Kabir Kala Manch: Music Of The Unheard Fighting For Justice

Posted on July 8, 2013 in Media

By Priyanka Chakraborty:

There is a famous saying that without music life would be a mistake. This saying stands testimony to the entire Dalit community; the community that probably has the least representation. In Maharashtra, 19% of the population consists of Dalits. While, the political parties want to ensure seats from these constituencies, nobody is willing to address the issues they face. So, what if music was issued to highlight their socio-economic problems? In 2002, Maharashtra saw the rise of a cultural troupe that wrote protest poetry and consisted of folk singers and was a probable danger to the corrupt system. They called themselves Kabir Kala Manch. The main members of the group are Deepak Dengle, Sidharth Bonshle, Sheetal Sathe and Sachin Mali. The main reason for their formation was the Gujarat genocide in 2002.


The members of Kabir Kala Manch belong to the Dalit community and they perform mostly for their own community. In a song called Manjhi Maa which means My Mother, they talk about the pain and agony which a mother faces when she fails to provide for her infant:

“The fire of hunger burns in the stomach.
Fire in the belly, but no food in sight.
Her Infant child roams the street…
My mother goes hungry, but tells me to study
To be great like Babasaheb Ambedkar
Like Annabahu Sathe”

Kabir Kala Manch aims at highlighting the problems which Dalits face as a community. Over the years, they have performed protest poetry and street plays across the slums of India. The themes include Dalit killings, social inequalities, farmer suicide, corruption, female infanticide and so on. All of their ideologies blend in their folk music. They draw inspiration from revolutionaries with songs like “Bhaghat Singh Abhi Zinda Hain”.

KKM attracted the attention of the state but not in a very positive light. They were accused of spreading Naxal ideology among the Dalits and were charged with same by the Anti Terrorist Squad. What was their fault? They wrote music and spread the truth which unfortunately was anti-government. Most of the members are under trial or have gone underground. Sheetal Sathe, a member of KKM was arrested when she was 6 months pregnant. In spite of continuous appeal on the basis of health conditions, she was let out on bail when she was over 8 months pregnant. Being labelled as a Dalit subjects one to oppression. Being a Dalit woman is being doubly marginalized. But if you happen to label a dalit woman who is also a naxal, then the best of people choose to embrace death.

Sheetal Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali, staged a “Satyagraha” on Arpil 1, 2013, outside the Vidhan Bahvan (Maharashtra State Legislature) in protest of being accused as Maoists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The main aim of the “Satyagraha” was to convey to the Government that they have not indulged in any unlawful acts or committed any crimes. They are singers who are fighting for an equal society. The members of KKM do not want their arrest to be viewed as surrender. They want to establish that their fight for justice is within confines of the democratic conduct.

Most of the members of KKM have been granted bail since they cannot be lawfully arrested on the basis of an alleged ideology. But danger still seems to be lurking. Most of the members being underground, they cannot put up live performances. But their performances and lyrics remain testimony to their ideologies. While their communities and the entire Indian folk community awaits their return, their songs continue to give hope. They are a ray of hope that the Dalit community have been looking forward to for generations.