Thursday, June 21, 2007

Contributions to Bant Singh Struggle Fund

Given below are names of some of the contributors to the Bant Singh Struggle Fund. The list is long and will be updated from time to time and we are very thankful to all those who have contributed.

Amit Khansaheb : Rs 10,000
Nirmal Agarwal: Rs 1000
Dhiraj Malhotra: Rs 2100
Aslam Ahmed: Rs 350

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Khairlanji :Exploding Some Myths

Anand Teltumbde

The importance of Khairlanji lies in providing a clear illustration of the genesis, development and culmination of a caste atrocity. Khairlanji brings to the fore the irrelevance of dalit politics and politicians and rejection of them by ordinary dalits. But above all, Khairlanji helps dispel a number of myths – the myth that economic development does away with casteism, the myth of Maharashtra being a progressive state, the myth that there exists a significant progressive section of non-dalits that is against the caste system, the myth that dalits placed in the bureaucracy can orient the administration to do justice to dalits, and finally the mythology of ‘bahujanwad’ developed by the late Kanshiram and followed by other dalit leaders.

It is time to comprehend the significance of Khairlanji, the forces behind it, the reactions it evoked, and the lessons it holds forth. Khairlanji has exposed the omissions and commissions, indeed, the very complicity of the state in crimes against dalits, as also the bankruptcy and irrelevance of mainstream dalit politics and politicians. It has dispelled a number of myths – that economic development weakens the hold of the caste system; that Maharashtra is a progressive state; that there is a significant section of nondalits that is anti-caste; that a significant proportion of dalits in the bureaucracy can orient the state to fulfil its constitutional responsibility towards the dalits; and, that ‘bahujanwad’, which tries to unite the dalits and shudra castes on the basis of their caste identity, is a viable strategy of advance of the dalit cause


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Giving Bant Singh a Hand

There was a wild round of applause from the gathered crowd of agricultural workers and farmers as Bant Singh proceeded to do what no one, even a few months ago, imagined he was capable of - lift a red flag with his own hand.

Just over a year ago Bant, a Dalit singer and labour activist, had lost both his arms and a leg when local upper caste landlords in his native village of Jhabbar in Mansa district of Punjab had beaten him up severely. This was ‘punishment’ for the long legal and political battle he had fought and won over the rape of his minor daughter by goons supported by the local Congress Sarpanch.

But on 4 February 2007 at a public function in Burlada, outside Mansa town, Bant Singh received a state-of-the-art artificial limb capable of restoring some of the basic functions of his missing hand.

The limb manufactured by the reputed German prosthetic maker Otto Bock was custom built to suit Bant Singh’s needs following a rehabilitation drive launched by the Delhi based Forum for Democratic Initiatives (FDI). Funds for purchasing the artificial arm, that uses electronic sensors to move fingers and costs close to Rupees Four Lakhs, were collected from the general public with contributions coming from both within India and abroad.

“ See, I can drink a cup of tea now on my own!” says Bant gleefully later back in Mansa town, where he is camped for the past fortnight campaigning for the CPI (ML) Liberation candidates in the Punjab assembly elections. Bant is taking a break from his ongoing treatment at St.Stephens Hospital in New Delhi where he has been admitted since September last year.

According to doctors he will require a major surgery on his amputated leg to joint together two broken bones that have not yet healed since the attack on him in January 2006. That operation is likely to keep him confined to bed for several months.

“I want to see Bant Singh walk back home in his village” says Dr Mathew Verghese, the lead orthopedic surgeon in charge of his treament.

Bant has also received an artificial leg that he already uses to walk around. However in the absence of arms it is difficult to maintain balance.

Currently the plan is to fit Bant with one electro-mechanical arm from Otto Bock while the other prosthetic will be a less sophisticated device meant to provide only basic support. At a future date, depending on availability of funds, plans are to provide him with other devices that can improve his quality of life and make him as independent as possible.

While Bant lost his arms to caste violence in Punjab many agricultural workers routinely lose limbs while working on thresher machines in the fields. Though there are no accurate figures available their number runs into thousands and there is no program for rehabilitating them.

Again, while several institutions around India make artificial legs, including the famous Jaipur foot, there is none that makes artificial hands, which require more sophisticated technology. In a country that boasts of being a leader in satellite and nuclear expertise surely it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with know-how for good quality arm prosthetics.

“There is basically a lack of concern on the part of the government for the welfare of ordinary working people who lose their limbs to violence or in accidents and this needs to be urgently redressed” says Radhika Menon, Convenor, Forum for Democratic Initiatives.

FDI also plans to undertake another initiative to teach Bant Singh to read Punjabi while he undergoes treatment in hospital. Though an accomplished and popular folk singer Bant, like many Dalits in the area he comes from, cannot read or write.

