Tag Archives: Prison

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.

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.

 

Kabir Kala Manch activists surrender, deny having any links with maoists #KKM

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<kkm4 pic courtesy- indian exppress -Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and their wives Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav outside Oval Maidan Tuesday. Ganesh Shirsekar

The Hindu, May 7, 2013

In a theatrical turn of events which included, singing revolutionary songs in the office of Maharashtra’s Home minister RR Patil after being asked for the same by him, posing with him for photographs and waiting for more than three hours for the officers from Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) to come and arrest, two alleged Maoists on Tuesday surrendered in Mumbai.

Four members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a cultural group alleged to be having links with Maoists, on Tuesday afternoon staged Satyagraha near Mantralaya in South Mumbai. They are being accused as Maoists and absconders by the police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

“We are artists. We perform for people and we sing songs which highlight the plight of people and of those who fight against the corrupt system. We are being falsely implicated in cases and wrongly framed as Maoists. We have done nothing but to sing songs,” said Ramesh Gaichor, one of the members of KKM.

All four, Rupali Jadhav, Hyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor were accompanied by members of KKM Defence Committee, which included film-maker Anand Patwardhan, Adv Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr. BR Ambedkar and president of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh and Prakash Reddy of Communist Party of India (CPI).Ramesh Gaichor (28) and Sagar Gorkhe (27) along with their wives Jyoti Jagtap (26) and Rupali Jadhav (27) came to Oval Maidan at 3 pm.For two hours, they sang protest songs and gave out audio CDs to the crowd near the statue of B R Ambedkar. The group, along with Prakash Reddy of CPI, film maker Anand Patwardhan and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasabha‘s Prakash Ambedkar, went to Patil’s office at Mantralaya at 5 pm.https://kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=467&action=edit&message=10#category-add

Ms. Jagtap, another member of KKM said that the four are staging satyagraha because they want their name to be cleared from the ATS wanted list. “We want to sing once again, but want to do it openly. We want all the accusations against us to be cleared because we are not Maoists,” she said.

Ms. Jadhav alleged that ATS teams have been visiting her house and threatening her mother. “They told her that I was killed in encounter in Gadchiroli. I see no reason in torturing our families. We are artists and not criminals,” she said.

To the surprise of all, none of the officials from state ATS turned up to arrest the alleged Maoists, two of whom are named wanted in the charge sheet filed in the court.

All four were then taken to the office of the Mr. Patil, where he was presented with an audio CD of group’s songs after which he even asked them to sing one of the songs. Mr. Patil even called all four of them for a group photograph. It was only after the home minister of Maharashtra informed the ATS chief Rakesh Maria over the telephone, that the ATS came to know about the satyagraha of ‘wanted’ Maoists, inside the administrative headquarter of Maharashtra.

The ATS team arrived at the office of Mr. Patil at 6 PM, after which it was informed that the custody of two females is not required and then can go home.

“We demand that all members of the KKM who have voluntarily come forward to face interrogation, must be granted bail speedily. There is no logic to detaining people who give themselves up, as they are obviously not going to run away,” said the statement issued by KKM Defence Committee.

Torch light Procession and protest meet in support of KKM at Gorakhpur

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 Protest at Gorakhpur in support of KKM Gorakhpur, U.P.,4 May, 2013   The cultural activists and intellectuals of Gorakhpur under the banner of Jan sanskriti manch ,brought out a torchlight procession on saturday evening protesting state repression on the revolutionery Dalit cultural organisation Kabir kala Manch of Pune, Maharashtra. Before taking out the procession they assembled at Press club at 4 p.m. and conducted a protest meeting. Speakers at the meeting passed a resolution seeking immediate release of Sheetal Sathe & Sachin Mali, revocation of all false cases  against KKM, social security for their family members and demanded unfettered freedom to continue their cultural activities  . Apart from Jan sanskriti Manch, representatives of IPTA. PUHR and other mass organisations also participated in the meeting as well as torchlight procession. Speakers narrated how repression against KKM started with the arrest of Deepak Dengle and Siddhaarth Bhonsale of KKM under UAPA by the ATS in May 2011 forcing other activists of KKM to go underground. As soon as the bail was granted to Dengle & Bhonsale, Sheetal & Sachin were arrested from the premises of Maharashtra state Assembly where they were on ‘Satyagrah’ asserting their  ‘right to expression’. Speakers highlighted the fact that KKM activists had emerged from the poor, labouring class and dalit background and their  cultural work is directed towards harnessing peoples’ opinion and raising popular consciousness  against social oppression,  economic exploitation, loot and plunder of natural resources by transnational capital and state repression on struggling people. It is this orientation of their cultural work which has prompted Anti-people government to dub them ‘naxals’ or  ‘Maoists’ and frame them under draconian laws.  The imperialist and state agencies stage costly and vulgar shows in the name of culture and seek to co-opt the artists and intellectuals into the system. The cultural movements such as KKM  run counter to such hegemonic cultural strategies of the ruling classes. The torchlight procession started immediately after the meeting. It passed through district court chauraha, chetna tiraha, Golghar , townhall and culminated at press club from where it had started.  Manoj Kumar Singh, Natonal Secretary, Jan sanskriti Manch ,Noted novelist Madan Mohan, literay critic Anil Rai, poets Pramod Kumar, Ved Prakash and Ramu Siddhartha, Dr. Mumtaz Khan of IPTA, Prof. Asim Satyadev, CPI(ML) district secretary Rajesh Sahni, AIPWA district secretary Jagdamba, Advocate Subhash Pal, Ashok Chowdhary, district convenor, JSM, cultural & social  activists Rajaram Chowdhary, Shivnandan Sahay , Anand Pandey, Baijnath Mishra, Haridwar Prasad, R.K. Singh, Syed Akhtar Ali, Maneesh Chowbey, Ashish KumarArun Kumar, Arvind Kumar Barnwal , Niten Agrawal and several others participated in the meeting and procession. Released by Manoj Kumar Singh, National secretary, Jan sanskriti Manch .

