At the Jaipur Literature Festival, Bant Singh, a dalit farm labourer from Punjab’s Burj Jhabbar village, enraptured the audiences with his rendering of songs by Sant Ram Udasi. But there is more to Singh than his Udasi songs. He is the man who dared to defy his village elders and took on the members of the upper caste who gang-raped his minor daughter. Singh paid a price for it. He was ambushed and beaten with iron rods; he lost both his arms and a leg. Author, poet and journalist Nirupama Dutt, through her book, brings alive the story of this man. It is no sob story but rather, a celebration of Singh’s spirit.
The book, which weaves the political, social and cultural life of Punjab into its narrative, is written anecdotally. On that evening at Jaipur, Singh was the undisputed star. Since the horrific incident, it was probably his longest outing from his village. Now Mo Dhaliwal, director of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society, wants Singh to attend the festival. “No problem, we will go to Canada, too,” is Singh’s spirited reply. When Dutt, who has become an unofficial spokesperson for Singh, wondered what Singh’s role would be at a Bhangra celebration, Dhaliwal replied he would inspire and uplift the audiences. That’s what the book does, too.
The Ballad of Bant Singh: A Qissa of Courage
By Nirupama Dutt
Published by Speaking Tiger
Price Rs 250; pages 213