Tag Archives: Communist Party of India

#India: Stop Misuse of Counterterrorism Laws #KKM

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Charges Against Dalit Performers Raise Free Speech Concerns

(New York, June 26, 2013) – Authorities in India should conduct an independent review of apparent politically motivated terrorism charges filed against performers in a Dalit cultural group, Human Rights Watch said today. 

Members of Kabir Kala Manch, charged in 2011 under India’s draconian counterterrorism laws, remain subject to prosecution for their alleged support of Maoist militants. One of them, eight months pregnant, was denied bail and must wait until June 27 for an appeals decision on her bail application. Indian courts have repeatedly ruled that ideological sympathy should not be interpreted as active membership in a banned organization.

“The Indian authorities should not conflate shared sympathy for concerns about oppression and social inequity expressed by the Maoists with criminal complicity in violence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should ensure that peaceful activists can speak out without fear of terrorism charges.”

India’s counterterrorism and sedition laws have been widely misused to target political opponents, tribal groups, religious and ethnic minorities, and Dalits, Human Rights Watch said. Amendments made to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2008 and 2012 could result in further misuse. 

In 2011, authorities in the western Indian state of Maharashtra charged 15 people with being members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) – also known as Naxalites. Eleven of them have been arrested, six of whom are members of Kabir Kala Manch, a Pune-based cultural group of singers, poets, and artists. The group, largely consisting of Dalit youth, uses music, poetry, and street plays to raise awareness about issues such as oppression of Dalits and tribal groups, social inequality, corruption, and Hindu-Muslim relations. 

The state counterterrorism squad arrested two Kabir Kala Manch members, Dhavala K. Dhengale and Siddharth Bhosale, in May 2011. Dhengale’s lawyers allege he was tortured in police custody and was forced to make a confession, which he has retracted. Police also brought cases against four other members of the cultural group, who subsequently went into hiding. 

The authorities accused the six of being members of a “terrorist organization” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. If convicted, they face sentences of up to life in prison. They have also been charged under numerous penal provisions dealing with extortion, cheating, and forgery. 

In January 2013, the High Court in Mumbai granted bail to Dhengale and Bhosale, noting that the charges filed indicated that they were sympathetic to the Maoist philosophy but not active members of the Maoist organization. The court said that “drastic provisions” added to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2008 required that membership in an illegal organization be interpreted in the light of fundamental freedoms such as the rights to free speech and expression, and thus “passive membership” was insufficient for prosecution. 

Following the court order, in April and May, the four other members of Kabir Kala Manch –Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorke, and Ramesh Gaichor – who had been named in the 2011 case, turned themselves in. All four remain in judicial custody as they wait for the police to file charges. A lower sessions court in Mumbai denied bail to Sathe, who is eight months pregnant. 

“This is not the first time social activists have come under attack or been arbitrarily arrested on unsubstantiated accusations of Maoist links,” Ganguly said. “Wrongful arrests of peaceful activists only hurt the government’s image and provide a fertile ground for Maoist propaganda.” 

Dr. Binayak Sen, a physician and human rights activist, was convicted in December 2010 and sentenced to life in prison for sedition, for allegedly acting as a courier for a Naxalite leader in jail, even though he had visited the leader under the supervision of jail authorities. After his arrest in 2007, Sen was awarded the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, and rights groups and doctors’ organizations have campaigned for his release. Sen has appealed his conviction, and the Supreme Court in April 2011 ordered his release on bail in the interim saying: “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathizer. That does not make him guilty of sedition.”

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Indian government to revise the definition of terrorism, and ensure that restrictions on organizations do not violate the rights to freedom of association and expression under international law. Human Rights Watch has also urged the repeal of provisions in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, such as those authorizing pre-charge detention for up to 180 days including 30 days in police custody, limitations on bail, and presumption of guilt in certain circumstances.

“Instead of arresting people who are using art to raise their voices against poor governance and social malaise, the government should focus on better safeguards for fundamental freedoms,” Ganguly said. “Too often, police, frustrated by their inability to stem criminal acts by various armed groups, have misused the law to arrest critics, social activists, or ideological supporters of these groups.”