 

India – That shrinking space for dissent #Protest

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RIGHT TO PROTEST

April 27, 2013, Times Crest 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they? I see them as fiery idealists who are fighting to make our society just and equitable. Does that distinguish them from Naxalites? The ATS seems confused. To me the distinction lies in the fact that the only weapon Sachin and Sheetal fight with is their poetry and song.

But in the worst-case, even if it were concluded that they made contact with a banned organisation, what bewilders me is the question of what the state wants from them now? They gave themselves up. They expressed the desire to sing freely again within the bounds of democracy. Other members from their group are still underground, obviously watching to see what the state does. What message is the state sending? That it prefers to brand them as Naxalites and push them into the forest rather than allow them safe passage?

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

The writer is a documentary filmmaker

 

Free Kabir Kala Manch- Raptivist A-List

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NEW MUSIC: FREE KABIR KALA MANCH – A LIST

admin| April 20, 2013, zomba.in

Mumbai Social ‘Raptivist A-List is back on your speakers with a new joint called ‘Free Kabir Kala Manch’, and you know it’s not about a party. This time the emcee who has become some kind of social commentator, teams up once again with his comrade rapper/producer Shyn9n from Srinagar (they collaborated on ‘Tale of Afzal Guru) as they tackle the issue of the ‘Kabir Kala Manch’ a group that has been charged with involvement in Naxalite activities and members imprisoned by the Maharashtra government .
As always strong in his opinions, A-list explains why he has chosen to ally with this perceived group of outlaws…

“I have followed the Kabir Kala Manch case closely for a while now. These are just protest poets, not naxals. ..

They fight with pens and microphones, not guns and bombs. As a protest musician myself, I feel a deep solidarity with them and felt the need to rap about the injustice they are facing….just like many rappers have made songs to express their desire to freeMumia-Abu Jamal in America.”

The delivery style is simpler and less detailed than his previous songs which adds emphasis on content, which we guess was the rappers intention.
A-List also takes the opportunity to take a dig at the Indian indie music scene, saying they stand for nothing, unlike Bob Dylan and Tupac who stood for principles…

“Please note there are no charges of violence,
It’s a cheap joke, we’ve largely been silent,
They sing of malnutrition and farmer suicides,
On that Bhagat Singh shit, this is martyr’s music right,
The real Bob Dylans, Tupacs of the nation,
While indie scene is just a simulation”

The song is freely available for download and like most of A-List’s tracks, it’s a stand-alone single for the cause.  You can expect to see him perform it at upcoming open mics and protest concerts.

Listen to ‘Free Kabir Kala Manch’ below and let us know what you think about the track

https://soundcloud.com/alistrap/free-kabir-kala-manch-produced

 

Inspired by Victor Jara – keep singing and keep resisting Sheetal and Sachin …You are not alone.

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Here is wishing Sachin  Mali and Sheeta Sathe- ‘ Happy Baisakhi”. You are behind bars for singing in India and … And this is in the largest democracy in the world?

Thanks to Lalita  Ramdas for bringing us notice the  song about , Victor Jara, the martyred Chilean folk artist, who demonstrated defiance in the face of hopelessness and rage and was memorialized in Holly Near’s lyrics:

 

The junta cut the fingers from Victor Jara’s hands
and said to the gentle poet ‘Play your guitar now if you can.’
But Victor kept on singing ‘til they shot his body down.
You can kill a man but not his song when it’s sung the whole world round.

Chilean Political Singer and activist Victor Jara, murdered by dictator Pinochets troops on 15th September 1973. This followed the military coup on 9/11 1973 which overthrew the democratically elected government led by Salvator Allende. Allende was found dead in La Moneda (Presedential Palace) beside an AK47 given to him by Fidel Castro, allegedly after commiting suicide. Victor Jara, after singing a political song to other prisoners in the National Stadium, has his fingers and ribs smashed by Pinochets troops



It could have been me, but instead it was you
And it maybe me dear sisters and brothers before we are through
But if you can fight for freedom, Freedom, Freedom, freedom
If you can fight for Freedom, I can too”

So keep singing and keep resisting Sheetal and Sachin …You are not alone.