Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Land of Chup

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In May 2011, members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a group of Dalit protest singers and poets from Pune, were accused by the police of being Naxalites. Two KKM members have been in prison for more than a year, while others are hiding, in fear of their safety. The evidence is scanty, mostly to do with supposed ties to Anjali Sontakke, the Naxal ideologue arrested by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad in April last year. Ramu Ramanathan, playwright and part of the KKM Defence Committee, describes their surreal dialogue with the authorities and the ongoing fight for justice

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A FEW years ago, I was to modernise Kabir’s dohas in a theatre workshop for architecture students. To make it interesting, I set them into popular rock-’n’roll tunes. And thus, ROCKING AND ROLLING WITH KABIR was born. We threw in a bit of ideology, made Kabir an activist, a Bob Dylan-cum-Jyotiba Phule persona. We ensured the first scene had more noise onstage than the noise in the audience!

The play culminated with Kabir going underground; and then Kabir — the harbinger of peace and progress — being shot. Our premise was simple. Kabir encouraged the synthesis of faith and questioned ideas across different cultures. He invented secular democracy. Unfortunately, the real world is cruel.

Zealotry is an ugly business. When Kabir protested, he was silenced. When Kabir was dead, a girl played a guitar riff; and then a statement condemning the death of Kabir scrolled on the A/V. The signatories were the who’s who of the planet from Socrates to Buddha; from Marx to Gandhi; from Raja Rammohan Roy to Ram Manohar Lohia; from Ghalib to Ambedkar. The final name in the list was: Anand Patwardhan — the eternal protestor. After the show, everyone had a good laugh. It was a little in-house joke.

Today five years since, history repeats itself. Kabir has been jailed. Kabir is underground. Anand Patwardhan and many others form the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) Defence Committee; to whose coffers Patwardhan donates Rs 50,000.

That was art; this is harsh reality.

Patwardhan, who had first seen a KKM performance in 2007, is now grappling with legalese to get justice for the KKM members with funds fast depleting.

Today, most of the KKM artistes, who performed, are underground and two members, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle are behind bars at the Arthur Road central prison. Branded Naxalites, they were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the State under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

I recall KKM appearing on Pune’s theatre scene in 2002. The group had young Dalit boys and girls – who sang songs and staged angry plays. They repudiated aesthetics for the politics of the stage. A typical KKM show in the bastis ensured the first scene had to have more noise onstage than the noise in the audience! This was a theatre tactic that Indian People’s Theatre Association put to good use when ideology was on their side. An open truck would enter a crowded mohalla, create a hullabaloo, and the play would be performed on the truck.

This is part of the great Maharashtra tradition of Ambedkar-Phule that is diminishing.

Years ago, the Vidrohi Sammelan, with unflaunted passion, had stated from Dharavi, art and politics can never be separated. The mainstream Sahitya Sammelan with their upper caste writers at Shivaji Park announced their menu of sheera and upma. The Vidrohi announced theirs, beef. The battle lines were drawn. High caste friends said, “This is wrong. After all, shouldn’t we Hindus remain united; or else we’ll become a minority in our own country?”

A typical KKM show in thebastis ensured the first scene had to have more noise onstage than the noise in the audience

The Vidrohi gang is incorrigible. They set up camp against the World Social Forum, which one of them called the “Social World Forum”. They mocked the socialites and do-gooders from across the road. The icons were questioned. It became Globalisation and Stiglitz’s Discontent, and the biggest scam of post-liberalised India: the NGO scam.

Post Godhra, a young students group called Satyashodhak Vidyarthi Sangathan sets up a poster exhibition. It’s not Vivan Sundaram nor Akbar Padamsee, but it’s the first organised protest of its kind against the “Duryodhana of the Hindutva Laboratory”. Police permission is denied. No gallery to exhibit. So, they beat the system.

I mention both examples because in February 2005, KKM members got a crash-course in radicalism from heavy weights of the “vidrohi movement” like Bharat Patankar, Kishore Dhamale, Kishore Jadhav, Dhanaji Gurav and Sudhir Dhawale. That’s where KKM drew their strength from; and their ability to perform guerilla style.

