Kranti featured music by Makkal Mandram and Kabir Kala Manch, and sessions with filmmaker Anand Patwardhan

Barely a fortnight after Dalit resistance music group Kabir Kala Manch’s first performance in two years made headlines after they were attacked by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a part of the group performed here on Saturday.

“It feels good to perform, to do what we love most — educate young people about caste and social issues,” says Jyoti Raghoba, a 27-year-old clinical psychology student, who lost two years of her student life when she had to “go underground” following a crackdown on the manch. A few members of the group are still in prison, charged under the UAPA for allegedly being part of naxalite groups. “Our song and its message is why we’re here. We’ve used our art to speak up against the State and casteist forces, and we’ll continue to do so,” adds Lakshman Kallada, a key singer.

Their performance is part of a two-day festival ‘Kranti’ that features and celebrates resistance art — be it music, like that of the Manch and Kanchipuram-based group Makkal Mandram, or films by activist and filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. Kabir Kala Manch’s dynamic routine was followed by an energetic percussion-led performance by Makkal Mandram, a Kanchipuram-based group. The latter’s performance drew the audience into the well of the Ravindra Kalakshetra amphitheatre, and had them dancing for a good hour-and-a-half with the group returning for two encores.

State oppression

What the two groups have in common are that both have been at the receiving end of State repression. Meghala, a 28-year-old advocate and percussionist, told The Hindu that her ‘parai’ — a percussion instrument where the diaphragm is made of cows’ skin — was her voice against caste oppression. “It is for this reason that the police, and the State, tried to suppress us. They felt it isn’t respectable to beat the parai, considered the instrument of the untouchable, on stage,” she explains. Also, the very sight of us women, performing and dancing for 45-minute itself is a powerful feminist statement, she says.

Meghala and her group sang songs that were as nuanced as radical. For instance, a lyrical piece they performed spoke about the differences between the ideology of M.K. Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar. Contradictions they sing about include the difference in approach to evil, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘speak/see/hear no evil’ versus B.R. Ambedkar’s missive to speak up and fight against evil. Another verse said that Gandhi’s devotional songs pale in comparison to the radical messages of Ambedkar.

“These differences must be highlighted because the way history has been taught is lopsided. Ambedkar told us that the caste system must be abolished, while Gandhi just renamed the untouchables as Harijans and expected us to move on. There is a need for counter-narratives to this,” she emphasised, adding that her life’s mission is to popularise Ambedkarite thought.

Film and discussion

The second day focussed on films and activism. On Sunday morning, students and film enthusiasts gathered early for an Anand Patwardhan retrospective. Mr. Patwardhan told students that for him taking the film to new and diverse audiences was as important as making the film. His recent film Jai Bhim, comrade was also screened.

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