India: Artists protest against state-sponsored censorship

13 May 2013

A protest march demanded that the Bombay High court immediately release of members of the cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch.

Published on on 8 May 2013.

On 2 May 2013, artists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, students, cultural activists and actors from theatre groups marched in protest from Sriram Centre to Maharashtra Sadan in Mumbai demanding that the Bombay High court immediately release the Kabir Kala Manch artists and drop all charges against them.

Deepak Dengle of the Kabir Kala Manch was arrested by the Anti-Terrorist Squad in 2011, accused of being Naxalite or Maoist operatives — militant communist groups operating in different parts of India. As the police began a witch-hunt, Kabir Kala Manch went underground. Poet Sachin Mali and singer Sheetal Sathe from the group later ‘surrendered’ on 2 April 2013 and were arrested.

The couple claimed that they did not have any links with Naxals and had been booked by the Anti Terrorism Squad for singing protest songs against the government.

Anand Patwardhan, who made the documentary film about the group, ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ which won several awards, wrote in the Hindu on 4 May 2013:

“I see them as fiery idealists who are fighting to make our society just and equitable. Does that distinguish them from Naxalites? The Anti Terrorism Squad seems confused.

To me, the distinction lies in the fact that the only weapon Sachin and Sheetal fight with, is their poetry and song. Even if the worst were concluded — that Kabir Kala Manch made contact with a banned organisation — what bewilders me is what the State actually 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, waiting to see what develops. What is the message the State is sending? That it prefers to brand them forever as Naxalites and push them into the forest rather than allow them safe passage? Neither Sheetal nor Sachin is accused of any violence.”

Newsclick published the following article on 8 May 2013 under the headline:
March in Protest Against State-sponsored Censorship on Art and Activism

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 the Indian 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 2 April 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 2 May, 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.

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 five-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 of 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.

Google News – continuously updated:
Search: Kabir Kala Manch (KKM)

The Hindu – 4 May 2013:
Democracy needs their song
They use poetry and song to fight for a just society but the state brands them Naxalites. Anand Patwardhan on the ongoing saga of the Kabir Kala Manch.

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