Sanctum Santorum (Kabir Kala Manch Performance)


Dalits who were oppressed and treated as “untouchables” by Hindu society for thousands of years today reject superstition and blind faith. This song and performance by the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) was shot in 2010. Sometime after this footage was shot the police began harassing the KKM until they went underground. In April 2013 they did a non-violent protest outside the Maharashtra State Assembly and were arrested. Today three of them are out on bail while three others including the composer and singer of this song are still in jail, charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC) is fighting for their release from prison and for their freedom of expression. This music video apart from being a reminder of what the KKM stands for, is a timely reminder of the fact that India’s working majority are ready to abandon superstition for reason.

Sanctum Santorum

Kabir Kala Manch Bail Application Rejected by High Court


Today Justice A.R. Joshi of the High Court of Bombay delivered a verbal order in the matter relating to the bail application of three cultural activists (poets and singers) of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). Shockingly Justice Joshi rejected the bail appeal of Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor.

It may be recalled that the KKM, a Dalit and working class group, was forced to go into hiding in 2011 after two of their members were arrested and tortured by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) and charged with collaborating with Naxalites. In 2012 after a film highlighting their music was released and a KKM Defence Committee was formed, the KKM began to feel that there was civil society support for their work. When in January 2013 Justice Thipsay of the Bombay High Court granted bail to the two arrested KKM activists (Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle) it gave courage to the other KKM members who due to police repression were living in hiding. Finally Sheetal Sathe , Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor decided to submit themselves to the due process of law. They did a peaceful Satyagraha by singing songs outside the State Assembly and were duly arrested. While Sheetal was granted bail in July 2013, Sachin, Sagar and Ramesh have remained in jail for a year.

Interestingly the charges against Sheetal are exactly the same as those against the three who were denied bail today. Their crime ? Writing and singing songs against poverty, inequality, gender injustice, environmental degradation, corruption, superstition. They voluntarily submitted to the due process of law and showed faith in democracy. Even the ATS has not charged them with committing violence or possessing weapons or contraband. Their weapons are only their passionate songs pleading for justice.

Today as the country is caught in the throes of an election where communal violence and rhetoric have become the norm, the sane and rational voices of Sachin, Sagar and Ramesh must multiply rather than be unjustly locked behind bars.

Note: The written order in this case is not yet available but the brief oral order read by Justice Joshi while rejecting the bail plea was merely that these applicants are charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), as if that in itself is tantamount to guilt! One wonders if the learned bench is trying to say that it is useless for anyone charged under UAPA to try to get justice in court.

Advocates Mihir Desai and Vijay Hiremath who appeared pro bono for the KKM put up a lucid and passionate defence stressing that their clients were young persons who had already lost years of their life in hiding and in jail merely for the crime of being poor and singing songs for justice.

The KKM Defence Committee will now approach the Supreme Court of India.

- Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

The thin line between dissent and rebellion- Kabir Kala Manch


Why is a radical Dalit cultural group , Kabir Kala Manch and its members being persecuted in Maharashtra?

Sunaina Kumar

Sunaina Kumar

2013-04-20 , , Issue 

Angry verse A poster by Kabir Kala Manch

For the past two years, Sheetal Sathe had not been seen, but her songs continued to haunt our consciousness. The young singer with the soul-stirring voice was portrayed as a symbol of hope in Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan’s searing documentary on the Dalits of Maharashtra. Sathe, a member of the Pune-based cultural group of Dalit protest singers and poets, Kabir Kala Manch, was branded a Naxalite in 2011. Since then she had been underground, along with Sachin Mali and Sagar Gorkhe and three other members of the group.

On 2 April, Sathe and Mali surfaced in full media glare, staged a ‘satyagraha’ outside the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai, and courted arrest. As they were taken into custody, Sathe retained her fieriness and raised slogans as she was whisked into the police jeep.

Sathe and Mali (both 27, married and expecting their first child) are facing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Mali was retained in ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) custody, and Sathe sent to judicial custody on compassionate grounds until 17 April.

The recent ruling by the Bombay High Court granting bail to Kabir Kala Manch members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, who were arrested in May 2011 (along with Angela Sontakke, a member of the banned CPI(Maoist), still behind bars) gave hope to the disbanded cultural group and led to the decision of Sathe and Mali to come out of hiding. The high court declared that mere sympathy to Maoist ideology does not incriminate a person, and none of the Kabir Kala Manch members can be said to be active members of CPI(Maoist).

Through music and poetry, Kabir Kala Manch took up the cause of social inequality, exploitation of the underclasses, farmer suicides, female infanticide, Dalit killings and the widening net of corruption. Patwardhan of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, made up of civil society activists, says that Kabir Kala Manch members are at an impressionable age where their ideological thinking is still in process and their work covers a wide spectrum of political ideas such as Ambedkarism, socialism and Marxism. “I have known them since 2007 and can vouch for the fact that they have never taken up arms,” says Patwardhan.

Kabir Kala Manch was formed in Pune in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and made up of students and young professionals who performed protest poetry and plays in slums and streets, shaking up the cultural scene in Pune as they presented a voice for the voiceless. Both Mali’s and Sathe’s academic backgrounds are exemplary; Sathe being a gold medallist and post graduate from Pune University.

Mumbai-based lawyer and activist Kamayani Bali Mahabal, also a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, says that the existence of the group is crucial as they create space for dissent through shayari and songs that are much more effective than speeches. “They are responsible artists who interpret art as a catalyst for social change. Unfortunately, for the State there is no distinction between Dalit protesters and activists and Naxalites,” says Mahabal, who was exposed to their work through Jai Bhim Comrade.

Mihir Desai, the lawyer for Sathe and Mali, says the defence is waiting for the Anti- Terrorism Squad to complete its investigation and file a supplementary chargesheet.

“A lot of people who fight for radical changes in society get attracted to different ideologies, but as the Bombay High Court stated, as long as you don’t act in pursuance of those ideologies, you are not guilty,” says Desai.

Despite repeated attempts, TEHELKA was unable to reach the Anti-Terrorism Squad.

Patwardhan says that the case against the Kabir Kala Manch proves that the State does not tolerate the voice of weaker sections of society. “In our democracy, only the upper-class elites are allowed to have a voice,” he says.

Kabir Kala Manch member and poet Deepak Dengle, who is out on bail after two years in prison, penned a poem in jail called Kis kis ko qaid karoge, mocking those who imprison lovers of freedom. The stirring words of the poem promise that the young revolutionaries will not be kept quiet for long.


“Satyagraha, not Surrender”: KKM Defence Committee


Announcement by Friends of KKM Defence Committee

Mumbai 2/04/13

We the undersigned friends of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) Defence Committee announce that two KKM members, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali both of whom are charged and described under the UAPA as being Maoist Naxalites and declared as absconders are hereby, of their own volition, appearing before peoples’ representatives and the police.

We wish this voluntary appearance of KKM before the police to be a matter of public record and expect the police to restrain from torturing them or implicating them in any false case. We expect nothing less and nothing more than the due process of law.

In appearing before the police, KKM members state that this act should not be construed to be a “surrender” but as a form of “satyagraha” to clear their name and establish the fact that their goal is to fight for justice within the confines of democratic conduct.

The KKM is a cultural organization that has over many years spread its anti-caste, pro-democracy message through music, poetry and theatre. But when atrocities on Dalits and weaker sections of society began to increase, as witnessed in incidents like the rape and murder of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji, the songs and words of the KKM admittedly became more militant. It is this militancy that brought them under the police scanner.

Less than two years ago KKM members were finally forced to go underground after police began to describe them as Naxalites.  Two of their members were charged and arrested under the UAPA.

Fearing police arrest and torture and the possible planting of evidence, Sachin and Sheetal had stayed out of public sight till now. This period of enforced absence from the public stage has been a difficult one for a group as talented and popular as KKM.

Last year KKM began to entertain the hope of working openly again when a documentary film in which they featured, “Jai Bhim Comrade”, began to be screened widely and won a National award as well as Maharashtra State recognition.

More recently the Bombay High Court granted bail to two arrested members of KKM, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth, ruling that unless the police makes out a case that an actual crime has been committed by the accused, they cannot interpret the UAPA to arrest people merely on the basis of any alleged ideology.

Emboldened by these events to hope that due process of law can still bring justice even in these unjust times, and encouraged by signs that there is a civil society that will monitor their progress, Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe have decided to test the depth of our democratic system.

We must not fail the KKM, or ourselves.

