Tag Archives: India

Kabir Kala Manch – Young Turks fired by zeal for their ideology

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Kochi, November 5, 2013, The Hindu

Nidhi Surendranath

‘Ideology’ is a word Deepak Dhengle uses frequently when he talks about his life. His ideology changed his life completely in the last few years and landed him in jail in 2011.

Dhengle, who says he subscribes to Marxism and the teachings of B.R. Ambedkar, was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad on charge of associating with Naxalites.

Dhengle, 38, is part of the Pune-based cultural activism group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which travels to slums and rural areas of Maharashtra and delivers performances against poverty, caste oppression, and other social issues. Several activists of KKM have been arrested on charge of indoctrinating people into the Naxalite ideology.

Now out on bail, Dhengle was in the city with five other members of KKM to deliver a performance here at the inauguration of a film club. “I have never taken up arms. But the State arrested me under a law that punishes terrorists,” says Dhengle. “We are all democratic people. But we want a true democracy. The Constitution written by Ambedkar should be followed in its true spirit. That is not happening today,” he says.

KKM’s fight, say its members, is against the inequality and minority oppression rampant in India. “There is no electricity and no water in my village outside Pune even today. During the four months of rains, we get electricity only for two hours in the day. There are no good schools. There is a hospital, but no guarantee of getting medicines. Nothing has changed there,” says Dhengle, who works as a mechanic in Pune.

“Pune has one of the most expensive bus systems in the country. How can the poor live in such conditions?” says Rupali Jadhav, a member of KKM.

KKM organises music, poetry and theatre performances in slums and villages on themes such as inequality, illiteracy, price rise, capitalism, and cultural and social oppression. The songs, some of them drawn from the tradition of Dalit protest in Maharashtra and others written by KKM members, deliver their message in simple and direct style. “Our performances come from our folk culture. They tell our audience, primarily tribals and Dalits, about the oppression they face and why such things happen,” says Rupali.

KKM’s musical performances are powerful and draw upon images from the life around them to deliver the message. Their performance was featured in the 2012 documentary Jai Bhim Comrade by award-winning filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. “Our performance is powerful because it is based on our own bitter experiences,” says KKM musician Ramdas Unhale. Ramdas is a carpenter, who like many members of KKM, lives in a Pune slum.

KKM was formed in Pune following the Godhra riots. Dhengle was attracted to the movement in 2004 when he saw and advertisement by the organisation in a newspaper. “I could sing well and I knew I wanted to do something different. So I joined KKM. The ideology came later,” he says.

Others like Rupali and Ramdas joined KKM after seeing their street play and song performances in their slums. Also in Kochi were KKM musicians Rajat R. Avsak, Dattatrey, and Dada Waghmare. All of them do odd jobs in Pune and were drawn into the music and message of the organisation. Despite the arrests, the Kala Manch’s performances are drawing many young people. “The college students who are joining us now already know Marxism. They don’t have to study the ideology first like we did,” says Dhengle. This interest in KKM’s thinking was what prompted the ATS to arrest them, he says. Three of KKM’s members are still in prison, while the others have been let out on bail.

The arrest has hit their lives severely. “We all lost whatever small jobs we were doing. Though we are on bail, we have to report to the investigating agency regularly. That is also affecting our jobs,” says Rupali.

The organisation, however, has managed to keep going. KKM recently performed in Bangalore, with Dattatrey even performing a song in Kannada. Having arrived in Kerala for the first time, the group is disappointed by what they saw here.

“We had high hopes when we were coming here. We heard that Kerala had a strong Communist movement and that women were empowered here. But the myth is now broken,” says Dhengle. “For land so rich in natural resources, the situation is not much better here. Why have the Communists here not done anything? What will I go back and tell all those people who hold Kerala in high regard?” he says.

For now, the members of Kabir Kala Manch will go back with these questions and find ways to fortify their own movement.

 

In the Dark Times, Sheetal Sathe Sings Of the Dark Times

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After voluntarily courting arrest, Dalit activist and performer Sheetal Sathe is finally out on bail. But why was she arrested under the UAPA law in the first place? If she wasn’t a Maoist, what danger did this pregnant woman pose to the government of Maharashtra? A profile of the woman they call ‘Maharashtra’s Gaddar’.

