Monthly Archives: May 2013

Enemies of the state: The continuing andolan of the Kabir Kala Manch

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The arrest of Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali of the KKM has brought this ongoing controversy back to the real issue at stake — the freedom of cultural and political expression, who these freedoms extend to and whom they ignore, writes Bhanuj Kappal 

BHANUJ KAPPAL   May 2013

ay 6, a sweltering Monday afternoon. A small crowd of reporters and activists have gathered near the Dr B. R. Ambedkar statue at Oval Maidan, Mumbai. Their attention is focused on four singers with blue bandanas performing protest songs and handing out copies of their latest album – a collection of protest music that touches on a range of issues such as caste and class oppression, gender equality, land redistribution and environmental exploitation. Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap, and Rupali Jadhav are members of Pune-based cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), who are wanted by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) for alleged links to a banned Naxalite organisation. They are here to give themselves up. A few weeks earlier, their fellow cultural activists Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe had courted arrest, and were taken into police and judicial custody respectively.

What follows is a farce. The ATS, which has been hounding their friends and family for almost two years, fails to show up. The bemused activists march to Mantralaya to surrender to Home Minister R.R. Patil, only to be told that they will have to wait. There is still no sign of the ATS. After a long wait, they finally meet the minister, whom they greet with a rendition of ‘Laal Salaam’. Mr. Patil listens to their concerns, and assures them that there will be no torture. Eventually, he has to call up the ATS and inform them that the activists they have been hunting are sitting in his office. Four hours after coming out of hiding, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor are taken into custody, while their wives Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav are allowed to go home.

Earlier, the four singers joke about what they’ll do if nobody turns up to arrest them. But behind the laughter is real concern, and a steely determination to stand up for their rights. They have been hiding from the police ever since KKM members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were arrested in 2011 along with six other activists for alleged Naxal links. They have had little to no contact with their families. “The police went to Rupali’s mother and told her that Rupali had been killed in an encounter,” says Jagtap. “She has health problems, and she fainted on hearing this.”

Kabir Kala Manch is not unique in being targeted by the police and being branded as Naxalites, but their story is an example of how the Indian state is increasingly clamping down on anti-establishment speech and expression.

The irony is that I’ve made a film featuring these militant songs, and that got a National Award. So it depends on which class and caste you belong to. These people have court cases against them, and I have a National award.  — Anand Patwardhan

The story begins in 2002, when a group of mostly Dalit students and young professionals from Pune came together in the wake of the Gujarat riots. Some of them, such as Sachin Mali, were activists who had participated in the short-lived but influential Vidrohi cultural movement. For others, such as Sheetal Sathe and Sagar Gorkhe, who used to be religious singers, this was an initiation into radical politics. Influenced by the 19th century reformer Jyotirao Phule, and contemporary Dalit-left singers Vilas Ghoghre and Sambhaji Bhagat, they started performing their politically-charged music and theatre in the slums and streets of Pune.

They were very disturbed by the Gujarat riots,” says Sambhaji Bhagat, who regularly interacted with the group. “Then Khairlanji happened, and that was a terrible case. Nobody can bear atrocities like that. They started singing about the genocides and massacres. Being Dalits who came from the jhopadpattis [ghettos] of Pune, they knew the reality of life for thousands of people under oppression. Unlike the middle class, who come to know the reality [of oppression] through ideology, they came to ideology through this reality.”

Kabir Kala Manch’s music is part of a long tradition of Dalit protest music and poetry, dating all the way back to the Satya Shodhak Samaj‘s political tamashas in the 19th century [a traditional performance mixing music, satire and theatre]. Their music and politics is also influenced by Left-leaning musical groups like the Red Flag Cultural Squad, comprising of Annabhau Sathe, D.N. Gavankar and Amar Sheikh.

Anand Pathwardhan and the four accused contemplate their next move after being shooed away from Mantralaya on May 6 |Photos: Kashish Parpiani

“They’re basically a combination of Ambedkarite thought and Marxism,” says documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan, whose last film Jai Bhim Comrade discussed the present plight of the KKM extensively. “It’s a mixture of two philosophies that seemingly don’t mix, but in their work they get integrated. They’re raising the issue of caste in the Left movement and the issue of class in the Ambedkarite movement.”

