Tag Archives: Ramu Ramanathan

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



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.





The thin line between dissent and rebellion- Kabir Kala Manch


Why is a radical Dalit cultural group , Kabir Kala Manch and its members being persecuted in Maharashtra?

Sunaina Kumar

Sunaina Kumar

2013-04-20 , , Issue 

Angry verse A poster by Kabir Kala Manch

For the past two years, Sheetal Sathe had not been seen, but her songs continued to haunt our consciousness. The young singer with the soul-stirring voice was portrayed as a symbol of hope in Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan’s searing documentary on the Dalits of Maharashtra. Sathe, a member of the Pune-based cultural group of Dalit protest singers and poets, Kabir Kala Manch, was branded a Naxalite in 2011. Since then she had been underground, along with Sachin Mali and Sagar Gorkhe and three other members of the group.

On 2 April, Sathe and Mali surfaced in full media glare, staged a ‘satyagraha’ outside the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai, and courted arrest. As they were taken into custody, Sathe retained her fieriness and raised slogans as she was whisked into the police jeep.

Sathe and Mali (both 27, married and expecting their first child) are facing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Mali was retained in ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) custody, and Sathe sent to judicial custody on compassionate grounds until 17 April.

The recent ruling by the Bombay High Court granting bail to Kabir Kala Manch members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, who were arrested in May 2011 (along with Angela Sontakke, a member of the banned CPI(Maoist), still behind bars) gave hope to the disbanded cultural group and led to the decision of Sathe and Mali to come out of hiding. The high court declared that mere sympathy to Maoist ideology does not incriminate a person, and none of the Kabir Kala Manch members can be said to be active members of CPI(Maoist).

Through music and poetry, Kabir Kala Manch took up the cause of social inequality, exploitation of the underclasses, farmer suicides, female infanticide, Dalit killings and the widening net of corruption. Patwardhan of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, made up of civil society activists, says that Kabir Kala Manch members are at an impressionable age where their ideological thinking is still in process and their work covers a wide spectrum of political ideas such as Ambedkarism, socialism and Marxism. “I have known them since 2007 and can vouch for the fact that they have never taken up arms,” says Patwardhan.

Kabir Kala Manch was formed in Pune in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and made up of students and young professionals who performed protest poetry and plays in slums and streets, shaking up the cultural scene in Pune as they presented a voice for the voiceless. Both Mali’s and Sathe’s academic backgrounds are exemplary; Sathe being a gold medallist and post graduate from Pune University.

Mumbai-based lawyer and activist Kamayani Bali Mahabal, also a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, says that the existence of the group is crucial as they create space for dissent through shayari and songs that are much more effective than speeches. “They are responsible artists who interpret art as a catalyst for social change. Unfortunately, for the State there is no distinction between Dalit protesters and activists and Naxalites,” says Mahabal, who was exposed to their work through Jai Bhim Comrade.

Mihir Desai, the lawyer for Sathe and Mali, says the defence is waiting for the Anti- Terrorism Squad to complete its investigation and file a supplementary chargesheet.

“A lot of people who fight for radical changes in society get attracted to different ideologies, but as the Bombay High Court stated, as long as you don’t act in pursuance of those ideologies, you are not guilty,” says Desai.

Despite repeated attempts, TEHELKA was unable to reach the Anti-Terrorism Squad.

Patwardhan says that the case against the Kabir Kala Manch proves that the State does not tolerate the voice of weaker sections of society. “In our democracy, only the upper-class elites are allowed to have a voice,” he says.

Kabir Kala Manch member and poet Deepak Dengle, who is out on bail after two years in prison, penned a poem in jail called Kis kis ko qaid karoge, mocking those who imprison lovers of freedom. The stirring words of the poem promise that the young revolutionaries will not be kept quiet for long.



Protesting against expolitation of poor no crime: Bombay High court


Prabhat Sharan Mumbai, Feb 5, 2013, DHNS

Court orders release of four artistes alleged to be Maoists

Last week, the Bombay High Court granted bail to four street theatre artistes for allegedly having Maoist connections, observing that “speaking about corruption, social inequality, exploitation of the poor etc and desiring a better society should come into existence and is not banned in our country.”

