People must have space to express anger against injustice

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May 16, 2012, 12.00AM IST, TOI
Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan ‘s latest movie, Jai Bhim Comrade, portraying events around a police firing on dalit protesters in 1997, won a National Award and a prize of Rs 51,000 from the Maharashtra government – which Patwardhan’s donated to the Kabir Kala Manch(KKM) Defence Committee,  ( the original article does not mention, but fact is money is donated to KKM Defence Committee ), KKM is a cultural troupe inspired by B RAmbedkar and Karl Marx, expressing the oppression of dalits through poetry and song. Patwardhan features this group, some members of which have gone underground recently. Speaking with Jyoti Punwani , Patwardhan explained his view of the KKM, why its work is important – and why Shankar’s 1949 cartoon depicting B R Ambedkar didn’t raise protests back then:How did you decide to feature the KKM in your documentary?I first saw an electric performance by the KKM in 2007 at the 10th anniversary of the police firing at Mumbai’s Ramabai Nagar. I had begun to film Jai Bhim Comrade in 1997 when 10 dalits were killed in this firing and Vilas Ghogre, a singer-poet i knew, hung himself in protest. This shocked me into documenting atrocities against dalits and recording their songs of protest.

The KKM is made up largely of young dalit boys and girls – but their music spoke of centuries of oppression and resistance. Over the next few years, i followed them intermittently with my camera, at performances, at their homes, with their families. I saw them as the new generation of shahirs or singer-poets who’d taken over the mantle from Annabhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh, Vamandada Kardak and Vilas Ghogre. To my surprise, they did not just sing overtly political songs but fought superstition and even wrote love songs, valorizing gender equality and inter-caste marriage.

Why are you donating the prize money you’ve received to the KKM Defence Committee?

The money was given for a film that highlights the KKM amongst others. Ironically, it was given by a state that’s trying to muzzle these sons and daughters of India. People must be given the democratic space to express anger against injustice – the best way to preserve the freedom we all believe in is to speak out even when it is unpopular and to identify the root causes of dissenta¦

The power of KKM’s music is undeniable and the fact that atrocities against dalits continue makes an uncompromising KKM suspect in the eyes of those who protect the status quo. Yet, the KKM i knew spoke of changing the world not with weapons but through song and drum.

Speaking of protest and dissent, what do you make of the NCERT Ambedkar cartoon row? The cartoon didn’t raise protests when it was drawn in 1949 – why now?

The cartoon in its day did not rouse controversy because the nation was young and hopeful. Ambedkar was drafting the Constitution. He was the law minister. Later, a disillusioned Ambedkar resigned when Nehru stonewalled his Hindu Code Bill in deference to orthodox Hindus. Betrayed by his secular friends, Ambedkar, with lakhs of followers, walked out of Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.

Today, repeated betrayals have frayed the sensitivities of dalits, but the iconic persona of Ambedkar is etched in their hearts forever. Deification, desecration and empty, symbo-lic gestures by the state are now a repeating cycle – these take the place of any real attempt to annihilate caste.

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8 responses »

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