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Of oppressed artists & unheard voices
BHANUJ KAPPAL  2nd Feb 2013

A dance performance choreographed by Mishti Bawar, set to Kabir Kala Manch songs | Photo: Shalaka Pai

he price for truth in Chattisgarh/ stones in her [Soni Sori's] rectum and vagina/ the reward for her torture/ gallantry award for SP Ankit Garg," read one of the posters at Ambedkar Bhavan, the venue for 'Srujanacha Algaar – A Crusade For Creativity'. The five hour long cultural protest marked India's 63rd Republic Day by highlighting how state and non-state actors are undermining our constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The alleged custodial rape and torture of adivasi teacher and activist Soni Sori, whom the police accuse of being a Maoist supporter, is only one of many such incidents.

Organised by revolutionary poet and singer Sambhaji Bhagat in collaboration with a host of Left, Dalit and independent cultural activists, Srujanacha Algaar featured poetry, skits, dance and music performances that spanned many different genres and languages — ranging from Marathi folk to Hindi rock and English rap. The organisers hoped to bring to light the Indian state's repression of political and cultural activists.

"Our aim is that on the 26th of January, freedom of speech and expression should reach all the people," says cultural activist Sandesh Gaikwad. "People should know the actual message of Republic Day, what happened on this day and why we're celebrating it."

Marathi folk performer and activist Dhammarakshit Randive adds: "We felt that the right to freedom of speech and expression only exists for those who are in power. The system tells you what to say, you shouldn't say what the system doesn't like. We are artists who feel uncomfortable and scared. What if somebody gets angry with us? Will they brand us as Naxalites or terrorists as well? Will they ban us too?"

Randive is referring to Pune based Dalit cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch, who were driven underground last year after the police arrested two of their members for alleged Naxal links. Randive is not the only one at the event affected by the Maharashtra Police's persecution of Kabir Kala Manch. Many of the performers at the event expressed support for the group and sang or danced to their songs. Sandhya Sathe, mother of KKM member Sheetal Sathe, was present at the event along with documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan and other members of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, which also helped organize the event.

We are artists who feel uncomfortable and scared. What if somebody gets angry with us? Will they brand us as Naxalites or terrorists as well? Will they ban us too? — Dhammarakshit Randive

Gaikwad says: "Their [KKM] work was to go from home to home and make people aware of the political situation in the country. Are we not allowed to speak? Are we not allowed to comment on anything? This is our right and we'll pay any price to defend it."

The performances also included a number of excellent Marathi short plays on issues of social justice such as the effect of globalisation on India's tribal population and the hypocrisy of society's attitude towards women. Kabir Shakya of Dhamma Wings introduced the audience to Ambedkarite hip hop, while rappers Ashwini Mishra and Manmeet Kaur performed well received songs on Internet censorship and the negative influence of Yo Yo Honey Singh respectively. Lek-Ladki Abhiyaan, a musical troupe from Satara, performed ballads by Left wing writer and musical icon icon Amar Sheikh, and the programme ended with a screening of some scenes from Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan's documentary on Dalit protest music.

After the event, as the audience and performers got ready to leave for home, activist and human rights lawyer Kamayani Bali Mahabal pointed out the importance of taking such a public stand on Republic Day. She says: "Today the President of India gave an award for meritorious service to [SRP] Kalluri, Inspector General of Police Chhattisgarh, who has been accused of raping a tribal woman and who first alleged that Soni Sori's nephew and adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodupi was a Maoist. We're rewarding a person like that. What sort of democracy or republic are we living in?"

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