Prakash Ambedkar, Prakash Reddy, Kumar Damle, Bhalchandra Kango,   Kamayani Bali Mahabal
Vivek Sundara, Anand Patwardhan


Every artist has the right to be rebellious: Girish Karnad






Press Trust of India / Mumbai October 04, 2012, 21:05

Stating that “rebellion” is the right of every artist, veteran actor and filmmaker Girish Karnad today said reading or possessing books on Naxalism is not a crime.

The 74-year-old playwright said Aseem Trivedi, the political cartoonist who was charged with sedition by Mumbai Police, and human rights activist Binayak Sen, accused by the Chhattisgarh Government of having links with Naxals, received different treatment in the cases in which they were arrested.

“Aseem Trivedi was granted bail soon after he gathered support from various sections of the society. On the other hand, Binayak Sen was refused bail on several occasions,” Karnad said.

He was speaking at a programme organised by the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) here this evening.

KKM is a cultural group consisting of Dalit “protest” singers and poets. Two activists of the Manch were arrested by Maharashtra Police last year for alleged Naxal links.

Calling the people associated with the organisation as “rebellious and enemy” of the state is unfair, the award-winning playwright maintained.

Lokmanya Tilak said Swaraj is my birthright. I would say rebellion is the right of every artist. An independent individual has every right to be rebellious.”

Karnad said there is no exact definition of Naxalism and Maoism. Claiming that he reads a lot on Maoism, the filmmaker questioned, “Does that mean I am a Maoist?”

“I have many books on Naxalism and Maoism. If reading books on Maoist ideology is a crime, then I am also a Maoist,” he state


The Best Songs and Poems of Kabir Kala Manch #mustread



Kamayani Bali Mahabal

Advocate Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and activist selects the five best of Kabir Kala Manch’s songs and poems:

1. Sheetal Sathe sings about her mother in MAJHI MAYE. Before she starts to sing, she says: ‘Everyone wants women to join protests against discrimination, but they dont want their own wives to’.

Watch the song on:

2. Deepak Dengle writes his his poem KISS KISS KO KAID KAROGEY. This heart-wrenching poem was penned in the jail.

जेल से कविता: किस किस को कैद करोगे?

किस किस को कैद करोगे?
लाखों हैं मुक्ति के पंछी, कैद करोगे किसको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे की सलाखों का लोहा हमने ही निकाला है
ये लोहा पिघलाने हमने अपना खून उबाला है
लोहा लोहे को पहचानेगा, फिर क्या होगा समझो
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे की दीवारों में हमने पसीना बहाया है
ईंट बनाने, सीमेंट बनाने मिट्टी को भी भिगोया है
मिट्टी कभी गद्दार न होगी, क्या बतलायें तुझको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे के पुर्जे पुर्जे हमें बताते अपने किस्से
कितने मज़दूर दफन हुए हैं इस पिंजरे के नींव के नीचे
वो मज़दूर हैं साथ हमारे, कौन रोकेगा हमको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
कैद में डालो, फांसी लगा दो, हंटर से चमड़ी भी निकालो
न्याय के रस्ते चल पड़े हैं, बाँध लगा लो, कांटे बिछा लो
कितना ज़ुल्म करेगा ज़ालिम, थक जाना है तुझको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको

3. Sheetal Sathe sings a song penned by her-EK MAITRA RAANGADYA. Another Sheetal Sathe song which gives me goose bumps has been translated by Ashutosh, a member of the Kabir Kala Manch.


Ek Maitra Raangadya
The nausea is served in the plate , the untouchable nausea
The disgust is  growing in the belly, the untouchable disgust
its there even in  buds of flowers, its there even in  sweet songs
that man should drink man’s blood ,
which is the land where this happens
which is the land of this hellish nausea
So it goes , my  dear friend, so it goes in the villages
so it goes my friend  from the harsh lands,  so it goes in remote places
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of humans
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of our lands
there is but one blood in humans
there is but one
The bones are made the same
the bones are but one
Juts like the water
ust like the flowers
ust like the wind
this body , natural,  is the same
Then how come is this difference?
how come this division by caste
then how come this division ?
how come human are valued differently
by this yardstick of caste
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes in the villages
so it goes my friend from the harsh lands, so it goes in remote places
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of humans
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of our lands
and if we  are  the same humans
then why are we ouside the village?
The outsider cleans up the waste
then why do we have to  bow and beg
“curtsy oh my lord, I am passing through
Cursty oh my  master , I bow to you
curtsy oh my lord, I am passing through

Cursty oh my master , I bow to you”
Our  shadow is untouchable , our touch nauseating
this  disgust in you faces, this shit  in your thoughts
this nausea of your beliefs
is hanging from our necks , from our  settlements necks
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes in the with Peshawai
so it goes my friend , so it goes with feudal lords
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of brahminical Peshwai
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the untouchables
You burned the mothers on  the pyres
you  burnt her anger to ashes
you sacrificed her on the altar of the caste restrictions
told her ” go and become a Sati”
A living body, with the dead one, was made to die
what kind of religion you protected
by killing and cutting down living people ?
So it goes , my dear friend, so goes the story of Sati’s
so it goes my friend , so it goes with lives of my mothers
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of Sati
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the Mother
You killed  our Shambuk, ourTuka you send heavenwards
on  our heart you struck ,  wounds  after wounds
and soe one was killed for water
someone for the temple
and someone was killed for the voice
and someone for the touch
So it goes , my dear friend, so goes the story Khairlainji
so it goes even now my friend , so goes the story Khairlainji
Listen to this my friend , listen to this ongoing story
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the Ramabai
But now you mass murderers
its time for you to stop
we are coming out ,
with our  dignity as our flag and standard
we are ready to fight , to figght back  at each step
those who sell their dignity , would no longer stand with us
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes with the fight
so it goes even now my friend , so goes with teh true fight
Listen to this my friend , listen to this story of true struggle
come with me my friend from harsh lands, lets strat the decisive struggle of life and death

Listen to the song:

4. Another KKM song which I find stirring; in true Ambedkar form is:

We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
the legion of 330 millon gods
cant find a single one, we find it a bit odd
in short thats what Bhima has found
We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
This so called incarnate holy man, that so called incarnate holy woman
incarnations, miracles , their claims of divination
its gullible’s congregation
We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Sun signs moon signs, astrological chart
Mars and Saturn are acting smart
and these priests are versed in the cheating art
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Pandhari, Shirdi-Tirupati, all are snares
The trustees of temples are now billionaires
its a buisness , its one all right
all Matha are making black money white
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
they made the religion , the opium of masses
poltics of religion, the gangs of asses
these gangs arecommitting genocide
behind the religions , they all hide
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Let s kick this stupidity away
lets kick them away from us
lets take the scientific thoughts
and keep our heads about us
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha

5. Finally there is VAAT PAHWAA says Deepak Dengle. It is a song of hope and struggle. Below is the Marathi poem by him from jail, which echos the same sentiments. The English translation is by Umesh Soman

Wait and watch, I come!
I shall come because there’s justice…
Sans justice can this world exist?
I am coming, my time has to come …

The song of the downtrodden has to be sung!
My coming has a meaning…
Its the selfishness of sharing a morsel with those who starve…
I shall come… But not alone…
My intention is not small…
Wait and watch!

Wait and watch
It is small paths that turn into roads…
Thousands of trickling streams,
Turn into a powerful river!
My coming will neither be simple nor tame…
A stormy wind or thunder it shall be!
Like the waves of a tumultous sea with my arms spread;
That love of yours like a mighty mountain;
I want to embrace…
You just wait and watch!

Here are two journalistic articles about Kabir Kala Manch; and why two members are in prison.

Petition for Kabir Kala Manch:-

Click here to read about the press conference and the release of Kabir Kala Manch’s music CD.

Kamyani Bali Mahabal is a lawyer-activist and a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee.

The accidental Arrest of an Artist #mustread

Issue No: 52    September 1, 2012  
Two Kabir Kala Manch artistes were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and branded Naxalites. Ramu Ramanathan, a Mumbai-based playwright and a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, reports.
Knowing this, we meet the Maha Maharajaof the State in his home-cum-office at Varsha. Our agenda: to request the state government to withdraw false charges against Shahirs (singer-poets) from the Kabir Kala Manch and ensure them a right to perform.The security is polite. The Maha Maharaja is a statesman. Pleasantries are exchanged. Tea and poha are served. Anand Patwardhan boots up his Apple Mac and showcases excerpts from his documentary Jai Bhim Comrade on a white-washed wall. On screen, Sheetal Sathe and co-members of Kabir Kala Manch mobilise audiences in the name of Ambedkar and Phule. There are some sharp witticisms about the abject poverty and slum discontentment. The 15 minute screening is concluded.

