Failure of democracy in Manipur could spell doom for entire country: activist

A Mumbai-based rapper and an alternative jazz duo, wearing garlands, carrying guitars, and accompanied by students and trade unionists — this motley group, which gathered on the lawns of the Patiala House Courts Complex early on Wednesday, attracted questions from the Intelligence Bureau, warranted notes in a police diary and brought in curious bystanders.

The usually laidback morning hours at the court complex were replaced by a “peaceful, non-violent open air jam” to support Irom Sharmila Chanu at her next Delhi trial. It was another matter that, a few hours later, Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain postponed the recording of prosecution evidence in a case against the rights activist to August 30, after Ms. Sharmila could not appear in court.

The piercing sounds of the trumpet in Aditi Veena’s hands announced the beginning of the ‘Musical Jam’ for which invites went out on social networking sites as early as mid-April. With 700 confirmed attendees on Tuesday night, the musicians were slightly taken aback at the initial sparse turnout — 15 persons — at half-past-eight. “We don’t know why we don’t have more people here but we are in need of some enlightenment, some illumination….,” said Mark Aranha, who, along with Aditi, forms the jazz duo Ditty & Mark.

A few songs later and the venue shifted from the garden inside the court complex to the footpath outside the main gate — so the media could take part as well. The venue change also prompted freelance rapper Ashwini Mishra aka ‘A-List’ to render Iron Lady, which he said had been a ‘work-in-progress’ for over a year. “That is right. It is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act… it is time for the people to take the power back…” he rapped, a year after he got back to the art-form after a sabbatical. “My second innings, so to speak, has been much more political,” he said.

The intent was a peaceful satyagraha which was in “no way anti-Army, anti-India or anti-security forces” but one which believed that “human rights is sacred.” But on the footpath outside the courts, the clash of class and language were palpable. “Everything is in English from the lyrics to the placards. How will anyone who walks past know what is going on?” commented a bystander.

It was trade union activist Alok Kumar’s first ‘musical protest,’ which he admitted made him uncomfortable but at the same time opened up new ways of doing things. “We are, in a way, positive about the gathering but this kind of performance has the potential to alienate people,” he observed. “We should be looking at a new form of art which can create a dialogue among people.”

A member of the North-East Forum for International Solidarity, Mr. Kumar felt it was important to understand the art form being presented and make it more context-specific.

“More and more people should know and relate to the issue. Failure of democracy in Manipur could create a condition where democracy can be killed in India.”