Tag Archives: Sudhir Dhawale

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


Newsclick, May 8, 2013

Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural troupe first came together in response to the communal carnage in Gujarat.

The group went on to make its voice heard on the rights of slum-dwellers and workers; on sustainable development; and most of all, the need to eliminate, once and for all, casteist practices in our society. KKM has performed for and with working class movements as well as movements led by Medha Patkar, Bhai Vaidya and others.

In 2011, the state of Maharashtra began to brand these cultural activists as “Naxalites”. With this excuse, the KKM and its activities have been targeted time and again. Members of KKM were arrested in May, 2011 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They got bail recently, but almost immediately after, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali were arrested on April 2, 2013 after the two staged a “satyagraha” outside the Vidhan Bhavan (Maharashtra State Legislature) protesting the police’s use of UAPA to accuse them of being Maoists and absconders.

On May 2nd, following May Day, artists, litterateurs, journalists, filmmakers, students, cultural activists and theatre groups marched in protest from Sriram Centre, Mandi House, to Maharashtra Sadan, Copernicus Marg, demanding that the Bombay High court immediately release the ‘Kabir Kala Manch’ activists and drop all charges against them.

This march, called by Jan Sanskriti Manch along with Sangwari, Sangthan, The Group and All India Students Association, began with theatre groups Paltan and Asmita performing songs of protest and resistance.

When the protest march reached Maharashtra Sadan, a mass meeting was held. Writer Noor Zahir, poet Neelabh, independent filmmaker Sanjay Kak and activist Kavita Krishnan were among those who spoke on this instance of state-sponsored censorship faced by artists and activists. They also insisted that consistent resistance of such censorship is the only possible response.

A 5-member delegation comprising Sanjay Kak, Neelabh, painter Ashok Bhowmick, literary critic Ashutosh Kumar and Uma Gupta from Delhi University met the Resident Commissioner of Maharashtra Government and handed over a memorandum addressed to the state’s Chief Minister. The memorandum called for the unconditional and immediate release of Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali of Kabir kala Manch and Sudhir Dhawale, editor,Vidrohi, a bi-monthly Marathi journal.

The groups sharply criticized the practice of silencing intellectuals and cultural activists by the state government by dubbing them terrorists. The use of draconian laws and trumped up charges against those who dissent must stop at once, they said, and the livelihood and social security of their family members be ensured. The cultural activists and student protestors plan to submit a petition to the Chief Justice of India with signatures from all over the country asking the apex court to intervene in the matter of governments engaged in blatant violation of the fundamental right to expression


Press Release- Protest March for Kabir Kala Manch in Delhi


Press Release

Delhi protest to release KKM activists4

New Delhi, 2 May, 2013

More than a hundred cultural activists, painters, litterateurs, filmmakers, theatre artists, singers, journalists, students and intellectuals took out a Protest March from Sriram Centre-Mandi House to Maharashtra Sadan demanding the immediate release of ‘Kabir Kala Manch’ activists and withdrawal of all false cases and fabricated charges levied against them. The Protest March was called by the theatre group ‘Sangwari’, web journal ‘Sangathan’ and a film group ‘The Group’, all affiliated to ‘Jan Sanskriti Manch’ as well as ‘All India Students’ Association’ (AISA). The protest march reached Maharashtra Sadan where a mass meeting was held. A 5 member delegation comprising the renowned painter Ashok Bhowmick, film-maker Sanjay Kak, poet Neelabh, literary critic Ashutosh Kumar and Dr. Uma Gupta from Delhi University met the Resident Commissioner of Maharashtra government and handed over a memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra demanding unconditional and immediate release of Sheetal Sathe , Sachin Mali (artists belonging to Kabir kala Manch) and Sudhir Dhawale, editor of a Marathi journal (all arrested on Bogus charges).

