Tag Archives: Naxalite

Kabir Kala Manch – Living to tell the tale

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Through their controversial protest music, Kabir Kala Manch aims, not to create commotion but, to bring about change. Neerja Dasani

Changemakers:KKM uses wit and satire to raise prevelant social issues.Photo: Neerja Dasani 

Changemakers:KKM uses wit and satire to raise prevelant social issues.Photo: Neerja Dasani

The art of irony is something that the members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), who identify themselves not as a cultural troupe but as a political movement, are well-versed in. This could be because life for them has been a series of curious contradictions. Emerging from mohallas  and  bastis , their voices reverberated through the corridors of power, disturbing the slumber of those within. Finding democracy’s din too unsettling, its elected guardians branded KKM as anti-national. The resultant time spent either in jail or underground, strengthened the members’ resolve instead of silencing them into submission.

Along the way, they have lost jobs, fallen behind in their academic pursuits, been separated from their families; they were prominently featured in Anand Patwardhan’s incisive documentary ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ which has gone on to win aNational Award. At a recent performance at the Film and Television Institute of IndiaPune, KKM along with the event’s organisers, were attacked by members ofAkhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The attempt to intimidate supporters led instead to a surge in KKM’s popularity, with invitations to perform coming in from across the country.

A fraction of the group was in Chennai last week to participate in Prakriti Foundation’s annual ‘Poetry with Prakriti’ festival. Rupali Jadhav, Deepak Dhengle, Ramdas Unhale, Dada Waghmare and Laxman Kalleda expressed their intent to continue “taking the voice of the people to the people and giving them the courage to stand up against injustice”. Even without their “real strength” – Ramesh Gaichore, Sachin Mali and Sagar Gorkhe, who are still in jail, and Sheetal Sathe and Jyoti Chorge who are currently unable to tour – they astutely lay bare ground realities, using wit and satire to raise issues such as caste discrimination, women’s oppression, the agrarian crisis, rising inequality and rampant superstition.

Following in the tradition of Dalit protest music, they draw artistic inspiration from people like Annabhau Sathe, Vilas Ghogre and Sambhaji Bhagat, while ideologically they turn to Ambedkar, Bhagat SinghJyotiba PhuleSavitribai Phule, Periyar etc. — names that an urban elite audience hardly ever encounters, except perhaps on street signs. “The capitalist media’s brainwashing causes even a grassroots person living in a shanty to be preoccupied with the same thoughts as a mansion-dweller. We’re forgetting the world around us,” says Deepak Dhengle. With lyrics like ‘The sky is your roof/no blanket in the winter/your world is at the traffic signal/standing in the glaring sun/Why is it like this?’, KKM attempts to rouse people from their stupor.

While their focus has been on building solidarity among the dispossessed by performing in slums, villages and factories , they are now reaching out to the middle class which they perceive as being vital to any social upheaval. While earlier their lyrics were only in Marathi, they now have a sizeable Hindi repertoire, widening their reach.

With an eye on the general elections they urge people to vote against feudal and communal forces. Taking digs at the two major electoral parties, they mock the religious agenda of one (‘All they can see is temples here/there/up and down’) and the everlasting “Garibi Hatao” slogan of the other. “If you are tired of this kind of politics, choose the form which suits you best and take power into your own hands,” says Dhengle.

KKM’s poetry also has a strong feminist current. The women  shahirs  (poet-singers) live their politics, working hard to complete their education and choosing their own life partners, often from outside their caste. Having faced the double discrimination of growing up as a woman in a Dalit household, Rupali Jadhav displays this political maturity while interrogating the audience: “After the Delhi gang rape, people were asking for the perpetrators to be hung, but will that change anything? If we must hang something it should be the feudal system that has taken root in the mind of every Indian male.”

Discussing their creative process Jadhav notes wryly, “There’s no need for us to do  riyaaz  (practice) to think about oppression. We write what we experience.” It is this directness that has touched a raw nerve in the authorities as well as the audience. One reacts with suppression, the other with solidarity. “Our idea is not to create a commotion, it is to create change,” says Dhengle.

Read here – http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/living-to-tell-the-tale/article5539571.ece

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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.

 

Armed with revolutionary poems, Kabir Kala Manch activists want to fight against state

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GAYATRI JAYARAMAN  MUMBAI,
Kabir Kala Manch poster
Kabir Kala Manch poster

