I had an elaborate post as a follow-up to the previous one. But events that have unfolded in Pune in the past few days have compelled me to write this one instead.
Kranti is being set up by a core team that is based in Bangalore and Mysore. We reach out to students in different cities and hope for the germ of the idea to develop. The idea is to reclaim the culture of dissent. Movie screenings and street plays have been chosen methods. In Pune though, our friends at FTII went a step further. Not only did they organize the screening of Anand Patwardhan’s powerful tale about Dalit politics, Jai Bhim Comrade, they followed this up with a music performance by the Kabir Kala Manch. This event was organized on the 21st of August, on the day after the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar in Pune.
The Kabir Kala Manch is a cultural troupe that considers both Marx and Ambedkar as their inspiration. Singers and poets who form part of this group sing songs on caste atrocities, communalism, female rights and other social issues. Accused of being the cultural front of Maoists in India, they have faced trial, prison and more. Earlier this year, some of those arrested were released on bail, while some others have not been so fortunate. The performance on the 21st was their first in two years. The Kabir Kala Manch has been made so untouchable, that there is fear in being associated with them. FTII students however wished to give them a platform and were prepared to face the consequences. Yet, what they had to face was shocking. ABVP activists used this event as an excuse to spread their brand of violence and terror. Five students of the FTII were attacked by twelve ABVP members, at the close of the event. Not saying Jai Narendra Modi is apparently sufficient to be called a naxal these days.
In the aftermath of the attack, the FTII Students Association started planning a response to this – culturally, legally and politically. They filed an FIR, set to work on a rally to condemn the attack, and sent out statements to media spaces and organisations. Solidarity has come pouring in, said our friends at FTII. From phone calls which assured them that they were not alone, to rallies in other cities on their behalf, to online campaigns in condemnation of the incident, a moment of great beauty was created in the midst of this chaos. The Kranti team also reached Pune in solidarity, to help with what little we could. In the discussion that ensued with the team leading the campaign at FTII, it became clear that their rage was not merely at this attack. It was also not limited to the condemnation of the attack on their free expression. They wanted to make a larger political statement against growing right-wing fascist forces in India that have gone largely unchallenged. And they were not scared of saying this.
And that truly is the important and lasting message that this moment must drive home. Countless instances of mindless violence have shocked us time and again. Intolerance towards movies that question caste, art that redefines our gods, women who assert their individuality or people who transgress religious boundaries are all reflective of a deeper social trend in the country. Of a growing right-wing ideology which not only believes in its righteousness, but also asserts it violently. It is an ideology that is flourishing in Indian electoral politics as much as it is in our social fabric.
The response to such fascism is not to tolerate it as an inevitable outcome of a degenerate time, or to excuse it in the name of a weak opposition. The response to it is to challenge it, head-on, lest we be guilty of complicity. And the FTII Students Association did just that. They planned to take out a rally on the 26th starting from their college and ending at the Omkareshwar Bridge (where Dr. Dabholkar had been assassinated). And since they are students of art, they wanted to make this a beautiful protest with street theatre and songs and posters with art on them. They learnt old songs like le mashale chal pade hai, hum log hai aise deewane,tu zinda hai and made new ones to fit the occasion. The spirit of rebellion on campus in the run up to the rally was truly heady.
But on the eve of the rally, the students received a letter from the local police station denying them permission to take out the rally. Section 37 of the Bombay Police Act which empowers the police to maintain public order was cited. In fact, the students were informed that there was a threat of another attack on them. This is a similar letter some of us had received almost a year ago when organizing a slutwalk in Bangalore – the fear of attack, means no permission to expression. Such a threat must mean more protection, and not a direction to be afraid, argued the FTII students. Instead of buckling under the fear created by this response of the police, they decided to continue with the rally, even if it were “illegal”. I cannot stress this enough, but this is a decision that must make students of this country very proud, for it is not every day that you come by students who are willing to stake their safety for the sake of their ideals. Some of these students already have an FIR filed against them by the ABVP after being attacked, and they were still prepared to go on the rally.
On the morning of the 26th, the students called a press meet in which they declared their intention to continue with the rally, despite even the commissioner of police not permitting it. At 4 PM, students from FTII stepped out of their gates, ready to face consequences but cautious all the same. One of the organisers told me thereafter that when they saw over 200 students from other colleges waiting outside the gates to join them, any fear they had melted away. They were going to do this. If there was no permission to walk the street, they’d sing and dance and act and speak outside FTII itself. There were enough police vans to bundle them all up and take them into police custody, but the students did not buckle. In a gesture of solidarity, one which I hope to see replicated more often, Mukta Manohar of the Pune Corporation Workers’ Union spoke with the commissioner of police and ensured that the students finally had the permission to walk to their destination. The director of FTII also joined his students as they walked silently, in what turned out to be a peaceful rally.
The audacity to defy law comes not from the disrespect towards it but from a deeper obligation towards that which is just. A romantic idealism no doubt, but a strong and necessary weapon against intolerance all the same. Students in Delhi, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad also organized events in solidarity. And this is only the beginning. Consolidating these efforts in the time to come is an urgent task for all of us who wish to oppose growing fascist tendencies in the right-wing. Through our art, our words, our politics, our work and our everyday interactions with the people and structures around us, we have the power to form a terribly necessary counter-movement to such intolerance.
Kranti’s bigger events are round the corner, and the moment could not have been more momentous for them. Our culture is our politics, and to use that as our weapon is our strategy. On the 7th of September we host Kabir Kala Manch, Sambhaji Bhagat and Makkal Mandram for an evening of protest music. On the 8th, we have an interesting event we call Reel Revolution with two diverse artists – Anand Patwardhan and Delhi Sultanate. While Mr. Patwardhan will do a retrospective of his work and explain his evolution as a political film maker, Delhi Sultanate will present the Word Sound Power project. This is a project that is chic and political all at once, where dancehall and Bant Sing and tribal music from Odisha all coming together. Come join us if you are in Bangalore, or watch it online if you are not. Reclaim the right to dissent, FTII style – bravely, madly.
Sahana is a graduate of NLSIU, Class of '13. She will soon be joining the chambers of Jawahar Raja and Rajat Kumar to practice in Delhi. The event on the 7th of September shall be held at Ravindra Kalakshetra and starts at 4 PM. The one on the 8th of Setptember shall be held in the Mt. Carmel Auditorium and starts at 10 AM. You can visit this Facebook page for more details or write in at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the organisers at +919886453418.