Granting bail to Dhawala Dhengle, Siddarth Bhosale, Mayuri Bhagat and Anuradha Sonule, against a surety of Rs 30,000 each, Justice Abhay Thipsay said: “Highlighting and creating social awareness on corruption, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and exploitation of the poor is commendable and cannot be considered an evidence of being members of a terrorist organisation.”

The artistes, belonging to a street theatre group named “Kabir Kala Manch,” were picked up the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) in 2011 on grounds that they were inciting the people to violence and members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Though police had detained seven people initially, four of them were still in jail since the ATS claimed to have found “incriminating documents and books” in their possession.

Going through the evidence submitted by the state, Justice Thipsay said: “Many of the books found are available in the market and there is no denial of that by the state. In any case, the said literature is not banned and reading thereof is not prohibited.”

On charges that the theatre group was advocating violence through street plays, Justice Thipsay told the public prosecutor: “There is nothing wrong in raising social issues and emphasising that a change in social order is required. The same views are expressed by several national and eminent leaders and a person cannot be branded a member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for expressing such views.

“On the contrary, such a reasoning would indicate that these issues, which are real and important, are not addressed by anyone else, except the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which in turn would mean that other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems.”

Expressing surprise at the evidence based on which the artistes were imprisoned, Justice Thipsay said: “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).”

The judge further observed that even the expression of views “to the effect that a change in social order can be brought about only by a revolution” would not amount to any offence. Those who advocate the teachings of Karl Marx are certainly not committing any crime.



Sambhaji Bhagat- ‘Power grows out of #music’


Sambhaji is both a rebel and a political Soothsayer’

• Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat •

By Ramu Ramanathan, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 45, Dated 10 Nov 2012

Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh


IT IS a gupshup with Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat organised by friends. Sambhaji is being felicitated for the Marathi International Film & Theatre Awards (MIFTA), which he bagged in Singapore for the music-design of the play, Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla. A rag-tag crowd sits in a circle. Theatrewallahs, trade unionists, scribes, socialists, Dalit Panther and Vidrohi cadre and tomorrow’s shahirs.

Sambhaji says, “We are the children of our age, and we inhabit a diminished space. Our genes have a past and a caste. Ambedkarites have been labelled as today’s bad boys in Maharashtra. All that we say or do is under surveillance.”

But Sambhaji also known as “Maharashtra’s Gaddar” is not cowed down. He swears by Dr Ambedkar, “Hum Babasaheb ke bachche hain.” This cry has thwarted hecklers and Right-wing mobs. He guffaws, “They understand that I am no liberal or a socialist. They know only a real Ambedkarite can counter them on the streets.’’

Then he summons the god of humour and belts out a powada (ballad). The motley audience sings along. The words reverberate. It is about political oppression expressed through folk harmonies.

Years ago, I met another legend: the Late Shahir Atmaram Patil. His poetry, songs and powadas were socialistic and secular. Shahir Atmaram had said, “Jo abhyas nahi karega, usko kya pata hoga?”, referring to the political misappropriation of Shivaji by Right-wing parties in Maharashtra.

I asked: Why did this happen? Why didn’t we prevent it?

Shahir Atmaram smiled: Shivaji ensures votes. Art doesn’t.

Sambhaji follows this tradition of the shahirs (people’s poets from the Tamasha lexicon) in Maharashtra. He says, “After every war, someone has to tidy up. Things won’t pick themselves up, after all.” Which is how his play Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla came into being.

Sambhaji says he had a lot of misgivings about staging the play since it would be denied a genuine run of shows due to its “Jai Bhim” tag.

Till date, the play has been staged more than 50 times, including housefull shows in the Shiv Sena and MNS heartland of Dadar and Parel. Sambhaji says, “Initially, the going was tough because of its provocative content and title.” But the team refused to show the script to anyone and went ahead with the shows. The response has been stupendous from the intellectuals of Maharashtra to locals who throng to see the show in small towns of Maharashtra and present Sambhaji and his team “a gift of bakri and mutton rasa”. Sambhaji says, “These are the true supporters of the play. They spread the message. Today, the problem in Maharashtra is that gratuitous art has become the norm. Anything other than that means indictment either from the State or from angry demonstrators.”

Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla has a simple intent: to reclaim Chhatrapati Shivaji from a militant Right-wing mascot to being “a Raja of the Shudras” and highlight his administrative abilities. The play directed by Nandu Madhav transpires in the here and now. Shivaji is no more and while Yama is escorting his atma back toswarglok, he goes missing. The musical piece performed by 17 farm workers from Jalna often lacks narrative coherence, which it makes up for with a pastiche of the absurd, and focusses on who owns Shivaji and why. Now that the play is ‘a critically acclaimed hit’, commentators are hoping it’ll be ‘the game-changer’ the Dalit movement is seeking in Maharashtra.

‘Sambhaji’s performances are cock-a-snook against cultural Stalinists’

It’s been an arduous 50-odd years on this planet for Sambhaji. From a small town near Panchgani, the son of a gifted cobbler, he gravitated to the local RSS outlet for his initial schooling. It was only when he reached Mumbai for further education did he realise he had been “indoctrinated”. His comrades in arms at Sidhartha Hostel ensured a change in ideology. He de-programmed his system. He was asked to read Ambedkar and Marx in English. He did so. A major achievement for a hinterland boy, who could barely formulate a phrase in Marathi.

Since then his life has entailed performances in the slums of Maharashtra for huge audiences. There was a stint in Nagpur jail in the mid-80s for being a Naxalite. These days, he teaches in a school. When he is not teaching, he protests. He lends his voice for Sudhir Dhawale or Kabir Kala Manch. Every time I watch him perform, I realise it is a tad difficult to simplify his body of work into glib phrases. When asked how and why does he raise these uncomfortable questions about our times in his songs, he says, “I’m not for sale, that’s why.”

But it’s not so simple. His performances are cock-a-snook against the cultural Stalinists; who have carefully choreographed the notion of what art is in this country. Sambhaji does not fit into the official paradigm. For one, he is a rebel. The other thing is, he is also a political soothsayer. When he sings his all-time favourite, “Inko dhyaan se dekho re bhai/ Inki soorat ko pehchano re bhai”, you wonder why we were not paying heed. He seems to have anticipated our political problems quite eloquently.

Sambhaji believes, “Power grows out of music. People respond to the words in a song. That’s why we need to take words to people. Too many big egos have ruined the movement. It’s important to re-organise.” This is what Sambhaji is seeking to do, as he concludes with Babasaheb’s words, “Educate, agitate and organise.”

Ramu Ramanathan is a Mumbai-based playwright and director. A collection of his plays, 3, Sakina Manzil and Other Plays was published by Orient BlackSwan. He is a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

The Best Songs and Poems of Kabir Kala Manch #mustread



Kamayani Bali Mahabal 


Advocate Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and activist selects the five best of Kabir Kala Manch’s songs and poems:

1. Sheetal Sathe sings about her mother in MAJHI MAYE. Before she starts to sing, she says: ‘Everyone wants women to join protests against discrimination, but they dont want their own wives to’.

Watch the song on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7JRWE64CEw

2. Deepak Dengle writes his his poem KISS KISS KO KAID KAROGEY. This heart-wrenching poem was penned in the jail.

जेल से कविता: किस किस को कैद करोगे?

किस किस को कैद करोगे?
लाखों हैं मुक्ति के पंछी, कैद करोगे किसको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे की सलाखों का लोहा हमने ही निकाला है
ये लोहा पिघलाने हमने अपना खून उबाला है
लोहा लोहे को पहचानेगा, फिर क्या होगा समझो
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे की दीवारों में हमने पसीना बहाया है
ईंट बनाने, सीमेंट बनाने मिट्टी को भी भिगोया है
मिट्टी कभी गद्दार न होगी, क्या बतलायें तुझको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे के पुर्जे पुर्जे हमें बताते अपने किस्से
कितने मज़दूर दफन हुए हैं इस पिंजरे के नींव के नीचे
वो मज़दूर हैं साथ हमारे, कौन रोकेगा हमको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
कैद में डालो, फांसी लगा दो, हंटर से चमड़ी भी निकालो
न्याय के रस्ते चल पड़े हैं, बाँध लगा लो, कांटे बिछा लो
कितना ज़ुल्म करेगा ज़ालिम, थक जाना है तुझको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको

3. Sheetal Sathe sings a song penned by her-EK MAITRA RAANGADYA. Another Sheetal Sathe song which gives me goose bumps has been translated by Ashutosh, a member of the Kabir Kala Manch.


