The brutal attack on Bant Singh Jagger of Jhabbar village of Mansa District because he had the audacity to fight and ensure jail for two Jat boys and the woman who aided them in the rape of his 17-year-old daughter is a classic example of how far the upper caste will go to silence those of a lower caste. Bant Singh’s one leg and two hands were severed and he is unable to use the second leg because it still has a broken bone and is mutilated. He has to be carried by two persons or be put in a wheel chair and pushed around.
A man of traditional values, Bant Singh opposed sexual advances by boys to his daughter. In 2002, two Jat boys of 20 and 22 years sought the assistance of a Dalit woman of the same village to lure the young girl. The woman called the girl and requested her assistance in collecting water. The boys were in her house and pounced on her. It took a whole month to file an FIR on the rape because the panchayat put pressure on Bant Singh to sort out the issue in the village and not take it to the police. In fact he was offered Rs 10 lakhs and three kilas (acres) land to sort it out of court which he refused.
Fourteen NGOs rallied around the family to ensure justice. Volunteers for Social Justice (VSJ), a partner organisation of ActionAid India, was the first to support him, followed by Dalit leader Kanshi Ram of the BSP. Sukhvinder Singh, advocate working with the ActionAid India project in Bhathinda, fought the case for Bant Singh. In 2004 life sentence was given to both boys and the woman.
In January 2006, Bant Singh, a leftist, on his way to invite people to a rally on a cycle was stopped by 15 people of upper caste, seven of who attached him. “It was a plain upper caste versus lower caste issue,” says Bant Singh lying on a charpoi playing with his month and half old granddaughter. After the attack they called Beant Singh in his village to inform him that Bant Singh had been attacked and his hands and legs cut off. Bant Singh was admitted to Mansa Civil Hospital, and when gangrene set in moved to Patiala hospital and from there to the PGI in Chandigarh where he stayed for two and a half months. He was even admitted to St Stephen’s hospital in Delhi where with international and national financial and technical help, prosthesis were made and fitted where possible to his severed limbs. But they did not work and today they are just display items.
A spirited and gutsy person, Bant Singh, can still take on the world. Despite all his troubles, he has conducted the marriage of four of his eight children. In fact the daughter who was raped was the first to be married—even before the life sentence was served on the rapists. Her in-laws were informed of all that she had been through and accepted her. Despite all her travails the girl has shown leadership qualities and has donned the mantle for the underdogs.
Bant Singh used to sing at cultural functions and public platforms before he was attacked. He still sings about the conditions of the people of Punjab, the inequities in society and ruthlessness of the rich and upper caste.
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