Already a hero among the Dalits of Mansa for his guts and fighting spirit, a literate Bant could become an inspiration among them for other reasons also. And the power of knowledge in the hands of the Dalits may well be what is required to take all of Punjab by storm soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Mask of India Shining

IN SEPTEMBER, Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter Priyanka in the village of Kherlanji (Vidarbha, Maharashtra) were stripped and brutally gang-raped as a public spectacle, and were eventually killed along with her two sons – all as ‘punishment’ for fighting against attempts to snatch away the family’s land.

In November, Kodikulam in Madurai (Tamilnadu), witnessed another public spectacle. This time, upper caste ‘elders’ gathered in the village square to participate in an ‘auction’ – for the possession of ‘rights’ over the panchayat President, Balamani, a dalit woman and agrarian labourer.

Even as Kherlanji, Kodikulam and Bant Singh’s struggle reveal the deep disconnect between the rhetoric and reality of Indian democracy, the Supreme Court, as part of its series of anti-people judgements, has echoed the corporate-sponsored myth of reservations being a ‘breach in the egalitarian structure of society’. In this verdict, the Supreme Court has, most disturbingly, recommended extending the ‘creamy layer’ criterion to the SCs and STs. Even in the case of OBCs, the concept of creamy layer is yet to be adequately defined and established. But at least it is possible to discern some ‘creamy layer’ among the OBCs, since sections of the OBCs have significantly consolidated their socio-economic status in the wake of agrarian reforms and green revolution. But the SCs and STs have overwhelmingly been bypassed by the entire process of agrarian reforms and green revolution – and Kherlanji has illustrated how even the most nominal signs of social mobility and education in dalits are brutally crushed. To talk of a ‘creamy layer’ among SCs and STs is a dangerous attempt by the apex court to subvert the constitutional provision of SC/ST reservation.

Today, a struggle of remarkable militancy is being waged in the streets of Vidarbha. Amazingly, Nagpur’s police chief has put the protestors themselves in the dock, alleging that while they were ‘apparently angry over the delay in investigation’, he himself ‘smelt a deeper conspiracy against the police’! Kherlanji and Kodikulam managed to burst through the polite mask of India Shining, as did Bant Singh’s struggles.

From: Liberation, November 2005 (

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Celebrating Resistance

When Congress backed landlords assaulted Bant Singh, an activist of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha(MMM) from Mansa, Punjab , they probably thought that with that gruesome act they would succeed in terrorizing Bant Singh and the other rural poor who had begun asserting themselves. What they had not anticipated was the resolve of the rural poor to lead a life of dignity and the sacrifices they were willing to make for that.

Bant Singh, had lost his limbs after he was waylaid in a field while returning from a meeting in January 2006 and attacked with hand pump handles by seven assailants. This was following the justice won, after a long legal and political battle over the rape of his minor daughter by goons supported by the local Congress Sarpanch.

The atrocity created the uproar that it deserved and the agrarian workers and rural poor gave a war call for justice and have continued to organise under the banner of MMM and AIALA. Bant Singh in turn announced that far from being intimidated, his resolve to pursue worker's rights and for the dignity of dalit poor was firmer than ever. Ten months after the assault that took away his limbs, Bant Singh is determined to continue his work in organising the rural poor.

The Forum for Democratic Initiatives (FDI), Delhi, which had sent a team to Punjab in January 2006, to enquire into the details of the incident has been involved in bringing to the attention of the democratic polity on how Bant Singh's case reflects the other face of capitalist, prosperous Punjab. The campaign has highlighted the plight of those caught in the grip of feudal hierarchies and caste exploitation while mainstream media and the State paints a picture of capitalist growth and prosperity. The agrarian crisis has worsened the situation in rural areas of Punjab and particularly the condition of small, marginal farmers and the agrarian labour. They are buckling under economic crisis and facing threats of auctioneers, commissioning agents, loan retrievers as well as the age-old weapons of social boycotts and bonded labour. While many have buckled under the pressure as reflected by the high level of suicides among the agrarian community in the Malwa region, there are others, like Bant Singh, who have thrown their weight in the strength of the collective struggle.