For one nano-second, there is darkness.

The Maha Maharaja returns to his seat; the meeting with the leading lights of the defence committee is re-convened.

The point is made: the state should promptly withdraw charges against Deepak Dengle and Sidharth Bhosale of the Kabir Kala Manch. Also Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali who are underground due to the fear of beatings and a longish jail term, be provided an opportunity to come ‘overground”. Above all, artistes be allowed to perform.

The Maha Maharaja agrees that human rights are meant to be defended. Then we chit-chat about the proliferation of Naxalism into urban centres in the state; and how it should be curbed in a humanitarian way. This goes on for 35 minutes.

Promises are made. We exit.
Time passes.
A bit slower for Dengle and Bhosale in jail.
Meanwhile the official record of the above meeting with the Maha Maharaja goes missing.

The game is afoot.

There are other mini-skits in the other power-corridors. We hear stories of another Maha Maharaja in the cabinet who is casteist; and yet another who abuses all and sundry.

There’s a story about one who is surrounded with a raft of telephones; none of which are connected. On these phones this particular Maha Maharaja conducts Jean Cocteau type monologue to no one in particular. But we the people in front of him applaud for his prompt support.

Sadly, prompt state support which we need is absent. For the two Kabir Kala Manch members, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle who are behind bars at Arthur Road central prison. For every court date, they are brought to Sewri court for the hearings with heavy police escort. They were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the State under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and branded Naxalites.

The court hearings are proceeding inside a bleak-looking Sewri Court. The security is humongous and they keep a strict vigil. One day, the judge does not turn up. On others, the legalese and the administrative wrangles seem insurmountable. Plus there is the lack of funds to mount a serious challenge.

Meanwhile as the saying goes, time passes faster, backwards …

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a founder member of the Kabir Kala Manch defence committee says: “The main trouble, it seems, is re-kindling the kind of public opinion that was present during Dr Binayak Sen.”

Film-maker Anand Patwardhan adds: “KKM members are Dalits from poor families who do not carry weapons. Their crime is they sing songs. Had a mainstream musician sung the same songs or uttered the sentiments through songs, I doubt the State would have branded them Naxalites and forced them to go underground.”

The long arm of the State is now reaching out to KKM family members like Sheetal Sathe’s mother, who has lost her job at the Ruby Hall Clinic in Pune, where she worked as an assistant “due to the 24/7 scrutiny of the state”.

It’s become a matter of desperate survival; and the prize money of Rs. 51,000 that Patwardhan was awarded for Jai Bhim Comrade is rapidly depleting.

A portrait of Kabir Kala Manch

Kabir Kala Manch appeared on Pune’s theatre scene in 2002. This is the once intellectually proud city that now practices an indifference to politics. The group members sang songs and staged agit-prop plays. They repudiated aesthetics for politics of the stage.

In February 2005, Kabir Kala Manch members got a crash-course in radicalism in the form of the heavy weights of the “vidrohi movement” like Bharat Patankar, Kishore Dhamale, Kishore Jadhav, Dhanaji Gurav and Sudhir Dhawale.

The vidrohi chalwal in its heyday was a disingenuous counter-code to the mainstream. The mainstream Sahitya Sammelan was held at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. It doffed its hat to Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi (chief minister of Maharashtra) and the Shiv Sena, while the Vidrohi Sammelan hosted in Dharavi was the literature of the Dalits, Muslims, workers and women. While the main meet was funded by the Shiv Sena-BJP government, the parallel meet was self-funded. The main sammelan was a meet of people with “shendi” (hair knot) and “janva” (religious thread), the parallel sammelan was that of people with “lathi” (stick) and “ghongdi” (a rough cloth). While the main sammelan served upma and sheera (publicised on the front page of most Marathi newspapers), the Vidrohi Sammelan served beef and pork. The Vidrohi fine-tuned their tradition to mock. They protested in front of the World Social Forum in 2004, and pooh-poohed it as the “social world’s forum”.

Kabir Kala Manch’s “mission” became an acquired taste. The arresting language which its urban shahirs belt out, tackle themes like anti superstition, gender equality and education, and have the usual appeal of that which is deemed street theatre.

Illegal art

Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat (a radical poet and political activist) who mentored the group in “the art of composing songs and a few performance tricks” says: “Kabir Kala Manch is a talented group made up of young Dalit boys and girls. They sing political songs. But they also combat social evils and promote inter-caste marriage.” He points out how Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali had an inter-caste marriage for which there was a lot of opposition.

Bhagat continues: “Ambedkarites are today’s bad boys in Maharashtra. All that we say or do is under surveillance.” Bhagat also known as the “Maharashtra’s Gaddar” knows what he is talking about. His play Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, has run into a spot of bother with the State. The play which has had 37 stagings in the past two months in Mumbai and Pune has been denied a show in Parbhani Zilla Parishad and likewise in Sangli because of its “provocative content.”

Bhagat says, “We refused to show the script to anyone and went ahead with the show. The response was stupendous. Today, this is the problem with theatre in Maharashtra. Gratuitous art is the norm. Anything other than that means indictment either from the State or from angry demonstrators.”

The play has a simple intent; i.e. to re-claim Chattrapati Shivaji from a militant right-wing mascot to being “a Raja of the Shudras” and highlight his administrative abilities. The musical play directed by Nandu Madhav (who plays Harishchandra in Harishchandrachi Factory) transpires in the here and now. Shivaji is no more and while Yama is escorting his atma back to Swargalok, he goes missing. The musical piece performed by 17 farm workers from Jalna frequently lacks narrative coherence which it makes up with a pastiche of the absurd, and focuses on who owns Shivaji and why. This is a dense biography of Maharashtra’s tallest warrior king and, in spite of the occasional Powada thrown as dramatic device, no historical liaison is left unexplored to its furthest implication.

Bhagat says he had a lot of misgivings about staging the play since it would be denied a genuine run of shows due to its “Jai Bhim” tag.

Unsurprisingly the play has become “a critically acclaimed hit”; and that has muddled the plot.

As Sunil Shanbag, a veteran director who has grappled with all types of theatre censorship says: “Maharashtra is well endowed with methodologies and means to prevent plays that irk the State’s peace of mind.” So on the one hand the Culture Department and its cronies will say the show must go on, come what may. On the other hand there are the permissions and NOCs and clearances from the state office cultural secretary; NOC from BMC after paying venue charges and deposits; BMC show department’s NOC; fire brigade NOC; PWD electrical and stage compliance report; collector Mumbai for entertainment tax clearance after pre-payment of entertainment tax; police station NOC; RTO – NOC; RTO bandobast charges; DCP Zone; Rangbhoomi Permission for script and lyrics; censor board clearance; police station permission in the ward; and 33 other licenses.

The point is, no other state in India is so empowered. This means, the State can declare every single live performance “illegal” on a technicality.

This is the main reason, Maharashtra has witnessed a longish saga of “banned” plays: Keechak Vadh by K. P. Khadilkar, Sakharam Binder and Gidhade by Vijay Tendulkar, Mee Nathuram Boltoyby Pradeep Dalvi, Bedtime Story by Kiran Nagarkar, Yada Kadachit by Santosh Pawar, Avadhya by C. T. Khanolkar, Golpeetha by Suresh Chikhale… The list is endless.

Presently, the play Ek Cahavat Sandhyakaal faces a ban in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) auditoriums because of its vulgar content which is deemed suitable only for men, and not permitted for women. This means exclusive shows for men only audience. Next in line is a ban on plays that depict scenes of tobacco products and gutka consumption. This move has the backing of local parties and the mayor of the city.

For some opaque reason, there’s a cry from certain quarters to include Shivaji Underground… to this list.

None of the rules make sense anymore.

Bad brutality v/s good violence

The shows become chaotic. The performances seem to make no head or tail to ‘we, the people’.

With Kabir Kala Manch’s frequent allusions to democracy’s failures, oppression, and domination of one caste over the other, it was on the State’s radar. When Sheetal Sathe sang about how Ambedkar said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his people should overthrow it, the State started to act. It’s bad brutality v/s good violence justice — that’s the explanation from the civil rights camp.

