'Medical help and compensation highest priority'
Statement issued by a team of journalists, filmmakers, academicians and human rights activists who visited Chandigarh and Mansa from 22 to 24 January 2006 to express solidarity with Bant Singh and his family:
The barbaric assault on Bant Singh, a Dalit agricultural worker and activist from Burj Jhabbar in Mansa District of Punjab on 5th January 2006 by upper caste youth represents a grave violation of human rights and all norms of civilized behaviour in our country. The seriousness of the attack can be gauged form the fact that as a result three of Bant Singh’s limbs- both his hands and a leg- have had to be amputated and the remaining limb still remains in danger. Bant Singh’s own survival so far has been nothing short of a miracle.
Based on our interaction with Bant Singh’s family, fellow villagers, district level police officials and social activists we would like to make the following observations:
A) The highest priority needs to be accorded by the Punjab government to the medical treatment and rehabilitation of Bant Singh, in particular provision of artificial limbs to him at an appropriate stage. This has to be undertaken irrespective of the costs or efforts involved. Further, the rehabilitation will have to consider also the living conditions, livelihood and insurance against future ailments arising from Bant Singh’s current disabilities.
B) Due compensation for Bant Singh and his family must immediately be organized by the government in order to alleviate the great suffering caused by the assault again keeping in mind all future needs.
C) While police authorities have, under great public pressure, arrested seven youths who have been allegedly involved in the assault on Bant Singh no efforts must be spared to bring the real masterminds behind the scene to justice. An independent inquiry into the incident needs to be constituted to avoid suspicion that the Punjab government is shielding prominent people involved in planning the attack due to their affiliation with the ruling Congress Party.
D) We are deeply concerned about attempts being made by senior police officials to dismiss any link between the attack on Bant Singh with his courageous struggle against those responsible for the rape of his minor daughter in 2002. The successful conviction of those involved in the rape to life imprisonment by a Sessions Court in 2004 is a very strong motivation for the repeated assaults by upper caste youth on Bant Singh over the past year and should not be swept aside as irrelevant to the case.
E) The Bant Singh incident in our view represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as atrocities on Dalits in Punjab are concerned. Apart from the severe economic exploitation of Dalits, who form a very large percentage of all agricultural labour in the state, there seems to be a systematic sexual exploitation of Dalit women prevalent in the state. This a matter for immediate inquiry by the SC/ST Commission, the National Human Rights Commission as well as the National Women’s Commission. In the absence of any such inquiry at the national level this matter should be taken to international forums such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.