New Delhi: On 21st September (Saturday), a joint protest against growing ‘State Repression on Cultural Activists’ was organized by a number of cultural, political and student activists of the city under the banner of Daman Virodhi Sanskritik Manch despite heavy rain between 2 pm to 5 pm at Mandi House, the Cultural hub of the national capital. Following is the note circulated by the group. Pictures by POOJA PANT.
Repression of people’s movements and struggles of workers and peasants have intensified across India. A recent manifestation of this is the crackdown on cultural activists and intellectuals – numerous cases of sanctions, physical attacks, incarceration and arbitrary arrests have surfaced in the last few months.
Repression on cultural political activists
Recently, Hem Mishra, well known cultural activist and former student of JNU, was arrested by Maharashtra police on false charges of being a Maoist courier. As per police sources, Hem was arrested in Gadchiroli along with two other youth Pandu Narote and Mahesh Tirki. It is not a coincidence that Gadchiroli is one of the epicentres of so called ‘Operation Green Hunt’, a state and corporate led war that intends to evict the tribals from their land so that multinationals can lay siege to huge mineral deposits. Cultural activists like Hem are a threat to the state because they carry untold stories of horrifying atrocities; forcible eviction, loot, murder and rape, to the outside world and forge solidarity between the people struggling over different issues. In Pune, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) active since 2002 sang songs and poetry and staged street plays on caste oppression, atrocities on Dalits, class inequality and farmer suicides among other issues. In 2011, two of its members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle were branded as Naxalites and arrested under the UAPA. Cases were also filed against other members which forced Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe and three others to go underground. Presently, Sachin Mali, who along with Sheetal Sathe had voluntarily appeared before the court in April, continues to be imprisoned while Sheetal was granted bail. Last month, when FTII students invited KKM to pay homage to Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition activist who had been targeted by Hindu fundamentalist groups and was killed in broad daylight, they were attacked by Sangh affiliated ABVP goons. FTII Students and KKM members were thrashed and were asked to chant praises of Narendra Modi to prove their ‘nationalist credence’. In a similar incident, Kanwal Bharti, an eminent Dalit writer, was arrested for his critical comments on the Uttar Pradesh government last month.
Jiten Marandi, a cultural political activist involved in mass movements in Jharkhand, has been militantly protesting displacement, loot of natural resources and exploitation of the adivasis by the state-corporate nexus in Jharkhand, through his songs. Jiten was arrested on fabricated charges and was awarded death penalty by the sessions court. Jiten was finally released this year but he spent five years in prison, solely for being a political cultural activist. On 30th August 2013, another cultural activist from Jharkhand Utpal Bhaske and anti-displacement activist Ispat Hembram were kidnapped by Jharkhand police. Utpal was in fact travelling from his village to Ranchi to attend the hearing of a previous case. He has been arrested several times and had also faced brutal torture in the police custody for being a member of the revolutionary cultural group led by Jiten Marandi.
Imperialist attack on culture
Repression on cultural activists is not isolated from the broader political events. It is part of the systematic persecution of voices of dissent that have resisted an all-out attack by imperialist forces not only on our livelihood but also on our cultural beliefs and values. The wide reach of television is being used to propagate a deadly cocktail of consumerist ideas and feudal ideologies, particularly catering to regressive dominant caste/brahmanical sensibilities. This is in tandem with the celebration of archaic elements like astrology and mythology to divert attention from the excesses of feudal and capitalist exploitation. The loot of economic resources then gains its power and legitimacy precisely from the new cultural and social forms generated by the caste biased-corporate media.
While the corporate media increasingly sensationalizes issues of violation of ‘freedom of speech’ of celebrities and privileged writers, it intentionally ignores the suppression of the cultural freedom of anti-establishment and radical artists. But the issue at hand is not just of an assault on freedom of speech and creative expression. These are people’s artists who are engaged in a life and death struggle to expose the anti-people policies of the state. We must strive to secure the right of cultural and political activists to sing, perform and produce revolutionary cultural forms. We believe that cultural activity is not separate from political action. Neither is it merely a front to political resistance. It plays a very specific role in the people’s movements, in unmasking structural exploitation, to protect which state terror is being daily waged. It speaks to and is one with the aspirations and struggles of the toiling and struggling masses.
We invite cultural-political groups, students, teachers, workers, pro-people intellectuals to join the public meeting to express their solidarity with incarcerated cultural activists and people’s struggles.
On behalf of Daman Virodhi Sanskritik Manch,
Revolutionary Cultural Front, Paltan, Viplav Sanskritik Manch, Jan Rang, Jan Sanskriti Manch, Sanhati Delhi