• Rahul Garg

Artists in Rebellion


In a developing and diverse country like India, conveying the message of social welfare through cultural activities is both important and efficient. A great example of this is Kabir Kala Manch. Kabir Kala Manch uses art to denounce injustice, mobilise the oppressed, prepare them for struggle, in order to bring about positive change. Kabir Kala Manch with its asset of engaging entertainment brings forth sensitive issues of the society such as farmers suicides, backward class atrocities, violence against women, casteism, Hindu-Muslim riots, terrorism, students issues, regional issues etc. Kabir Kala Manch envisages strengthening the democratic foundation of India by reminding everyone of Justice, Freedom and Equality through its art. The organisation uses songs, poetry, nukkad-natak and many other means to spread awareness.

It was established in the backdrop of the 1992 Gujarat riots, by Amarnath Chautaliya in Pune, Maharashtra. Various like-minded artists were anguished to see the unfortunate state of India’s democratic fabric and joined hands to fight against communalism, hate speech and the politics of hooliganism. Named after Kabir, the famous poet of Hindi literature, who opposed orthodoxy and slavery of mind through his ‘dohas’, this organisation is joined by many university professors and students working towards the same goal. Sagar Gorkha, who is a member of this Manch, says in this context, “People like Kabir, Pablo Picasso and others who used their art for bringing in revolutionary changes are our ideals.”

It is a well-acknowledged fact that information and awareness are best expressed in a creative fashion. The society at large is more receptive to the lighthearted and straightforward medium of entertainment than the lacklustre and mundane words in a book. Even debates between two parties is not an effective manner; it does not bring about any change in society. The urgent whim of competition and superimposing one sects’ interests over another, fails the idea of creating change. Therefore, I believe art is the only supreme measure to clear the conscience of society, at large.

Unfortunately, the artist is always attacked for its rebellion, and there’s no escape even for Kabir Kala Manch. In recent years, its members and the organisation itself, has come under several attacks from the government for harming the peaceful setup of the society.

Sheetal Sathe is a folk singer, poet, and Dalit rights activist from Pune, Maharashtra. She is also one of the lead singers of Kabir Kala Manch. Many activists including Deepak Dengle, Siddharth, Sagar Gorkha, Ramesh Ghaichor, Sheetal Sathe and her husband, Sachin Mali, who is also a member of the KKM, were arrested under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the Maharashtra government for encouraging and spreading Maoist or Naxalite ideology. They are being attacked, especially because their agenda includes the upliftment of the Dalit community and other minorities, which the establishment sees as an attack on their interests. Out of fifteen, seven members of the KKM were arrested in 2010 by the Anti-Terrorism Squad. Sathe, Mali and six others had gone underground. In 2011, Sheetal Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali emerged from hiding. They maintained that they were innocent, but they nonetheless were arrested while Sheetal was pregnant. Deepak Dengle and Siddharth, two members of KKM, were granted bail by the Bombay High Court on April 2, 2013. But Sheetal, who was pregnant, along with her husband, were denied bail immediately. She was finally granted bail by the Bombay High Court on June 28, 2013, on humanitarian grounds. On January 3 2017, the remaining arrested members of the group — Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkha and Ramesh Ghaichor — were granted bail by the Supreme Court of India.

But the matter did not settle down here. In Previous year, i.e. September 7, 2020, Gaichor and his Kabir Kala Manch colleague Sagar Gorkha were arrested by the National Investigation Agency again in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence. The next day, Jyoti Jagtap, member of KKM, was taken into the custody of NIA. Both of them say in their favour, “Two days before arresting, these vocalists of KKM, Sagar Gorkha and Ramesh Gaichor had alleged, in a Facebook video, that the NIA was forcing them to give statements to implicate those arrested in the case. They alleged that during interrogation, they were threatened with arrest if they did not agree to be witnesses.” The National Testing Agency(NIA) concluded that they had sung songs in which they criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several government policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The NIA produced translations of these songs in court, which encouraged people to drink cow urine. The NIA used these translations as proof of violent activities and conspiracies of KKM.

It is sad to see that the state has become so insecure that it can no longer tolerate humour, satire as a creative form of freedom of expression and critique. Every creative sceptic is a potential terrorist, in the eyes of the ruling lords. We must keep in mind that an attack on KKM is not merely an attack on leftist ideologues, but a massive crackdown on the Dalit and human rights activism in the nation. Organisations which are anti-status-quo are always easy targets in the wake of totalitarianism.

Anand Patwardhan, who is an Indian documentary filmmaker known for his socio-political, human rights-oriented films, also made a film “Jai Bhim Comrade” based on the activities of Kabir Kala Manch and the 1997 killings by the police in Ramabai Nagar, Mumbai. It took him 14 years to make this 200-minute film which was released on the ninth day of January 2011. When a reporter asked the reason for this, he said, “I wanted to continue filming till all the false cases against the people in the colony were removed, or until the police officers who had ordered the firing were sent to jail,”

When asked about the purpose of the film, he said, “That’s when I realised that I have to start showing this film. I want this country to understand who these singers and poets are so that people like Sheetal can come out in the open again and prove that they hadn’t done anything wrong, anything more than speak up for the powerless.”

After reading this incident it can be concluded that opposing the government and social evils is to become a terrorist. If an attempt is made to expose the failures of the government, then the opponent is a terrorist and jail is the right place for that. A society which considers the government supreme over the constitution will be catastrophic and regressive.

By Rahul Garg rahul.garg.18182112@gmail.com

The featured image first appeared on the Kabir Kala Manch Facebook Page.

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