Demands also included withdrawal of false cases against them and strict action against police officers involved in framing the concerned cultural activists. The memorandum also stated that the practice of silencing intellectuals and cultural activists by the state government, dubbing them as ‘terrorists’ or ‘Maoists’ and framing them under draconian laws on trumped up charges must stop at once and the livelihood and social security of their family members must be ensured. The cultural activists and student protestors declared that a petition to Chief Justice of India shall be submitted with signatures from all over the country asking the apex court to intervene in the matter and to prevail upon the governments who are engaged in blatant violation of the fundamental ‘right to expression’. After handing over the Memorandum to the Resident Commissioner film-maker Sanjay Kak addressed the protestors and said that the government had better not be under the illusion that curbing the right to expression would silence the artists. Just a day ago only the people of Pune and Maharashtra knew about Kabir kala Manch, but today their voices are reaching across the entire country. He asserted that the repressive measures of the state will not scare cultural activists and that they will continue to fight for the freedom of expression. This fight will involve more and more people.

As is well known, repression has continued unabated on cultural activists of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) over the past two years in the state of Maharashtra. The members of KKM who were arrested in May, 2011 on charges of being ‘Maoists’ under UAPA got bail recently. However, almost immediately following that two other artists of KKM- Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali were arrested on April 2, 2013 on the same charges. Both have denied all charges against them and said that they are followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Bhagat Singh.

The protest March started with a recital of the song ‘Bhagat Singh tum zinda ho’ by artists from ‘Paltan’. This song, sung in the voice of Sheetal Sathe, has gained a lot of popularity. During the march which culminated in a mass protest meeting at Maharashtra Sadan, artists from ‘Asmita’, ‘Sangwari’ and IPTA expressed their protest through revolutionary songs. Protestors marched with placards and raised slogans all through the kilometer long stretch in scorching summer heat, till the police stopped them at Maharashtra Sadan, where they started a protest mass meeting. Addressing the meeting, noted Hindi-Urdu writer, Noor Zaheer said that governments alienated from the masses are unleashing repression on artists who are standing in solidarity with the peoples’ struggles. Poet Neelabh said that repression is unleashed on all sections of the toiling people and that we must protest against it at each and every instance. Rekha Awashthi from ‘Janwadi Lekhak Sangh’ expressed support for the protest. Ashok Bhowmick from ‘Jan Sanskriti Manch’ said that the current situation in the country calls for a bigger role of writers, artists and intellectuals in favour of the fighting masses and that would entail continuous confrontation with the oppressive system. National Secretary of ‘All India Progressive Women’s Association’ Kavita Krishnan said that Maharashtra government never stops the voices of those ministers who ridicule the miseries of the people every now and then but finds it necessary to silence the voice of Sheetal Sathe. People love the voices of KKM artists, but anti-people state machinery considers such voices dangerous. Therefore, it is all the more important to raise such voices even more loudly. Sandeep Singh, National Secretary of AISA and theatre artist Lokesh Jain also addressed the meeting. Prof. Chaman Lal & Parnal Chirmuley from JNU, Radhika Menon from D.U., theatre personality Arvind Gaud, literary critics Gopal Pradhan & Vaibhav Singh, film maker Ajay Bhardwaj, cultural activists Raviprakash from ‘Sangathan’, Asit Das from ‘Sanhati’, Kapil Sharma from ‘Sangwari’, Sanjay Joshi from ‘The Group’, journalits Anjani & Shivdas were among those who joined the protest march and mass meeting. Awadhesh, Sanjay Joshi and Sudhir Suman convened the entire proceedings.

Released by Sudhir Suman, National Joint Secretary, ‘Jan Sanskriti Manch’. Contact- 09868990959

Delhi protest to release KKM activist 1.jpg


Delhi protest to release KKM activists 2.jpg

Delhi protest to release KKM activists 3.jpg



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.



Sheetal Sathe arrested: Govt’s way of ending Dalit protests?