By 2007, KKM was travelling and performing in slums and villages all across Maharashtra. Their popularity grew because of their passionate and poignant performances, and the issues that they raised. Lead singers Sheetal Sathe and Sagar Gorkhe are both talented singers and songwriters, and their performances would often leave the audience in tears.

“It’s not just the politics, it’s the art itself,” adds Patwardhan. “Sheetal is a wonderful singer, she has a voice that can move anybody. Sachin’s poetry is also very moving. In the political sphere, you rarely come across such good musicians, people with such command over musical skills as well.”

But with growing popularity came the scrutiny of the State. And when their songs grew more militant, the police swung into action. As mentioned earlier, KKM members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were arrested from Pune in 2011, along with five other activists, and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The others went into hiding.

Legal advisor Susan Abraham says: “The charges against them are that they were organising students and workers, and participating in struggles with the aim of building up support for CPI-Maoist.”

She adds that this isn’t the first time that the government has targeted singers and cultural activists, citing Shantanu Kamble and Sudhir Dhawale as examples.

Both the Kabir Kala Manch and its defenders admit that their music became more militant in response to increasing atrocities against the Dalits and other marginalised sections of society, though they deny that they are Naxalites. They argue that in a mature democracy singing songs of rebellion should not be a crime. What is the right to freedom of speech and expression if it does not include freedom to dissent?

Activist Vivek Sundara says: “The state has gone beyond targeting active Naxalites. Now anyone, even a cultural activist, who is against the State and speak out about rights is being targeted. By all accounts, these people have committed no acts of violence. They’re radicals, but they’re only singing and speaking.”

RR Patil with Anand Pathwardhan, Prakash Ambedkar and the four accused

“Our democracy would be a dry democracy, or a fascist state, if we arrest people who sing songs on the basis of mere suspicion,” adds Patwardhan. “The irony is that I’ve made a film featuring these militant songs, and that got a National Award. So it depends on which class and caste you belong to. These people have court cases against them, and I have a National award.”

Their arguments have found support in a recent High Court ruling by Justice Abhay Thipse, which granted bail to Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle along with two others who were charged in the same case. Justice Thipse ruled that “suspects could be sympathisers of Maoist philosophy but none can be said to be active members of banned CPI (Maoist)”.

Emboldened by this ruling, KKM members are now coming out in full public glare to submit themselves to legal questioning and the due process of the law. They hope to get bail quickly, and believe that a fair trial will lead to their acquittal. They have no illusions about the police and the judiciary, but are determined to fight it out no matter how long it takes.

“We want the freedom to go to andolans and morchas hand in hand with the people,” says Gorkhe. “Our songs are our strength. All our ideas, we put in our songs and present them to people.”

As the four activists walk to the police station where they will wait for their meeting with the Home Minister, a journalist asks Rupali Jadhav if they have anything they want to say to the police. She replies: “We’ll sing them our songs. After all, that is what we do.”

 

March in Protest Against State-sponsored Censorship on Art and Activism

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Newsclick, May 8, 2013

Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural troupe first came together in response to the communal carnage in Gujarat.

The group went on to make its voice heard on the rights of slum-dwellers and workers; on sustainable development; and most of all, the need to eliminate, once and for all, casteist practices in our society. KKM has performed for and with working class movements as well as movements led by Medha Patkar, Bhai Vaidya and others.

In 2011, the state of Maharashtra began to brand these cultural activists as “Naxalites”. With this excuse, the KKM and its activities have been targeted time and again. Members of KKM were arrested in May, 2011 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They got bail recently, but almost immediately after, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali were arrested on April 2, 2013 after the two staged a “satyagraha” outside the Vidhan Bhavan (Maharashtra State Legislature) protesting the police’s use of UAPA to accuse them of being Maoists and absconders.

