Aasaman te rachat
- Kabir Kala Manch members quizzed over ‘Maoist literature’ #WTFnews (kabirkalamanch.wordpress.com)
- ABVP Attacks FTII Students For Inviting Kabir Kala Manch (acrazymindseye.wordpress.com)
Aasaman te rachat
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
“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
Mateen Hafeez, TNN | Apr 21, 2013, 0
Fed up with the continuous letters, jail officials have switched off the fax machine. “We don’t have so much stationery. All letters are almost same, only the senders are different. The fax letters do not show the location or country code, from where they are being sent,” said a source. After Sathe and Mali’s surrender under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), activists Prakash Ambedkar, Prakash Reddy, Anand Patwardhan and others said the two are members of Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural outfit.
“In appearing before the police, KKM members state that this act should not be construed to be a “surrender” but as a form of “satyagraha” to clear their names and establish the fact that their goal is to fight for justice within the confines of democratic conduct,” said a statement signed by Ambedkar, Patwardhan and others.
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.
2013-04-20 , , Issue More by the author >
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.
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.