Ek Maitra Raangadya
The nausea is served in the plate , the untouchable nausea
The disgust is  growing in the belly, the untouchable disgust
its there even in  buds of flowers, its there even in  sweet songs
that man should drink man’s blood ,
which is the land where this happens
which is the land of this hellish nausea
So it goes , my  dear friend, so it goes in the villages
so it goes my friend  from the harsh lands,  so it goes in remote places
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of humans
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of our lands
there is but one blood in humans
there is but one
The bones are made the same
the bones are but one
Juts like the water
ust like the flowers
ust like the wind
this body , natural,  is the same
Then how come is this difference?
how come this division by caste
then how come this division ?
how come human are valued differently
by this yardstick of caste
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes in the villages
so it goes my friend from the harsh lands, so it goes in remote places
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of humans
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of our lands
and if we  are  the same humans
then why are we ouside the village?
The outsider cleans up the waste
then why do we have to  bow and beg
“curtsy oh my lord, I am passing through
Cursty oh my  master , I bow to you
curtsy oh my lord, I am passing through

Cursty oh my master , I bow to you”
Our  shadow is untouchable , our touch nauseating
this  disgust in you faces, this shit  in your thoughts
this nausea of your beliefs
is hanging from our necks , from our  settlements necks
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes in the with Peshawai
so it goes my friend , so it goes with feudal lords
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of brahminical Peshwai
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the untouchables
You burned the mothers on  the pyres
you  burnt her anger to ashes
you sacrificed her on the altar of the caste restrictions
told her ” go and become a Sati”
A living body, with the dead one, was made to die
what kind of religion you protected
by killing and cutting down living people ?
So it goes , my dear friend, so goes the story of Sati’s
so it goes my friend , so it goes with lives of my mothers
Listen to this my friend , listen to the story of Sati
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the Mother
You killed  our Shambuk, ourTuka you send heavenwards
on  our heart you struck ,  wounds  after wounds
and soe one was killed for water
someone for the temple
and someone was killed for the voice
and someone for the touch
So it goes , my dear friend, so goes the story Khairlainji
so it goes even now my friend , so goes the story Khairlainji
Listen to this my friend , listen to this ongoing story
Hear out the torment my friend, the torment of the Ramabai
But now you mass murderers
its time for you to stop
we are coming out ,
with our  dignity as our flag and standard
we are ready to fight , to figght back  at each step
those who sell their dignity , would no longer stand with us
So it goes , my dear friend, so it goes with the fight
so it goes even now my friend , so goes with teh true fight
Listen to this my friend , listen to this story of true struggle
come with me my friend from harsh lands, lets strat the decisive struggle of life and death

Listen to the song: http://soundcloud.com/kractivist/ek-maitra-rangdya-singer-and

4. Another KKM song which I find stirring; in true Ambedkar form is:

We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
the legion of 330 millon gods
cant find a single one, we find it a bit odd
in short thats what Bhima has found
We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
This so called incarnate holy man, that so called incarnate holy woman
incarnations, miracles , their claims of divination
its gullible’s congregation
We are sweeping aside the temples,
we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Sun signs moon signs, astrological chart
Mars and Saturn are acting smart
and these priests are versed in the cheating art
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Pandhari, Shirdi-Tirupati, all are snares
The trustees of temples are now billionaires
its a buisness , its one all right
all Matha are making black money white
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
they made the religion , the opium of masses
poltics of religion, the gangs of asses
these gangs arecommitting genocide
behind the religions , they all hide
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha
Let s kick this stupidity away
lets kick them away from us
lets take the scientific thoughts
and keep our heads about us
So We are sweeping aside the temples here

we are sweeping them aside
my Bhima has reaffirmed the Buddha

5. Finally there is VAAT PAHWAA says Deepak Dengle. It is a song of hope and struggle. Below is the Marathi poem by him from jail, which echos the same sentiments. The English translation is by Umesh Soman

Wait and watch, I come!
I shall come because there’s justice…
Sans justice can this world exist?
I am coming, my time has to come …

The song of the downtrodden has to be sung!
My coming has a meaning…
Its the selfishness of sharing a morsel with those who starve…
I shall come… But not alone…
My intention is not small…
Wait and watch!

