by the Democratic Student Union, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 6 April 2013
Stand in solidarity with the members of Kabir Kala Manch! Resist the branding, persecution and witch-hunt of people’s artists and activists!
The disgust grows in the belly, the untouchable disgust
It’s there in the flower buds, it’s there in sweet songs
That a man should drink another man’s blood,
This is the land where this happens
This is the land of hellish nausea
– Excerpt from a song written by Sheetal Sathe
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
– From Deepak Dengle’s poem ‘Kis Kis Ko Kaid Karoge’ penned by him in jail
Three days back, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) courted arrest outside the Vidhan Sabha Bhavan in Bombay. In May 2011, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had arrested two of KKM members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhosle and charged them under various sections of the draconian UAPA. The charges against them were that they were Maoists who spreading issues of caste oppression and social and economic inequality. For the last two years, all that the prosecution could present in the court as evidence to prove its claims were some books and the fact that KKM highlighted the wrongs present in society and the need to change it through their songs, plays and music. This witch-hunt that the state subjected KKM to so as to prevent them for performing and taking its message to the people forced its other members to go into hiding, and the state had declared them as ‘absconders’ since. This witch-hunt by the state of Kabir Kala Manch singers, a group of young Amberdkarite singers, faced a determined opposition from the progressive and democratic sections and eventually forced the court to grant bail to its arrested members. In a landmark judgement, the Maharashtra High Court observed that highlighting issues of social and economic inequality, far from being a crime, is commendable. Questioning the logic that leads anyone raising issues of social inequality and caste oppression being branded a Maoist, the judgement interestingly observed that such a reasoning “would indicate that these issues, which are real and important, are not addressed to by anyone else, except the CPI-Maoist” and all “the other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems faced by the society!” While courting arrest on Tuesday, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali have made it clear that this should not be perceived as ‘surrender’ and all they expect is a fair trial without they being subject to any torture and physical abuse.
Kabir Kala Manch is a radical Ambedkarite cultural organisation formed in 2002 that looks at art and music as an active agent of change. In various parts of Maharashtra, it spread the message of annihilating caste, providing land to the tiller and issues of structural violence and social inequity through their music – all issues well within the constitutional ambit. However, just like a large section of rights guaranteed by the constitution none of these have ever become a reality for the struggling masses of this country, and thus KKM pointed out that this can only be achieved through revolution. The group also questioned the appropriation and the hollow canonization of Ambedkar by the various parliamentary parties for their vested interests, and stressed the need to imbibe and apply his radical ideas in the struggle for justice and dignity. Parliamentary parties and cultural groups affiliated to them uses the fact – that the constitution was penned by Ambedkar – in order to blunt the anger of the people against the system. KKM however candidly pointed out that Ambedkar himself had observed that he would be the first one to burn it down if it failed to give justice to the dalits and the other oppressed people. KKM emphasised the need to bring together the radical ideas of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh to fight the oppression inherent in the society today.
The issues KKM highlighted – of caste and feudal oppression, and socio-economic inequity – are issues that the Indian state wants to silence and blanket out of public purview. The state of Maharashtra has seen vibrant movements ever since the transfer of power against the grotesque reality of caste oppression. The Indian state has done its best to divert the attention of the dalit masses away from questioning the very roots of caste oppression. This it has done either through offering some crumbs to a section of self-seeking dalit leadership and co-opting them in the rat race of parliamentary politics or by creating schisms, splits and confusions amongst groups like the Dalit Panthers that broke away from the established leadership. None of the parliamentary parties have worked towards realizing the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar of annihilating caste. Rather, committed to an inherently Brahmanical and feudal social order, all of them have been complicit in perpetrating caste massacres and oppression. There is not a single day that passes without atrocities on dalits in some part of the country or another. But in spite of the all the crafty manoeuvres of the Indian state, the anger of the dalits against this systemic oppression has erupted time and again. The militant protests after the firing in the Ramabhai Colony in Mumbai which forced many of parliamentary leaders to flee or the spirited protests all over Maharashtra and other parts of the country against the brutal murder of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange’s family in Khairlanji in 2006 reflect the rage of the dalit masses against this casteist-communal state. This anger, even in these dark times, serves as a hope to all who are committed to the vision of the annihilating caste. KKM merely gave a voice and expression to this outrage of the oppressed, and was in turn hounded for this ‘crime’. However, what KKM lent their voice to, was not merely oppression that this communal-casteist state carries on, but also the fight for justice and dignity that the people are carrying on in spite of great odds and difficulties. The arrest and witch-hunt of the members of the KKM only reflects the mortal fear and the growing schizophrenia of the Indian state as it faces the wrath of the oppressed. DSU stands in complete solidarity with Kabir Kala Manch and appeals to all progressive and democratic sections to come together to ensure the immediate release of Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali as well as complete acquittal of the rest of its members so that they can resume taking their message to the people through their songs and music.