The State counter-argues, based on a confessional statement under section 164 of the criminal procedure code of how members of the Kabir Kala Manch had an affair with the Naxalite ideology of the CPI (Maoist) who indoctrinated them. The charge: training camps in Pune’s Khed taluka, lecturing in support of imprisoned Angela Sontakke and others, rubbing shoulders with revolutionaries and visiting campuses and bastis with “a message in the service of a cause”.

When Deepak Dengle meets us at Sewri Court, his literary inspiration is still not exhausted.

He hands me a poem, Inquilab Chaiye. In the poem he seeks in art a fulfillment that had eluded him in life. The poem is in Hindi and has a rudimentary rhythm. He sings the first mukdha.

Ek moothi baandho reh baandho
Ek moothi baandho re doston
Bas ek mukka chaiye
Aur ek dhakka chaiye
Inquilab chaiye doston

The police battalion gather around Dengle to eavesdrop. They are bemused.

Meanwhile suspected women Maoists sympathisers lodged in Mumbai District Women’s Prison in Byculla are brought to the Sessions Court at Sewri by a posse of policemen and policewoman. These are “the dangerous Maoist sympathisers”: Angela Sontakke, Sushma Ramteke, Anuradha Sonule, Mayuri Bhagat, and Jyoti Chorghe.

They had been arrested in Pune by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in April last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Two of the young girls (one of them is indisposed) talk about their work in Nagpur where they staged plays in colleges and universities including a play on Einstein, the anti-superstition drive, singing songs.

The last play they staged was about Bhagat Singh for their fellow inmates in Byculla Jail. They describe the show and the stage-craft and the response from the jail authorities. This is the same jail where they say they were assaulted in April, and punished with solitary confinement because they chose to highlight the problems in the jail. Their books which included a biography on Mahatma Gandhi and a pamphlet on prison rights were confiscated.

Susan Abraham, legal counselor says: “This is in complete violation of their basic rights as under-trials, and indeed artists.”

But no one is listening.

And in this way the show goes on.

Click here to read a piece about Kabir Kala Manch that appeared in TEHELKA

Click here to sign the petition

This piece is a sincere request for funds to support the legal trials of KKM members plus the families of KKM members. For further information on how to do so, please send an eMail


Listen to song penned by Deepak Dengle, sung by Sagar Gorkhe -झोपड़ पट्टी रे


Kabir Kala Manch Members, have been born and bought up in slums, and this song reverberates their experience and understanding on the issue of  labour, poverty and politics.

Poet- Deepak Dengle

Singer- Sagar Gorkhe

झोपड़ पट्टी रे -२
हे अँगरेज़ आया मशीन लाया
मिल बनाया –झोपड़ पट्टी
चमार, गुनकर ,लोहार ,मेह्कार
सब समाया — झोपड़  पट्टी

सारी  दुनिया को ऊंचा उठा के
मजदूर रह लिया —झोपड़  पट्टी

झोपड़ पट्टी रे -२
बाम्बू , चटाई ,पत्र ,लकड़ी ,ऊपर प्लास्टिक
बन गयी झोपड़ी
रेलवे लाइन , बाजू  में वाइन
कैसे भी तो ढक गयी खोपड़ी
अपनी भाषा , कल्चर बनईके
बढ़ती  चल रही ,– झोपड़  पट्टी
झोपड़ पट्टी रे -२

सब है  दादा , सब है  भाई
लफड़ा, झगडा , यह मार कुटाई
दारू, गांजा , पनी मास्टर
भूखे बच्चे , रोती लुघाई
घर घर मान्य देसी शहर में
डूबती चल रही झोपड़ पट्टी

कामगार और किसानों के दम पर
आज़ादी के उड़े कबूतर
वोह राजा  के आया  काला
टूटा वोह सपनों का मंज़र
पांच  सालों में चुना लगा गए
देखती रह गयी झोपड़ पट्टी

झोपड़ पट्टी रे -२


Kabir Kala Manch members sing a slum dweller song

Notes from underground


Notes from underground

Last month, a group of filmmakers, actors and activists formed the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee to support the Dalit singers who went underground last year after being branded Naxalites. Kareena N Gianani looks at similar initiatives and finds hope, anger and an awareness of the reinvention needed to keep a cause ” and the person ” alive

June 24, 2012
Kareena N Gianani, Sunday Mid-day

Towards the end of a recent screening of Anand Patwardhan’s 2011 documentary on caste atrocities, Jai Bhim Comrade, a 20-something girl appeared onscreen. A ripple of seat-shifting ran through the auditorium at Xavier’s College, as if on cue. Her unflinching gaze planted a nagging thought in the viewers’ minds, hinting that something was going to make them sit up, very soon. Her easy smile told them otherwise. Everyone edged closer to their seats, anyway.

Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan is part of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee. He had interviewed the Pune troupe’s members for his documentary on Dalit exploitation, Jai bhim Comrade. Pic Courtesy/MS Gopal (

Sheetal Sathe half-closed her eyes and sang about Dalit atrocities, poverty and exploitation. The static in the sound system of the makeshift pandal in Pune could not tarnish her deep, heartrending voice. By the time the gooseflesh settled down, the next scene showed Sathe, an atheist, sitting with her mother in a chawl whose walls were invisible because of the dieties’ posters fighting for space. Sathe spoke of how Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar clearly said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his own people would overthrow it. Her mother looked on.

Sathe, with four members of her street music troupe, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), has been underground since May last year. On May 12, 2011, two members of KKM, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, were arrested by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and branded Naxalites.

Defending the right to disagree
Last month, on May 11, Patwardhan, supported by activist Kamayani Bali-Mahabal, actor Ratna Pathak Shah and playwright-director Ramu Ramanathan, among others, formed the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee. Patwardhan, who is currently touring in Australia to screen Jai Bhim Comrade, says over email that the KKM members are mostly Dalits from poor families who do not carry weapons, only sing songs.

“Had someone like you or me uttered the same words and sentiments as KKM did through their songs, I doubt the State would have branded us Naxalites and begin to hound us till we were forced to go underground.”  When, adds Patwardhan, the mining corporations put pressure on the Centre and the Centre puts pressure on the State and the ATS to show results in the fight against Naxalites, what better soft target to hit than a group like the KKM?

“And there is always a gullible media to swallow the story. Occasionally, these stories unravel as one did when the Malegaon blasters turned out to be a Hindutva gang and not the poor Muslims who had been tortured for six years for the same crime,” says the documentary filmmaker. Ironically, the state awarded Jai Bhim Comrade the National Film Award. Patwardhan made his point by donating the Rs 51,000 prize money to the Committee fighting against the state.

Silencing dissent
At her Bandra residence, Shah thinks for a moment before she finds the perfect analogy for the given situation. “The KKM members were closer to the material they sang about — closer than performers like me can ever be. Their art is confrontational and direct, and, as an actor, I can see why the impact is magnified. Don’t we pay Rs 500 to watch stand-up artistes criticise politicians, policies and social issues?”

Kabir Kala Manch’s lead singer, Sheetal Sathe, is underground with four other members after two of her troupe members were branded Naxalites and arrested in May last year

Shah remembers a time when, a couple of years ago, at a stage performance of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai’s controversial plays, Booh and Lihaaf respectively, a viewer stormed out after a fight with the actors. He was shocked that Shah could stage something that “obscene and corrupting in front of his 14 year-old daughter”. “The show was meant for adults in the first place. Still, we never once took away his right to disagree with us. But in the case of the KKM, that is exactly what state is doing — silencing voices that speak against them.”

The KKM Defence Committee is also trying to raise its voice against the treatment meted out to the families of the KKM members who have gone underground. Sathe’s mother, for instance, says Mahabal, was thrown out of the Ruby Hall Clinic in Pune, where she worked as an assistant. It is Binayak Sen all over again, says Mahabal.

She currently attends the KKM hearings with other members and runs a blog and a Facebook page dedicated to the KKM. She also plans to organise a peaceful protest around Independence Day this year with the help of Justice And Peace For All (JAPA), a group of musicians who spread activism through their art. Last December, JAPA members performed at Carter Road in support of Binayak Sen. “We got some rappers who rap in Marathi, too. When it comes to these cases, you must keep doing something new — innovating in terms of ideas — to generate interest. We, the middle class, can be surprisingly thick-skinned otherwise,” smiles Mahabal.

