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Freedom of the Arts

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[This open letter, originally written in Marathi, is particularly addressed to artists in Maharashtra.]

I write this letter because I am worried about two recent events in Mumbai and Pune. I think these events should worry anyone. Besides, these events are related to theatre and theatre people. That is why I feel compelled to write to all of you who are associated with art. Also, I hope to know your thoughts on this. The said events transpired in the month of August and so far not much has been said on this in the way of discussion or otherwise.

From 9 to 11 August 2019, the Delhi-based group Jan Natya Manch (Janam) had come to Mumbai with its play Tathagat, a small 45 minute play. It is a street play, but the presenters also perform it in closed auditoriums. It was performed over three days at eight venues across Mumbai. On 10 August, the play was staged at the Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar. The police arrived at the venue and made inquiries about the play. No one made much of this. But, the next day in Andheri, at the Harkat Studio, two Crime Investigation Department (CID) cops from the Versova police station landed at the small auditorium and started taking photographs of the set. After this, they started making enquiries about Sudhanva Deshpande, the leader of the theatre group. Then, they enquired about the nature of the play. Following this, they questioned the manager of Harkat Studio and asked him why he had permitted such a performance at his venue. Further, they took photographs of the people lined up to attend the show. When the play began, within 5–7 minutes into the play, they barged into the auditorium and stationed themselves 4–5 feet from the stage, stood at the exit door throughout the entire performance. Then after the play was over they left.

The second event happened at a hotel in Pune in the early hours of 15 August, rather just after midnight. The Mumbai-based theatre group, Qissa Kothi, formed three years ago, was taking its Hindi play Romeo Ravidas aur Juliet Devi to Pune. After its show at the Lalit Kala Kendra, Pune University, the five-member group returned to Kamini Hotel, Chinchwad. At 2:30 am a police party comprising two cops raided their room. Their first line of questioning was: “Who among you is Yash Khan? How did he get here?” They identified Khan and searched the young man. They also examined his identity document. They questioned the two other men staying with him in the room and the two women in the other room. They wished to know how his four colleagues knew Khan and the nature of their relationship with him. They searched the two hotel rooms thoroughly, going through all the play material and paraphernalia. Then, they left. They had no warrant to conduct such a search. Apparently, this search was a part of the general security scan for Independence Day. But, if that was the case why were the rest of the rooms not checked or the other guests in the hotel questioned? There is no answer. This means that the police had been intimated of the security risks specifically posed by one Yash Khan. Who informed the police and what came out of this operation? There is no answer. An ordinary youngster who manages the backstage operations of a small theatre group and his family will, however, forever live in terror. I feel that this has also instilled terror in the minds of all theatre people. I also believe all this has been systematically carried out by the administration.

Today, most people seem to believe that all is well. There is no need to raise a hue and cry over such trifling matters. We find people who try to raise their voices against such things annoying. The art scene is free. No one has been banned. No one is being terrorised. We firmly believe this. (We have forgotten that two major thinker-activists of Maharashtra—who were writers—have been murdered.) To even utter such negativity is to create hurdles in the process of national progress.

Against this background, do you find the above events worrying? Do you think it is prudent to say that these, after all, are not related to Marathi theatre, so why bother? One of the two groups mentioned above is leftist. (Founded by the colleagues of popular theatre person Safdar Hashmi who was slain during the Congress era; Moloyashree Hashmi, his wife is Janam’s secretary and leader.) In the other group, one of their team members is Muslim. Is it offensive to be Muslim or to be ideologically left of centre? Should it be a crime to be ideologically opposed to the people in power? Without any direct orders or due process, do you think it is okay for the police to barge in, raid and search as they wish? Will you publicly oppose these events? Will you support those who question the government over this?

Please do not think that I am asking you to answer this. I do not mind if you say nothing to the questions I ask you. After all, silence speaks for itself. But, I do hope you say something. I cannot accept gagging, of anyone; not even of my opponents. That is why I write this, as a friend. Forgive me if I have upset you.

Jayant Pawar

MUMBAI

 

Updated On : 6th Sep, 2019

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