In the later years, KKM came under the State’s radar with its frequent allusions to democracy’s failures, about oppression, and domination of one caste over the other. When Sheetal Sathe sang how Ambedkar said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his people should overthrow it, the State began to act.

It counter-argues, based on a statement under Section 164 of the criminal procedure code, how KKM members 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 Angela Sontakke and others, rubbing shoulders with revolutionaries and visiting campuses and bastis with “a message in the service of a cause….”

IT’S BEEN more than a year since Dengle and Bhonsle were arrested. As part of the KKM Defence Committee, we decide to meet the Maharashtra chief minister. Our agenda: to request the State government to withdraw false charges against Shahirs (singer-poets) from KKM. Also Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali, who are underground due to the fear of torture and a jail term, be provided an opportunity to come ‘overground’. Above all, artistes be allowed to perform.

The CM is a statesman. Pleasantries are exchanged. Tea and poha is served. Patwardhan boots up his Apple Mac and showcases excerpts from his documentary Jai Bhim Comrade on a whitewashed wall. On screen, Sathe and co-members of KKM mobilise audiences. There are sharp witticisms about the abject poverty and discontent in slums. The 15-minute screening concludes.

The CM agrees that human rights are meant to be defended. Promises are made. We exit.

Time passes.

A bit slower for Dengle and Bhonsle in jail.

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

The 29-year old Dengle who celebrated his wedding anniversary in jail on 14 May, meets us at Sewri Court, his literary inspiration is still not exhausted. He hands me a poem,Inquilab Chaiye. The poem is in Hindi and has a rudimentary rhythm. He sings the firstmukdha: Ek moothi baandho reh baandho/Ek moothi bandho re doston/Bas ek mukka chaiye/Aur ek dhakka chaiye/Inquilab chaiye doston/Inquilab.

The police battalion gather around Dengle. They hear him sing.

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Sheetal Sathe Sings her song -‘Ek Maitra Raangadya’

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Her is a translation of the marathi song Ek Maitra Raangadya, by  Ashutosh
 
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 INTENSE SONG IN INTENSE VOICE OF SHEETAL SATHE

Sheetal Sathe Sings a song penned by her -Ek Maitra Raangadya

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Another song which will give you goose bumps by Sheetal sathe of kabir kala manch and translated by Ashutosh member of  Kabir Kala Manch
 
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 HER MESMERISING VOICE FULL OF PAIN OF TRUTH OF LIFE
 

Jai Bhaim comrade and Kabir Kala Manch

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By Sayalee Karkare
August 8th 2012

For those unfamiliar with the work of AnandPatwardhan, his latest film, a three and a half hour documentary on caste issues may strike as unappetizing fare. To be fair, their trepidations are not unfounded – far too many “non-fiction” films go on far too long, winding up as a maudlin ode to an issue the viewer never really cared about to begin with, and remains indifferent to, even as the film ends. Jai Bhim Comrade, made from over 300 hours of footage gathered over the course of 7 years, and a runtime of over 200 minutes, appears to run this risk. But in the skillful hands of Anand Patwardhan, the film emerges as engaging, moving and insightful right to the very end. At a time when commercial cinema is shrinking in duration to accommodate the purportedly reducing attention spans of its viewers, the extremely well-made film about caste struggle in Maharashtra through protest music and democratic activism, is proof that length does not matter, as long as a story is engaging and well-told.

 

The film opens with a massacre that took place in 1997 at Ramabai Nagar, Mumbai following the desecration of a statue ofAmbedkar, a Dalit hero, when police opened fire on the crowd of protesters. It focuses, in particular, on Vilas Ghogre, Dalit poet and singer who committed suicide upon witnessing the aftermath of the atrocities. In fact, the film is a tribute to Ghogre, who was a friend of Patwardhan. From this point on, the film moves seamlessly backwards and forwards, telling multiple interlinked stories, all anchored within the overall narrative of caste struggle in Maharashtra.