On May 2nd, following May Day, artists, litterateurs, journalists, filmmakers, students, cultural activists and theatre groups marched in protest from Sriram Centre, Mandi House, to Maharashtra Sadan, Copernicus Marg, demanding that the Bombay High court immediately release the ‘Kabir Kala Manch’ activists and drop all charges against them.

This march, called by Jan Sanskriti Manch along with Sangwari, Sangthan, The Group and All India Students Association, began with theatre groups Paltan and Asmita performing songs of protest and resistance.

When the protest march reached Maharashtra Sadan, a mass meeting was held. Writer Noor Zahir, poet Neelabh, independent filmmaker Sanjay Kak and activist Kavita Krishnan were among those who spoke on this instance of state-sponsored censorship faced by artists and activists. They also insisted that consistent resistance of such censorship is the only possible response.

A 5-member delegation comprising Sanjay Kak, Neelabh, painter Ashok Bhowmick, literary critic Ashutosh Kumar and Uma Gupta from Delhi University met the Resident Commissioner of Maharashtra Government and handed over a memorandum addressed to the state’s Chief Minister. The memorandum called for the unconditional and immediate release of Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali of Kabir kala Manch and Sudhir Dhawale, editor,Vidrohi, a bi-monthly Marathi journal.

The groups sharply criticized the practice of silencing intellectuals and cultural activists by the state government by dubbing them terrorists. The use of draconian laws and trumped up charges against those who dissent must stop at once, they said, and the livelihood and social security of their family members be ensured. The cultural activists and student protestors plan to submit a petition to the Chief Justice of India with signatures from all over the country asking the apex court to intervene in the matter of governments engaged in blatant violation of the fundamental right to expression

 

Dharna and protest meet in support of KKM at Lucknow

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 Protest at Gorakhpur in support of KKM

Lucknow, U.P. 4 May, 2013

 

Jan sanskriti Manch called a day long dharna and protest meeting at GPO park, Lucknow to protest repression on Kabir Kala Manch demanding immediate release of Sheetal Sathe & Sachin Mali and withdrawal of false cases against KKM activists. Many litterateurs, journalists and representatives of different progressive organizations joined the protest. Poet Naresh saxena, theatre artist Rakesh of IPTA, Tahira hasan, national Vice president of AIPWA, Ramayan Ram, U.P. state president of AISA, poets Bhagwan Swaroop Katiyar of Jan Sanskriti Manch, Ajay Singh and Pragya Pandey, literary critic Virendra Yadav of PWA,   Ashish Tripathi of PUCL,  O.P. Sinha of Workers’ Council, K.K. Vats of Alag Duniya addressed the protest meet. Kaushal Kishore, convenor of Jan sanskriti Manch , Lucknow conducted the meeting. Subhash Rai, Chief Editor, ‘Samkalin Sarokar’, writers Usha rai, R.K. Sinha, Shyam Ankuram, B.N. Gaud, veteran communist trade unionist Ganga Prasad from  Lenin Pustak Kendra, Rajeev Yadav of Rihai Manch, AISA activists Seema Chandra & Sudhanshu Vajpai participated in Dharna and protest meet among others.

 

Released by Kaushal Kishore, convenor, JSM, Lucknow , Contact- 08400208031

 

 

Reporting without checking the facts — Kabir Kala Manch: Satyagraha not Surrender

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To the Editor and Manager, The Hindustan Times

Dear sir
Yesterday (8th April 2013) your national page carried a completely false and defamatory report on a so called “surrender” under a Maharashtra State government scheme that offers inducements to Naxalites who surrender.

You will be sued for this false and defamatory report if you do not prominently carry on your national page, this letter with an accompanying photograph of the event that gives a truer picture of the issue.

About the event you wrongfully reported, I personally witnessed the following:

4 members of the Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural troupe from Pune who had been accused of being associated with Naxalites by the State and had consequently gone into hiding for two years, did a Satyagraha for their freedom of expression.

