Dancehall & Dalit Poetry

A group of urban musicians comes together to immortalise a legendary Sikh Dalit farmer’s songs of rebellion

01 December 2010

THE IMPLICATIONS OF FREE SPEECH have been a hot topic in India lately. Dissent has been dismissed as sedition and opposition to the status quo labelled unpatriotic. But these debates are, for the most part, the reserve of urban, educated thinkers, who have the means to make their opinions heard. After all, free speech is meaningless if you aren’t given a voice.

Imagine you are a poor farmworker, with no land, no stock options and no Google. Your only source of income is tilling land to which you will never hold the deed. You won’t likely have the time, resources or know-how to convey your message; you’ll risk being silenced by your very condition.

Bant Singh defies this assumption. Now in his 40s, he has been singing revolutionary songs since adolescence. Singh is a landless Dalit agricultural labourer from the village of Burj Jhabbar, Mansa district, Punjab. He’s also an activist with the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha (MMM), a local affiliate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. Despite having undergone atrocious trauma, including a brutal attack that cost him two hands and a leg, Singh remains steadfast, refusing to keep quiet. He continues to sing songs of protest that detail not just his story, but also that of poor, low-caste labourers across the country.

Margot Bigg  is an independent journalist who writes on travel, culture and the arts for publications in India and abroad.

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