To salute the spirit of this struggle by the rural poor and to honour Bant Singh, who has shown exemplary courage in the face of repeated adversity, a cultural evening was organised in Delhi , on 15 October 2006. Fund collection was also taken up in the evening as drive for Bant's rehabilitation. The evening began with Banthso (Guddi), Bant Singh's wife addressing the gathering. Comrade Kavaljeet from MMM, Mansa spoke of the current situation in the region. The Convenor of FDI, Radhika Menon, conducted the meeting on behalf of the felicitators, which saw a gathering of cultural performers, intelligentsia, and Delhi citizens, who had come together to celebrate resistance. Mandala presented Sharan Kumar Limbale's autobiographical story Akkarmashi, while Mahmood and Daanish presented the subversive but lost art of Urdu story telling, Dastangoi. The secular spirit of sufi was conveyed by Dhruv Sangari, Balli Cheema recited two of his new poems, while a rendition of rousing protest songs by Hirawal from Patna, brought the passion of poetry and politics to the evening. Footage taken by Daljit Ami of the AIALA rally in March 2006 in Chandigarh was shown, and an exhibition of photographs taken by Raghu Rai and Anurag Singh with text by FDI on Bant Singh's case and the situation of agrarian labour in Punjab set the context for the evening. The highlight of the evening was a moving video, prepared in the form of a ‘Video Letter from Bant Singh', prepared by Sanjay Kak and shot by Anurag Singh. In the 7-minute video letter, Bant Singh renders songs that have been the spirit of struggles and speaks of the battles engaging the rural poor and dalit in Punjab .

Writer Arundhati Roy welcomed the celebration of resistance and the efforts to rehabilitate Bant Singh as a political act. She said Bant Singh must be given back political limbs because they were smashed and taken away as part of a political act. She said there would be those who would want to depoliticise his rehabilitation but that his rehabilitation would be incomplete without knowing the context of his struggles.

The fund collection for Bant Singh's rehabilitation by AIALA has seen a warm response from across a wide section of people. FDI has been coordinating the efforts for this rehabilitation. If Bant Singh were to stand up again in the village, where his tormentors tried to cut him down for asserting the dignity and rights of the poor, it would be on the strength of the solidarity of the hundreds and thousands of people who have extended hope to this struggle in a small village in Punjab – thus defeating the very terror that his tormentors had sought to instil.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Contributors to the Bant Singh Struggle Fund

Following is a list of people who have sent contributions towards the Bant Singh Struggle Fund:

Tilak Sarkar : Rs 5,000
Yoginder Sikand: Rs 800
Tauqueer Fazal: Rs 200
Prashant Bhushan: Rs 10,000
Sunny Meeta: Rs 10,000
Naina: Rs 500
Joginder Kundhi: Rs 500
Julie Sedel +Arnaud Sauli +
Djallal Heuzé +Nathalie Garcia +
Nicolas Jaoul+ Dalel Benbaabali = Rs 9572

If you would like to contribute towards Bant Singh’s Medical treatment or the legal battle to ensure compensation for him and the conviction of the accused, Please send a cheque/DD in favour of AIALA, payable at Delhi.

Kindly write your full name, address and email to enable us to send you a receipt.

Please send your contribution to AIALA
U-90 Shakarpur, Delhi 110 092

Medical Rehabilitation of Bant Singh

While Bant Singh continues to defy the fetters imposed by the

disability following the barbaric assault, there are several

difficulties that he now faces. He is unable to move on his

own, a surgery is pending in the leg that was left intact but

dysfunctional. He has 8 very young children to look after; his

piggery the work that had freed him from the feudal bonds

of being tied to the landlords fields has collapsed and there

are multiple medical complications.

What You can Do

While Bant Singh’s courage is incredibly exemplary, we cannot

be mere spectators. We could all contribute to his medical

rehabilitation and ensure that he is back on his feet. Doctors

have pointed out that with the current developments in

medical technology, it would not be impossible to fit

artificial limbs, both arms and legs, for him. Given the

nature of amputation and the extent of prosthetic aids

required, it is an expensive procedure but this is also necessary

to prevent his organs from getting atrophied.

Bant Singh is currently admitted in St. Stephen’s Hospital,

Delhi. Today, while the process of medical rehabilitation has

started, there is an urgent need for funds so that we can get

the best possible prosthetic aids for him. We urgently seek

your financial support for this purpose.

Bant Singh’s rehabilitation would give all struggling

people immense courage and hope. We owe it to Bant

Singh to enable him to walk again.

You can draw your cheque/ DD in favour of

AIALA, payable at Delhi.

Please send it to U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi 110 092.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Enough! Dalits in Punjab Fight Back

In a case that highlights the continuing exploitation of landless dalits in Punjab by a feudal socio-economic structure — often abetted by the State and the vernacular media — three minor dalit girls in Mansa were falsely accused of theft and beaten by the local police in an attempt to force them to admit to a crime they did not commit. However, landless dalits in the Malwa region of Punjab are fighting back against entrenched feudal exploitation.

Mansa has been roiled for the last two weeks by the case of an alleged theft of 10 tolas (120 grams) of gold by three dalit girls who worked as domestic helps at the residence of Labh Singh, an upper-caste Jat Sikh landlord in the village of Attla Kalan. Local police now admit that the three girls are innocent and the prime suspect is in fact Labh Singh’s daughter-in-law Ranjit Kaur.

Tehelka, June 13