Grist MediaBy Bhanuj Kappal | Grist Media – Mon 8 Jul, 2013

Sheetal Sathe

On June 27, 2013, Sheetal Sathe finally got bail.

I first met Sandhya Sathe, Sheetal’s mother, outside Mumbai’s Byculla Jail in late June. She had spent the last few hours trying to see her daughter, who is eight months pregnant. She looked tired and worried. Policemen stared at us as they walked by, looking pointedly at the recorder in my hand. “Even now, I have no idea what’s going on,” she told me then. “I know nothing about politics. I’d never been to a court till all this happened. I hope she gets bail and the government lets us live the rest of our lives as normal citizens.”

Her daughter, 28-year-old singer-poet Sheetal Sathe, is the president of the cultural protest group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). At the time, Sathe had already spent two months in prison on charges of being a Naxalite, after she and her husband courted arrest in April. Despite her mother’s fervent prayers, Sathe’s bail hearing was postponed by a week because the Maharashtra government had not bothered to file a reply. She spent 10 more days inside, worrying about the lack of medical facilities and the effect of prison food on her unborn child.

Today, three of her fellow KKM activists are still imprisoned on similar charges. Their crime? Using their art to expose injustice and register their dissent against the State.

I first came across Sathe and KKM while watching Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan’s powerful documentary on Dalit protest music. Even in a film full of inspiring music and stories, KKM’s performances stood out. Partly, it was the way they use dry wit and satire to drive home their scathing sociopolitical commentary. It helps that they are fiercely talented. Mostly, they fascinated me because their songs communicate the anguish and anger of India’s underprivileged millions in a way that no speech or newspaper report ever can. When Sathe sings about the poverty and exploitation of the Dalit community, your chest constricts in rage. When she sings of a mother going hungry in order to feed her children, her voice wrenches you out of the layers of indifference and apathy. And when she calls for a ‘truly democratic revolution’, she makes you want to be the first one to the barricades.

Is it this articulation of daily injustice and oppression, distilled from raw, lived experience that makes this motley group of young poets and singers a threat to the biggest democracy in the world?

*****

 

The members of the Kabir Kala Manch come from the same bastis and slums as their audience. Sathe grew up in Pune’s Kashewadi slum, where the rest of her family still lives. Her mother worked as support staff in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Ruby Hall hospital for Rs 11 a day. This, and the few rupees she earned begging for alms in the name of the goddess Mahalaxmi Devi, all went towards bringing up her three children. Determined to guarantee them a better life, she made sure that Sathe went to a good school rather than the local municipal school. Sathe’s love for music grew amongst her very devout family, who gathered regularly in her house to sing devotional songs. And at school she got a chance to hone her talent.

“Sheetal loved to sing and was always the first to be picked to sing at cultural events in her school. That’s where she got her confidence,” says KKM activist Rupali Jadhav, who is also from Kashewadi.

By the time she was in junior college, Sathe was on the lookout for other opportunities to sing in public. It was her cousin Sagar Gorkhe, also a very talented singer, who told her about a cultural troupe that would be happy to give her a platform for her music.

KKM was founded in 2002 as a response to the Godhra riots and the ensuing rise in communal tensions. “Ramesh (Gaichor) was one of the founding members, along with Yogendra Mane, Amarnath Chandaliya, Haroon Sheikh, and a few other people,” says Deepak Dengle, who joined the group in 2004. “They thought that after the Gujarat riots, something must be done to promote Hindu-Muslim unity.”

The group did a number of shows around the city under the ‘Awaaz Do’ banner. But by the time Sathe and Gorkhe joined the group, a lot of the original team had left or been kicked out, as part of the churning all young groups undergo. They were replaced by new blood and a new focus on Dalit and workers’ rights.

Sathe had no interest in activism when she joined KKM, but that soon changed. Dengle says: “She only wanted to sing, but she got interested in politics because being a Dalit from the slums, she was sensitive to the real suffering of the poor. Like us, she felt her songs should be of service to the people.”

