His house in Punjab's Mansa district is about bare brick walls. Minimalistic lighting throws strange, unruly shadows all over. Domestic animals - dog, buffaloes and goats roam in happy abandon.
Bant Singh is on a charpoy. His body is covered with old clean blankets. He is wearing a red shirt, a red turban. Red, he says is his favourite colour.
He knows we have come all the way from Chandigarh to interview him about his biography The Ballad of Bant Singh that will be released at the upcoming Jaipur Literature Festival where a full session will be devoted to him. He is happy about that. Happier because he will be singing there too. "When I sang there two years back, so many people came up to me and said that I was the number one singer. That I was better than those boys in torn jeans and guitars. It felt good," he remembers.
That Bant Singh is a major revolutionary of Punjab who sings poet Sant Ram Udasi's poetry is not news. That his daughter was gang-raped by upper class jats of his village in the year 2000 is known across the country, especially Punjab. But the fact that he approached the courts - the first time, a Dalit filed such a complaint against the landed Jat community and won, made newspaper headlines. "Ever since I can remember, I have fought against injustice, talked about equality and women empowerment. Nobody could force me to take back my complaint.
"Of course, I was offered a lot of money… Rs 10 lakh by the families of the accused to keep quiet. My own brother thought that it made sense to compromise," he remembers.
Bant Singh won the case. The three culprits were given a life sentence in 2004. "My daughter accompanied me on every hearing. You know, she never hung her head. She always looked everybody in the eye. She is a very strong girl. And not just for herself. She leads several protests in the village in Haryana she is married in. Even the sarpanch of her village is wary of her. One firebrand she is," Singh smiles.
For Bant Singh, the trial did not end with the conviction of his daughter's rapists. In 2006, when Singh was returning home from a rally, he was attacked by seven men, sent by the family of the accused. "They had rods, axes, a revolver. "I had nothing. I lay bleeding but I did not cry. I was so well-built that my neighbour could not lift me up. He fell trying to do that," Singh laughs. His arms and one leg were amputated, while the other one was left lifeless. "It's alright, this happened in a battle. I was on the right side, on the side of justice," he whispers.
Over the years, this singer and activist has been going across villages in Punjab and talking about the rising number of rapes in the country. He insists that rape is not confined to a particular class or caste. "When Nirbhaya happened in Delhi, the whole country understood that no woman is safe, anywhere," he says. Stressing that men need to be sensitised about women from an early age and taught how to behave with them, Singh elaborates, "Why cannot boys be taught some basic things in schools, like respecting women - like the fact that they are not commodities. Also, unless we have a system that delivers speedy justice, nothing will change."
His daughter's rapists were sent behind bars, those who attacked him were punished, is he still angry? Is rage still there?
"But why would rage go away? What has changed? Don't rapes happen anymore? Do women feel safe walking on dark empty streets today?"