Bhanuj Kappal speaks to Deepak Dengle of Kabir Kala Manch, the radical singing group that has been targeted by the Maharashtrian police for suspected ‘revolutionary’ activities.
Deepak Dengle in a stil from Jai Bhim Comrade.
hey were thrashing the poor fellow in the other room, I could hear him crying.”
It’s a gloomy June afternoon, and Deepak Dengle is telling me about a chain-snatcher who had been brought in to the police station he has to visit every week, as part of his bail formalities. Dengle is a member of the Dalit cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which has been in the news lately due to police accusations of Naxalite links. In May 2011, Dengle and his fellow KKM activist Siddharth Bhosle were arrested by the ATS, along with five other people, and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The rest of the group went underground, only surfacing after Dengle got bail in March 2013. Here, we discuss KKM’s politics, his arrest, and his resolve to carry on with the struggle:
Q: When was the Kabir Kala Manch founded?
A: KKM was formed in 2002 by Professor Yogendra Mane (from Wadia College, Pune), Amarnath Chandaliya, Haroon Sheikh and a few other sensitive people. They thought that something must be done after the Gujarat riots to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. But the Manch in its current form came about in 2005-6, by which time a lot of the original members had left or had been kicked out.
Q: What issues does KKM focus on?
A: Our main focus is casteism and caste atrocities. We have performed a lot of plays and songs about caste issues. But we also have songs about tribal rights, workers’ rights, corruption, and the effects of liberalisation that we can see all around us. Whenever we heard of a protest or rally that we agreed with, we would to go there and sing. With Medha Patkar, we made a lot of noise about the Lavasa development project. Once, we gherao-ed the Congress party office in Dadar with Patkar. At Kabir Kala Manch, we believe that there can be no end to casteism without addressing the class issue, and vice versa. The struggle for both will go together, which is why we believe in Ambedkar and Marx and mix both ideologies.
|We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunit|
Q: What can you tell me about your arrest?
A: I was picked up from my job as a mechanic for the Pune Corporation. I was on duty at my depot when someone came up to me pretending to be from my village. When I walked out with him to have a cup of tea, I didn’t notice a jeep parked outside with its doors open. I had taken 10 steps when they put me in the jeep and sped off. This was on the 12th [of May] and they didn’t register my arrest till the 13th.
Once I was in custody, they started beating me; they hit me with their belts. They were asking me where Sachin and Sheetal were. I didn’t know, so they continued to hit me. They stripped me, tied my hands and legs with a rope and hung me from the ceiling. Then they took this oil called Suryaprakash oil, and put it all over my body, including my groin. It causes burning all over and makes it hard to breathe. I was in so much pain that I asked them to shoot me and get it over with. They only untied me once I lost consciousness.
A dance performance choreographed by Mishti Bawar, set to KKM songs
have been taken out of police custody immediately. But I had no knowledge of how the judicial system works. And they threatened me, said they’d pick up my wife. I got scared so I didn’t say anything. But if I knew that it would make even a slight difference, I wouldn’t have held back.
Q: Why do you think the police decided to go after KKM?
A: We need to understand one thing about how the police functions, and I found this out when I met people who were inside for bomb blasts cases. When they find one person who has some involvement with a case, they pick up a lot of their associates and charge them as well. That’s what happened to us as well. We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunity to shut us down.
Q: Now that you and the other KKM members have a case to fight, do you still intend to continue performing once the others are out on bail?
A: We have already started performing again. I came out on 8 March, and on 30 March, I went to a rally paying tribute to Bhagat Singh and sang a song by Sheetal called Bhagat Singh, Tu Abhi Zinda Hai. Rupali, Jyoti and I also performed at another rally in Chakan (Pune District). We will not give up so easily. Our only purpose is to go and sing at peoples’ movements, and we’ll continue to do that.
On 27 June, less than a week after I met Dengle, he and Rupali Jadhav were arrested at a protest by Warkaris in Pune, along with some Warkari leaders. They were charged with obstructing traffic. They’re now out on bail, unfazed and determined to continue their struggle.
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