Wait and watch
It is small paths that turn into roads…
Thousands of trickling streams,
Turn into a powerful river!
My coming will neither be simple nor tame…
A stormy wind or thunder it shall be!
Like the waves of a tumultous sea with my arms spread;
That love of yours like a mighty mountain;
I want to embrace…
You just wait and watch!

Here are two journalistic articles about Kabir Kala Manch; and why two members are in prison.



Petition for Kabir Kala Manch:http://petitions.halabol.com/2013/04/05/ensure-safety-sheetal-sathe-and-sachin-mali-kkm

Click here to read about the press conference and the release of Kabir Kala Manch’s music CD.

Kamyani Bali Mahabal is a lawyer-activist and a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee.

The Land of Chup


In May 2011, members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a group of Dalit protest singers and poets from Pune, were accused by the police of being Naxalites. Two KKM members have been in prison for more than a year, while others are hiding, in fear of their safety. The evidence is scanty, mostly to do with supposed ties to Anjali Sontakke, the Naxal ideologue arrested by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad in April last year. Ramu Ramanathan, playwright and part of the KKM Defence Committee, describes their surreal dialogue with the authorities and the ongoing fight for justice


A FEW years ago, I was to modernise Kabir’s dohas in a theatre workshop for architecture students. To make it interesting, I set them into popular rock-’n’roll tunes. And thus, ROCKING AND ROLLING WITH KABIR was born. We threw in a bit of ideology, made Kabir an activist, a Bob Dylan-cum-Jyotiba Phule persona. We ensured the first scene had more noise onstage than the noise in the audience!

The play culminated with Kabir going underground; and then Kabir — the harbinger of peace and progress — being shot. Our premise was simple. Kabir encouraged the synthesis of faith and questioned ideas across different cultures. He invented secular democracy. Unfortunately, the real world is cruel.

Zealotry is an ugly business. When Kabir protested, he was silenced. When Kabir was dead, a girl played a guitar riff; and then a statement condemning the death of Kabir scrolled on the A/V. The signatories were the who’s who of the planet from Socrates to Buddha; from Marx to Gandhi; from Raja Rammohan Roy to Ram Manohar Lohia; from Ghalib to Ambedkar. The final name in the list was: Anand Patwardhan — the eternal protestor. After the show, everyone had a good laugh. It was a little in-house joke.

Today five years since, history repeats itself. Kabir has been jailed. Kabir is underground. Anand Patwardhan and many others form the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) Defence Committee; to whose coffers Patwardhan donates Rs 50,000.

That was art; this is harsh reality.

Patwardhan, who had first seen a KKM performance in 2007, is now grappling with legalese to get justice for the KKM members with funds fast depleting.

Today, most of the KKM artistes, who performed, are underground and two members, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle are behind bars at the Arthur Road central prison. Branded Naxalites, they were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the State under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

I recall KKM appearing on Pune’s theatre scene in 2002. The group had young Dalit boys and girls – who sang songs and staged angry plays. They repudiated aesthetics for the politics of the stage. A typical KKM show in the bastis ensured the first scene had to have more noise onstage than the noise in the audience! This was a theatre tactic that Indian People’s Theatre Association put to good use when ideology was on their side. An open truck would enter a crowded mohalla, create a hullabaloo, and the play would be performed on the truck.

This is part of the great Maharashtra tradition of Ambedkar-Phule that is diminishing.

Years ago, the Vidrohi Sammelan, with unflaunted passion, had stated from Dharavi, art and politics can never be separated. The mainstream Sahitya Sammelan with their upper caste writers at Shivaji Park announced their menu of sheera and upma. The Vidrohi announced theirs, beef. The battle lines were drawn. High caste friends said, “This is wrong. After all, shouldn’t we Hindus remain united; or else we’ll become a minority in our own country?”

A typical KKM show in thebastis ensured the first scene had to have more noise onstage than the noise in the audience

The Vidrohi gang is incorrigible. They set up camp against the World Social Forum, which one of them called the “Social World Forum”. They mocked the socialites and do-gooders from across the road. The icons were questioned. It became Globalisation and Stiglitz’s Discontent, and the biggest scam of post-liberalised India: the NGO scam.