Danish Raza, First Post

There is a sequence in Anand Patwardhan‘s acclaimed documentary film Jai Bhim Comrade in which a middle aged woman narrates how her daughter lives and fights for the world and not for herself. The daughter, Sheetal Sathe, a gold medallist from Pune‘s Fergusson College, has chosen a path different from the usual, says the Dalit mother. “I have even prepared myself for the dangers she might face in the future.”

On 3 April, Maharashtra Police Anti Terrorism Squad booked Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Both are members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural group which highlights, among other issues, the plight of the Dalit community. However, the ATS claims that the group members were not only in touch with the Naxals but also funding their activities.

The arrests have sparked a debate on the how the space for dissent is gradually shrinking under our governmental structure. It is also seen by many as an attempt to smother the voices that talk about the atrocities on Dalits in Maharashtra.

KKM was formed in the year 2002. Gender justice, foreign direct investment, farmers’ suicides and Ambedkar’s philosophy formed themes of their plays which were staged in roadside tents, streets and even on trucks. Those who closely observed KKM’s arrival on Pune’s cultural scene say that things were fine for the troupe until the killings of Dalits in Khairlanji and Rama Bai colony found mention in its performances.

Four members of a Dalit family were killed in Khairlanji, Bhandara district, by a mob in September 2006 over a land dispute. In 2008, a lower court gave death sentence to six of the accused which was commuted to 25 years’ imprisonment by the Bombay High Court.

Ten Dalits, who had gathered to protest the desecration of an Ambedkar statue in Rama bai Ambedkar Nagar, a Dalit stronghold, were gunned down in police firing.

After twelve years, in 2009, court gave life sentence to Manohar Kadam, then state reserve policeman who had ordered firing on the mob.

Aanand Patwardhan, who has documented the progress in the case and is a member of the KKM defence committee, says members of the Manch were frustrated with the slow pace of justice. “As a result, their music and lyrics became militant. That’s when they managed to miff the establishment.”

Ramu Ramanathan, a Mumbai based playwright explains that the Vidrohi Sammelan- the alternative cultural forum in Maharashtra which ran parallel to the mainstream Sahitya Sammelan- was as an influence on KKM.

“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 performguerrillastyle,” wrote Ramanathan in Tehelka magazine.

“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.”

Sheetal and Sachin went underground after the ATS arrested seven people in Maharshtra region in May-June 2011 under UAPA on the charges of supporting and funding Maoist activities in the state. The seven included Anjela Sontakke, alleged secretary of the golden corridor committee of CPI (Maoist) and two KKM members- Deepak Dengle and Siddharth.

A Bombay High Court ruling that granted bail to Dengle and Sidhharth emboldened Sathe and her husband to resurface and court arrest, said the KKM defence committee in a statement.

“Unless the police makes out a case that an actual crime has been committed by the accused, they cannot interpret the UAPA to arrest people merely on the basis of any alleged ideology,” said the Court.

After the two courted arrest on April 3, KKM said, “Emboldened by these events to hope that due process of law can still bring justice even in these unjust times, and encouraged by signs that there is a civil society that will monitor their progress, Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe have decided to test the depth of our democratic system.”

Sambhaji Bhagat, a Dalit theatre activist who won the Marathi International Film & Theatre Awards (MIFTA), for the music-design of the play, Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, told Firstpost that the arrests of KKM members is part of a series where state governments across the country silence the voices which don’t toe the line of the establishment.

“Whoever goes against the expected line, is treated as a Naxalite, a rebel, a traitor,” he said. According to Bhagat, watering down the UAPA will not help. “They will introduce some other law. These are mere tools. One will be replaced by another. What matters, is the intent,” he said.

Domestic and international screenings of Jai Bhim Comradeand the accolades it got, had revived hopes for KKM. However with Sathe’s arrest, they might be staring at a bleak future.


Revolutionary Cultural Front, JNU – Let us arm every song with dreams, in the time of war…


kkm (1)

Revolutionary Cultural Front

JNU, New Delhi


Let us arm every song with dreams, in the time of war…

         The songs, poetry and theatre of Kabir Kala Manch cannot be imprisoned in jails!
The valiant struggle of the people, against structural violence and injustice
cannot be crushed by draconian laws, branding or witch-hunting!


