n 21 August 2013, 25 year-old Kislay stood at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in Pune, waiting for an event he and other Film and Technology Institute of India (FTII) students had spent weeks organising: a screening of Anand Pathwardan's Jai Bheem Comrade, followed by a performance by members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a collective of dalit artists, poets and musicians. Taking place a day after the murder of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dhabolkar, the event also served as homage to his work. Afterwards, however, the event would become famous not for its cultural merit, but for the five students it left injured after an attack by the local wing of the Akhila Bharateeya Vidyatri Parishad (ABVP), Hindu nationalist group RSS' student arm.
The event was attended by nearly 300 people, and as eight student organisers were winding up the venue, Kislay recalls, "Suddenly, four or five [AVBP activists] surrounded two of our friends saying that we were indulging in anti-national activities. We retorted [by] saying that KKM's songs are against caste and superstition, and we empathise with that."
Here things quickly turned ugly, and amidst waving orange flags and shouting slogans including "Down, down Naxals" — the connection between KKM and Naxal movements is often fabricated as a means of attacking the lower caste collective — five students were brutally beaten by twelve ABVP activists, resulting in one young man, Sriram Raju, sustaining significant injuries to his head. Kislay himself suffered wounds to his back and his right leg. Students present recall that Sagar Shinde and a man referred to as Solanki appeared to be at the forefront of the violence.
||Increasingly, ABVP is known to indulge in such incidents, and it has almost become legal for them to attack. — Kislay
Return, for a moment, to Kislay waiting under the afternoon sun. He remembers, "I was approached by a plain-clothes person who started enquiring about the event and who I was. I answered his questions [and learned] he was from the police station. [Then, in turn], I asked for his name, but he refused to give it." During the event, this representative from the police was seen interacting with the ABVP, and Kislay says, "When they attacked us, one of my friends pleaded with this person, saying 'What are you doing, why are you just standing there and doing nothing?' He smirked and left."
The predominance of right-wing hooliganism in Pune city is starkly illustrated through the attitude of the local police. Later, when students went to file an FIR, they were questioned as to why they organised "such events" when they "knew" the ABVP was around. Says Kislay, "Increasingly, ABVP is known to indulge in such incidents, and it has almost become legal for them to attack."
The event also marked the first performance under the Kabir Kala Manch label after over two years, and members of the collective had no part in the violence that took place. However, a counter-FIR registered by the ABVP blaming students for the violence also names Deepak Dengle, a KKM artist who was granted bail only three months ago after being arrested in 2011. Says Vivek Sundara, an activist with the KKM Defence Committee, "We will have to consider in what form and where they can perform in the future...[but] the intention is to not get cowed down by these right wing extremists and stop doing what we feel is right."
A statement released by the FTII Student Council positions the violence as part of a "much larger narrative of the rise of authoritarianism", where the refusal of the State to safeguard freedom of expression allows it to act as a silence accomplice to right wing hooliganism.