Her political education was helped by the regular study circles conducted by the group. Members would be assigned different subjects to study, and then they would discuss their research with the rest of the group. Heavyweights from the Left and Dalit movements, such as members from the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan (an alternative Marathi literature conference that spawned the Vidrohi movement), were also invited to speak at these sessions.
Sathe was a quick learner. “She had a great curiosity. No one had to push her,” says Dengle. “If she came across a new idea, she’d study it immediately.” It was at these discussions that KKM developed and formalized its political ideology — a potent mix of Ambedkarite and Marxist thought. It was also at these study circles that Sathe met the man she would eventually marry.

Sachin Mali was already a fairly experienced activist by the time he joined KKM. He had worked with the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan and had been an active member of the Students Federation of India (SFI) while studying at Tasgaon, Sangli. He shifted to Pune for work. Mali took up work as a bus conductor and joined the local chapter of SFI, but was unhappy with the way that organization functioned. A big fan of revolutionary poet-balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat, he started looking for a group that sang Bhagat’s songs. It didn’t take him long to join the KKM, where he impressed everyone with his poetry, his intelligence and, in Sathe’s case, his good looks as well. Says Dengle, “Sachin was a poet, had worked in activism, had a personality that impressed Sheetal. They were attracted to each other. We were very happy that they’d found love within our group.”

Unfortunately, neither family shared Dengle’s enthusiasm since the two were from different castes. Sathe already had regular arguments with her mother over the latter’s devotion to the religion that Sathe viewed as the root of her community’s problems. So it wasn’t entirely unexpected when her mother kicked her out of the house when she found out about the romance with Mali. At Mali’s end, too, the strongest opposition came from his mother who was firmly against the marriage.

The other KKM members put Sathe up in a women’s hostel and encouraged her to keep studying. (She was studying for an MA in sociology at Siddhivinayak College but was not a gold medalist from Fergusson College as many newspapers have reported. It was Sachin Mali who had been a gold-medal winning student in Sangli.) Sathe and Mali’s friends and well-wishers intervened to try and convince the families to accept the match. In the end, Sathe’s mother and Mali’s father and sister attended their wedding, an inexpensive and intimate ceremony on the lines of a Satyashodhak ceremony. (The 19th century reformer Jyotirao Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj had pioneered inter-caste wedding ceremonies, which do not require the presence or sanction of Brahmin priests.)

“We didn’t want it to be the bland, boring weddings that happen in Left circles,” says Rupali Jadhav. “We wanted to make it celebratory, to show that we believed in what we told people and were happy to apply our message to our own lives.” The wedding was attended by heavyweights from the progressive movement, many of whom performed songs, dances or gave speeches to celebrate their union.

Until this point, the KKM performances had been sporadic, with the group focusing on honing their music and street theatre into the unique artistic voice it is today. They were helped in this task bySambhaji Bhagat, who regularly travelled to Pune to train the group. Bhagat, who formed a close bond with the group, was particularly impressed by Sathe. “Sheetal isn’t just a good singer, she is also a really good poet,” he says. “She can write really well and her songs are complex, unlike most political songs.”

Take for example a song in which KKM lambasts the Dalit political leadership for selling out their community. Sathe quotes Dr BR Ambedkar’s warning that if the constitution failed to provide social and economic justice to the Dalits, it would be brought down. She taunts her audience for not challenging the political leaders who have betrayed them and calls for a new Ambedkar for a new era:

“Better to sacrifice this body
than live like a corpse
Open your eyes to the
dream of Dalit martyrs
And create a new Bhim
For our new era.”

That isn’t the only way that KKM’s music differs from that of their peers. While they fit firmly in the tradition of Dalit-Left folk music embodied by poet-singers like Vilas Ghogre, Gaddar and Annabhau Sathe, they don’t limit themselves to those forms. They don’t care about whether a musical or cultural form is borrowed from another community or culture. Their philosophy, as Dengle puts it, is that ‘art is art and if it works, we’ll use it’. As a result, they were one of the first protest music groups to use western instrumentation regularly. They would constantly be on the lookout for new musical styles that they could experiment with. This sheer diversity of influences is part of what makes their music so appealing to those outside the Dalit-Left movements as well. This was not a group happy to merely preach to the choir.

Then Khairlanji happened, an event that influenced not only KKM but a whole generation of Dalit youth. On 29 September, 2006, a Dalit family was brutally slaughtered in Khairlanji, a village in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra. There were allegations the women had been paraded naked around the village and raped, and that the police were trying to protect the perpetrators. Yet the news was greeted with silence, not only from the government and the media but also by the mainstream Dalit parties.

