In 2013, when folk singer and Dalit rights activist Sheetal Sathe was arrested outside the Maharashtra legislative assembly, she was eight months pregnant and had appeared in public after two years. A member of Kabir Kala Manch, a group which uses protest music and theatre to campaign for human rights issues, Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali, also a member of the same group, were charged for supporting Maoists. She was one of the 15 musicians and poets accused of promoting Naxalite ideology, which led her to go into hiding. “I was raising a voice for the people, singing, using music to tell people about their rights. But they made a case that was unrelated,” says Sathe, 30, who was prominently featured in filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Jai Bheem Comrade.
Three years later, Sathe will be in Delhi, with her three-year-old son in tow, to perform the same protest songs that got her into trouble and have continued to cause her much distress. She is part of Sahmat’s event titled “Article 14: Ladai Barabari Ki – Stand Up for Equal Rights”. To be held at Mavlankar Hall on Rafi Marg, the event will also see the participation of YouTube sensation Ginni Mahi — a popular voice from Jalandhar, who attempts at bridging the caste divide, stand up comic Sanjay Rajoura and drummer Sujat Ambedkar, who is also the grandson of BR Ambedkar. The title of the event comes from Article 14, Right to Equality, in the Indian constitution, the execution of which, according to Mahi and others, is flouted every day.
While Sathe began her engagement with protest music at 18, 17-year-old Mahi began singing odes to BR Ambedkar and Guru Ravidas when one of her friends in school casually asked her about her caste once. Mahi told her that her parents were a part of the “Chamar” community. “I should be careful then. You are danger,” said Mahi’s friend with a laugh. Last year, Mahi released a song called Danger chamar, the lyrics of which go Hunday asley toh vad danger chamar (Chamars are more dangerous than firearms) that found quite an audience on social media. A sequel was released in February this year, an attempt at bridging the caste divide. “It makes me very happy when I see that my songs have evoked positive consciousness,” says Mahi.
Members of several Dalit organisations and workers’ associations under Dalit Swabhiman Sangharsh, will meanwhile drum roll a march to the Parliament House on Friday.