At 3 PM on April 7 Sagar Gorkhe, Rupali Jadhav, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jadhav arrived at Dr. Ambedkar’s statue in South Mumbai with their lawyers and members of the Kabir Kala Manch Defense Committee, which included Dr. Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, Comrade Prakash Reddy of the CPI and myself. Here, in front of the media, they sang songs, made speeches and distributed leaflets declaring that they were not guilty and were coming over-ground to fight for their freedom of expression and submit themselves to the rule of law. After paying a floral tribute to Dr. Ambedkar and distributing CDs of their songs they walked down to the Mantralaya. The Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) who had declared them wanted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, were nowhere to be seen for over two hours. Finally the “wanted” walked down to Prakash Ambedkar’s nearby office still accompanied by media. An hour later Home Minister R.R. Patil agreed to meet the group in his Mantralaya office. In front of the Home Minister the KKM sang a “Lal Salaam” (Red Salute) song while wearing blue headbands that signaled their affinity to the Dalit cause. The ATS finally arrived. They arrested Sagar and Ramesh but chose not to arrest their spouses Rupali and Jyoti. The next day, the two arrested were officially sent to ATS custody for a further 6 days of “questioning”.

The KKM has denied that they are members of any banned organization and therefore the question of surrender does not arise. The implication that a “surrender” took place under a State policy that offers financial inducements in return for information, gravely damages the reputation of this brave and principled cultural troupe. It also defames members of the Kabir Kala Manch Defense Committee that accompanied them at the Satyagaraha. We demand an unconditional apology from the Hindustan Times. The apology should be followed by our letter of protest along with a photograph of the KKM Satyagraha that is herewith attached. We reserve the further right to sue you for defamation, if the visibility accorded to our letter of protest and your unconditional apology is insufficient.

Anand Patwardhan, for Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

 

Pune’s cultural group members surrender before police

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Written by Saurabh Gupta | Updated: May 09, 2013 NDTV

MumbaiFour more members of Pune-based cultural group Kabir Kala Manch handed themselves over to the police for questioning on Tuesday in Mumbai.
The Kabir Kala Manch is a Pune based cultural group who have performed their unique brand of political theatre, poetry and music encompassing issues of class, caste, environment and human rights. The police have accused them of having naxalite links.Last month Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali who had spent two years in hiding gave themselves up outside the state assembly. SheetalOn Tuesday, four members who had been in hiding presented themselves before the public in front of Babasaheb Ambedkar‘s statue near the state secretariat. The group then met Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil and presented some of their songs before him.

After meeting them, Mr Patil told reporters “After the government’s appeal there must have been a change of mind on their behalf. They have decided to fight this in court in a legal manner. The police will not harass them. The government has made its policy clear. If someone who has naxalite links or is accused of having naxalite links comes forward, the government is willing to talk to them.”

Speaking to NDTV, Filmmaker and Activist Anand Patwardhan said, “This is a satyagraha and they are saying we have done no wrong. We are willing to submit ourselves through the new process of law.”

But Mr Patwardhan has defended them saying, “After incidents like Khairlanji and the lack of justice in the Ramabai firing case their songs became more militant and the state interpreted them as some kind of extremism. To my knowledge they have never been charged with any kind of violence.”

The Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee has appealed for a speedy disposition of the cases that have been slapped against the members of the troupe.

 

Statement – Kabir Kala Manch Satyagraha

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The Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) is a Pune-based cultural troupe consisting largely of Dalit and working class youth that has performed all over Maharashtra with its unique brand of political theatre, poetry and music encompassing issues of class, caste, environment and human rights.

 

Last month Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali of the KKM who had spent 2 years in hiding after being charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), gave themselves up in full public glare at the State Assembly. Accused of associating with a banned Naxalite organization, they stated that their action was not “surrender” but a public “satyagraha” to protest the trampling of their freedom of expression.

Today in the same spirit, KKM members Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav who were also in hiding, are coming forth before the public and the ATS. They are willing to submit themselves to legal questioning and the due process of law.

