A talk at the Malhar Festival, St. Xaviers College, Mumbai
I speak before you today in place of the designated speaker, Sheetal Sathe. It is not that Sheetal Sathe could not come on stage today because she or her baby fell ill. It is not that she had nothing to say. It is not that she was afraid to say what she had to say. And it is not that she did not come because she doubted the sincerity of those who had invited her.
It is precisely because she treasures the love and respect shown to her by the students who had invited her to speak and sing at this year’s Malhar festival that Sheetal Sathe has chosen not to allow the organizers of this festival and all the people gathered here to be exposed to the ugly threats of disruption that have been issued against them in case she spoke and sang here today.
Let it be known far and wide who exactly has issued these threats. These threats have not been issued by a court of law or by the police, or by any instrument of the State or national government. Sheetal Sathe is out on bail precisely because an Indian high court ruled that her liberty did not have to be curtailed while she was undergoing trial to establish her innocence. The court has not taken away her freedom of speech or her right to sing. The court has not sought to officially stifle her voice or the voice of the millions of oppressed and stigmatized people that she sings about.
An extra-constitutional body that threatens the very fabric of our secular democracy has issued this threat. There are many such extra-constitutional bodies that are growing in power today. Such bodies have many names and many duties. Some decide what books the people of India should read. Some decide what films we should see. Some decide what speeches and songs we should hear. There are many self-appointed censors, but make no mistake, they belong to one single family with one single ideology and one set of beliefs. These beliefs have been inculcated from a very young and impressionable age. I will not list all these beliefs except to point out that apart from asserting that the aeroplane and rocket science was invented thousands of years ago in the Vedic era of Brahminism which they call the golden era, it includes an abiding faith in the Manusmriti, an ancient Brahminic law code that deprived Dalits and women of their most basic human rights and permitted untold atrocities upon all those who challenged it.
Today this ideology comes before us in a new disguise of nationalism. It is draped in the flag of India – the very tricolour that it loudly denounced at the time of Independence when its followers insisted on hoisting an orange flag of Hindutva instead. They also refused to sing “Jana Gana Mana” demanding that “Vande Mataram” should be the national anthem. Needless to point out that “Vande Mataram” was penned by Bankim Chandra in his 19th century novel Anandmath, a book that vilified India’s Muslims.
Apart from nationalism there is another even more seductive disguise that has recently fired the lust of India’s elite and middle classes. It is the disguise of “development”. This development lust has trumped even the tricolour for it says “So what if the world’s oil and water is rapidly depleting? So what if there is pollution, global warming and the threat of tsunami and nuclear disaster? Why should we protect India’s air, water, forests, land and ore from the multinationals who wish to grab it?”
They are ready to sell our sovereignty for the short-term gain of a few, as long as they are allowed to make a hologram of the national flag. They then proceed to promote our most primitive, racist and exploitative cultural and economic traditions while making suitable noises about modernity and development.
How do you and I resist? Make no mistake. This is an ideology that brooks no dissent. Today is yet another sad day for India’s democracy. It is a day when an extra Constitutional power backed by a ruling political party has issued a threat against a college run for over a century by Christians. Yes, that is the bottom-line. That is what makes St. Xaviers College and in particular, its principled principal, a specially vulnerable target.
Both Sheetal Sathe and I, on behalf of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC), want to put on record that the only reason that she is not on stage today is not out of fear of those who issued the threat, but out of deep appreciation for the courage and integrity of St. Xaviers College, Mumbai and its dynamic principal, Father Mascerenhas. There are many who criticized Father Mascerenhas for having advised his students to question the model of “development” that the embedded media was foisting upon us during the lead up to the last elections. Amongst these illustrious paper tigers is a nobel laureate whom I will not name.
To his credit, Father Mascerenhas is not a coward. He did not tell Sheetal Sathe not to perform today, but merely warned us of the threat that had been issued against the Malhar festival. Sheetal Sathe and the KKMDC do not wish to jeopardize this festival. But we wish to put on record that we will never be silenced. And we want the public to know who exactly has issued this particular threat. The threat has been issued by the Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad (APVP) the youth wing of a political party that came to power by telling the people of India that it no longer stands for the divisive, communal and casteist politics that it had been associated with in the past.
You may judge for yourselves whether this is the case. It is the second time that the ABVP has attacked the Kabir Kala Manch.
Last year, after Film Institute students in Pune had organized a screening of our film “Jai Bhim Comrade” and the KKM had also performed, the ABVP started abusing the KKM and calling them anti-national “Naxalites”. When FTII students intervened, the ABVP attacked these students with sticks, injuring 5 and hospitalizing one.
You have to understand the real reason why groups like the ABVP hate groups like the KKM. It has nothing to do with nationalism or Naxalism. It is because their visions of India are diametrically opposed. The Kabir Kala Manch believes in a pluralistic India where caste, religion and race is replaced by the recognition that we are all human beings first who deserve justice, peace and true democracy. The ideologues of Hindutva, no matter how big a national flag they wrap around themselves, have always had a completely different agenda.
Thank you. I must be rude and take your leave very soon as Sheetal Sathe’s husband Sachin Mali, along with her colleagues Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor are still in jail and their bail plea is coming up in court today. I know that your best wishes are with us.
Anand Patwardhan, 14 August 2014