A month later, appalled by the government’s continued indifference, Dalit youth took matters into their own hands. Protests and riots broke out all over Maharashtra. Their outrage only grew when Home Minister RR Patil dismissed the protests as the work of Maoists.

KKM jumped into the deep end of the struggle. “During the Khairlanji protests, we were on the streets every day,” says Dengle. “When the protesters threw stones at the police, we were there. Every time we heard about a rally or a protest, we’d go and perform in order to motivate the protesters and raise their spirits.” They were rewarded for their efforts by being put on a list of 26 organizations (including Medha Patkar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements and Baba Adhav) that the government claimed had links to the Maoists. The State had been watching, and they had been spotted.

Khairlanji had a profound effect on the group. Their songs became more militant, their demands for justice and revolution more strident. Dengle says, “After Khairlanji there was all this rage. When we saw what had happened, and how the State acted after the atrocity… anger automatically comes out in your songs, your politics, your life.”

They intensified their struggle. They performed at bus stops, at bastis, on the roadside. They were present at every protest in or around Pune, performing their plays and singing songs about the exploitation of the Dalits and the poor. Their targets included the proposed nuclear plant at Jaitapur, the controversial Lavasa development, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and the police. When the Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan gherao-ed the Congress headquarters in Dadar in 2008, KKM was there. People soon started calling Sathe ‘Maharashtra’s Gaddar’.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the Indian State’s treatment of dissent will know what comes next. It was time for the other shoe to drop.

*****

In April 2011, the police made their move. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) arrestedschool teacher and activist Angela Sontakke, who they claim is a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Six other arrests followed. KKM activists Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were arrested. On 20 July 2011, the police filed charges against all seven – and eight others who could not be located, including Sathe and Mali – under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Alarmed by news of the arrests and worried about their own safety, the rest of the group went underground. Unable to track them down, the police settled for harassing their families instead. “Police would come every day,” said Sandhya Sathe, who had to quit her job because of the case. “Even now that Sheetal is inside, the ATS people come on a regular basis. Now they ask after the two kids [KKM activists] who are still underground. They offer money. They say we’ll give you 10 lakh, we’ll give you a good house. I don’t know anything at all, so what do I tell them?”

Dengle believes KKM was implicated in the case because of their acquaintance with Sontakke, whose CPI (M) connections were unknown to the group. When the police caught Sontakke, they probably saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Sadly, this is standard operating procedure for the police in India when dealing with anyone linked to groups or ideologies that they perceive as anti-nationalist. A comprehensive investigation by the news portal Gulail.com recently proved that the Uttar Pradesh government had knowingly prosecuted several innocent Muslims in terror cases and hid evidence of their innocence from the courts. It is just one shocking example of how our police and governments abuse their power – often targeting political dissidents instead of doing the painful investigations required to find those who actually commit crimes.

Closer home in Maharashtra, there are a number of recent cases where Dalits have been arrested and charged with sedition for possessing books by Bhagat Singh, and just as startlingly, the works of Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution. In Tamil Nadu, over the course of one year, 8,000 people protesting peacefully against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant have been booked for sedition and waging war against the State. Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale and Binayak Sen are only three more examples from a long litany of names of activists booked under similar charges.

One and a half years passed since the post-Khairlanji crackdown. Dengle and Bhosle were still in prison, the rest were still in hiding. Meanwhile, public support for KKM was growing, largely thanks to the film Jai Bhim Comrade and the efforts of the KKM Defense Committee (including documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and several activists). But there was little action on the ground till February 2013, when the bail pleas of the seven people in custody reached the Bombay High Court. In an unexpected but welcome decision, Justice Abhay Thipsay of the high court granted bail to Deepak Dengle, Siddharth Bhosle and two others arrested in the same case.

Justice Thipsay ruled that “suspects could be sympathizers of Maoist philosophy but none can be said to be active members of banned CPI (Maoist)”. He went on to express his mild shock at the evidence based on which the KKM activists had been imprisoned, saying,  “It is surprising that highlighting the wrongs prevalent in the society and insisting that there is a need to change the situation was considered as evidence and used to convince the court of them being members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).”