The location for the satyagraha is significant. The KKM has chosen to come into the open in front of a memorial to the father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.  Here the KKM will release a new music cd covering a wide range of issues, from the peoples’ fight against destructive nuclear plant at Jaitapur to the homeless living in precarious slums.

On the occasion of this satyagraha, Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC) together with our well wishers, insist that the State and the ATS proceed smoothly and quickly to a fair trial, without resort to torture or any planting of “evidence”.

The public and the media must remain vigilant. After Sheetal and Sachin’s arrest last month there was some fear of torture and it is reported that State authorities were forced to switch off their fax machines because of the volume of support that poured in for the couple. We expect the same public vigilance to accompany the arrest of Sagar, Ramesh, Rupali and Jyoti.

We demand that all members of the KKM who have voluntarily come forward to face interrogation, must be granted bail speedily. There is no logic to detaining people who give themselves up, as they are obviously not going to run away. The weakest sections of our society face the greatest atrocities and the greatest injustice. We must defend the space for them to air their grievance. Democracy needs their song.

 

Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

 

Kabir Kala Manch activists surrender, deny having any links with maoists #KKM

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<kkm4 pic courtesy- indian exppress -Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and their wives Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav outside Oval Maidan Tuesday. Ganesh Shirsekar

The Hindu, May 7, 2013

In a theatrical turn of events which included, singing revolutionary songs in the office of Maharashtra’s Home minister RR Patil after being asked for the same by him, posing with him for photographs and waiting for more than three hours for the officers from Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) to come and arrest, two alleged Maoists on Tuesday surrendered in Mumbai.

Four members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a cultural group alleged to be having links with Maoists, on Tuesday afternoon staged Satyagraha near Mantralaya in South Mumbai. They are being accused as Maoists and absconders by the police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

“We are artists. We perform for people and we sing songs which highlight the plight of people and of those who fight against the corrupt system. We are being falsely implicated in cases and wrongly framed as Maoists. We have done nothing but to sing songs,” said Ramesh Gaichor, one of the members of KKM.

All four, Rupali Jadhav, Hyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor were accompanied by members of KKM Defence Committee, which included film-maker Anand Patwardhan, Adv Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr. BR Ambedkar and president of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh and Prakash Reddy of Communist Party of India (CPI).Ramesh Gaichor (28) and Sagar Gorkhe (27) along with their wives Jyoti Jagtap (26) and Rupali Jadhav (27) came to Oval Maidan at 3 pm.For two hours, they sang protest songs and gave out audio CDs to the crowd near the statue of B R Ambedkar. The group, along with Prakash Reddy of CPI, film maker Anand Patwardhan and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasabha‘s Prakash Ambedkar, went to Patil’s office at Mantralaya at 5 pm.https://kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=467&action=edit&message=10#category-add

Ms. Jagtap, another member of KKM said that the four are staging satyagraha because they want their name to be cleared from the ATS wanted list. “We want to sing once again, but want to do it openly. We want all the accusations against us to be cleared because we are not Maoists,” she said.

Ms. Jadhav alleged that ATS teams have been visiting her house and threatening her mother. “They told her that I was killed in encounter in Gadchiroli. I see no reason in torturing our families. We are artists and not criminals,” she said.

To the surprise of all, none of the officials from state ATS turned up to arrest the alleged Maoists, two of whom are named wanted in the charge sheet filed in the court.

All four were then taken to the office of the Mr. Patil, where he was presented with an audio CD of group’s songs after which he even asked them to sing one of the songs. Mr. Patil even called all four of them for a group photograph. It was only after the home minister of Maharashtra informed the ATS chief Rakesh Maria over the telephone, that the ATS came to know about the satyagraha of ‘wanted’ Maoists, inside the administrative headquarter of Maharashtra.

The ATS team arrived at the office of Mr. Patil at 6 PM, after which it was informed that the custody of two females is not required and then can go home.

“We demand that all members of the KKM who have voluntarily come forward to face interrogation, must be granted bail speedily. There is no logic to detaining people who give themselves up, as they are obviously not going to run away,” said the statement issued by KKM Defence Committee.