Last week, the Bombay High Court granted bail to four street theatre artistes for allegedly having Maoist connections, observing that “speaking about corruption, social inequality, exploitation of the poor etc and desiring a better society should come into existence and is not banned in our country.”
Granting bail to Dhawala Dhengle, Siddarth Bhosale, Mayuri Bhagat and Anuradha Sonule, against a surety of Rs 30,000 each, Justice Abhay Thipsay said: “Highlighting and creating social awareness on corruption, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and exploitation of the poor is commendable and cannot be considered an evidence of being members of a terrorist organisation.”
The artistes, belonging to a street theatre group named “Kabir Kala Manch,” were picked up the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) in 2011 on grounds that they were inciting the people to violence and members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Though police had detained seven people initially, four of them were still in jail since the ATS claimed to have found “incriminating documents and books” in their possession.
Going through the evidence submitted by the state, Justice Thipsay said: “Many of the books found are available in the market and there is no denial of that by the state. In any case, the said literature is not banned and reading thereof is not prohibited.”
On charges that the theatre group was advocating violence through street plays, Justice Thipsay told the public prosecutor: “There is nothing wrong in raising social issues and emphasising that a change in social order is required. The same views are expressed by several national and eminent leaders and a person cannot be branded a member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for expressing such views.
“On the contrary, such a reasoning would indicate that these issues, which are real and important, are not addressed by anyone else, except the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which in turn would mean that other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems.”
Expressing surprise at the evidence based on which the artistes were imprisoned, Justice Thipsay said: “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).”
The judge further observed that even the expression of views “to the effect that a change in social order can be brought about only by a revolution” would not amount to any offence. Those who advocate the teachings of Karl Marx are certainly not committing any crime.
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