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Supreme Court frees Maharashtra's Kabir Kala Manch artistes

Artist-activist Sachin Mali has been talking culture and politics since the Supreme Court granted him bail two days ago after almost four years in jail.A cold storage worker, Mali (34) and his wife, poet Sheetal Sathe, were the prominent faces of the Pune-based protest troupe Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), formed out of the post-Godhra churn in 2002.

Arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act alongwith two other KKM artistes Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Ghaichor in 2013, Mali said the charge of being “Maoists” was easy to slap on them..

“We were questioning the government’s economic policies – conditions that led to farmers’ suicides, water issues, inflation — but not like an NGO,” Mali, speaking to HT over the phone, said. “So no political parties liked us. Ultimately they are all upper-caste and upper-class.”

Mali and Sheetal and other members of the KKM sang songs of the poor, to the poor.

Award-winning documentary ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ (2011) by noted filmmaker Anand Patwardhan – a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee – had featured the group’s performances in the film.

Watch Sheetal Sathe sing in Anand Patwardhan’s film Jai Bhim Comrade

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“We sang at slums, at the factory gates; at the village chowk, we staged plays,” said Mali. He said he realised their activities would not just be seen as “art” or “protest art” when he read media reports in 2011 about the arrest of a KKM member and read that they were next on Maharashtra’s Anti-Terror Squad list .

The couple went into hiding for two years, before “surrendering” before the assembly in 2013. Six months pregnant, Sheetal was granted bail. Sachin was not.

With her husband in jail, Sathe sang songs Mali penned in jail and participated at various student movements in JNU and University of Hyderabad, that became the centre of protests in early 2016 after the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. “We have always been anti-caste and progressive,” says Sathe.

No longer with the KKM, Mali and Sathe now have their own culture group. In a book that Mali wrote in jail, Jati Antak Sanskritik Kranti Che Atmavhan (Cultural Revolution for the Annihilation of Caste) says artists should be the vanguard of a new society. “The dominance of any caste is undesirable. The Dalit identity by itself is limiting if we say our goal is the destruction of the caste system,” says Mali.

Source: HindustanTimes