Post Godhra, a young students group called Satyashodhak Vidyarthi Sangathan sets up a poster exhibition. It’s not Vivan Sundaram nor Akbar Padamsee, but it’s the first organised protest of its kind against the “Duryodhana of the Hindutva Laboratory”. Police permission is denied. No gallery to exhibit. So, they beat the system.

I mention both examples because in February 2005, KKM members got a crash-course in radicalism from heavy weights of the “vidrohi movement” like Bharat Patankar, Kishore Dhamale, Kishore Jadhav, Dhanaji Gurav and Sudhir Dhawale. That’s where KKM drew their strength from; and their ability to perform guerilla style.

In the later years, KKM came under the State’s radar with its frequent allusions to democracy’s failures, about oppression, and domination of one caste over the other. When Sheetal Sathe sang how Ambedkar said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his people should overthrow it, the State began to act.

It counter-argues, based on a statement under Section 164 of the criminal procedure code, how KKM members had an affair with the Naxalite ideology of the CPI (Maoist) who indoctrinated them. The charge: training camps in Pune’s Khed taluka, lecturing in support of Angela Sontakke and others, rubbing shoulders with revolutionaries and visiting campuses and bastis with “a message in the service of a cause….”

IT’S BEEN more than a year since Dengle and Bhonsle were arrested. As part of the KKM Defence Committee, we decide to meet the Maharashtra chief minister. Our agenda: to request the State government to withdraw false charges against Shahirs (singer-poets) from KKM. Also Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali, who are underground due to the fear of torture and a jail term, be provided an opportunity to come ‘overground’. Above all, artistes be allowed to perform.

The CM is a statesman. Pleasantries are exchanged. Tea and poha is served. Patwardhan boots up his Apple Mac and showcases excerpts from his documentary Jai Bhim Comrade on a whitewashed wall. On screen, Sathe and co-members of KKM mobilise audiences. There are sharp witticisms about the abject poverty and discontent in slums. The 15-minute screening concludes.

The CM agrees that human rights are meant to be defended. Promises are made. We exit.

Time passes.

A bit slower for Dengle and Bhonsle in jail.

Meanwhile, the court hearings proceed inside a bleak-looking Sewri Court. The security is humongous and they keep a strict vigil. One day, the judge does not turn up. The legalese and the administrative wrangles seem insurmountable. Plus, the lack of funds to mount a serious challenge.

The 29-year old Dengle who celebrated his wedding anniversary in jail on 14 May, meets us at Sewri Court, his literary inspiration is still not exhausted. He hands me a poem,Inquilab Chaiye. The poem is in Hindi and has a rudimentary rhythm. He sings the firstmukdha: Ek moothi baandho reh baandho/Ek moothi bandho re doston/Bas ek mukka chaiye/Aur ek dhakka chaiye/Inquilab chaiye doston/Inquilab.

The police battalion gather around Dengle. They hear him sing.


KKM Defence Committe Member Ramu Ramanathan speaks in Marathi Theatre Panel Discussion


Pic sourced from – http://www.criticalstages.org/criticalstages5/plugin/print/?id=74

Panel discussion: Marathi Theatre in the 21st Century

Deepa Punjani, in http://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com

The recent five-day festival (May 21-25 2012) of Marathi plays by the Bodhi Natya Parishad at the mini theatre of Ravindra Natya Mandir (PL Deshpande), hosted a discussion on Marathi theatre and its role in the twenty first century. The discussion, which was moderated by Dr Suresh Meshram, one of the founders of the Bodhi Natya Parishad, had as its panelists, Dr Hemu Adhikari, Milind Inamdar, Abhiram Bhadkamkar, Ramu Ramanathan and Premanand Gajvi.The panelists, all theatre practitioners, put forth their views about how Marathi theatre might be envisaged in this century with its concerns and challenges. It was evident that although the discussion was centred on the prominence of regional theatre in Maharashtra, the issues raised, are relevant to other language theatres in Indiatoo.Dr Hemu Adhikari, veteran actor and former-scientist from BARC, plus the voice of rationality in many anti-superstition drives, while referring to the tradition of Marathi theatre over the past hundred years, talked about how today’s youth seemed to want to express things very different from what the previous generation of theatre-goers were accustomed to. He cited young Pune-based playwright Dharmakirti Sumant’s plays such as PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA as examples. In GELI EKVEES VARSHA, the young protagonist who grows up confused, as he cannot come to terms with his parents’ socialist ideals, in a post liberalisation era, ends up rejecting history, rather vehemently. His rejection is symbolically marked in his disruption of the stage design. Referring to PAANI by the same playwright, Dr Adhikari said that the play showed a young writer who had a calibrated response to political and social issues.