Encouraged by this decision, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali appeared in front of the Vidhan Sabha building in Mumbai and courted arrest on April 2, 2013. Before the ATS took them into custody, the young couple read out a statement. They said this was not a surrender, this was a satyagraha and that they were sure they’d be acquitted of all charges. A month later, four more KKM members surfaced, though this time they had to wait a few hours before the ATS turned up to take them into custody. Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor were arrested, while the others were allowed to go home.

*****

June 27. Sheetal Sathe has been granted bail.

The other three, including Sathe’s husband Mali, have filed bail applications, and are hopeful that they will be out soon as well. But this is only the first step. They still have a case to fight, one which could stretch for years in a country where 30 million cases are pending in courts across the nation. And then there’s the stigma of being branded a Naxalite, the police scrutiny that will never go away, the ever-looming threat of fresh arrests and fresh charges.

On the evening of 27 July, as KKM supporters and well-wishers were celebrating Sathe’s bail, Deepak Dengle and Rupali Jadhav were arrested by the Pune police. They had been singing at a demonstration of Varkaris protesting builders taking over the Bhandara and Bhamchandra hills where the 16th century saint Tukaram is said to have lived.

It was just another reminder from the police that when it comes to dissenters against the State, there are no happy endings.

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist who writes about music, art and cultural politics. Follow him at https://twitter.com/StonerJesus.

Sheetal Sathe of Kabir Kala Manch granted bail at last ! #Freekabirkalmanch

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sheetal

Sheetal Sathe of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) was granted bail this morning by Justice Abhay Thipsay of the Bombay High Court. The move has come as a major relief for all those who have been fighting for her release especially in view of the fact that she is over 8 months pregnant and the Sessions Court had denied her bail.

It will be recalled that the KKM, a dalit and working class cultural troupe from Pune had gone underground after the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) arrested one of their members, Deepak Dengle and had begun describing the group as “Naxalites”.  Deepak was tortured in prison but released on bail after a year and a half along with 5 others when the Bombay High Court ruled that there were no grounds to keep them in jail even under the draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

On April 2, 2013 emboldened by the court ruling, Sheetal Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali of the KKM voluntarily gave themselves up to the authorities in an act of satyagraha for the freedom of expression. A month later Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav of the KKM also did a satyagraha in public, declaring that they had done no wrong and had come overground after getting confidence that civil society was willing to stand up for them.

The Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC) formed after KKM went underground wishes to thank all those persons and organizations across India and abroad who sent letters and faxes and made phone calls to the government and the ATS. It really is through your efforts alone that the government realized that keeping the KKM unjustly in prison carries a price.

KKMDC will soon move the court to release remaining members of the KKM. We will need your continued support so that sooner rather than later, we hear them sing their songs of freedom and justice again.
Anand Patwardhan

for Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

27.06.13

 

#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

 

If pregnant Sheetal Sathe has to remain in detention, she must have adequate health care #KKM

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Photo: Amnesty International India asks authorities in the state of Maharashtra to ensure that if Sheetal Sathe, an arrested theatre activist, is to continue to be detained pending trial, she receives access to adequate pre-natal and post-natal care.

Sheetal Sathe is a member of Kabir Kala Manch, a group which uses protest music and theatre to campaign on human rights issues, including Dalit rights and caste-based violence and discrimination. She and her husband Sachin Mali were two of 15 people charged on 17 April 2011 of being members of, and supporting and recruiting for, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned armed group, among other charges.

Sheetal Sathe is eight months pregnant, and Amnesty International India is concerned about her health needs, in particular her need for adequate nutrition and pre-natal and post-natal care. A rights activist who has met Sathe after her arrest, told Amnesty International India that Sathe does not receive adequately nutritious food or appropriate health care.Read More: http://t.co/AI2OclBX0Z

Amnesty International India asks authorities in the state of Maharashtra to ensure that if Sheetal Sathe, an arrested theatre activist, is to continue to be detained pending trial, she receives access to adequate pre-natal and post-natal care.

Sheetal Sathe is a member of Kabir Kala Manch, a group which uses protest music and theatre to campaign on human rights issues, including Dalit rights and caste-based violence and discrimination. She and her husband Sachin Mali were two of 15 people charged on 17 April 2011 of being members of, and supporting and recruiting for, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned armed group, among other charges.

