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Lal Singh Dil’s poetry is the voice of the voiceless

Lal Singh Dil continued to capture the nuances of the exploitative system around him till his last moment. The medium that he chose to give expression to his experiences and observations during his life full of struggles was the subtlety of poetry, writes Ronki Ram

Revolutionary poet Lal Singh Dil (11 April 1943 – 14 August 2007) left an indelible mark through his poetry on the struggle for equality, social justice and freedom that began in the late 1960s in Punjab, popularly known as Naxalite lehar (movement). He was born in his maternal village, Ghungrali Sikhãn, near Samrala, a small town on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway in Punjab. He belonged to a Ramdassia Chamãr family. Ramdassia Chamãrs and other Dalits were mostly deprived of agricultural land and other sources of livelihood. As was the case with other members of his community, the mainstay of Dil’s family was manual labour on the agricultural lands that belonged to farmers of their village. During the off season, landless Dalits survive on wages from non-agricultural labour, such as at construction sites. Dil’s father Raunqi Ram worked as a daily wager throughout his life. During a conversation with Gayatri Rajwade, Dil recalled a time when his grandmother used to sit and grind wheat the whole day for a single paisa. And in Dil’s own words, “[a]t the end of the day, we would dust our clothes, collect the wheat stuck on our clothes and mix that with water and drink it before sleeping” (as recounted by journalist Nirupama Dutt in an email dated 13 August 2007 to Dil’s close friend Amarjit Chandan, who forwarded it to me on 7 April 2021).

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About The Author

Ronki Ram

Ronki Ram is the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He is also a visiting professor at the Centre of Sikh and Panjabi Studies in the University of Wolverhampton, UK. Among the books he has authored or edited are ‘Dalit Pachhan, Mukti atey Shaktikaran’ (Dalit Identity, Emancipation and Empowerment. Patiala: Punjabi University Publication Bureau, 2012), ‘Dalit Chetna: Sarot te Saruup (Dalit Consciousness: Sources and Form; Chandigarh: Lokgeet Prakashan, 2010) and ‘Globalization and the Politics of Identity in India’, Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2008 (edited with Bhupinder Brar and Ashutosh Kumar). Ram has been a professor of Contemporary India Studies at Leiden University in Leiden, the Netherlands. He holds a PhD in International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University and a post-doctoral fellowship in Peace and Conflict Resolution from Uppsala University, Sweden.

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