To view the 2010 Human Rights Watch report “Back to the Future: India’s 2008 Counterterrorism Laws,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/07/28/back-future-0

To read the December 2012 Human Rights Watch news release “India: Reject Amendments to Counterterrorism Law,” please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/14/india-reject-amendments-counterterrorism-law

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on India, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/asia/india

 

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India – That shrinking space for dissent #Protest

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RIGHT TO PROTEST

April 27, 2013, Times Crest 

The government’s action against the Kabir Kala Manch in Maharashtra as a naxalite outfit shows us just why we need to defend our right to protest, writes Anand Patwardhan

On July 11, 1997, Ramabai Colony in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, had awoken to find its statue of Dr Ambedkar desecrated with a garland of footwear. As angry residents poured onto the adjacent highway, the state’s Reserve Police Force arrived and opened fire, killing ten. In grief, poet-singer Vilas Ghogre hung himself in his hut in nearby Mulund.

I had loved and recorded Vilas’s music over many years and tried to understand why a Marxist like him had reasserted his Dalit identity by tying a blue bandanna as he died. I explored class and caste and followed other poet-musicians like Vilas who used their art for emancipation. The 10th year of this journey brought me back to Ramabai Colony where a commemoration was in progress to honour the martyrs of Ramabai and Khairlanji. After the rape and massacre of Dalits in Khairlanji village in 2006, protests had flared across Maharashtra. The government cracked down, describing them as “Maoist inspired”. Three years later it gave Khairlanji village an award for being a model of peace (” Tantamukti Gaon” ).

On 11 July, 2007, the sense of outrage and injustice was palpable at Ramabai Colony. Many musicians performed. But the most electric of all was a young group from Pune, the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). As Sheetal Sathe’s strong, clear voice rang out, the words piercing hearts and minds, I knew that the legacy of Vilas Ghogre would never die.

I began to follow the KKM, filming their public performances, speaking with Sheetal’s mother who despite her faith in the “goddess” tolerated the growing rational consciousness of the children she had educated. KKM lent support to a range of movements that had taken on the venality of the system, from Medha Patkar‘s non-violence to their own Mahatma Phule-inspired movement for intercaste marriage.

Atrocities like Khailanji began to make KKM more edgy. Ambedkar was now interwoven with Marx and the young believers challenged an older generation that had settled for crumbs from the high table. Yet nothing about the KKM was dogmatic and they remained internally democratic. Sachin the published poet, and Sheetal and Sagar, the accomplished musicians, saw to it that everyone got a chance to sing, write and perform.

In 2011, I lost contact with the group, but soon understood the reason. Deepak Dengle of the KKM had been arrested by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), accused of being a Naxalite. A startled KKM went underground even as Sheetal’s mother insisted that her children would fight only with “song and drum”.

Police-planted articles began to appear in the media. Accusations against KKM drew on “confessions” obtained in police custody like the one by Deepak Dengle alleging that KKM attended a meeting where Maoists were present. Deepak subsequently withdrew his statement stating that it was obtained under torture. He was recently released on bail after the Bombay High Court held that alleged membership of a banned outfit could not constitute grounds for detention, that an actual crime or intention to commit one would have to be proved. Deepak, after his release, described how acid was used on his back during torture and how his family was threatened.

In 2012, a few citizens and I had formed a Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, fearing for the lives of those branded as Naxalites. We met the chief minister of Maharashtra and the home minister, who informed us that the charges against the KKM were not serious. Finally we were overjoyed when a lawyer friend informed us that Sheetal and Sachin had made contact and wanted to come overground. To prevent the police from claiming they had “caught” them, the surfacing was arranged outside the state assembly, in full public glare. Prakash Ambedkar and CPI leaders accompanied members of our committee as Sheetal and Sachin sang a song, declaring that their action was not “surrender”, but a “satyagraha” for the freedom of expression.

Eventually the ATS arrived to collect its quarry. We met the CM that evening and he promised to prevent torture. In court the next day, Sheetal, who is pregnant, was sent directly into judicial custody while Sachin was remanded to ATS questioning for two weeks. We learnt that although Sachin was not allowed to sleep for three days, there was no physical torture. Meanwhile, the volume of support for KKM was so sustained that the ATS switched off its fax machines. But they countered through the mainstream media that Sachin and Sheetal were 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.

But in the worst-case, even if it were concluded that they made contact with a banned organisation, what bewilders me is the question of what the state 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, obviously watching to see what the state does. What message is the state sending? That it prefers to brand them as Naxalites and push them into the forest rather than allow them safe passage?

Last week, Sheetal’s bail was refused. Neither she nor Sachin are accused of any act of violence. Are people who give themselves up going to run away? Surely our democracy needs their song.

The writer is a documentary filmmaker

 

Daughter’s songs never caused violence, says Sheetal Sathe’s Mother

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MUMBAI: Sandhya Sathe looks tired as she emerges from the Byculla women’s jail on Monday. She has travelled from Pune to Mumbai for her weekly meeting with her daughter, Sheetal Sathe, who has been in judicial custody for two weeks.

