In an extension of the ‘Operation Green Hunt’ against cultural expressions which questioned state violence and rampant atrocities against dalits and tribals, activists of Maharashtra based radical Ambedkarite cultural group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) were framed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as being ‘Maoists’ and ‘Naxalites’.
The KKM is a cultural organization that has over many years spread its anti-caste, pro-democracy message through music, poetry and theatre. During recent years, 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 invited the wrath of the police and the state. Anand Patwardhan’s acclaimed documentary film “Jai Bhim Comrade”, which won a National award as well as Maharashtra State recognition, elaborately features the performances by Kabir Kala Manch. In 2011, the Maharashtra govt slapped UAPA on KKM and arrested several of its activists, while forcing two activists – Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali to go underground to avoid false framing. Recently the Bombay High Court granted bail to the 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 developments in the court that there can still be an iota of justice even in these unjust times, and encouraged by signs of a growing democratic concern against witch-hunt, absconding activists Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe decided on their own volition to appear before Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha and the police on 2 April 2013. In appearing before the police, KKM members stated that their act should not be construed to be a “surrender” but as a form of “satyagraha” to clear their name from false framing and assert their democratic right to fight for justice. KKM activists made it clear that their voluntary appearance before the police must be treated as a matter of public record and that the police must be restrained from either torturing them or implicating them in any false case. Maharashtra police, however, immediately arrested them and handed them over to the ATS. On the next day, a metropolitan magistrate court sent Sachin Mali to ATS custody till April 10 and Sheetal Sathe to judicial custody till April 17.
Maharashtra police has a long track record of politically motivated framing and witch-hunt. We have not forgotten how dozens of Muslim youths were picked up on false charges after the 2006 Malegaon blasts and how these innocent youths had to spend more than five years in jail, suffer custodial torture and social ignominy for the crimes which were later proved to be the handiwork of the terror network of Sadhvi Pragya-Col. Purohit-Aseemanand saffron brigade! On the other hand, Maharashtra govt habitually bows down before the open violence and fascist terror tactics of the MNS-Shiv Sena-Sanghi saffron brigade.
Therefore, in the present struggle against witch-hunt and in defence of our freedom of expression, we must not fail the KKM or ourselves.
- PRESS RELEASE – Kabir Kala Manch Members Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali court arrest (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- Sheetal Sathe arrested: Govt’s way of ending Dalit protests? (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- Amnesty International Appeal – Arrested theatre activists at risk of torture (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- Police silencing songs of dissent ? (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- Solidarity Statement -Democratic Students’ Union (DSU) for KKM (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- Revolutionary Cultural Front, JNU – Let us arm every song with dreams, in the time of war… (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)