Saying no to prison walls

किस किस को कैद करोगे?

लाखों हैं मुक्ति के पंछी, कैद करोगे किसको
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको
इस पिंजरे की सलाखों का लोहा हमने ही निकाला है
ये लोहा पिघलाने हमने अपना खून उबाला है
लोहा लोहे को पहचानेगा, फिर क्या होगा समझो
लेकर पिंजरा उड़ जाएंगे खबर न होगी तुझको

The state does not like Deepak Dengle — the author of these lines. And so, they have kept him in prison, for over a year now.

But prison walls don’t arrest the flow of words. Thoughts of today and tomorrow — the injustice and avarice, the gloss and glimmer, the pointlessness of promises, and the seduction of exposing double-faced agents and stooges come and go, like night and day.

And so, Deepak, all of 28, and in prison on charges of being an alleged Naxalite, keeps up his fight against the system, and cocks a snook at his captors. Quoted above is an extract from “Kis kis ko qaid karogey?”, a poem that he wrote while in prison.

(Full audio and text of the poem)

Deepak is part of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a Pune-based cultural troupe consisting mainly of Dalit youth from the region. Coming together against the communal carnage in Gujarat, they had been singing about various injustices, spanning farmers’ suicides, atrocities on the backward section, violence against women, casteism, Hindu-Muslim riots, terrorism, Naxalism and capitalism. Till the State decided that they were getting too active for comfort — that their political ideology did not have a place in the discourse of our democracy. Their group was outlawed — branded Naxalites; their poetry tarnished with charges of insidiousness and their liberty sacrificed at the altar of ‘preserving internal security’.

Two members of the troupe, Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, were arrested and charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Other members of the troupe including Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali have been underground since. Their story would have remained largely unknown had Anand Patwardhan not made his interactions with members of the group for an integral part of his recent documentary, ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’.

KKM is not the first, and certainly not the last of among cultural troupes and activists that have faced the wrath of the State. Neither are they the only artists who have dared to question the spectre of global capitalism. Look around, and you shall find that there are many artists or groups populating the art market today who masquerade as critics of the capitalist-consumerist order, and make a grand living out it. But they are never at the receiving end of the wrath of the state, or put behind bars.

Of course, one explanation for is that they come from a privileged class that enjoys high visibility in media circles. But could it also be that their work, claim as it does of exposing the injustices of the system, simply fails to reach the ‘public’ that exists outside international art fairs and exhibitions? That their art is simply not radical, despite the claims?

Reflecting on something similar, the Marxist critic, Walter Benjamin remarks that what is important is not the attitude of the work towards the establishment (‘relations of production’), but its position in it. The radical nature of an art work is not to be found in what it says, but how it is produced. ‘A political tendency, however revolutionary it may seem, has a counterrevolutionary function as long as the writer feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in attitudes, but not as a producer’.

Does the threat that groups like KKM pose for the State stem from the fact that they share their solidarity with the subaltern as producers, as opposed to merely having a sympathetic attitude towards them?

Quite possible, though one must keep in mind that identifying with the dispossessed as producers, sharing their lived experience, are choices one makes, perhaps on a daily basis. It is not a given. For the capitalism has an amazing ability to co-opt its critics and addict them to its spoils. So that their art is shorn of its radical character; so that what’s left behind are token expressions of dissent. One only needs to say ‘yes’ once.

For those who wish to know more about Kabir Kala Manch and support their struggle, please visit

For a glimpse of the plethora of fabricated cases piled on political dissenters and activists like KKM, please see

Aritra Bhattacharya works as a Programme Executive at Jnanapravaha Mumbai for survival (and surfeit). He is completing a Masters in Sociology at the University of Mumbai. A journalist by inclination who freelances for publications once in a while, Aritra spends most of his time reading or watching films.

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