Bant Singh, a Dalit Sikh worker, activist and singer from Jhabbar village in Mansa, lost his arms and right leg in 2006 when he was beaten by upper-caste men who were associated with those accused of raping her daughter six years ago. In 2004, the three defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Sitting in his wheelchair, Bant recounts how he continued to sing songs about injustice and the struggles of the common man. But unlike other Punjabi singers, the 55-year-old lives in a semi-pucca house and barely earns money to cover his expenses.
In 2017, Bant joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP); while he received no portfolio, he campaigned for the party in many constituencies upon joining. But despite being a Dalit icon of Punjab, Bant struggles to make ends meet on the Rs 1,500 he receives as disability pension every month.
As he got older, Bant’s medical bills kept growing and he now hopes Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann will hear his grievance.
In his youth, Bant had been a left-wing activist and was part of the CPI-M (Liberation) and their labor wing Mazdoor Mukti Morcha. A powerful speaker and singer, Bant sang songs for landless and marginal farmers, and for those starving in India. Although he is illiterate and cannot write, but sometimes he composes lines in his own mind and sings.
The son of a Dalit labourer, Bant had never worked in anyone else’s fields and instead used to herd goats for a living. “I have always been of the opinion that whether you are poor or rich, everyone deserves the same respect…I was inspired by the lives of Udham Singh and Bhagat Singh and would sing revolutionary songs About them.” Apart from raising goats, he had also started going door-to-door selling cosmetics.
Bant, who has four daughters and four sons, said in 2006 Capt Amarinder Singh, then CM, promised to provide employment for one of his family members, but that never happened. “Now it’s the AAP government and my interview is with CM Bhagwant Mann who is an artist himself.”
“I have fought for injustice, I have fought for equal rights for Dalits and I live a life where it is hard to make ends meet…I am appealing to the CM to have my pension amount be increased. I am diabetic and got typhoid and tuberculosis (TB) after Covid-19 last year…I deserve free health facilities..my daughter Hardeep Kaur and son Jagmeet Singh are in grade 12 and single. employment to any of them should be given.
Bant, who lives with his wife and two unmarried children, said: “I don’t have a ration card or a blue card so I’m not even eligible for a government attack plan. They are making my Aadhar card now.
“An artist can appeal to another artist (CM) I deserve a better life…is this the price of standing up against injustice?” Bant asks.
Speaking of when he lost his limbs, Bant said that “on January 5, 2006, I was attacked by upper caste members who beat me with sticks and left me to die in a field. .. I was rushed to IGP and later my lower caste an arm and a leg had to be amputated as gangrene had developed in the wounds.
Bant said he has continued to sing in many roles, but after suffering from Covid-19 and other troubles in 2021, he can hardly go anywhere.