…Quite amazing, the moonlight that

Floods this room—

I cannot even see the moon outside.

To relieve this solitude

I draw out my blood

And transfuse it

With poetry that is heavy

With the sound of handcuffs.


Chain them if you will…


The birds of freedom

Will break into flight

To the sound of pioneer songs.


Watch carefully,

Poetry burns quickly

Spreading like a forest fire.

Watch more carefully,

Poetry can stir people…


Poetry is an open secret…

It reaches in a trice

Those it is meant to reach…

The secret is,

My poetry was born

From the pangs of struggle,

Cover it if you must—

You will see it escapes through

The spaces between your fingers,

Its vibrant , anguished notes

Snapping in anger

Setting tears on fire

And flowing forth—

A river of blood-red syllables.


Varavara Rao

(while in solitary confinement

in Secunderabad Jail 1985-89)



On April 2nd, 2013 , Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali of the Kabir Kala Manch(KKM), a political cultural organisation, courted arrest outside the Vidhan Sabha Bhavan, Bombay. Members of this organisation had been hounded by the state for more than two years now, a period when they were unable to perform and take their politics to people openly. The KKM had been vocal since 2002 against caste based discrimination, atrocities on dalits, structural violence against the oppressed masses, spreading a revolutionary message for several years now through music, poetry and theatre. As Maharashtra witnessed incidents of gross violence and injustice inflicted on the dalits by the dominant caste and the state authorities as in the case of the rape and murder of the Bhotmange family in Khairlanji (2006), the songs and plays of KKM became more militant. It is this militancy that brought them under the police scanner. In 2011, KKM members were forced to go underground after police began to brand as ‘Maoists’ and hounded them. Two of their members , Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were charged and arrested under the UAPA, by the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) in April-May 2011.


After two years of prolonged struggle, on the 31st of January this year, the Bombay High Court granted bail to the arrested activists. Justice Thipsay gave the verdict that sympathy for Maoist philosophy is not sufficient ground to conclude that the accused are active members of any terrorist organisation and further stressed that their activities were well within the fundamental rights to freedom of expression assured to citizens. The court also accepted that raising issues of social and economic inequality, exploitation and oppression of the poor and downtrodden or even expressing the view that a change in the social order can be brought only by a revolution is not a crime.


Last week cultural activist and member of Visthpan Virodhi Jan Vikas Manch, Jeetan Marandi was finally released from the Birsa Jail by the Ranchi High Court. The Sessions court had implicated him in a false case and had awarded a death sentence to him and three other activists in 2007 by declaring them guilty of murdering Jharkhand CM’s son and of treason. Jeetan’s songs are a decade long uncompromising and vehement battle against the state-corporate nexus that is looting the natural resources of the country today, displacing thousands of tribals and peasants, and branding all political dissent as ‘terrorist’. In December 2011 he was acquitted from the case by the High Court, but Jeetan and others had to remain in jail thereafter, as the Jharkhand Govt.  once again invoked the Jharkhand Crime Control Act (2002) against him. In the face of massive protests in various parts of the country demanding his release, the fascist state, its puppet judiciary and its henchmen in the police, had little choice but to concede to the progressive sections as well as revolutionary masses.


Revolutionary Cultural Front appeals to the students to raise their voice against this deeply casteist-communal and fascist state and its tried and tested tactics of maintaining a façade of democracy. While welcoming the judgements that have freed Jeetan Marandi and granted bail to Deepak Dengle, let us recognise that ‘fundamental rights’ have never been onoffer, but were fought for and defended tooth and nail at every step by the struggling oppressed masses. And we must continue fighting in our songs, theatre and writings in solidarity with the masses that are fighting valiantly against this state and ruling class, to establish a new society.


Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali’scourting arrest yesterday screams out an account of the witch-hunting, branding and monitoring project of the state to stub out the music that is not in tune with the deafening cacophony of the vested interests of corporate houses,ruling class and caste, and that of the state. Whether the imprisonment of Seema Azad, Varavara Rao, Rambali or Gadar, cultural activists have always been targeted, incarcerated and tortured by the state machinery for the revolutionary spirit and zeal they have inspired in the masses. Under immense pressure from civil democratic rights activists they have even been released. But thousands are still languishing behind bars having been charged with the‘crime’ of taking forward a fearless cultural and literary activism that stands by the people’s resistance for their land, livelihood and dignity. Sudhir Dhawale and Utpal Bashke are two names among these thousands. The fight to release all political prisoners including cultural activists must go on in our songs,pamphlets and protests along with upholding the spirit of their politics.

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

Kabir Kala Manch : The Sound of Silence


By Neerja Dasani

10 October, 2012

The longer one lives in a representative democracy the more it seems that it isn’t quite what the civics textbooks make it out to be – you know the whole, ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ stuff? For instance, when faced with the prospect of corrupt business practitioners causing huge losses to the state, pocketing politicians eager to facilitate that process or a music band protesting the effect of this nexus on the people, who is the government most likely to punish? It’s a bit sad how obvious the answer is, and sadder still, how resigned we are to this situation, no matter which part of the world we find ourselves in.

In the past few months there has been extensive media coverage of the Pussy Riot story in which three members of a feminist rock group were handed a two-year jail term for performing an anti-Putin song inside a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The case has become a global talking point, including in India where many people have spoken out in support of the group and their message of freedom from a ‘repressive corporate political system’. But how many of us have heard of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM)?

Over a year ago the members of this Pune-based cultural group, found themselves being given a new identity by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad – the one-size-fits-all term for anyone that makes the state squirm – Naxalism. Two members, Deepak Dengle and Sidharth Bhonsle were arrested while others including singer-poets Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Male were forced to go underground. Even their families were persecuted since, as we all know, ‘sedition’ is genetic.

There seems to be a guarded silence around this case as far as the media is concerned – no breaking news, no SMS campaigns and no ‘expert’ panel discussions. The few people, who have come across this story, might not have done so, if it weren’t for Anand Patwardhan‘s hard-hitting documentary, ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’.

Ironically, one of the central motifs of the film is the legacy of Dalit protest music, which calls for a unified struggle against caste oppression, labour exploitation and inequality and is a vehicle for the reclamation of the dignity of those who continue to be denied it. KKM – featured prominently in the film – are moulded out of this same indignant material; they’re armed with assertively wry lyrics and haunting voices, which more than meets the requirements for an ‘anti-national’ label.

This list of ‘branded’ citizens is now growing at an alarming rate. Arun Ferreira, Jeetan Marandi, Debolina Chakraborty, Shamim Modi, Seema Azad, Vishwavijay, Prashant Rahi, Sudhir Dhawale, Vernon Gonsalves, Abhay Sahoo, Soni Sori etc., etc. – the names of people implicated by the state (many of whom are still in jail) just flitter in and out of our consciousness from time to time, disconnected from the issues they are fighting for, lost in the barrage of infotainment – our attention completely under arrest. We barely notice that the administration at Idinthakarai, Tamil Nadu, has set a chilling national record: the first time in independent India that 8000 cases of sedition have been filed at a single police station.

Aren’t these the freedom fighters of our times? By forcing into our collective mindscape a culture of dialogue, accountability and transparency, these activists are the real nation-builders. That the corporate state repeatedly tries to stifle their voices is no surprise, it’s a global phenomenon. What is unusual is the silence of those of us who can afford to speak out.

Perhaps we’ve all become too used to being mere consumers of democracy. Like the compromised poets in Benjamin Zephaniah‘s poem ‘Bought and Sold’; we’ve got a price tag for everything: elections, college seats, hospital beds, marital alliances, directive principles and even freedom. Our primary culture has become that of consumption and so we no longer know what it means to participate in the production of democracy.

