The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognizance of a complaint filed by the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC) concerning the case under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against members of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). After the complaint was made the NHRC took up the matter on 09/04/2013, where it issued directions to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai to send a report within four weeks. There were subsequent extensions to this time, but on 26/07/2013, the final four weeks were given to the Commissioner to make his submissions, failing which NHRC’s powers under the Human Rights Act would kick in. The Additional Commissioner of Police has now made a representation claiming that the KKM had links with a banned CPI (Maoist) party to which the KKMDC has replied point by point stating that the KKM is a cultural organisation which through its songs, poetry, drama and street plays brings awareness amongst people about various social issues. There is nothing wrong or criminal about the activities of KKM and the case against them is false and fabricated.
It may be recalled that the KKM, a Dalit cultural troupe that wrote and sang songs against atrocities on Dalits and the working class, was forced to go underground after the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) began harassing them as potential “Naxalites”. In 2011, after KKM’s Deepak Dengle was arrested and tortured, the rest of the group went into hiding. Ironically, around this period a documentary film “Jai Bhim Comrade” which in part highlighted the music and words of the KKM, went on to win both national and Maharashtra government awards. Soon a KKM Defence Committee was formed and as civil society showed its support, members of the KKM who were in hiding began to kindle new hope in the democratic process. This hope increased following a ruling by the Bombay High Court granting bail to Deepak Dengle of KKM. Eventually between April and May 2013 members of KKM came overground, did a non-violent Satyagraha by singing songs in front of the State Assembly and were duly arrested by the ATS.
Two months later Sheetal Sathe of the KKM was released on bail. However subsequent bail proceedings against the remaining members of KKM, Sachin Mali (Sheetal’s husband), Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor, have dragged on for almost a year. Considering that the charges against those who have been granted bail are not substantially different from those who have been denied bail by the Sessions Court at Mumbai, and the fact that all KKM members who are presently in jail voluntarily gave themselves up, there is no excuse for this long denial of bail. Normally bail is denied only to people who may escape the trial process or may tamper with the evidence and the witnesses. In the case of people who have voluntarily come forward to face trial, this denial of bail seems discriminatory and unlawful.