8 September: The Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Sagar Goerkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap, members of the Kabir Kala Manch group, in connection with the violent protests of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra state on December 2017, as reported by Scroll.in.
The Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) is a cultural organisation founded by artist Amarnath Chautaliya in response to the 2002 Gujarat riots, which took over 1 thousand lives. Most of the early group members were students and artists from the Maharashtrian working-class, and the group often staged songs, poems and theatre plays that questioned the impunity of perpetrators of anti-Dalit crimes which occurred for several years.
The KKM was one among 250 Dalit and human rights groups responsible for organising the Elgar Parishad event which took place in Pune city on 31 December 2017, a day before violence broke between Dalit and Maratha groups near the village of Koregaon Bhima.
The group members Sagar, Ramesh and Jagtap were arrested under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Penal Code in connection with the violence in Koregaon Bhima – bringing the number of arrests in this case to 15. Out of the 15 arrested, 10 activists have been imprisoned for over two years and have been consistently denied bail, with the NIA arguing that their release would hamper the ongoing investigation.
NIA authorities accused the group of being part of the banned Communist Party of India (of Maoist ideology), and to have undergone explosives and weapons training in Gadchiroli’s jungles as part of a bigger plot to destabilize the government – including a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The investigation against KKM was taken over by the NIA in January, and serious questions have been raised on how evidence was collected against the accused. In fact, days before the arrests, the KKM published a video stating that the agency had asked group members to confess they were linked with the banned Maoist party, and in exchange, they would not be arrested – to which the group blatantly refused.
On an interview for Free Press Journal, Rupali Jadhav, who is also a member of the KKM, said “they want us to confess links we don’t have because one day they will have to apologize for the game they are playing without any evidence”.
Though Article 19(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees that all citizens have the right to “freedom of speech and expression”, the Indian Penal Code contains articles that undermine these same rights, such as those associated with sedition, incitement to enmity and hatred towards religion.
In Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom 2020 report, a quote from Nayantara Sahgal reminds us “the creative imagination cannot take orders from the state, or from the mob”.