But what if each of us decided to make our own little contribution to the creation of our shared cultures, to voice our common concerns, to make some noise? As Deepak Dengle asks in his poem from prison, “Who all will you arrest?/There are hundreds of birds of freedom, who all will you arrest?/We’ll take the cage and fly away and you won’t even know it” (Rough translation from the Hindi original)

Maybe it’s time to unplug those headphones and reconnect with the reality around us. If we all choose to exercise the freedom these activists are fighting for by singing their songs, reciting their poetry, or sharing their ideas with our colleagues at work, in schools and colleges, or on the bus back home, who can stop us? After all we’re all free to sing ‘Shiela Ki Jawani’, right?

So let’s make a racket and bring down this wall of silence. If a sound democracy is what we’re after, we’re going to have to tune ourselves in.

(For more information on the Kabir Kala Defence Committee you can log onto:https://kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com/ )


The accidental Arrest of an Artist #mustread

Issue No: 52    September 1, 2012  
Two Kabir Kala Manch artistes were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the state under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and branded Naxalites. Ramu Ramanathan, a Mumbai-based playwright and a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, reports.
Knowing this, we meet the Maha Maharajaof the State in his home-cum-office at Varsha. Our agenda: to request the state government to withdraw false charges against Shahirs (singer-poets) from the Kabir Kala Manch and ensure them a right to perform.The security is polite. The Maha Maharaja is a statesman. Pleasantries are exchanged. Tea and poha are served. Anand Patwardhan boots up his Apple Mac and showcases excerpts from his documentary Jai Bhim Comrade on a white-washed wall. On screen, Sheetal Sathe and co-members of Kabir Kala Manch mobilise audiences in the name of Ambedkar and Phule. There are some sharp witticisms about the abject poverty and slum discontentment. The 15 minute screening is concluded.

For one nano-second, there is darkness.

The Maha Maharaja returns to his seat; the meeting with the leading lights of the defence committee is re-convened.

The point is made: the state should promptly withdraw charges against Deepak Dengle and Sidharth Bhosale of the Kabir Kala Manch. Also Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali who are underground due to the fear of beatings and a longish jail term, be provided an opportunity to come ‘overground”. Above all, artistes be allowed to perform.

The Maha Maharaja agrees that human rights are meant to be defended. Then we chit-chat about the proliferation of Naxalism into urban centres in the state; and how it should be curbed in a humanitarian way. This goes on for 35 minutes.

Promises are made. We exit.
Time passes.
A bit slower for Dengle and Bhosale in jail.
Meanwhile the official record of the above meeting with the Maha Maharaja goes missing.

The game is afoot.

There are other mini-skits in the other power-corridors. We hear stories of another Maha Maharaja in the cabinet who is casteist; and yet another who abuses all and sundry.

There’s a story about one who is surrounded with a raft of telephones; none of which are connected. On these phones this particular Maha Maharaja conducts Jean Cocteau type monologue to no one in particular. But we the people in front of him applaud for his prompt support.

Sadly, prompt state support which we need is absent. For the two Kabir Kala Manch members, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle who are behind bars at Arthur Road central prison. For every court date, they are brought to Sewri court for the hearings with heavy police escort. They were arrested on 12 May 2011 by the State under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and branded Naxalites.

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

Meanwhile as the saying goes, time passes faster, backwards …

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a founder member of the Kabir Kala Manch defence committee says: “The main trouble, it seems, is re-kindling the kind of public opinion that was present during Dr Binayak Sen.”

Film-maker Anand Patwardhan adds: “KKM members are Dalits from poor families who do not carry weapons. Their crime is they sing songs. Had a mainstream musician sung the same songs or uttered the sentiments through songs, I doubt the State would have branded them Naxalites and forced them to go underground.”

The long arm of the State is now reaching out to KKM family members like Sheetal Sathe’s mother, who has lost her job at the Ruby Hall Clinic in Pune, where she worked as an assistant “due to the 24/7 scrutiny of the state”.

