A veiled young woman of Punjabi origin, living in a Haryana village near the Punjab border grew perturbed when a liquor shop came up on the road to her village. It was just across a ground where the village children played. “I was so disturbed when I saw the children exposed to drunkards. In their innocence they would pick up empty bottles and mimic the drunk. The appeals to shop owner and the sarpanch failed to have any impact so I picked up my scythe and crying out ‘I am Bant Singh’s daughter’, I tore apart the shop enclosed by iron sheet walls breaking a large number of ‘desi daru’ bottles”.
This was the story that Baljit Kaur, daughter of Dalit singer-activist Bant Singh, wowed the listeners at the Tata Literature Live festival in Mumbai last week. It was her first public dialogue after she was brutalised by two village boys in connivance with a woman who stood guard outside her own house.
This happened in 2002 and she and her family came out in the open and fought a case leading to conviction of all three. It also made history because it was the first time a Jat boy had been convicted on a complaint by a Dalit girl. It earned more wrath for Bant, also a leader of landless agrarian labourers, who was beaten to pulp by seven to eight village youths. As a result he lost his limbs and when the given news was broken to him at the PGI in the city he bravely said, “Let them cut off my arms but they have not cut my tongue, I will still sing.” He continues to sing protest songs of revolutionary poet Sant Ram Udasi.
His courage has made Bant a Dalit icon of sorts. Baljit who is a mother of three and living the life of a veiled village woman doing the household chores is also in spirit her father’s daughter and could very well be described as our own rustic Fatmagul, a popular Turkish serial on the Zindagi channel which tells the story of struggle of a gangrape survivor.
Coming back to the liquor shop that Baljit tore apart shouting war cries was shifted a few kilometers from the village and this happened just a few months ago. Another recent escapade was when she started getting crank calls. “I found out who the man was, dragged him to the police station. The policemen gave him a light slap. At this I said that I will beat him up, arrest me if you want to. The policeman told me that I could slap him but not use a stick. Well, I slapped him tight several times. As a result my hands were badly swollen and I could not make rotis for two days and my mother-in-law did the task”.
Baljit was just 17 and a student of Class 9 when her world changed. Her engagement to a boy of her own age was called off and she was shifted to a relative’s home in another village. A daily-wager, widower with a child, was found and she was quietly married off without song or dance. “He is a good man who does not drink or take other intoxicants. He gives me all he earns and I have no complaints”.
However, the dreams of this bright teenager, who played kho-kho in school, sang at weddings and loved watching the films of Ajay Devgan, did die young. It was the little girl in her which led her to ask her father to let her accompany him to Mumbai. She also sang the songs of Udasi on the plight of girls which the audience found heart-rending.
And she returned home with little souvenirs for her school-going kids a day before their quarterly tests and an invitation for as a guest of honour at one of a forthcoming ‘Ladli Awards function’. Bravo Baljit!