In defence of the shahirs


Freny Manecksha , in Times Crest | May 26, 2012


It’s a tale of ironies. Just a few days before the uproar in Parliament over the cartoon figuring Dr Ambedkar, a poem, Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge, was read out at a gathering. The incandescent verses, penned by jailed poet Deepak Dengle speak of the thousands behind bars who, he believes, will one day walk free.

Dengle is in a Mumbai jail. Arrested by Maharashtra‘s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in April 2011, he and Dalit youth Siddharth Bhonsle are accused of the “crime” of being members of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). The KKM is a social and cultural organisation of Pune youths who work with many leaders of working class movements such as Narmada Bachao leader Medha Patkar and socialist leader Bhai Vaidya.

The ATS does not accuse the KKM of having engaged in any incident of violence;it says it has suspicions of the members having links with Maoists and is apprehensive of crimes they may then commit. Many of the other members of the troupe such as Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Sachin Mali and Ramesh Gaichor have similar cases lodged against and have been forced to go underground.

Ironically, these cultural activists have been lauded by the establishment. Anand Patwardhan‘s critically acclaimed film Jai Bhim Comrade, which won a National Award and was also given a prize of Rs 51, 000 by the Maharashtra government, features members of the KKM. Patwardhan says he is setting up a defence panel for the embattled KKM members consisting of activists such as Bhai Vaidya, former IPS officer Sudhakar Suradkar, writer Dr Anand Teltumbde, CPI leader Prakash Reddy, actor Ratna Pathak Shah, Medha Patkar and Teesta Setalvad.

Patwardhan’s film, which is structured around Dalit culture and politics in Maharashtra over the last 15 years, was born, he says, out of the shock of Vilas Ghogre’s suicide four days after the police killings at Ramabai Colony in 1997.

Ghogre, a friend of Patwardhan, was a leftist singer-poet or shahir who hanged himself out of his intense despair and sense of injustice.

“I had filmed Vilas singing a song for the working class when I made Bombay Our City in the early 1980s and over the years I had recorded a lot of his songs on my tape recorder. But photos of him were hard to find so reconstructing his story was no easy task. I began recording other shahirs who use their art to fight a system of injustice. I wanted to see how deeply the culture had penetrated amongst the people so I recorded the songs of women like Saraswati Bhonsle, a labourer and housewife, ” says Patwardhan.

It was during the course of this distinctive style of story-telling through music and song-poetry that Patwardhan came across the Gen Next of shahirs, the KKM, who put up an electrifying performance in 2007 at Ramabai Nagar. Formed in 2003 in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, the troupe comprised of very young, mainly dalit, boys and girls from the poorer sections of Pune and its surrounding areas who were inspired by the music of Vilas Ghogre and other progressive dalit shahirs of the past and the present.

Patwardhan recalls, “Their music and performances had the passion of youth and they were also very gifted musicians at the same time. The subjects they tackled were of a wide spectrum. They brought huge drama and energy to the stage. ”

Among the leading lights of the KKM is Sheetal Sathe whose vibrant personality is brilliantly captured on screen especially in the feminist song-poems dedicated to a mother. Lauding her huge talent, actor Ratna Pathak Shah pointed out how effectively she conveys to people like us her empathy for her community. Speaking at the launch of the defence committee, she said this authentic voice assumes “extraordinary validity in a society where everything is second-hand”. In her youth, she added, one listened to voices from different cultures, from voices of struggles. “That voice has fallen silent. ”

Dr Ilina Sen, whose husband, Dr Binayak Sen was also jailed on charges of sedition for allegedly having links with Maoists in Chhattisgarh, finds the increasing trend of criminalising people disturbing. She says, “Although I have never viewed KKM performances live, I have seen Jai Bhim Comrade. I understand that there is no criminal act attributed to the members and even the police have said that. So labelling them is part of a mindset, a very dangerous one. ”


6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Stop police from branding cultural troupe members as Naxals: Activists « Kabir Kala Manch- Defence Committee

  2. Pingback: KKM Defence Committee meets Maharshtra Chief Minister « Kabir Kala Manch- Defence Committee

  3. Pingback: India’s uncomfortable truths on film « kracktivist

  4. Pingback: Jai Bhim Comrade-Songs That Won’t Be Silenced « Kabir Kala Manch- Defence Committee

  5. Pingback: Celeberating 14th Marriage Anniversay of Deepak Dengle « Kabir Kala Manch- Defence Committee

  6. Pingback: Celebrating 14th Marriage Anniversary of Deepak Dengle « Kabir Kala Manch- Defence Committee

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