‘Unite the cause’
The first thing 39 year-old Arun Ferreira remembers after his five year-long jail stint in January, is a “thumb marathon”. “I was supposed to SMS relatives, friends and fellow activists who fought for me. But I’m so slow that I don’t think I am still done with that.” “I don’t think I’ve gotten used to life outside jail,” says Ferreira, looking around at the ice-cream parlour in Bandra.

Arun Ferreira, who was released from prison in January, plans to form a committee in Mumbai, similar to the Committee For Release Of Political Prisoners, New Delhi, which works for the rights for political prisoners. Pic/Atul Kamble

The man behind the counter looks up from his own ‘thumb marathon’ on his mobile phone and leans to look at Ferreira, as if to see what a man just outside prison looks like. Ferreira doesn’t notice. He is busy smiling and speaking of how he misses the “real conversations in jail as compared to the ‘pings’ and ‘pokes’ outside”.

Ferreira shows no outward signs of distress. Nothing in the way he walks across the street with his denim sling bag suggests that he was arrested under the same UAPA act under which the KKM was booked last year. Neither does his demeanour give away the fact that he is working on a plan to start a Mumbai-version of the Committee For Release Of Political Prisoners, New Delhi, an organisation fighting for human rights since 1989.

Ferreira is all for activists forming committees to support causes against the UAPA, but says that somewhere, we need to go beyond the individual. “We must understand that we need a larger platform and united causes — no issue is ‘just’ social, environmental, about women — it is all about expressing our right to dissent.”

Ferreira isn’t comfortable revealing names of those who will be a part of this body. “I’ll continue doing what I am doing even now — being part of other committees working toward releasing political prisoners, filing applications, extending legal help to them and their families and so on,” he says.
In jail, Ferreira spent a lot of time with those booked under the UAPA, such as Dalit activists Sudhir Dhawale and Vernon Gonsalves. “Words like ‘vidroh’, these days, are enough to land you in jail. We don’t need more cosmetic laws, we need a change in the existing set-up. I think it’s time we remembered that democracy was, in the first place, born out of struggle.”

Keeping the case alive
Eddie Rodrigues, associate professor at the department of sociology at the Mumbai University, understands where Ferreira is coming from. “Post-liberalisation, the left, right and centre seem to have come together and are working on a modern development model that keeps out three-fourth of our population. The media comes in to sensationalise things and many NGOs reap its benefits thanks to this section. Voices of dissent and those that speak up for this part of the population are seen as ‘trouble-makers’,” says Rodrigues.

The struggle, he adds, is not dead, but because there is no political will, unorganised groups have a limited impact. Sumedh Jadhav, a 50 year-old activist who formed the Sudhir Dhawale Muktata Abhyaan after Dhawale’s arrest in May 2010 says a lot changes for the committees working against the UAPA arrests as time passes. “All that the cops found before arresting him were documents about Bhagat Singh and a book with a red cover.

When we first started the committee, there was a lot of hullabaloo in the media and in the people. Even today, we have moral support, but other cases have come up and I am struggling to keep Dhawale’s work alive even among our own community.” Jadhav, who works as an LIC agent, attends court hearings and goes to Dalit-dominated bastis to spread Dhawale’s message. He says he often joins similar causes in the hope that Dhawale’s case, again, will be in the limelight. “I wouldn’t say there are no listeners, but I feel that I need to ‘reinvent’ myself and my cause. Perhaps, get on Facebook…”

Deepak Dengle’s Poem- ‘ Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge ‘


On Jan 31, 2013, Deepak dengle has been granted bail by the Mumbai High Court, finally eh will walk a free man, Below is his poem he wrote behind bars, from words to action, Deepak did it :-)

Deepak  Dengle, of Kabir Kala  Manch , a writer, singer composer who has been inside  Mumbai  prison for a year now, has been using his writing skills inside the prison also.

KKM  Defence Committee Member Kamayani Bali Mahabal , recites his poem sent from the prison  at CGnet  swara

Listen here     Kis Kis Kaid Karogey

Sheetal Sathe- Kabir Kala Manch sings for Mothers of India (English Subtitles)



Sheetal Sathe is the Backbone  of the Kabir Kala Manch, a spirited  musical troupe which emerged in 2002 after the Gujarat Riots.This leftist cultural group, with students and professionals as its members, drew its  inspiration from Kabir’s poetry, and conveys its social message—of denouncing injustice and oppression—through public performances. Sheetal married outside her caste against  her  family wishes , but convinced her mother. The state doesn’t like  their music. Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad is after  all memebrs of Kabir Kala Manch , and  they are underground  because they have been accused of being in contact with Maoists. Her songs are about   feminism, casteism, equality and unbridled capitalism. Two members are behind bars Deepak Dengle and Sidharth Bhonsale .

This song is dedicated to all Mothers of India, penned and sung by Shettal Sathe, this clip has been taken from Anand Patwardhan‘s

Jai Bhim Comrade


Anand Patwardhan – donates his National Award to Kabir Kala Manch


Anand Patwardhan announces his donation of Rs.51,000 he received from the government of Maharashtra for his film Jai Bhim Comrade towards the Kabir Kala Defense Committee


Kabir Kala Manch – Living to tell the tale


Through their controversial protest music, Kabir Kala Manch aims, not to create commotion but, to bring about change. Neerja Dasani

Changemakers:KKM uses wit and satire to raise prevelant social issues.Photo: Neerja Dasani 

Changemakers:KKM uses wit and satire to raise prevelant social issues.Photo: Neerja Dasani

The art of irony is something that the members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), who identify themselves not as a cultural troupe but as a political movement, are well-versed in. This could be because life for them has been a series of curious contradictions. Emerging from mohallas  and  bastis , their voices reverberated through the corridors of power, disturbing the slumber of those within. Finding democracy’s din too unsettling, its elected guardians branded KKM as anti-national. The resultant time spent either in jail or underground, strengthened the members’ resolve instead of silencing them into submission.

Along the way, they have lost jobs, fallen behind in their academic pursuits, been separated from their families; they were prominently featured in Anand Patwardhan’s incisive documentary ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ which has gone on to win aNational Award. At a recent performance at the Film and Television Institute of IndiaPune, KKM along with the event’s organisers, were attacked by members ofAkhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The attempt to intimidate supporters led instead to a surge in KKM’s popularity, with invitations to perform coming in from across the country.

A fraction of the group was in Chennai last week to participate in Prakriti Foundation’s annual ‘Poetry with Prakriti’ festival. Rupali Jadhav, Deepak Dhengle, Ramdas Unhale, Dada Waghmare and Laxman Kalleda expressed their intent to continue “taking the voice of the people to the people and giving them the courage to stand up against injustice”. Even without their “real strength” – Ramesh Gaichore, Sachin Mali and Sagar Gorkhe, who are still in jail, and Sheetal Sathe and Jyoti Chorge who are currently unable to tour – they astutely lay bare ground realities, using wit and satire to raise issues such as caste discrimination, women’s oppression, the agrarian crisis, rising inequality and rampant superstition.

Following in the tradition of Dalit protest music, they draw artistic inspiration from people like Annabhau Sathe, Vilas Ghogre and Sambhaji Bhagat, while ideologically they turn to Ambedkar, Bhagat SinghJyotiba PhuleSavitribai Phule, Periyar etc. — names that an urban elite audience hardly ever encounters, except perhaps on street signs. “The capitalist media’s brainwashing causes even a grassroots person living in a shanty to be preoccupied with the same thoughts as a mansion-dweller. We’re forgetting the world around us,” says Deepak Dhengle. With lyrics like ‘The sky is your roof/no blanket in the winter/your world is at the traffic signal/standing in the glaring sun/Why is it like this?’, KKM attempts to rouse people from their stupor.

While their focus has been on building solidarity among the dispossessed by performing in slums, villages and factories , they are now reaching out to the middle class which they perceive as being vital to any social upheaval. While earlier their lyrics were only in Marathi, they now have a sizeable Hindi repertoire, widening their reach.

With an eye on the general elections they urge people to vote against feudal and communal forces. Taking digs at the two major electoral parties, they mock the religious agenda of one (‘All they can see is temples here/there/up and down’) and the everlasting “Garibi Hatao” slogan of the other. “If you are tired of this kind of politics, choose the form which suits you best and take power into your own hands,” says Dhengle.

KKM’s poetry also has a strong feminist current. The women  shahirs  (poet-singers) live their politics, working hard to complete their education and choosing their own life partners, often from outside their caste. Having faced the double discrimination of growing up as a woman in a Dalit household, Rupali Jadhav displays this political maturity while interrogating the audience: “After the Delhi gang rape, people were asking for the perpetrators to be hung, but will that change anything? If we must hang something it should be the feudal system that has taken root in the mind of every Indian male.”

