Mansa/Chandigarh, Oct 6, 2020-
His laughter races in the dimly-lit courtyard. There are chickens of different sizes strolling all over. Two goats, staring into nothingness are also tied on a tree. He had later said that we could choose our dinner.
Bant Singh is lying on a hand-spun cot at his home in Mansa in Punjab. He is not moving. The small television set is turned on but no one is watching it. He has been busy lately. “I have been travelling all over Punjab to protest against the farm bills, sitting on dharnas and and singing revolutionary songs at gatherings in Ludhiana, Mansa, Jalandhar and Amritsar,” he says.
Singh, a Dalit activist singer and a cult figure in his region, who was attacked on January 7, 2006 by upper-caste Jats that cost him both of his lower arms and left leg after he went to court against the rape of minor daughter by some powerful men in the village, is smiling today.
After all, a Hindi film is being made on his life by One Life Studios — based on the book ‘Ballad of Bant Singh’ written by author and critic Nirupama Dutt.
He may not be able to feed him himself, may need assistance in going to the washroom, but Singh says that as long as social inequalities exist, it is important for him to raise his voice.
“Nothing has changed ever since I was attacked. Look at the recent Hathras rape case. I just hope the film on my life inspires people to understand that it is important to fight. That giving up is never an option, especially for people like us. Yes, the times are dark, but that should not mean we should stop resisting. My daughter roared against her culprits in front of the judge. She looked straight into the judge’s eyes while answering every question asked by the defence counsel. They tried to embarrass her with details. She shamed them with her stare,” says Singh, who has performed from his wheel-chair at venues like the Jaipur Literature Festival, Tata Literature Festival and Prithvi Festival .
Meanwhile Nirupama Dutt, who has ensured that Singh received a decent amount for the film, recalls that before the current offer, several studios had approached her, but nothing materialised. “Most production houses seem inclined to cast a Punjabi in Bant’s role. I am not sure if that is really important, all you need is a sensitive actor,” she says.
Remembering that post the attack on him in 2006, he had become a cult figure in the region, with journalists from across the world visiting Mansa to cover his story, a publishing house called her, requesting her to write a book on him. “I was already writing one on poet Lal Singh Dil, so I was not really sure. But the moment I called him asking how he was recovering, he said — ‘I am smiling like a mustard field in full bloom.’ That moment I knew I would do it.”
Adding that her encounter with Singh’s daughter who was raped helped her shape the narrative of the book, Dutt says, “I was scared to talk to her, there was a strange apprehension, but her bravado stunned me. I was to realise later that my hesitation arose from the comfort of my own relatively privileged existence. Those who are pushed to the wall find the courage to tell their tale of woe over and over again.”
Currently working on her next book ‘Making Mocktales’, Dutt says that while most qissas (ballads) end in tragedy, the one on Bant leads to struggle — and that is why it is important. (Agency)