Later, when it was veteran playwright Premanand Gajvi’s (whose play GHOTBAR PAANI will have its 3001 staging as a finale to the festival) turn to speak, he said, he was sceptical of plays like PAANI and GELI EKVEES VARSHA and the thought process of young playwrights who ”rejected history”. Gajvi felt, if history can be rejected so glibly, what should it be replaced with? He added that PAANI, which was based on the Narmada Bachaao Aandolan, was not actually examining the dialectics of the struggle; and what went amiss with one of the most significant social uprisings in India of the twentieth century, but only superficially tackled an issue which was quite complex. Gajvi, who has been workshopping with young playwrights and has ”discovered three new plays”, drove another point home in contention to Dr Hemu Adhikari’s opening remarks of how the new century is one of immense challenges. Gajvi said that while the challenges are there (and have always been there) he can only foresee these getting more vexed in the days to come. The time to find a solution has come, but the process is not going to be easy all.

The challenges are not new, as pointed out by director, Girish Patki in a post-discussion. He was candid enough to state that while the discussion was relevant, he felt that ‘tried-and-tested stock phrases and sentences were being repeated. Dramatist Abhiram Bhadkamkar whose plays are having a good run on the Marathi stage; and director Milind Inamdar, faculty at the Theatre Arts Department of Mumbai University, elaborated on key challenges in their presentations. The challenges, they said, are as much about the perception of Marathi theatre today, as it is about how it is depicted. Hence the familiar litany about prayogik (experimental) v/s vyavsayik (commercial), the attitude of producers on the commercial stage, the genre of plays, the lack of performance space, the dearth of ideas in terms of executing the productions, impoverished content which is far removed from society, a disconnect with our repository of literature such as the short story and the poem, busy schedules (especially in a manic city like Mumbai), definitions of entertainment having changed (even threatening the very existence of the live performance), and such others.

A different kind of perspective was put forth by playwright, Ramu Ramanathan. He discussed other cultural perspectives, which were resonant with the topic on hand. He began by referring to three English plays that were recently adjudged as the best plays of the Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award this year. He felt that these new plays, all written by young writers, were promising in terms of content as well as theatre craft. The award-winning play by Prashanth Kumar Nair – ROMEO AND JULIET – NO STRINGS ATTACHED had a playful, play within a play format. One of the short-listed playwrights, Satish Pendharkar, he said, has penned a Bada Sircar folkish social critique called, THE LAST JOURNEY. Ramanathan felt that the seven-to-eight plays in The Hindu competition were by playwrights who were bi-lingual; plus rooted in some or the other theatre tradition, be that socio-cultural or even academic. He said: ”The 40 entries indicate that plays cannot be written overnight. Plays require rigour, craft and patience. And a playwright, who has the opportunity to negotiate the socio-cultural nuances more effectively.”

Referring to the strategies of survival, Ramanathan spoke of how there is an acute need for our theatre to explore new spaces. He spoke of how this used to be done in factories, boulevards, streets in Mumbai but has ceased to be. He emphasized that this was not agit-prop or street theatre but community theatre. Play-readings are equally important to keep theatre alive. Recalling a performance in Brussels, a one-man show, he said that the simplest kind of performances can leave lasting impressions. It all depends on what is being conveyed and how it is done.

Ramu Ramanathan then touched upon the silence among the artist community; especially with the ban on the group, Kabir Kala Manch. He said, the Pune-based theatre activist Deepak Dengle is in prison, and other members of the agit-prop group, including lead singer-poets, Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Sachin Mali, and others have gone underground after threats from the police / ATS. All are charged sans any act of violence (just guilt of association) of “being Naxalites” and the ATS is using an uncritical media to plant allegations against the Kabir Kala Manch. There is silence from the theatre community only because this is happening to ”non upper-caste upper class theatre activists” in Maharashtra.

*Deepa Punjani i.Read more here