Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bant Singh and the Persistent Squirrel

Bant Singh is one of those heroes who we never hear much about in the west. A member of the lower "untouchable" caste in the Punjab region of India, he is a protest singer and tireless campaigner for the rights of poor agricultural laborers who are abused and exploited by wealthy landowners. In 2000, he dared to pursue the prosecution of a group of powerful upper-caste men who had raped his daughter. In 2006 he was assaulted by a group of men while walking home from a protest meeting, beaten with rods and axes, and left for dead. Even after he was found, barely alive, and taken to a local hospital, treatment was delayed by corrupt hospital staff, and he lost both of his arms and one leg due to gangrene. Despite his horrific injuries, Bant Singh continues to sing protest songs and to campaign for the rights of Indian agricultural laborers.

Bant Singh

So what does this have to do with squirrels?
Recently, a reporter for the Hindustan Times visited Bant Singh at his home in the village of Jhabhar. As they were sitting in the courtyard of the home, Singh pointed out to the reporter a squirrel trying to carry a red piece of cloth into the upper branches of a tree. Singh, who is a leading member of a leftist political party, revealed that the red cloth was a party flag. "I have been watching this squirrel for a couple of months," he said. "It got hold of the flag that was lying here and it has been trying since then to take it up the tree. Since the flag is heavy, it falls down but the squirrel does not lose heart. It takes the flag once again and starts taking it up."

The connection is obvious. Bant Singh and that little squirrel are both doggedly pursuing seemingly impossible goals: To bring justice to lower-caste Indian workers; to carry a heavy flag up to a treetop nest. Neither will give up, and I hope both are rewarded with success.

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