Sheetal, 27, and her husband Sachin Mali, both Pune-based singers and poets from the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), were arrested in Mumbai on April 2 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for their alleged association with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Sheetal, whose bail application will be heard on Wednesday, is six months pregnant.

“My daughter and her group sing about poverty, caste discrimination and women’s rights. But there has never been any instance of violence breaking out because of their songs,” says Sathe, 50, who lives in Pune’s Bhavanipet slum and spoke to HT outside the prison.

Until a year ago, Sathe worked as a sweeper in a private hospital in Pune. She also worked as a part-time domestic help with two families who had helped fund Sheetal’s education in a private Marathi-medium school. Sheetal went on to do her Master’s in sociology at Fergusson College, topping her class.

Sachin Mali, who comes from a poor family in Sangli, was a student at the same college, also a gold medallist in his subject, Marathi.

In 2003, Sheetal and Mali joined KKM, a cultural organisation of students and professionals who performed protest music in villages and colleges across the state. Sachin, who married Sheetal seven years ago, also worked as a bus conductor with the Pune Municipal Corporation.

“After the police began hunting for KKM members two years ago, my family cut me off and I was asked to quit my job at the hospital,” says Sathe, a widow since 2007.

She now hopes Sheetal and Sachin are granted bail. “Sheetal has lost a lot of weight because of the food in jail. I worry about her,” she says.

 

The ‘ Revolutionary’ Story of Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali

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sheetal

ABP(STAR) MARATHI CHANNEL AT 730PM  on Apirl 6, ran a story  on Kabir kala manch- Sachin Mali‘s village–the villagers have spoken about him and the work he did. They interviewed family members, teachers and friends of sheetal sathe and sachin Mali .

Two members of Kabir Kala Manch stage ‘satyagraha’

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SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, The Hindu

Mumbai, paril 3, 2013

Two activists of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali on Tuesday staged a “satyagraha” outside the Vidhan Bhavan (Maharashtra State Legislature) in protest against being accused as Maoists and absconders by the police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They were accompanied by political leaders and activists of the KKM Defence Committee.

Prakash Reddy of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who was present in the morning during the satyagraha, said the two activists were singers and fighting for an equal society.

“It is to publicly demonstrate that they have not committed any crime and had not indulged in any unlawful activity that they chose to come out today,” he added.

The Marine Drive police confirmed that the duo was brought to the police station and handed over to the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS).

The government does not want artists to perform or rebel, Mr. Reddy said.

In a statement, friends of the KKM Defence Committee said: “We wish this voluntary appearance of the KKM before the police to be a matter of public record and expect the police to restrain from torturing them or implicating them in any false case. We expect nothing less and nothing more than the due process of law.”

Appearing before the police, the KKM members stated, should not be construed as “surrender” but as a form of “satyagraha” to clear their name and establish the fact that their goal was to fight for justice within the confines of democratic conduct.

Clarifying that the KKM was a cultural organisation that had over many years spread its “anti-caste,” “pro-democracy” message through music, poetry and theatre, the statement said it was increasing atrocities on Dalits and weaker sections of society that led to the songs and words of the KKM admittedly becoming more militant.

“It is this militancy that brought them under the police scanner,” the KKM Defence Committee said.

The police arrested KKM members and some of them had to go underground. Two of their members were charged and arrested under the UAPA, the statement said adding that recently the Bombay High Court granted bail to two arrested members of the KKM, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth.

It ruled that unless the police made out a case that an actual crime was committed by the accused, they cannot interpret the UAPA to arrest people merely on the basis of an alleged ideology.

 

Bombay HC- A warning and guide to the police in all states.

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Digital Maoism

 

Prabhat Sharan, Deccan Herald

 

The Bombay high court’s observations, while  granting bail to four persons who were accused of being Maoists by the anti-terrorist squad (ATS) of the state, should be a warning and guide to the police in all states.

 

It is well-known that the police foist unconvincing charges on people, harass them, rob them of their freedom and take them to court. Many times it is calling a man a dog and trying to hang him.

 

To be found with a copy of the Communist Manifesto or any other work that advocates social change, to write a poem or stage a play that criticises  injustice and iniquities was enough reason to be locked up by the police many years ago. The experience of the street theatre group which highlighted the pervasiveness of corruption and inequalities in society shows that the situation has hardly changed.

 

The artistes of the theatre group , Kabir Kala Manch were booked under the strict provisions of the anti-terrorism law for alleged allegiance to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and for inciting violence to subvert the state, and some of them have been in jail for over two years. The evidence produced by the ATS is their possession of books available in the market and the literature has not been banned. It is possible that many of the ideas which the police found criminal could be found in text books also.

