5th January 2006, Bant
Singh was ambushed by associates of the rapists and brutally beaten with iron
rods and axes.
roads and railway tracks for months. Govt ignored them. Farmers were not one to
be cowed down and they marched towards Delhi and camped at its borders. A govt.
that first refused to talk with them, refused to let them march towards Delhi,
refused to acknowledge anything was wrong in the farm laws, and a govt. which
used pliant media to paint them in the color of separatists, relented bit by
bit (can enter Delhi, can amend laws, can suspend laws for a duration, etc.)
These little wins came at a great cost – over 180 lives lost so far. But even
bigger battle awaited them. 26th January arrived and the morcha got
ambushed. The spirit of lacs of marching tractors was brutally beaten and
By the time Bant
Singh reached PGI Chandigarh, 48 hours after the assault on him, gangrene had
set in. when informed that both his arms and one leg will need to be amputated,
he said ‘I suppose the doctors know best. Anyway, what use are my arms and
legs, I have to sing with my throat. As long as a Comrade’s throat is not slit,
it is all right.’ 18 days after his amputation, still in a serious condition,
Bant surprised doctors and fellow patients by singing songs of Udasi from his
The mob is pelting
stones at the gathered farmers as police stands guard, watching, even
encouraging and protecting the mob. Someone throws a crude petrol bomb on the
ladies’ shelter. Someone smashes the washing machines. A sewadar at the langar
is pulled into the mob and along with the mob, the police rain lathis on him. But
their throats are not slit, not yet. From the gathering where tear gas is being
shelled comes the sound of sangat chanting ‘Satnam Waheguru, Satnam Waheguru.’
From the throat of the sewadar, with his turban removed, his hair loose, his
forehead bleeding, erupts the blessed Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal. As the
state got ready to amputate the morcha, tears of one man surprised the nation.
Morcha began to sing again.
Annie Zaidi in ‘Known
Turf’ asks, ‘And what do you do when a man minus three limbs in a government
hospital’s trauma ward begins to sing?’ Nirupama Dutt answers – quite simple,
really – you salute his spirit.
One evening at
Sanjhi Sath, at Singhu, Bapu Jagraj, who has filled a diary with his poems
since he has been at the Morcha recites one for all present, ‘Kirti kisano
kathe hoke ladhiye, Karaan pranam lahoo rangi madhiye.’ A sea of red flags marches
towards the main stage at Singhu border - Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee and
Pendu Mazdoor Union members are here in hundreds. Slogans of Kisan Mazdoor Ekta
fill the air. Few days back a speaker on the stage said, ‘we are all sitting as
one here – kisan-mazdoor, Punjab-Haryana, male-female. We will win this battle
with govt, but the real morcha will start when we head back homewards.’ Often
in the morcha one hears the slogan, ‘Baba Nanak teri soch te, pehra deyange
thok ke.’ Denunciation of caste is one of the primary teachings of Guru Nanak.
As and when the morcha heads back, may the teachings of Nanak and learnings
from the morcha travel with it.
Nirupama Dutt dedicates
the book to the revolutionary poet of Punjab, Sant Ram Udasi, ‘whose songs gave
Bant Singh the strength to sing, fight and live with dignity.’ ‘Meri maut te na
royeo, meri soch nu bachayeo. Mere lahu da kesar, rete vich na ralaeyo.’
poets, singers, writers are giving strength to the farmers morcha – ‘to sing,
fight and live with dignity.’
Ballad for Bant Singh then, in part, is also a ballad for all those struggling
for their rights.
Yes, in Punjab, we
love to sing
But today we will
Of ‘old and distant
Nor of ‘battles long
We will sing, yes we
will sing, of
This day, of the
here and the now
Of those who refused
Those who can tell
Songs of hope are
born in want
Why some can have it
Why some cannot.
(2020 – LOCKDOWN BOOKS REVOLUTION SERIES#4)