Tag Archives: Ambedkar

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

 

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India – Democracy needs their song- Kabir Kala Manch

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  • Special Arrangement
  • Special Arrangement
The Hindu, May  4,2013

They use poetry and song to fight for a just society but the state brands them Naxalites. Anand Patwardhan on the ongoing saga of the Kabir Kala Manch.

On the morning of July 11, 1997, Ramabai Colony in Ghatkopar had woken to find a garland of footwear on its statue of Dr. Ambedkar. As angry residents broke the windows of parked cars on an adjacent highway, the Special Reserve Police arrived and without warning, opened fire on the protestors. Then they took aim at the colony itself. Men, women and children — many of them bystanders watching from the “safety” of their own homes — were killed. Ten died that day, one a few years later.

I became something more than a horrified citizen when, four days later, poet and singer Vilas Ghogre, unable to bear the pain, hung himself in nearby Mulund. I had loved and recorded Vilas’s music over the years and I set about trying to understand why a Marxist Vilas reasserted his Dalit identity in death, tying a blue scarf on his forehead and writing “Long live Ambedkarite Unity” on a blackboard in his hut.

The journey took 14 years. I explored class and caste, followed court cases against the police and those they foisted against the victims of the firing, and followed other poet-musicians like Vilas who used their art for emancipation.

The 10th year brought me back to Ramabai Colony to a commemoration for the martyrs of Ramabai and Khairlanji. At Khairlanji village in 2006, four Dalits had been stripped, raped and murdered. The killer mob comprised non-Dalit co-villagers. Scores of accused with allegiance to influential political parties were acquitted. Six got the death penalty, later commuted to life. The court ruled that this was not a caste atrocity covered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and no one had been raped. Although the bodies were found naked, rape was not investigated. When Dalits across Maharashtra took to the streets, the government described them as “Maoist inspired”. Three years later, it gave Khairlanji an award for being a model of peace. (“Tantamukti Gaon”).

In 2007, on the 10th anniversary of the firing, the sense of outrage and injustice was palpable at Ramabai Colony. Many musicians performed that day. But the most electric of all was the Kabir Kala Manch(KKM), a young group from Pune. As Sheetal Sathe’s strong, clear voice rang out, the words piercing hearts and minds, I knew right away that the legacy of Vilas Ghogre would never die.

I began to follow the KKM, filming performances in the city and countryside and in the slum where they lived. We spoke with Sheetal’s mother, an amazing woman in her own right, who despite her faith in the “goddess” tolerated the growing rational consciousness of the children she had educated through much personal sacrifice.

We filmed them lending musical support to a diverse range of activists who had taken on the venality of the system — from Medha Patkar’s non-violent confrontations to their own Mahatma Phule-inspired movement for inter-caste marriage.

But, as atrocities like Khairlanji continued, I began to sense a change. Ambedkar was now interwoven with Marx and I marvelled at how potent the combination was in the hands of young believers who challenged an older generation that had settled for crumbs from the high table. Despite this, nothing about the KKM was dogmatic. They tolerated my hodge-podge Gandhian, Left, Ambedkarite ideas. The film was taking a long time to complete and they saw bits of it on the edit table. They knew that Vilas Ghogre had been expelled from his Marxist group because upper class/caste leaders had failed to grasp the conditions of his life. Young and impressionable as the KKM was, they were internally democratic. Even in performance, while Sachin was the published poet and Sheetal and Sagar the accomplished musicians, the group saw to it that everyone got a chance to sing, write and perform.

In 2011, I lost contact with them and soon understood why. Deepak Dengle of the KKM had been arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), accused of being a Naxalite. As the police began a witch-hunt, KKM went underground. Sheetal’s mother insisted that her children had promised to fight only with “the song and the drum”.

Police-planted news articles began to appear drawing on a statement by Deepak Dengle that KKM was present at a meeting with Maoists. Deepak subsequently withdrew his statement, as it had been obtained under torture. Last month he was released on bail when Justice Thipsay of the Bombay High Court held that, even under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, mere membership of a banned outfit could not constitute grounds for detention, that an actual crime or intention to commit one had to be proved. Deepak, after his release, described how acid was used on his back and how his family was threatened.

Back in 2012, we had formed a Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee fearing for the lives of those branded as Naxalites. After our film Jai Bhim Comrade won a National award, the Maharashtra government added another cash award. This became the initial corpus for our defence work. Finally last month we were overjoyed when Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali made contact with our lawyers, to come over-ground. To prevent the police from claiming they had “caught” them, we ensured that they surfaced in the full glare of the media — at the State Assembly.

Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, leaders of the CPI and Defence Committee members and lawyers were present as Sheetal and Sachin sang outside the Assembly and declared that their action was not a “surrender” but a “satyagraha” for the freedom of expression.

Finally the ATS arrived to collect their quarry. That evening we met the Chief Minister who promised to prevent torture. In court the next day Sheetal, who is pregnant, was sent directly into judicial custody (where torture is rare but nutritious food even more so). Sachin was remanded to ATS questioning for two weeks. We learnt that he was not allowed to sleep for three days, but no bodily torture was done. This is certainly thanks to public pressure. It was reported that the ATS switched off its fax machine because of the volume of support for KKM. The police countered through the media that Sachin and Sheetal are indeed Naxalites.

Are they? I see them as fiery idealists who are fighting to make our society just and equitable. Does that distinguish them from Naxalites? The ATS seems confused. To me, the distinction lies in the fact that the only weapon Sachin and Sheetal fight with, is their poetry and song. Even if the worst were concluded — that KKM made contact with a banned organisation — what bewilders me is what the State actually wants from them now. They gave themselves up. They expressed the desire to sing freely again within the bounds of democracy. Other members from their group are still underground, waiting to see what develops. What is the message the State is sending? That it prefers to brand them forever as Naxalites and push them into the forest rather than allow them safe passage? Neither Sheetal nor Sachin is accused of any violence. Yet Sheetal’s bail application was refused. Are people who give themselves up going to run away?

Democracy needs their song.

Keywords: Kabir Kala ManchFreedom

People must have space to express anger against injustice

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May 16, 2012, 12.00AM IST, TOI
Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan ‘s latest movie, Jai Bhim Comrade, portraying events around a police firing on dalit protesters in 1997, won a National Award and a prize of Rs 51,000 from the Maharashtra government – which Patwardhan’s donated to the Kabir Kala Manch(KKM) Defence Committee,  ( the original article does not mention, but fact is money is donated to KKM Defence Committee ), KKM is a cultural troupe inspired by B RAmbedkar and Karl Marx, expressing the oppression of dalits through poetry and song. Patwardhan features this group, some members of which have gone underground recently. Speaking with Jyoti Punwani , Patwardhan explained his view of the KKM, why its work is important – and why Shankar’s 1949 cartoon depicting B R Ambedkar didn’t raise protests back then:How did you decide to feature the KKM in your documentary?I first saw an electric performance by the KKM in 2007 at the 10th anniversary of the police firing at Mumbai’s Ramabai Nagar. I had begun to film Jai Bhim Comrade in 1997 when 10 dalits were killed in this firing and Vilas Ghogre, a singer-poet i knew, hung himself in protest. This shocked me into documenting atrocities against dalits and recording their songs of protest.

The KKM is made up largely of young dalit boys and girls – but their music spoke of centuries of oppression and resistance. Over the next few years, i followed them intermittently with my camera, at performances, at their homes, with their families. I saw them as the new generation of shahirs or singer-poets who’d taken over the mantle from Annabhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh, Vamandada Kardak and Vilas Ghogre. To my surprise, they did not just sing overtly political songs but fought superstition and even wrote love songs, valorizing gender equality and inter-caste marriage.

Why are you donating the prize money you’ve received to the KKM Defence Committee?

The money was given for a film that highlights the KKM amongst others. Ironically, it was given by a state that’s trying to muzzle these sons and daughters of India. People must be given the democratic space to express anger against injustice – the best way to preserve the freedom we all believe in is to speak out even when it is unpopular and to identify the root causes of dissenta¦

The power of KKM’s music is undeniable and the fact that atrocities against dalits continue makes an uncompromising KKM suspect in the eyes of those who protect the status quo. Yet, the KKM i knew spoke of changing the world not with weapons but through song and drum.

Speaking of protest and dissent, what do you make of the NCERT Ambedkar cartoon row? The cartoon didn’t raise protests when it was drawn in 1949 – why now?

The cartoon in its day did not rouse controversy because the nation was young and hopeful. Ambedkar was drafting the Constitution. He was the law minister. Later, a disillusioned Ambedkar resigned when Nehru stonewalled his Hindu Code Bill in deference to orthodox Hindus. Betrayed by his secular friends, Ambedkar, with lakhs of followers, walked out of Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.

Today, repeated betrayals have frayed the sensitivities of dalits, but the iconic persona of Ambedkar is etched in their hearts forever. Deification, desecration and empty, symbo-lic gestures by the state are now a repeating cycle – these take the place of any real attempt to annihilate caste.