Sing the Republic
This January 26, a young fire burnt in Mumbai. It was not the usual patriotic chest-thumping. It was a celebration of resistance and hope
Aritra Bhattacharya Mumbai
It is January 26, when the nation celebrates its coming into being as a republic. But, this time, the ‘public’ in Mumbai has chosen to do something else rather than sing paeans to our hallowed ‘largest democracy’. What is underway is a critique of things as they are. It is harking back to the Constitution and pointing out, through humour, music and poetry, the relentless miscarriage of justice.
Young people are registering their protest against the hounding of Kabir Kala Manch -- public performers who spoke up against caste-class oppression, and highlighted the vacuousness of the discourse of justice and nationhood till they were done in by the State that branded and condemned them as Maoists. They are remembering others too: jailed Dalit activist in Maharashtra, Sudhir Dhawale, and jailed cultural activist from Jharkhand, Jiten Marandi; they are using their memory, to reclaim the right to critique the State.
‘Surjanacha Elgaar (battle cry of the righteous): Bol ke lab azaad hain tere’ is the coming together of many individuals and groups who are concerned about the repression of freedom of expression in ‘corporate India’. There are playwrights, activists, singers, radio jockeys, designers, filmmakers, NGO workers, actors, students: What is visible here is ‘a republic of the youth’.
Except Sambhaji Bhagat. Bhagat is a lokshahir -- a people’s poet with a lifelong record of radical cultural and political activism. “We oldies have created enough noise; we have nothing new to offer. It is the youth who have to take charge now. They will take the struggle forward,” says Bhagat, almost 60.
During rehearsals, he joked, “We will put up a board outside stating that oldies are not allowed.” His guffaw would fill the hall at the Savitribai Phule Stree Sanshodhan Kendra. Through the rehearsals, Bhagat stayed as a binding force, letting the young make all the decisions.
Young people are protesting against the hounding of Kabir Kala Manch -- public performers who spoke up against caste-class oppression till they were condemned as Maoists. They are remembering others too: jailed Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, and jailed cultural activist Jiten Marandi
The group first met on January 8, 2013, at Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar -- also the venue for the Republic Day act. Someone pointed out, “We must ensure that the programme does not send out the signal that anything is acceptable under the freedom of expression. We must find a way to critique regressive, decadent tendencies, like Asaram Bapu saying that the Delhi gangrape victim could have saved herself by addressing the criminals as bhaiyya and pleading for mercy.”
The programme has no lectures, no political speeches, no politicians. Occupying the front row is Sheetal Sathe’s mother. Her eyes well up as the group sings a song penned and composed by Kabir Kala Manch, in which her daughter, Sheetal, was the lead singer and songwriter. Sheetal is underground now. The cops haven’t stopped harassing her mother who lost her job after they branded Sheetal a Maoist.