Discussing their creative process Jadhav notes wryly, “There’s no need for us to do  riyaaz  (practice) to think about oppression. We write what we experience.” It is this directness that has touched a raw nerve in the authorities as well as the audience. One reacts with suppression, the other with solidarity. “Our idea is not to create a commotion, it is to create change,” says Dhengle.

Read here -

Kabir Kala Manch – Young Turks fired by zeal for their ideology

Kochi, November 5, 2013, The Hindu

Nidhi Surendranath

‘Ideology’ is a word Deepak Dhengle uses frequently when he talks about his life. His ideology changed his life completely in the last few years and landed him in jail in 2011.

Dhengle, who says he subscribes to Marxism and the teachings of B.R. Ambedkar, was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad on charge of associating with Naxalites.

Dhengle, 38, is part of the Pune-based cultural activism group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which travels to slums and rural areas of Maharashtra and delivers performances against poverty, caste oppression, and other social issues. Several activists of KKM have been arrested on charge of indoctrinating people into the Naxalite ideology.

Now out on bail, Dhengle was in the city with five other members of KKM to deliver a performance here at the inauguration of a film club. “I have never taken up arms. But the State arrested me under a law that punishes terrorists,” says Dhengle. “We are all democratic people. But we want a true democracy. The Constitution written by Ambedkar should be followed in its true spirit. That is not happening today,” he says.

KKM’s fight, say its members, is against the inequality and minority oppression rampant in India. “There is no electricity and no water in my village outside Pune even today. During the four months of rains, we get electricity only for two hours in the day. There are no good schools. There is a hospital, but no guarantee of getting medicines. Nothing has changed there,” says Dhengle, who works as a mechanic in Pune.

“Pune has one of the most expensive bus systems in the country. How can the poor live in such conditions?” says Rupali Jadhav, a member of KKM.

KKM organises music, poetry and theatre performances in slums and villages on themes such as inequality, illiteracy, price rise, capitalism, and cultural and social oppression. The songs, some of them drawn from the tradition of Dalit protest in Maharashtra and others written by KKM members, deliver their message in simple and direct style. “Our performances come from our folk culture. They tell our audience, primarily tribals and Dalits, about the oppression they face and why such things happen,” says Rupali.

KKM’s musical performances are powerful and draw upon images from the life around them to deliver the message. Their performance was featured in the 2012 documentary Jai Bhim Comrade by award-winning filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. “Our performance is powerful because it is based on our own bitter experiences,” says KKM musician Ramdas Unhale. Ramdas is a carpenter, who like many members of KKM, lives in a Pune slum.

KKM was formed in Pune following the Godhra riots. Dhengle was attracted to the movement in 2004 when he saw and advertisement by the organisation in a newspaper. “I could sing well and I knew I wanted to do something different. So I joined KKM. The ideology came later,” he says.

Others like Rupali and Ramdas joined KKM after seeing their street play and song performances in their slums. Also in Kochi were KKM musicians Rajat R. Avsak, Dattatrey, and Dada Waghmare. All of them do odd jobs in Pune and were drawn into the music and message of the organisation. Despite the arrests, the Kala Manch’s performances are drawing many young people. “The college students who are joining us now already know Marxism. They don’t have to study the ideology first like we did,” says Dhengle. This interest in KKM’s thinking was what prompted the ATS to arrest them, he says. Three of KKM’s members are still in prison, while the others have been let out on bail.

The arrest has hit their lives severely. “We all lost whatever small jobs we were doing. Though we are on bail, we have to report to the investigating agency regularly. That is also affecting our jobs,” says Rupali.

The organisation, however, has managed to keep going. KKM recently performed in Bangalore, with Dattatrey even performing a song in Kannada. Having arrived in Kerala for the first time, the group is disappointed by what they saw here.

“We had high hopes when we were coming here. We heard that Kerala had a strong Communist movement and that women were empowered here. But the myth is now broken,” says Dhengle. “For land so rich in natural resources, the situation is not much better here. Why have the Communists here not done anything? What will I go back and tell all those people who hold Kerala in high regard?” he says.

For now, the members of Kabir Kala Manch will go back with these questions and find ways to fortify their own movement.


Armed with revolutionary poems, Kabir Kala Manch activists want to fight against state


Kabir Kala Manch poster
Kabir Kala Manch poster

Aasaman te rachat 

Nahin jaade mein rajaai 
Signal pe teri duniya 
Khadi dhoop mein hai bhai
Indica mein firte kutte 
Mercedes mein ghoomte kutte 
Tujhe biscuit ki bheek 
Aisa kyon hai? Aisa kyon hai? Aisa kyon hai?
Above the bustle of dense Pune city traffic, at a roadside tapri, the sweet voice of primary poet and composer of cultural activism group Kabir Kala Manch, Deepak Dhengle, 38, resurrects these, the first words of revolution he ever penned a decade ago. Three others of the group, Jyoti Jagtap, 27, Siddharth Bhonsle, 27 and Rupali Jadhav, 28 share one cup of tea between them, and listen to the lyrics that are their only weapon against a State that labels them naxals.
All of them have spent the last two years underground, but courted arrest in May this year, and are currently out on bail. Their colleague, poet Sheetal Sathe, nine months pregnant and incarcerated at Byculla jail in Mumbai under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, is released on bail a day after this meeting. Rupali’s husband, Sagar Godkhe, and Jyoti’s husband, Sachin Kale, remain behind bars.
Dhengle, a small time motor mechanic who found employment with the government in Pune after he came to the city when his father was displaced after TELCO shut down in Bhimashankar, in 1996, joined the Manch after the Gujarat riots. He found them singing about the removal of caste, class and community differences. He began to compose and sing too.
Arrested under sections 465, 387, 419, 465, 467, 468, 471 and 120 B of the IPC, section 10, 13, 17, 18, 18A, 18 B, 20, 21, 38, 39, 40 (2) of the UAPA, Dhengle’s defence claims that he was tortured in custody to the extent that he faces potential paralysis and was forced to confess sympathy for Naxal. He has never picked up a gun or received arms training, he says. He has been suspended from service and survives on the goodwill of friends.
This is not the intellectual activism of the well-ensconced elite. The crackdown of the State is so intense, to continue is not an easy or obvious choice to make. But he, and those with him, will continue to sing of these issues at colleges, in slums, he says, come what may.
“There is a difference between the ahimsa of Gandhi and the ahimsa of Buddha. Buddha spoke of attadippa bhava (annihilation). It is a whole philosophy of opposition that ends oppression. The youth in its enthusiasm wants instant change. The voice, with which we sing, is the vidrohi voice (the counter culture, the voice of opposition). It is drawn from a long history of Dalit literature and activism that prompted social betterment. If this has us branded naxals, then so be it. If Babasaheb Ambedkar was alive today, maybe he would have accepted the Communist party.” Dhengle says.


Kabir Kala Manch- Singing for justice, singing against exploitation


Bhanuj Kappal speaks to Deepak Dengle of Kabir Kala Manch, the radical singing group that has been targeted by the Maharashtrian police for suspected ‘revolutionary’ activities.

BHANUJ KAPPAL  20th Jul 2013, Sunday Guardian

Deepak Dengle in a stil from Jai Bhim Comrade.

hey were thrashing the poor fellow in the other room, I could hear him crying.”

It’s a gloomy June afternoon, and Deepak Dengle is telling me about a chain-snatcher who had been brought in to the police station he has to visit every week, as part of his bail formalities. Dengle is a member of the Dalit cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which has been in the news lately due to police accusations of Naxalite links. In May 2011, Dengle and his fellow KKM activist Siddharth Bhosle were arrested by the ATS, along with five other people, and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The rest of the group went underground, only surfacing after Dengle got bail in March 2013. Here, we discuss KKM’s politics, his arrest, and his resolve to carry on with the struggle:

Q: When was the Kabir Kala Manch founded?

A: KKM was formed in 2002 by Professor Yogendra Mane (from Wadia College, Pune), Amarnath Chandaliya, Haroon Sheikh and a few other sensitive people. They thought that something must be done after the Gujarat riots to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. But the Manch in its current form came about in 2005-6, by which time a lot of the original members had left or had been kicked out.

Q: What issues does KKM focus on?