Aasaman te rachat 

Nahin jaade mein rajaai 
 
Signal pe teri duniya 
Khadi dhoop mein hai bhai
 
Indica mein firte kutte 
Mercedes mein ghoomte kutte 
 
Tujhe biscuit ki bheek 
Aisa kyon hai? Aisa kyon hai? Aisa kyon hai?
Above the bustle of dense Pune city traffic, at a roadside tapri, the sweet voice of primary poet and composer of cultural activism group Kabir Kala Manch, Deepak Dhengle, 38, resurrects these, the first words of revolution he ever penned a decade ago. Three others of the group, Jyoti Jagtap, 27, Siddharth Bhonsle, 27 and Rupali Jadhav, 28 share one cup of tea between them, and listen to the lyrics that are their only weapon against a State that labels them naxals.
All of them have spent the last two years underground, but courted arrest in May this year, and are currently out on bail. Their colleague, poet Sheetal Sathe, nine months pregnant and incarcerated at Byculla jail in Mumbai under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, is released on bail a day after this meeting. Rupali’s husband, Sagar Godkhe, and Jyoti’s husband, Sachin Kale, remain behind bars.
Dhengle, a small time motor mechanic who found employment with the government in Pune after he came to the city when his father was displaced after TELCO shut down in Bhimashankar, in 1996, joined the Manch after the Gujarat riots. He found them singing about the removal of caste, class and community differences. He began to compose and sing too.
Arrested under sections 465, 387, 419, 465, 467, 468, 471 and 120 B of the IPC, section 10, 13, 17, 18, 18A, 18 B, 20, 21, 38, 39, 40 (2) of the UAPA, Dhengle’s defence claims that he was tortured in custody to the extent that he faces potential paralysis and was forced to confess sympathy for Naxal. He has never picked up a gun or received arms training, he says. He has been suspended from service and survives on the goodwill of friends.
This is not the intellectual activism of the well-ensconced elite. The crackdown of the State is so intense, to continue is not an easy or obvious choice to make. But he, and those with him, will continue to sing of these issues at colleges, in slums, he says, come what may.
“There is a difference between the ahimsa of Gandhi and the ahimsa of Buddha. Buddha spoke of attadippa bhava (annihilation). It is a whole philosophy of opposition that ends oppression. The youth in its enthusiasm wants instant change. The voice, with which we sing, is the vidrohi voice (the counter culture, the voice of opposition). It is drawn from a long history of Dalit literature and activism that prompted social betterment. If this has us branded naxals, then so be it. If Babasaheb Ambedkar was alive today, maybe he would have accepted the Communist party.” Dhengle says.

 

Kabir Kala Manch- Singing for justice, singing against exploitation

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Bhanuj Kappal speaks to Deepak Dengle of Kabir Kala Manch, the radical singing group that has been targeted by the Maharashtrian police for suspected ‘revolutionary’ activities.

BHANUJ KAPPAL  20th Jul 2013, Sunday Guardian

Deepak Dengle in a stil from Jai Bhim Comrade.

hey were thrashing the poor fellow in the other room, I could hear him crying.”

It’s a gloomy June afternoon, and Deepak Dengle is telling me about a chain-snatcher who had been brought in to the police station he has to visit every week, as part of his bail formalities. Dengle is a member of the Dalit cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), which has been in the news lately due to police accusations of Naxalite links. In May 2011, Dengle and his fellow KKM activist Siddharth Bhosle were arrested by the ATS, along with five other people, and charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The rest of the group went underground, only surfacing after Dengle got bail in March 2013. Here, we discuss KKM’s politics, his arrest, and his resolve to carry on with the struggle:

Q: When was the Kabir Kala Manch founded?

A: KKM was formed in 2002 by Professor Yogendra Mane (from Wadia College, Pune), Amarnath Chandaliya, Haroon Sheikh and a few other sensitive people. They thought that something must be done after the Gujarat riots to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. But the Manch in its current form came about in 2005-6, by which time a lot of the original members had left or had been kicked out.

Q: What issues does KKM focus on?

A: Our main focus is casteism and caste atrocities. We have performed a lot of plays and songs about caste issues. But we also have songs about tribal rights, workers’ rights, corruption, and the effects of liberalisation that we can see all around us. Whenever we heard of a protest or rally that we agreed with, we would to go there and sing. With Medha Patkar, we made a lot of noise about the Lavasa development project. Once, we gherao-ed the Congress party office in Dadar with Patkar. At Kabir Kala Manch, we believe that there can be no end to casteism without addressing the class issue, and vice versa. The struggle for both will go together, which is why we believe in Ambedkar and Marx and mix both ideologies.

We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunit 

Q: What can you tell me about your arrest?

A: I was picked up from my job as a mechanic for the Pune Corporation. I was on duty at my depot when someone came up to me pretending to be from my village. When I walked out with him to have a cup of tea, I didn’t notice a jeep parked outside with its doors open. I had taken 10 steps when they put me in the jeep and sped off. This was on the 12th [of May] and they didn’t register my arrest till the 13th.

Once I was in custody, they started beating me; they hit me with their belts. They were asking me where Sachin and Sheetal were. I didn’t know, so they continued to hit me. They stripped me, tied my hands and legs with a rope and hung me from the ceiling. Then they took this oil called Suryaprakash oil, and put it all over my body, including my groin. It causes burning all over and makes it hard to breathe. I was in so much pain that I asked them to shoot me and get it over with. They only untied me once I lost consciousness.

A dance performance choreographed by Mishti Bawar, set to KKM songs

have been taken out of police custody immediately. But I had no knowledge of how the judicial system works. And they threatened me, said they’d pick up my wife. I got scared so I didn’t say anything. But if I knew that it would make even a slight difference, I wouldn’t have held back.

Q: Why do you think the police decided to go after KKM?

A: We need to understand one thing about how the police functions, and I found this out when I met people who were inside for bomb blasts cases. When they find one person who has some involvement with a case, they pick up a lot of their associates and charge them as well. That’s what happened to us as well. We only found out later that Angela (Sontakke, one of seven charged in the original case) was the wife of the Maoist State Committee Secretary for Maharashtra. So when she was arrested, we were added to the case. Also, we’d raised a lot of noise about Lavasa and about casteism, and Khairlanji, being not afraid of naming anyone be it the Tatas or Sharad Pawar. So they were looking for an opportunity to shut us down.

Q: Now that you and the other KKM members have a case to fight, do you still intend to continue performing once the others are out on bail?

A: We have already started performing again. I came out on 8 March, and on 30 March, I went to a rally paying tribute to Bhagat Singh and sang a song by Sheetal called Bhagat Singh, Tu Abhi Zinda Hai. Rupali, Jyoti and I also performed at another rally in Chakan (Pune District). We will not give up so easily. Our only purpose is to go and sing at peoples’ movements, and we’ll continue to do that.

On 27 June, less than a week after I met Dengle, he and Rupali Jadhav were arrested at a protest by Warkaris in Pune, along with some Warkari leaders. They were charged with obstructing traffic. They’re now out on bail, unfazed and determined to continue their struggle.

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