It’s become a matter of desperate survival; and the prize money of Rs. 51,000 that Patwardhan was awarded for Jai Bhim Comrade is rapidly depleting.

A portrait of Kabir Kala Manch

Kabir Kala Manch appeared on Pune’s theatre scene in 2002. This is the once intellectually proud city that now practices an indifference to politics. The group members sang songs and staged agit-prop plays. They repudiated aesthetics for politics of the stage.

In February 2005, Kabir Kala Manch members got a crash-course in radicalism in the form of the heavy weights of the “vidrohi movement” like Bharat Patankar, Kishore Dhamale, Kishore Jadhav, Dhanaji Gurav and Sudhir Dhawale.

The vidrohi chalwal in its heyday was a disingenuous counter-code to the mainstream. The mainstream Sahitya Sammelan was held at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park. It doffed its hat to Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi (chief minister of Maharashtra) and the Shiv Sena, while the Vidrohi Sammelan hosted in Dharavi was the literature of the Dalits, Muslims, workers and women. While the main meet was funded by the Shiv Sena-BJP government, the parallel meet was self-funded. The main sammelan was a meet of people with “shendi” (hair knot) and “janva” (religious thread), the parallel sammelan was that of people with “lathi” (stick) and “ghongdi” (a rough cloth). While the main sammelan served upma and sheera (publicised on the front page of most Marathi newspapers), the Vidrohi Sammelan served beef and pork. The Vidrohi fine-tuned their tradition to mock. They protested in front of the World Social Forum in 2004, and pooh-poohed it as the “social world’s forum”.

Kabir Kala Manch’s “mission” became an acquired taste. The arresting language which its urban shahirs belt out, tackle themes like anti superstition, gender equality and education, and have the usual appeal of that which is deemed street theatre.

Illegal art

Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat (a radical poet and political activist) who mentored the group in “the art of composing songs and a few performance tricks” says: “Kabir Kala Manch is a talented group made up of young Dalit boys and girls. They sing political songs. But they also combat social evils and promote inter-caste marriage.” He points out how Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali had an inter-caste marriage for which there was a lot of opposition.

Bhagat continues: “Ambedkarites are today’s bad boys in Maharashtra. All that we say or do is under surveillance.” Bhagat also known as the “Maharashtra’s Gaddar” knows what he is talking about. His play Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, has run into a spot of bother with the State. The play which has had 37 stagings in the past two months in Mumbai and Pune has been denied a show in Parbhani Zilla Parishad and likewise in Sangli because of its “provocative content.”

Bhagat says, “We refused to show the script to anyone and went ahead with the show. The response was stupendous. Today, this is the problem with theatre in Maharashtra. Gratuitous art is the norm. Anything other than that means indictment either from the State or from angry demonstrators.”

The play has a simple intent; i.e. to re-claim Chattrapati Shivaji from a militant right-wing mascot to being “a Raja of the Shudras” and highlight his administrative abilities. The musical play directed by Nandu Madhav (who plays Harishchandra in Harishchandrachi Factory) transpires in the here and now. Shivaji is no more and while Yama is escorting his atma back to Swargalok, he goes missing. The musical piece performed by 17 farm workers from Jalna frequently lacks narrative coherence which it makes up with a pastiche of the absurd, and focuses on who owns Shivaji and why. This is a dense biography of Maharashtra’s tallest warrior king and, in spite of the occasional Powada thrown as dramatic device, no historical liaison is left unexplored to its furthest implication.

Bhagat 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.

Unsurprisingly the play has become “a critically acclaimed hit”; and that has muddled the plot.

