4 july 2013
Adv. Kamayani Bali Mahabal
The lady holding the scales of justice wears a blindfold to signify that justice is blind and cares little about the accused person’s status. But in India, when it comes to people’s response to crimes, it seems who you are matters much more than the crime. After the Supreme Court judged that actor Sanjay Dutt, son of yesteryear stars Nargis and Sunil Dutt, and brother of Congress MP Priya Dutt,
would serve a five-year sentence for possessing dangerous weapons, deafening protests followed. A former justice, Bollywood stars, sundry politicians and the media, all rushed in to complain that the sentence was too harsh for a “lovable” man. Most people ignored the gravity of his crime with the argument that he had been punished enough already.
Compare this with the case of Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali. They are currently in prison after they surrendered earlier this week outside Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai. The crime of this married couple: singing songs and holding cultural programmes that send out anti-caste and pro-democracy messages. Moreover, the police have accused the couple, both of whom are post-graduates from Pune University, of having links with Naxalites.Please note, they have not been accused of possessing assault rifles. Yet, the state’s heavy handedness in dealing with such crimes, where one can be held guilty by mere association, is well known.
What is truly tragic is the people’s silence. Sathe and Mali are children of impoverished peasants, who are struggling to change the lives of some of India’s poorest and most deprived people. It would seem that is reason enough to ignore them while seeking clemency for Dutt. The people, sad to say, are blind
Eight months pregnant, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) activist Sheetal Sathe was denied bail by the Mumbai Sessions Court in first week of June . Sheetal, along with her husband Sachin Mali and other members of the cultural group, had come overground in full media glare in April this year after being accused by the Anti- Terror Squad of the Mumbai police of being Naxalites.They had courted arrest voluntarily, and had chosen to face the due process of law. But clearly, this system is faulty. Bail is usually denied when there is a possibility of the accused running away, but in this particular case, since the accused gave themselves up there are no grounds to suggest that they are going to run away.
Through music and poetry, KKM took up the cause of social inequality, exploitation of the underclasses, farmer suicides, female infanticide, Dalit killings and the widening net of corruption. Patwardhan of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, made up of civil society activists, says that Kabir Kala Manch members are at an impressionable age where their ideological thinking is still in process and their work covers a wide spectrum of political ideas such as Ambedkarism, socialism and Marxism .Kabir Kala Manch was formed in Pune in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and made up of students and young professionals who performed protest poetry and plays in slums and streets, shaking up the cultural scene in Pune as they presented a voice for the voiceless. Both Mali’s and Sathe’s academic backgrounds are exemplary; Sathe being a gold medalist and post graduate from Pune University.
The Bombay High Court granted bail to Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, two other members of the KKM who were arrested in 2011 in the same case under the the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, saying that sympathy for an ideology does not incriminate someone. It was that decision that gave Sheetal and Sachin hope for a fair hearing.
The existence of KKM is crucial as they create space for dissent through poetry i and songs that are much more effective than speeches. They are responsible artists who interpret art as a catalyst for social change. Unfortunately, for the State there is no distinction between Dalit protesters and activists and Naxalites.
There has been an increase on the attack on the life and liberty of human rights defenders wherein a large number of people find themselves booked on false charges and inside the Jail without bail being granted to them. Those who are opposing the loot of the country and the people are charged with Sedition Over fifty such draconian laws have been legislated by the Centre and various States such as UAPA, MCOCA and AFSPA.
Defenders of Human rights of this country and abroad came out on the streets to campaign for the release of Dr. Binayak Sen in recent times. However, many more like KKM members and hundreds of innocent adivasis are still suffering in the jails in Chhattisgarh. While the anti-POSCO movement leader Abhay Sahoo is behind bars , he is still being tied up with 51 fabricated cases. The villagers and activists resisting the South Korean multinational giant POSCO for seven long years are facing over 1,500 false cases and many of them cannot move out of their villages even to go to hospitals for treatment. While the leaders of the anti-nuclear movement in Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu) are facing over 200 fabricated cases, similar charges have also been instigated against over 6,000 villagers. The anti-nuclear struggle in Jaitapur (Maharashtra) too is facing similar issues.