On April 11, Justice A.R. Joshi of the High Court of Bombay delivered a verbal order in the matter relating to the bail application of three cultural activists (poets and singers) of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). Shockingly Justice Joshi rejected the bail appeal of Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor.
It may be recalled that the KKM, a Dalit and working class group, was forced to go into hiding in 2011 after two of their members were arrested and tortured by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) and charged with collaborating with Naxalites. In 2012 after a film highlighting their music was released and a KKM Defence Committee was formed, the KKM began to feel that there was civil society support for their work. When in January 2013 Justice Thipsay of the Bombay High Court granted bail to the two arrested KKM activists (Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle) it gave courage to the other KKM members who due to police repression were living in hiding. Finally Sheetal Sathe , Sachin Mali, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor decided to submit themselves to the due process of law. They did a peaceful Satyagraha by singing songs outside the State Assembly and were duly arrested. While Sheetal was granted bail in July 2013, Sachin, Sagar and Ramesh have remained in jail for a year.
Interestingly the charges against Sheetal are exactly the same as those against the three who were denied bail today. Their crime ? Writing and singing songs against poverty, inequality, gender injustice, environmental degradation, corruption, superstition. They voluntarily submitted to the due process of law and showed faith in democracy. Even the ATS has not charged them with committing violence or possessing weapons or contraband. Their weapons are only their passionate songs pleading for justice.
Today as the country is caught in the throes of an election where communal violence and rhetoric have become the norm, the sane and rational voices of Sachin, Sagar and Ramesh must multiply rather than be unjustly locked behind bars.
Note: The written order in this case is not yet available but the brief oral order read by Justice Joshi while rejecting the bail plea was merely that these applicants are charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), as if that in itself is tantamount to guilt! One wonders if the learned bench is trying to say that it is useless for anyone charged under UAPA to try to get justice in court.
Advocates Mihir Desai and Vijay Hiremath who appeared pro bono for the KKM put up a lucid and passionate defence stressing that their clients were young persons who had already lost years of their life in hiding and in jail merely for the crime of being poor and singing songs for justice.
The KKM Defence Committee will now approach the Supreme Court of India.