As Sunil Shanbag, a veteran director who has grappled with all types of theatre censorship says: “Maharashtra is well endowed with methodologies and means to prevent plays that irk the State’s peace of mind.” So on the one hand the Culture Department and its cronies will say the show must go on, come what may. On the other hand there are the permissions and NOCs and clearances from the state office cultural secretary; NOC from BMC after paying venue charges and deposits; BMC show department’s NOC; fire brigade NOC; PWD electrical and stage compliance report; collector Mumbai for entertainment tax clearance after pre-payment of entertainment tax; police station NOC; RTO – NOC; RTO bandobast charges; DCP Zone; Rangbhoomi Permission for script and lyrics; censor board clearance; police station permission in the ward; and 33 other licenses.

The point is, no other state in India is so empowered. This means, the State can declare every single live performance “illegal” on a technicality.

This is the main reason, Maharashtra has witnessed a longish saga of “banned” plays: Keechak Vadh by K. P. Khadilkar, Sakharam Binder and Gidhade by Vijay Tendulkar, Mee Nathuram Boltoyby Pradeep Dalvi, Bedtime Story by Kiran Nagarkar, Yada Kadachit by Santosh Pawar, Avadhya by C. T. Khanolkar, Golpeetha by Suresh Chikhale… The list is endless.

Presently, the play Ek Cahavat Sandhyakaal faces a ban in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) auditoriums because of its vulgar content which is deemed suitable only for men, and not permitted for women. This means exclusive shows for men only audience. Next in line is a ban on plays that depict scenes of tobacco products and gutka consumption. This move has the backing of local parties and the mayor of the city.

For some opaque reason, there’s a cry from certain quarters to include Shivaji Underground… to this list.

None of the rules make sense anymore.

Bad brutality v/s good violence

The shows become chaotic. The performances seem to make no head or tail to ‘we, the people’.

With Kabir Kala Manch’s frequent allusions to democracy’s failures, oppression, and domination of one caste over the other, it was on the State’s radar. When Sheetal Sathe sang about how Ambedkar said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his people should overthrow it, the State started to act. It’s bad brutality v/s good violence justice — that’s the explanation from the civil rights camp.

The State counter-argues, based on a confessional statement under section 164 of the criminal procedure code of how members of the Kabir Kala Manch 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 imprisoned Angela Sontakke and others, rubbing shoulders with revolutionaries and visiting campuses and bastis with “a message in the service of a cause”.

When Deepak Dengle meets us at Sewri Court, his literary inspiration is still not exhausted.

He hands me a poem, Inquilab Chaiye. In the poem he seeks in art a fulfillment that had eluded him in life. The poem is in Hindi and has a rudimentary rhythm. He sings the first mukdha.

Ek moothi baandho reh baandho
Ek moothi baandho re doston
Bas ek mukka chaiye
Aur ek dhakka chaiye
Inquilab chaiye doston

The police battalion gather around Dengle to eavesdrop. They are bemused.

Meanwhile suspected women Maoists sympathisers lodged in Mumbai District Women’s Prison in Byculla are brought to the Sessions Court at Sewri by a posse of policemen and policewoman. These are “the dangerous Maoist sympathisers”: Angela Sontakke, Sushma Ramteke, Anuradha Sonule, Mayuri Bhagat, and Jyoti Chorghe.

They had been arrested in Pune by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in April last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Two of the young girls (one of them is indisposed) talk about their work in Nagpur where they staged plays in colleges and universities including a play on Einstein, the anti-superstition drive, singing songs.

The last play they staged was about Bhagat Singh for their fellow inmates in Byculla Jail. They describe the show and the stage-craft and the response from the jail authorities. This is the same jail where they say they were assaulted in April, and punished with solitary confinement because they chose to highlight the problems in the jail. Their books which included a biography on Mahatma Gandhi and a pamphlet on prison rights were confiscated.

Susan Abraham, legal counselor says: “This is in complete violation of their basic rights as under-trials, and indeed artists.”

But no one is listening.

And in this way the show goes on.

Click here to read a piece about Kabir Kala Manch that appeared in TEHELKA

Click here to sign the petition

This piece is a sincere request for funds to support the legal trials of KKM members plus the families of KKM members. For further information on how to do so, please send an eMail tokkmdefence@gmail.com