 

Castigating the police, the court has said that it is not wrong to raise social issues and advocate a change of the social or political system. Many thinkers, social activists and leaders of the past and present could be considered guilty and criminal if there was a sweeping ban on demands for a better society.

 

Corruption, poverty, social injustice and the oppression of the weakest sections of society are  vital issues that need answers and solutions. The inability of the state to address these issues and improve the social and economic status of the people in the margins should be of concern to all citizens.

 

While these issues are raised in public the answer of the state should not be to come down with a heavy hand on those who do so. It is not just a matter of freedom of expression but of what to express and work for. It is not the first time that courts have made it clear that faith in an ideology is not a crime. Unfortunately it has to be said again and again.

 

 

 

Ultra vires regulations- does association with a banned outfit make you a TERRORIST?

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SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu , fEB 22, 2013

Mere association with a banned outfit or studying its literature does not tantamount to being a terrorist, says a recent Bombay High Court judgement

Freedom of speech:Sheetal Sathe, lead singer of Kabir Kala Manch.

Freedom of speech:Sheetal Sathe, lead singer of Kabir Kala Manch.

The definition of a ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ has been a major topic of continuous debate in India especially in recent months. Can a person collecting and studying literature of a banned party be defined as a terrorist? Can a song with revolutionary lyrics — despising social inequality — be called an act of terror? Or is it that quoting Mao Tse Tung or Karl Marx in a street theatre be defined as a terrorist ploy?

A recent judgement by the Bombay High Court has stated that such acts are not terrorism. Even the judge went on to say, “… the expression of views to the effect that a change in the social order can be brought about only by a revolution would not amount to any offence.”

The judgement — delivered while granting bail to four members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural group of Dalit protest singers — has been lauded by social activists and lawyers in Chhattisgarh and other States where a large number of tribals are languishing in jail allegedly for participating in Maoist rallies or providing food to the rebels. The KKM members were arrested and booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) allegedly for being members of the banned CPI-Maoist.

The judgement by Justice Abhay Thipsey has specifically questioned Section 20 of UAPA which penalises members of ‘terrorist gangs or organisations involved in terrorist acts’ with imprisonment for life. Quoting extensively from several verdicts of the Indian and U.S. Supreme Courts, the judgement says that Section 20 of UAPA challenges Article 19 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech, right to form unions and assemble peacefully.

According to the judge, KKM members were arrested for practising rights guaranteed by Article 19. Moreover, the same section of IPC, 120B, which was used against Afzal Guru for allegedly abetting a criminal conspiracy, was also used against KKM members for associating with a banned outfit.

Deconstructing various sections of IPC and UAPA used to frame charges against KKM members, Justice Thipsey said, “Mere membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence,” quoting, inter alia , from a Supreme Court judgement.

Justice Thipsey added if “passive membership” of a banned party is criminally liable, then parts of UAPA may become ultra vires . “It is very clear from the observations made by the Supreme Court that if Section 20 were to be interpreted in that manner (passive membership as active terrorism), it would at once be considered as violative of the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution of India, and would be struck down as ultra vires ,” page 37 of the judgement stated.

Justice Thipsey has also expressed “surprise” that KKM members were arrested for organising “street plays wherein social issues such as the eradication of corruption, social inequality, widening gap between the rich and the poor, the exploitation of poor, etc.” are addressed. “There is nothing wrong in raising these social issues,” he said.

“The same views (regarding social inequality) are expressed by several national and eminent leaders and the expression for these views cannot brand a person as a member of CPI-Maoist. On the contrary, such a reasoning would indicate that these issues, which are real and important, are not addressed to by anyone else, except the CPI-Maoist, which would mean that the other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems faced by the society,” the judgement said. Advocating the teachings of Karl Marx or “having some faith in the Maoist philosophy” is also not criminally liable, said the judge. The judgement has also emphasised that possessing of banned literature of an outlawed political party (CPI-Maoist in this case) is not an offence.

In large parts of India, especially in States where tribals are in jail for being alleged sympathisers of the CPI-Maoist, the judgement has acted as a shot in the arm of the activists and the lawyers. “This is a landmark judgement in context of Chhattisgarh, as there are more than 2,000 tribals languishing in various jails. However, I am not sure if this verdict will be taken into cognisance while passing a judgement,” said K.K. Dubey, who represents several under-trial tribals in south Chhattisgarh. Activists in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand have also welcomed Justice Thipsey’s judgement.