“So what if my limbs are amputated, I still have my throat, I can sing!” These were the words of Bant Singh, a Left-wing activist and singer who is carrying forward the legacy of the songs of Punjab’s revolutionary poet Sant Ram Udasi with his voice. Today, he is recognised as the Dalit icon of Punjab, and also nicknamed ‘The Singing Torso’.
But Singh has paid a heavy price for it.
In January 2006, the labour leader and singer was attacked close to his village Burj Jhabbar. He was brutally assaulted by upper-caste boys, who beat him with iron rods for daring to assert himself. Four years before this incident, his daughter was gang-raped and his fight for justice led to the conviction of an upper-caste boy.
After the attack, Singh lost his arms and one of his legs, but his spirit was not broken. On the 18th day, after his limbs were amputated, Singh surprised other patients and doctors by singing songs against oppression. He sings about the landless labourers, of the girl who demands a pistol in her dowry, of a time when the festival of Diwali would mean a lamp at every door, and a sweets for everyone. Singh also sings of his love for his country and its people who have to be protected from tyranny.
When his biography, ‘The Ballad of Bant Singh’, was released in January at the Jaipur Literature Festival, he commented on Rohith Vemula’s suicide by declaring that one must “fight the oppressor”, “kill him if you must but don’t be defeated into killing yourself”.
A singing star at literature festivals this year, Singh says: “ I share my songs of struggle with the people and also work for the betterment of the landless labourers or small farmers who live in misery in our country”.