A: Our main focus is casteism and caste atrocities. We have performed a lot of plays and songs about caste issues. But we also have songs about tribal rights, workers’ rights, corruption, and the effects of liberalisation that we can see all around us. Whenever we heard of a protest or rally that we agreed with, we would to go there and sing. With Medha Patkar, we made a lot of noise about the Lavasa development project. Once, we gherao-ed the Congress party office in Dadar with Patkar. At Kabir Kala Manch, we believe that there can be no end to casteism without addressing the class issue, and vice versa. The struggle for both will go together, which is why we believe in Ambedkar and Marx and mix both ideologies.

We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunit 

Q: What can you tell me about your arrest?

A: I was picked up from my job as a mechanic for the Pune Corporation. I was on duty at my depot when someone came up to me pretending to be from my village. When I walked out with him to have a cup of tea, I didn’t notice a jeep parked outside with its doors open. I had taken 10 steps when they put me in the jeep and sped off. This was on the 12th [of May] and they didn’t register my arrest till the 13th.

Once I was in custody, they started beating me; they hit me with their belts. They were asking me where Sachin and Sheetal were. I didn’t know, so they continued to hit me. They stripped me, tied my hands and legs with a rope and hung me from the ceiling. Then they took this oil called Suryaprakash oil, and put it all over my body, including my groin. It causes burning all over and makes it hard to breathe. I was in so much pain that I asked them to shoot me and get it over with. They only untied me once I lost consciousness.

A dance performance choreographed by Mishti Bawar, set to KKM songs

have been taken out of police custody immediately. But I had no knowledge of how the judicial system works. And they threatened me, said they’d pick up my wife. I got scared so I didn’t say anything. But if I knew that it would make even a slight difference, I wouldn’t have held back.

Q: Why do you think the police decided to go after KKM?

A: We need to understand one thing about how the police functions, and I found this out when I met people who were inside for bomb blasts cases. When they find one person who has some involvement with a case, they pick up a lot of their associates and charge them as well. That’s what happened to us as well. We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunity to shut us down.

Q: Now that you and the other KKM members have a case to fight, do you still intend to continue performing once the others are out on bail?

A: We have already started performing again. I came out on 8 March, and on 30 March, I went to a rally paying tribute to Bhagat Singh and sang a song by Sheetal called Bhagat Singh, Tu Abhi Zinda Hai. Rupali, Jyoti and I also performed at another rally in Chakan (Pune District). We will not give up so easily. Our only purpose is to go and sing at peoples’ movements, and we’ll continue to do that.

On 27 June, less than a week after I met Dengle, he and Rupali Jadhav were arrested at a protest by Warkaris in Pune, along with some Warkari leaders. They were charged with obstructing traffic. They’re now out on bail, unfazed and determined to continue their struggle.

In the Dark Times, Sheetal Sathe Sings Of the Dark Times


After voluntarily courting arrest, Dalit activist and performer Sheetal Sathe is finally out on bail. But why was she arrested under the UAPA law in the first place? If she wasn’t a Maoist, what danger did this pregnant woman pose to the government of Maharashtra? A profile of the woman they call ‘Maharashtra’s Gaddar’.

Grist MediaBy Bhanuj Kappal | Grist Media – Mon 8 Jul, 2013

Sheetal Sathe

On June 27, 2013, Sheetal Sathe finally got bail.

I first met Sandhya Sathe, Sheetal’s mother, outside Mumbai’s Byculla Jail in late June. She had spent the last few hours trying to see her daughter, who is eight months pregnant. She looked tired and worried. Policemen stared at us as they walked by, looking pointedly at the recorder in my hand. “Even now, I have no idea what’s going on,” she told me then. “I know nothing about politics. I’d never been to a court till all this happened. I hope she gets bail and the government lets us live the rest of our lives as normal citizens.”

Her daughter, 28-year-old singer-poet Sheetal Sathe, is the president of the cultural protest group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). At the time, Sathe had already spent two months in prison on charges of being a Naxalite, after she and her husband courted arrest in April. Despite her mother’s fervent prayers, Sathe’s bail hearing was postponed by a week because the Maharashtra government had not bothered to file a reply. She spent 10 more days inside, worrying about the lack of medical facilities and the effect of prison food on her unborn child.

Today, three of her fellow KKM activists are still imprisoned on similar charges. Their crime? Using their art to expose injustice and register their dissent against the State.

I first came across Sathe and KKM while watching Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan’s powerful documentary on Dalit protest music. Even in a film full of inspiring music and stories, KKM’s performances stood out. Partly, it was the way they use dry wit and satire to drive home their scathing sociopolitical commentary. It helps that they are fiercely talented. Mostly, they fascinated me because their songs communicate the anguish and anger of India’s underprivileged millions in a way that no speech or newspaper report ever can. When Sathe sings about the poverty and exploitation of the Dalit community, your chest constricts in rage. When she sings of a mother going hungry in order to feed her children, her voice wrenches you out of the layers of indifference and apathy. And when she calls for a ‘truly democratic revolution’, she makes you want to be the first one to the barricades.

Is it this articulation of daily injustice and oppression, distilled from raw, lived experience that makes this motley group of young poets and singers a threat to the biggest democracy in the world?



The members of the Kabir Kala Manch come from the same bastis and slums as their audience. Sathe grew up in Pune’s Kashewadi slum, where the rest of her family still lives. Her mother worked as support staff in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Ruby Hall hospital for Rs 11 a day. This, and the few rupees she earned begging for alms in the name of the goddess Mahalaxmi Devi, all went towards bringing up her three children. Determined to guarantee them a better life, she made sure that Sathe went to a good school rather than the local municipal school. Sathe’s love for music grew amongst her very devout family, who gathered regularly in her house to sing devotional songs. And at school she got a chance to hone her talent.

“Sheetal loved to sing and was always the first to be picked to sing at cultural events in her school. That’s where she got her confidence,” says KKM activist Rupali Jadhav, who is also from Kashewadi.

By the time she was in junior college, Sathe was on the lookout for other opportunities to sing in public. It was her cousin Sagar Gorkhe, also a very talented singer, who told her about a cultural troupe that would be happy to give her a platform for her music.

KKM was founded in 2002 as a response to the Godhra riots and the ensuing rise in communal tensions. “Ramesh (Gaichor) was one of the founding members, along with Yogendra Mane, Amarnath Chandaliya, Haroon Sheikh, and a few other people,” says Deepak Dengle, who joined the group in 2004. “They thought that after the Gujarat riots, something must be done to promote Hindu-Muslim unity.”

The group did a number of shows around the city under the ‘Awaaz Do’ banner. But by the time Sathe and Gorkhe joined the group, a lot of the original team had left or been kicked out, as part of the churning all young groups undergo. They were replaced by new blood and a new focus on Dalit and workers’ rights.

Sathe had no interest in activism when she joined KKM, but that soon changed. Dengle says: “She only wanted to sing, but she got interested in politics because being a Dalit from the slums, she was sensitive to the real suffering of the poor. Like us, she felt her songs should be of service to the people.”

Her political education was helped by the regular study circles conducted by the group. Members would be assigned different subjects to study, and then they would discuss their research with the rest of the group. Heavyweights from the Left and Dalit movements, such as members from the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan (an alternative Marathi literature conference that spawned the Vidrohi movement), were also invited to speak at these sessions.
Sathe was a quick learner. “She had a great curiosity. No one had to push her,” says Dengle. “If she came across a new idea, she’d study it immediately.” It was at these discussions that KKM developed and formalized its political ideology — a potent mix of Ambedkarite and Marxist thought. It was also at these study circles that Sathe met the man she would eventually marry.

Sachin Mali was already a fairly experienced activist by the time he joined KKM. He had worked with the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan and had been an active member of the Students Federation of India (SFI) while studying at Tasgaon, Sangli. He shifted to Pune for work. Mali took up work as a bus conductor and joined the local chapter of SFI, but was unhappy with the way that organization functioned. A big fan of revolutionary poet-balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat, he started looking for a group that sang Bhagat’s songs. It didn’t take him long to join the KKM, where he impressed everyone with his poetry, his intelligence and, in Sathe’s case, his good looks as well. Says Dengle, “Sachin was a poet, had worked in activism, had a personality that impressed Sheetal. They were attracted to each other. We were very happy that they’d found love within our group.”