 

Given the complexity of the subject matter, the film is wide in scope. It touches upon various stories – the gruesomeKhairlanjimassacre in which a Dalit family was lynched to death and the women paraded naked before being raped and murdered, the dangerously unhygienic work done by Dalitgarbagecleaners for a measly Rs. 73 per day all the while standing ankle deep in waste for over 12 hours, the martyrdom of various young leaders while fighting for the Dalit cause – and through all these numerous narratives the film effectively drives home the point that caste and class in India remain practically synonymous. The massive wealth inequities in India continue to operate along caste lines, with the Dalits benefitting little or not at all from the country’s gains in growth. Lacking political and economic power, the Dalits have been sucked into a vicious cycle of poverty that seems hard to break out of. The documentary also highlights the fact that urban India remains largely ignorant about or unconcerned with these issues. Outside a well-known South Mumbai college, a feckless youth tells the camera, “Dalit issue frankly is definitely ameliorated over the past half a decade or so” but when asked how he knows this, admits that he doesn’t personally know anyone “like that”.

 

The film also sheds light on the less-explored rationalist discourse within the Dalit tradition. In an age in which the wide reach of the media has only served to deeply entrench superstition, blind faith and irrationality, it is heartening to see a clear stream of reason running determinedly through these dispossessed communities. The secular atheistic world-view, for all purposes non-existent in mainstream Indian public discourse, finds unlikely support in Dalit quarters where, forsaken by god, religion and without any hope of salvation in the afterlife, they are forced to look for truth and meaning in this life itself. In contrast, the leaders of mainstream political parties making pompous, public appearances dressed literally as gods, with Krishna’sSudarshanChakraand golden chariot in tow, come off as laughably anachronistic.

 

As the producer, director, cinematographer and editor of the film, Jai Bhim Comrade belongs solely to Patwardhan. He is the auteur of the film in every sense of the word. While this works for the story-telling aspect of the film, specifically in that, that it brings everything together, and “everything” here encompasses the entire history of caste struggle in independent India, right from Ambedkar’s contributions to present-day struggles, which is hands-down a fantastic achievement, it works somewhat against what could have been a more balanced narrative. That not a single moderate, secular person from the privileged strata appears in the film is a disservice to the many Indians who are sympathetic to the Dalit cause. Every upper-caste character shown in the film is either foaming at the mouth spouting racist slogans, making genocide-inciting speeches or appearing distressingly ignorant about caste issues. Suffice it to say, the only sympathetic and socially-conscious upper-caste voice that we hear in the film belongs to Patwardhan himself.

 

While this paints an extremely gloomy and dour picture of liberal India, fortunately it also makes for some unexpectedly comedic moments in the film. For instance, when a Dalit woman sings that a woman is nothing without her husband and celebrates him as “pati parmeshwar” (an incarnation of god), Patwardhan drolly points out that her husband is, in fact, a drunkard. Similarly, when a well-off woman complains of the large amounts of human waste left behind at ShivajiPark, Mumbai during the annual rally held in honour of Dr. Ambedkar, Patwardhan asks her, if she thinks rich people go to the toilet less often and “piss perfume” unlike the Dalits. Admittedly a bit crude, these jabs in a counter-intuitive way expose the stark gap between the positions of leftist intellectuals like Patwardhan and the liberal right. While the rest of the film seems to imply the complicity of the urban elite in various caste crimes, in these little scenes they come off as mostly naive, uninformed and confused. Theirs is a crime of omission, their befuddled expressions seem to suggest, rather than a crime of malicious intent.

 

Ultimately, where the film makes the deepest connect is not in its relentless tirade against Hindutva and upper-caste dominance, but in the intimate family portraits that it paints of life in shanties and villages across the state. It is these vignettes of their day-to-day struggle for existence that the humanity of the poor and the wretched truly shines through. For instance, one of the most heart rending songs in the film, sung by Sheetal Sathe of the KabirKalaManch, a cultural outfit for the protesters, is a moving ode to motherhood in all its manifestations. In another poignant scene, an illiterate mother discusses the merits of educating daughters, pointing out that every generation can only walk a certain mile and it is for the next generation to go a step further. Seen from this context of complex human bonds and chains, Vilas Ghogre’s suicide as a reaction to the death of his friends in a random, godless act takes on a meaning beyond the simply political and strikes at the very universality of human experience. Sorrow, grief, love and attach me.

see her blog here- http://www.thesamosa.co.uk/