Last week the award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist Anand Patwardhan, along with Ratna Pathak Shah, Sudhakar Suradkar and Prakash Reddy launched a defence committee for Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural performance group that had been spreading awareness in India on many issues including women’s rights, caste oppression and development inequality.
The group is featured in Patwardhan’s magnum opus, Jai Bhim Comrade, a three-hour documentary that explores the politics of caste hierarchy and champions the resistance of the Dalits (or “untouchables”) with an incredible depth and ferocity only found in the dedicated and skilful work of Patwardhan’s caliber. Watching members of KKM perform in the film (featured in a clip above), I was taken by their courage, dedication and positivity. Their creative light shines bright considering the cynicism, discrimination and violence they face in a country where many have privileges based on an arcane system of inequity that, declarations of illegality aside, allows extreme oppression to continue based on arbitrary birth right.
Patwardhan’s (pictured above) film interrogates the intricate and complicated (especially to someone unfamiliar with Indian social reality, as I am) histories and stories that have played out and continue to play out as a web of social, political and cultural struggle and expression. For their part the Dalits have a rich history of deploying art in the face of discrimination, and KKM is made up of poets, singers, dancers and others. It is precisely the deployment of their art as a political tool (and weapon) that has led the state to unjustly label the group “Maoist,” which in this context is akin to “terrorist.”
Patwardhan finished Jai Bhim Comrade earlier than he had liked, because he was hoping that he could include news of the members of KKM being freed from prison and emerging from hiding. But no such news has come, and two members are currently incarcerated in a Mumbai prison while the rest of the group remains underground, for fear of imprisonment as well.
Art Threat has covered other stories of state-sponsored oppression against artists, including posts about Russia’s Voina and China’s Ai Weiwei. Kabir Kala Manch is our newest advocacy focus, and with this story receiving little-to-no media exposure outside of India we encourage our readers to learn more about their case and the defence campaign at the KKM Defence Committee blog, watch the video of the press release below, and visit the Facebook page built for the same purposes.
Widespread international exposure and awareness of the persecution of political artists, combined in solidarity with those working on the ground like Patwardhan and others, can lead to real tangible change. Kabir Kala Manch are a group of talented young artists who have dedicated their energies to fighting oppression in India and now they are suffering at the oppressive hands of those in power. Inaction, ignorance and apathy in countries outside of India compounds the barriers they face in their struggle for justice. Sangharsh!