Sathe could not be traced by the police until 2 April 2013, when she and Mali appeared before the legislative assembly in Maharashtra in what they said was a protest against the charges made against them. Both were arrested, and Sathe is at present in judicial custody in a jail in Byculla, Mumbai. Her applications for bail have been rejected by trial courts in Mumbai.

Sheetal Sathe is eight months pregnant, and Amnesty International India is concerned about her health needs, in particular her need for adequate nutrition and pre-natal and post-natal care. A rights activist who has met Sathe after her arrest, told Amnesty International India that Sathe does not receive adequately nutritious food or appropriate health care.

Amnesty International reminds authorities that both Indian and international law make a presumption in favour of pre-trial release for all persons accused of penal offences. As specified in article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a state party, it must not be the general rule to hold people in custody pending trial. The right to liberty of the person requires that deprivation of liberty should always be the exception, and imposed only if it is justified, necessary, reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances of the case. All possible non-custodial measures, such as bail or undertaking to appear, must be explored by the judicial authority before making a decision to remand in custody, and such detention must be regularly reviewed by a judicial authority.

The Supreme Court of India has said in several cases, including recently in Sanjay Chandra versus CBI in 2011, that bail should be the rule and detention in jail the exception, and that refusal of bail can be a restriction on the right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

With regard to pregnant women in particular, the UN General Assembly, in adopting the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners (“Bangkok Rules”), has emphasized that non-custodial measures should be preferred when deciding on pre-trial measures for pregnant women.

States have an obligation under international law to respect and ensure the right to health of prisoners. Specifically with regard to pregnant women, international standards require that if pregnant women are detained, the authorities must ensure that they receive regular health check-ups, adequate nutrition and proper pre-natal and post-natal care, including advice on their health and diet under a programme drawn up and monitored by a qualified health practitioner. Pregnant women must not be detained unless such facilities are provided.

Whenever possible, arrangements should be made for children to be born in a hospital outside the place of detention. Thereafter, special provision must be made for detained women with infants, taking full account of the best interests of the child.

These measures were also issued as directions by the Supreme Court of India in the case of RD Upadhyay versus State of Andhra Pradesh, and are included in the Model Prison Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Prisons in India.

Amnesty International India urges authorities in Maharashtra to ensure that Sheetal Sathe is provided with appropriate pre-natal and post-natal care, including adequate nutrition, as required by national and international law and standards. If authorities cannot ensure that she is provided with adequate care, then alternatives to custody, such as release on bail or personal bond, should be used.

Background Information

In April 2011, the Anti-Terror Squad of the Maharashtra Police arrested Angela Sontakke, who they claim is a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and filed charges against 15 Kabir Kala Manch members for allegedly having links with her. Subsequently they arrested six other persons. On 20 July 2011, the police filed a chargesheet against all seven arrested persons, and eight others who could not be located, including Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali, under India’s principal anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

In October 2012, the Bombay High Court granted bail to two of the seven arrested activists. The same court granted bail to four other arrested activists in January 2013, observing, “the membership of a terrorist gang or organization as contemplated by (the UAPA) has to be treated as an active membership which results in participation of the acts of the terrorist gang or organization which are performed for carrying out the aims and objects of such gang or organization by use of violence or other unlawful means.” The court also observed that “speaking about corruption, social inequality, exploitation of the poor, etc. and desiring that a better society should come in existence is not banned in our country…even 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 an offence.”

The UAPA, under which Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali have been charged, uses sweeping and overbroad definitions of ‘acts of terrorism’ and ‘membership’ of ‘unlawful’ organizations, and does not comply with India’s international legal obligations

Amendments to the UAPA in 2008 extended the minimum period of detention of suspects from 15 to 30 days and the maximum period of such detention from 90 to 180 days, avoided adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees and reversed certain evidential burdens of grave crimes and required, in certain circumstances, the accused persons to prove their innocence.

Human rights groups in India have highlighted several instances where the UAPA has been abused, with the use of fabricated evidence and false charges to detain activists defending the rights of Adivasi and Dalit communities and peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.

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

 

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.