Friday, January 20, 2006

"I’ve still got my voice – I can still sing!’

A savage and barbaric assault by powerful Congress-backed Jat landlords has left Bant Singh, Dalit leader of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha (AIALA) in Mansa, Punjab, with both arms and one leg amputated. Remaining leg is also in danger. On January 5, Sarpanch Jaswant Singh and former Sarpanch Niranjan Singh of Jhabbar village conspired a attack on Bant Singh. Critically injured, Bant Singh lay for 36 hours in the Mansa Civil Hospital , while the Hospital authorities, influenced by the Congress leaders, refused him any treatment. Eventually, he was taken to the PGI at Chandigarh , where his limbs had to be amputated since gangrene had set in, and his kidneys collapsed due to blood loss.

We were told that massacres of Dalits only happened in the hinterland of backward Bihar – not in ‘developed’ capitalist Punjab , harvesting the green gold of the Green Revolution. But Bant Singh’s story reveals the sordid reality behind the media image of the prosperous Punjab farmer on his tractor in a mustard field. Green revolution technology and ‘development’ has clearly failed to erode feudal social relations – on the contrary, feudal brutality has intensified in the wake of the crisis faced by the farmers themselves. Agrarian development in Punjab has not resulted in democratization – rather, it has concentrated land and resources in the hands of a small set of families close to the ruling class parties – Congress and Akali Dal. Agrarian labour, at the bottom of the ladder face destitution and desperate unemployment – along with social boycotts and brutal attacks on the basis of caste. Social dignity for Dalits remains a burning issue in Punjab – just as much as it is in Bihar or UP.

Bant Singh is known in his village and among his comrades as a singer of rousing protest songs. A sympathizer of the CPI(ML) movement for many years, he became active in 2000, in the course of a struggle against the rape of his then minor daughter by the goons who are close to Jaswant Singh and Niranjan Singh. The rapists were awarded a life sentence in 2002 after a legal and political battle waged by the agrarian labour organization and the CPI(ML). The attack on Bant Singh was probably an act of retribution for daring to achieve this bit of justice, and for continuing to be a leading organiser of agrarian labourers. Before January 5, Bant Singh was engaged in mobilising labourers as part of preparations for the National Conference of the All India Agrarian Labour Association (AIALA), at which he was one of the delegates from Punjab .

Hindu mythology tells the story of Ekalavya – the tribal youth who cut off his thumb on the demand of Dronacharya so that Ekalavya would not be a better archer than the kshatriya boys. Ekalavya, being a tribal, must have been a natural archer – but he was mutilated and robbed of his traditional skill and his right to self-defence and survival. Today, one gets the feeling that the story of Ekalavya is being played out again and again. In order to rob tribals of their only means of survival in Orissa – their rights over land, forests, rivers, they are not only shot dead for resisting, their hands, genitals and women’s breasts are chopped off in police custody. In Punjab , upper caste landlords chop off Bant Singh’s limbs. The graphic, horrific act of mutilation continues to be a weapon to ‘teach’ Dalits and tribals ‘their place’ – to warn them not to aspire for social dignity and rights.

When his comrades met Bant Singh in hospital, they broke down – but Bant Singh told them, ‘They’ve only got my limbs, I’ve still got my voice – I can still sing!’ As we salute Bant Singh’s courage and his spirit, as we feel outrage and anger at the brutality unleashed on him and his family of 8 children in which he is the only earning member, it seems that today’s Ekalavyas are not willing to give up their rights as ‘dakshina’ – and mutilation and barbarism can’t silence their songs and crush their spirit of resistance.

Source: ML Update


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