My ideas on the process of empowering the people who have been historically discriminated against may differ from some. But that does not take me away from the truth that the Dalit is facing in this country every day. Today’s news says Kanshi Ram is dead. Post Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram was perhaps the most potent of the Dalit leaders whose model of social reengineering brought about a significant positive change. How his legacy is and will be carried forward is a different tale.

Even in these times of awakening and assertiveness it takes a lot of courage to stand up; Bant Singh did precisely that and lost his arms and a leg in the process.

On January 7, Bant Singh, a resident of Jhabbar in the southern Punjab district of Mansa, was surrounded by a group of Jat youths from the same village. The upper-caste men brutally beat him with iron rods. Three days later, after gangrene set in, doctors amputated his limbs.

But that didn’t make him sit down.

It is not the sheer violence of the attack that makes Bant Singh’s story an exception; it is his extraordinarily courageous refusal to be a victim. Back in 2002, Bant Singh’s eldest daughter Baljeet Kaur was raped. In rural Punjab, as in India, Dalit women who are raped by men from the dominant castes have little chance of securing justice; their families are pressured to accept cash as compensation and threatened with violence if they refuse to do so. Exactly these pressures were brought to bear on Baljeet Kaur’s family.

However, Bant Singh, who had been helping organise landless labourers for the left-wing mazdoor Mukti Morcha, was not one to be cowed down…

On Sunday October 15, 2006 the Forum for Democratic Initiatives is organising an evening of cultural performances in honour of Bant Singh’s courage and defiance and to raise funds for his rehabilitation. The time is 4:00 PM and the venue, JNU City Centre, Near Mandi House, 35, Feroze Shah Road, New Delhi.

Details about the programme is available here.

More info about Bant Singh is available at Frontline, Tehelka, and Himal Southasian.

Information courtesy Shivam

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