Unfortunately, neither family shared Dengle’s enthusiasm since the two were from different castes. Sathe already had regular arguments with her mother over the latter’s devotion to the religion that Sathe viewed as the root of her community’s problems. So it wasn’t entirely unexpected when her mother kicked her out of the house when she found out about the romance with Mali. At Mali’s end, too, the strongest opposition came from his mother who was firmly against the marriage.

The other KKM members put Sathe up in a women’s hostel and encouraged her to keep studying. (She was studying for an MA in sociology at Siddhivinayak College but was not a gold medalist from Fergusson College as many newspapers have reported. It was Sachin Mali who had been a gold-medal winning student in Sangli.) Sathe and Mali’s friends and well-wishers intervened to try and convince the families to accept the match. In the end, Sathe’s mother and Mali’s father and sister attended their wedding, an inexpensive and intimate ceremony on the lines of a Satyashodhak ceremony. (The 19th century reformer Jyotirao Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj had pioneered inter-caste wedding ceremonies, which do not require the presence or sanction of Brahmin priests.)

“We didn’t want it to be the bland, boring weddings that happen in Left circles,” says Rupali Jadhav. “We wanted to make it celebratory, to show that we believed in what we told people and were happy to apply our message to our own lives.” The wedding was attended by heavyweights from the progressive movement, many of whom performed songs, dances or gave speeches to celebrate their union.

Until this point, the KKM performances had been sporadic, with the group focusing on honing their music and street theatre into the unique artistic voice it is today. They were helped in this task bySambhaji Bhagat, who regularly travelled to Pune to train the group. Bhagat, who formed a close bond with the group, was particularly impressed by Sathe. “Sheetal isn’t just a good singer, she is also a really good poet,” he says. “She can write really well and her songs are complex, unlike most political songs.”

Take for example a song in which KKM lambasts the Dalit political leadership for selling out their community. Sathe quotes Dr BR Ambedkar’s warning that if the constitution failed to provide social and economic justice to the Dalits, it would be brought down. She taunts her audience for not challenging the political leaders who have betrayed them and calls for a new Ambedkar for a new era:

“Better to sacrifice this body
than live like a corpse
Open your eyes to the
dream of Dalit martyrs
And create a new Bhim
For our new era.”

That isn’t the only way that KKM’s music differs from that of their peers. While they fit firmly in the tradition of Dalit-Left folk music embodied by poet-singers like Vilas Ghogre, Gaddar and Annabhau Sathe, they don’t limit themselves to those forms. They don’t care about whether a musical or cultural form is borrowed from another community or culture. Their philosophy, as Dengle puts it, is that ‘art is art and if it works, we’ll use it’. As a result, they were one of the first protest music groups to use western instrumentation regularly. They would constantly be on the lookout for new musical styles that they could experiment with. This sheer diversity of influences is part of what makes their music so appealing to those outside the Dalit-Left movements as well. This was not a group happy to merely preach to the choir.

Then Khairlanji happened, an event that influenced not only KKM but a whole generation of Dalit youth. On 29 September, 2006, a Dalit family was brutally slaughtered in Khairlanji, a village in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra. There were allegations the women had been paraded naked around the village and raped, and that the police were trying to protect the perpetrators. Yet the news was greeted with silence, not only from the government and the media but also by the mainstream Dalit parties.

A month later, appalled by the government’s continued indifference, Dalit youth took matters into their own hands. Protests and riots broke out all over Maharashtra. Their outrage only grew when Home Minister RR Patil dismissed the protests as the work of Maoists.

KKM jumped into the deep end of the struggle. “During the Khairlanji protests, we were on the streets every day,” says Dengle. “When the protesters threw stones at the police, we were there. Every time we heard about a rally or a protest, we’d go and perform in order to motivate the protesters and raise their spirits.” They were rewarded for their efforts by being put on a list of 26 organizations (including Medha Patkar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements and Baba Adhav) that the government claimed had links to the Maoists. The State had been watching, and they had been spotted.

Khairlanji had a profound effect on the group. Their songs became more militant, their demands for justice and revolution more strident. Dengle says, “After Khairlanji there was all this rage. When we saw what had happened, and how the State acted after the atrocity… anger automatically comes out in your songs, your politics, your life.”

They intensified their struggle. They performed at bus stops, at bastis, on the roadside. They were present at every protest in or around Pune, performing their plays and singing songs about the exploitation of the Dalits and the poor. Their targets included the proposed nuclear plant at Jaitapur, the controversial Lavasa development, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and the police. When the Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan gherao-ed the Congress headquarters in Dadar in 2008, KKM was there. People soon started calling Sathe ‘Maharashtra’s Gaddar’.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the Indian State’s treatment of dissent will know what comes next. It was time for the other shoe to drop.


In April 2011, the police made their move. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) arrestedschool teacher and activist Angela Sontakke, who they claim is a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Six other arrests followed. KKM activists Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were arrested. On 20 July 2011, the police filed charges against all seven – and eight others who could not be located, including Sathe and Mali – under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Alarmed by news of the arrests and worried about their own safety, the rest of the group went underground. Unable to track them down, the police settled for harassing their families instead. “Police would come every day,” said Sandhya Sathe, who had to quit her job because of the case. “Even now that Sheetal is inside, the ATS people come on a regular basis. Now they ask after the two kids [KKM activists] who are still underground. They offer money. They say we’ll give you 10 lakh, we’ll give you a good house. I don’t know anything at all, so what do I tell them?”

Dengle believes KKM was implicated in the case because of their acquaintance with Sontakke, whose CPI (M) connections were unknown to the group. When the police caught Sontakke, they probably saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Sadly, this is standard operating procedure for the police in India when dealing with anyone linked to groups or ideologies that they perceive as anti-nationalist. A comprehensive investigation by the news portal recently proved that the Uttar Pradesh government had knowingly prosecuted several innocent Muslims in terror cases and hid evidence of their innocence from the courts. It is just one shocking example of how our police and governments abuse their power – often targeting political dissidents instead of doing the painful investigations required to find those who actually commit crimes.

Closer home in Maharashtra, there are a number of recent cases where Dalits have been arrested and charged with sedition for possessing books by Bhagat Singh, and just as startlingly, the works of Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution. In Tamil Nadu, over the course of one year, 8,000 people protesting peacefully against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant have been booked for sedition and waging war against the State. Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale and Binayak Sen are only three more examples from a long litany of names of activists booked under similar charges.

One and a half years passed since the post-Khairlanji crackdown. Dengle and Bhosle were still in prison, the rest were still in hiding. Meanwhile, public support for KKM was growing, largely thanks to the film Jai Bhim Comrade and the efforts of the KKM Defense Committee (including documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and several activists). But there was little action on the ground till February 2013, when the bail pleas of the seven people in custody reached the Bombay High Court. In an unexpected but welcome decision, Justice Abhay Thipsay of the high court granted bail to Deepak Dengle, Siddharth Bhosle and two others arrested in the same case.

Justice Thipsay ruled that “suspects could be sympathizers of Maoist philosophy but none can be said to be active members of banned CPI (Maoist)”. He went on to express his mild shock at the evidence based on which the KKM activists had been imprisoned, saying,  “It is surprising that highlighting the wrongs prevalent in the society and insisting that there is a need to change the situation was considered as evidence and used to convince the court of them being members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).”

Encouraged by this decision, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali appeared in front of the Vidhan Sabha building in Mumbai and courted arrest on April 2, 2013. Before the ATS took them into custody, the young couple read out a statement. They said this was not a surrender, this was a satyagraha and that they were sure they’d be acquitted of all charges. A month later, four more KKM members surfaced, though this time they had to wait a few hours before the ATS turned up to take them into custody. Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor were arrested, while the others were allowed to go home.


June 27. Sheetal Sathe has been granted bail.

The other three, including Sathe’s husband Mali, have filed bail applications, and are hopeful that they will be out soon as well. But this is only the first step. They still have a case to fight, one which could stretch for years in a country where 30 million cases are pending in courts across the nation. And then there’s the stigma of being branded a Naxalite, the police scrutiny that will never go away, the ever-looming threat of fresh arrests and fresh charges.

On the evening of 27 July, as KKM supporters and well-wishers were celebrating Sathe’s bail, Deepak Dengle and Rupali Jadhav were arrested by the Pune police. They had been singing at a demonstration of Varkaris protesting builders taking over the Bhandara and Bhamchandra hills where the 16th century saint Tukaram is said to have lived.

It was just another reminder from the police that when it comes to dissenters against the State, there are no happy endings.

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist who writes about music, art and cultural politics. Follow him at