Tag Archives: Medha Patkar

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


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


“Even SC has said that mere membership of a banned organisation is not punishable’


There has been a massive uproar over the arrest of activist-artists Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali by the Mumbai ATS on charges of being Naxalites. The couple had surrendered after being in hiding for nearly a year. One of India’s most renowned documentary film-makers Anand Patwardhan, whose last documentary Jai Bhim Comrade features both the artists’ performance, spoke to TEHELKA about the duo and the effort being put into their release.

G Vishnu , Tehelka

April 4, 2013

Anand Patwardhan. File Photo

Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali have been featured in your documentary Jai Bhim Comrade. How long have you known them?

I first met them in 2007 at the tenth anniversary of the firing at the Ramabhai colony. Since then, I have been following them, recording their music, attending their programmes. They have worked with various kinds of people’s movements. They have worked with the likes of Medha Patkar, Bhai Vaidya and scores of other leftist, socialist and civil liberties groups.

What do you think of the charges levelled against them?

There are two aspects. UAPA, which in itself is a draconian act, which can allow the state to imprison people for just being members of a banned organisation, has been slapped on these two. Governments choose to ban organisations from time to time. RSS was banned earlier. But we had a Prime Minister – Atal Behari Vajpayee – who has been a member of that organisation. The SC had given a ruling that mere membership of a banned organisation is not something punishable by itself, in that there’s a distinction between active membership and passive membership. In other words, the state will have to find those accused guilty of a crime in order to imprison. Two other members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) were given bail by the Bombay High Court on these grounds itself. By the state’s own understanding, there is no reason why these two should be kept in jail. The cases can continue but they should be released on bail.

I don’t think they are Maoists or Naxalites. They might have been attracted to the ideology owing to the military assaults on Adivasis and Dalits, but they are certainly not active members. They are sympathisers.

Why were they absconding since April 2012?

They were underground. Two years ago, members of KKM were arrested and two of them were tortured. When that kind of a thing happens you don’t expect people to be happy about it and take chances. Therefore, they went into hiding.

What’s the status of the case right now?

Sheetal is in judicial custody. This is a huge relief as she is six months pregnant. We will file Sheetal’s bail application tomorrow. We fear for Sachin as he is in the custody of the Mumbai ATS and we fear he will be tortured as the others were. We will have to wait till he gets out of their custody to file a bail application.



In defence of the shahirs


Freny Manecksha , in Times Crest | May 26, 2012


It’s a tale of ironies. Just a few days before the uproar in Parliament over the cartoon figuring Dr Ambedkar, a poem, Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge, was read out at a gathering. The incandescent verses, penned by jailed poet Deepak Dengle speak of the thousands behind bars who, he believes, will one day walk free.

Dengle is in a Mumbai jail. Arrested by Maharashtra‘s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in April 2011, he and Dalit youth Siddharth Bhonsle are accused of the “crime” of being members of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). The KKM is a social and cultural organisation of Pune youths who work with many leaders of working class movements such as Narmada Bachao leader Medha Patkar and socialist leader Bhai Vaidya.

The ATS does not accuse the KKM of having engaged in any incident of violence;it says it has suspicions of the members having links with Maoists and is apprehensive of crimes they may then commit. Many of the other members of the troupe such as Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Sachin Mali and Ramesh Gaichor have similar cases lodged against and have been forced to go underground.

Ironically, these cultural activists have been lauded by the establishment. Anand Patwardhan‘s critically acclaimed film Jai Bhim Comrade, which won a National Award and was also given a prize of Rs 51, 000 by the Maharashtra government, features members of the KKM. Patwardhan says he is setting up a defence panel for the embattled KKM members consisting of activists such as Bhai Vaidya, former IPS officer Sudhakar Suradkar, writer Dr Anand Teltumbde, CPI leader Prakash Reddy, actor Ratna Pathak Shah, Medha Patkar and Teesta Setalvad.

Patwardhan’s film, which is structured around Dalit culture and politics in Maharashtra over the last 15 years, was born, he says, out of the shock of Vilas Ghogre’s suicide four days after the police killings at Ramabai Colony in 1997.

Ghogre, a friend of Patwardhan, was a leftist singer-poet or shahir who hanged himself out of his intense despair and sense of injustice.

“I had filmed Vilas singing a song for the working class when I made Bombay Our City in the early 1980s and over the years I had recorded a lot of his songs on my tape recorder. But photos of him were hard to find so reconstructing his story was no easy task. I began recording other shahirs who use their art to fight a system of injustice. I wanted to see how deeply the culture had penetrated amongst the people so I recorded the songs of women like Saraswati Bhonsle, a labourer and housewife, ” says Patwardhan.

It was during the course of this distinctive style of story-telling through music and song-poetry that Patwardhan came across the Gen Next of shahirs, the KKM, who put up an electrifying performance in 2007 at Ramabai Nagar. Formed in 2003 in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, the troupe comprised of very young, mainly dalit, boys and girls from the poorer sections of Pune and its surrounding areas who were inspired by the music of Vilas Ghogre and other progressive dalit shahirs of the past and the present.

Patwardhan recalls, “Their music and performances had the passion of youth and they were also very gifted musicians at the same time. The subjects they tackled were of a wide spectrum. They brought huge drama and energy to the stage. ”

Among the leading lights of the KKM is Sheetal Sathe whose vibrant personality is brilliantly captured on screen especially in the feminist song-poems dedicated to a mother. Lauding her huge talent, actor Ratna Pathak Shah pointed out how effectively she conveys to people like us her empathy for her community. Speaking at the launch of the defence committee, she said this authentic voice assumes “extraordinary validity in a society where everything is second-hand”. In her youth, she added, one listened to voices from different cultures, from voices of struggles. “That voice has fallen silent. ”

Dr Ilina Sen, whose husband, Dr Binayak Sen was also jailed on charges of sedition for allegedly having links with Maoists in Chhattisgarh, finds the increasing trend of criminalising people disturbing. She says, “Although I have never viewed KKM performances live, I have seen Jai Bhim Comrade. I understand that there is no criminal act attributed to the members and even the police have said that. So labelling them is part of a mindset, a very dangerous one. ”