Bant Singh: Dalit, Defiant, Decapitated
Two hands and a leg amputated. The remaining limb yet to heal, has turned gangrenous and may also have to be removed. His kidneys have been damaged due to excessive bleeding and he can hardly eat and digest any food.
And yet defiance still sparkles in the eyes of Bant Singh, a Dalit agricultural labour activist, as he lies in the trauma ward of a state-run hospital in Chandigarh where doctors are battling to save his only remaining leg and even his life.
It is precisely for this defiance, coming from a ‘lower caste’ Dalit, that Bant Singh from Jhabhar village of Mansa district in Punjab was beaten to pulp and left for dead by armed upper caste men around a fortnight ago.
Apart from his activities organizing poor, agricultural workers Bant Singh’s greatest ’sin’, in the eyes of his tormentors, was the long running battle for justice against the men who raped his minor daughter five years ago. The court case he launched, braving both threats of violence and attempted bribes, resulted in life sentences for three of the culprits in 2002.
On the evening of January 5, 2006 as Bant Singh returned home after campaigning for a national agricultural labour assembly to be held in Andhra Pradesh later during the month the upper castes wrought their revenge.
Walking through the wheat fields Bant Singh was waylaid by a gang of seven men, suspected to be sent by Jaswant and Niranjan Singh, the current and former headmen of his village. One of them brandished a revolver to prevent any resistance while the other six set upon him with iron rods and axes beating him to pulp.
Just after leaving him for dead, the attackers called up Beant Singh, another former headman from Bant Singh’s village to come and pick up the body. Even this was not the end of the torment heaped on this 40-year-old father of eight children and the only earning member in the family.
At the Mansa Civil Hospital where Bant Singh was taken soon after the attack Purushottam Goel, the doctor who admitted the patient, demanded a bribe and did not even care to provide treatment for 36 full hours. Bant Singh was bandaged only on the 7 th and the next day his attendants were told that the hospital lacked facilities to treat him and so he should be removed to some other hospital. By the time Bant Singh was shifted to the PGI, Chandigarh, it was too late to save two of his hands and leg.
Even now as he lies in a hospital fighting for survival influential upper caste families in his village are threatening all those who are helping him out in his grave crisis. While there are conflicting reports of the Mansa police arresting some of the men who attacked him there is no certainty that they will be ever punished.
Following are the demands that have been raised by Bant Singh’s colleagues and comrades from the agricultural labour rights and other movements in Punjab demanding justice for him and his family:
1. The Punjab Government make arrangements for best possible medical treatment and artificial limbs for Bant Singh.
2. A high level team of the National Human Rights Commission visit the patient and his village to ascertain facts of the case.
3. The culprits as well as Jaswant and Niranjan Singh be booked under Sec. 307 IPC and Sec. 120B and the SC/ST Act and immediately be arrested.
4. A compensation of Rupees10,00,000 be granted to the family and a permanent attendant be provided to Bant Singh.
5. The wife of Bant Singh be provided with a Government job.
6. Dr. Purushottam Goel be immediately terminated.
7. An Independent National Commission be set up to enquire into atrocities on Dalits in Punjab, in particular those employed as agricultural labour.