SC grants bail to Kabir Kala Manch activists

Mumbai/Pune: A Supreme Court bench, lead by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, granted bail to Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Ghaichor. The three, members of the disbanded Kabir Kala Manch. were picked up from Thane in 2012, accused by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad of purveying ‘objectionable’ literature and aiding and abetting Naxal activities. The Maharashtra government had framed charges against them under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Indian Penal Code.

In 2015, the Bombay High Court had rejected two bail pleas filed on their behalf, saying, “The offences charged against the present applicants are of grievous nature and attract maximum punishment of life imprisonment, definitely balance is required to be struck with considering the applications for bail so as to secure the presence of the applicants during the pendency of the trial.”

Commenting on the SC decision, senior advocate Rebecca John, who appeared for the accused, told The Hindu, “I believe there is no case against them, and the prosecution has deliberately dragged its feet when it comes to the trial. It’s been over four years since they were arrested, and only the first witness of 174 is being examined at the moment. All these factors were taken into account by the apex court while granting bail.” She said that when the bench looked at the record of the case, it came down very heavily on the lackadaisical behaviour of the prosecution, saying that if it was such a serious case, how is that they were taking so long to produce the witnesses. “Although the order is not uploaded, the order does say that you can’t keep people in custody indefinitely even if the charges are serious.”

The decision has been greeted with mixed feelings by their families and fellow activists: relief, but also bitterness about the nature of the Indian legal system and the State’s methods in silencing dissent.

Sheetal Sathe, folk singer and activist, and Mr. Mali’s wife, said, “I would like to express my gratitude for the Supreme Court’s decision and thank the untiring efforts of our lawyers and various progressive outfits, activists and especially the KKM’s Defence Committee. The decision is a resounding victory for freedom of speech and democracy.”

“Their parents have yet to hear the good news. I’ve only managed to get through to Sagar’s younger brother Mayur, who expressed happiness that his brother would finally be returning home,” Rupali Jadhav (30), a KKM activist and performer, told The Hindu, expressing sadness that the long imprisonment has taken away precious years. Mr. Gorkhe’s family has fallen on hard times following his incarceration: his mother Surekha, works as a maid, and father Tatyaram, who has undergone at least two operations and cannot now do heavy work, is a watchman. Ramesh Ghaichor’s parents, Muralidhar and Suman Ghaichor are elated to be able to see their son finally after nearly four years, but, too, wish the bail had come earlier.

“We had full confidence in the Supreme Court’s verdict and are thankful for it,” said KKM activist Deepak Dhengle. “We knew that the police’s claims that they had conclusive proof would not hold up. But at the same time, we expected the bail to have come through much sooner.” Mr. Dhengle said it was disturbing that someone could be arrested and jailed for a long period just for distributing literature.

The KKM, a predominantly Dalit and working class performing troupe formed in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots, had an office near Pune’s Alka Talkies during their heyday between 2008 and 2010. After raids and arrests by the ATS and the Maharashtra police, some members, like Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe, went underground. Mr. Dhengle, who was jailed in 2011 and later released on bail, says, “There came a moment when some people even threw our harmoniums and literature into the river from our office.”

The Manch’s former members are upbeat about beginning anew, travelling across Maharashtra’s villages, performing in slums and using their music to shed light on oppression. “Our spirit is undaunted. Given the present political clime, it is imperative that we at the KKM reorganise and carry forward our work,” said Jyoti Jagtap. Ms. Sathe, who said she and Mr. Mali had left the outfit, said that she too would continue with protest music in her own way.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 2:54:38 PM |

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