Kabir Kala Manch: A cultural outfit ever in the cross hairs of law and order
NIA arrests three members of the Pune-based Dalit-culture group in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case.
The allegations against members of Pune-based Dalit-culture group Kabir Kala Manch in cases related to “Naxalism” have remained a constant regardless of which government is in power.
Three Kabir Kala Manch members were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for their links with “absconding accused” Milind Teltumbde and the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The NIA arrested three members - Sagar Gorkhe (32), Ramesh Gaichor(36), and Jyoti Jagtap (33) - in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case. The men were remanded to four days in police custody by a local court in Mumbai on Tuesday. Jagtap will be produced in court on Wednesday. So far, in addition to the nine activists, lawyers arrested by Pune police in the case, NIA has arrested Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and Hanybabu Musaliyavirtil Tarayil.
“The accused are members of Kabir Kala Manch, a frontal organisation of banned terrorist organisation CPI (Maoist). Also, it is established that during their visits (of members) in the jungle, they underwent weapon and explosive training and awareness programme on various topics related to the Maoist movement”, read a statement from NIA.
However, manch members have said that the two men had willingly responded to NIA calls for questioning on Saturday itself. Moreover, Jagtap was allegedly arrested from a street near her house without notice, according to a KKM member.
“They (Gaichor and Gorkhe) were threatened, “You have to become witness for the state under CRPC clause 164 and admit (falsely) that you went to the jungle in Gadchiroli and met Naxals there and that you have connections to Naxalites unless you agree to this we will arrest you,” read an earlier statement issued by the manch.
“The government is once again starting an ‘arrest series’. In this case, police never had any evidences nor does it have today,” read another statement issued by the group.
However, the group, which was formed 18 years ago - has witnessed such allegations in the past as well; the state government was that of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) was in power at the central government.
In 2011, two members of KKM - Siddhartha Bhosale and Deepak Dhengle - were among six people arrested under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Following their arrest, six more manch members were booked - Sachin Mali, his wife Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Prashant Kamble, and Santosh Shelar.
In 2013, Bhosale and Dhengale were granted bail along with four others they were arrested with. Until then, Mali, Sathe, Shelar, Kamble, Gaichor, and Gorkhe remained underground. Weeks after Bhosale and Dhengale were released; Mali, Sathe, Gaichor and Gorkhe surfaced and were arrested. While Sathe was released owing to her pregnancy, the three others spent almost four years in jail.
After their bail was rejected multiple times, the Supreme Court granted bail to the KKM members in January 2017. By the end of 2017, Elgar Parishad was followed by Bhima Koregaon violence where KKM members were booked in a second case.
Kamble and Shelar are yet to be found. Gorkhe and Gaichor, meanwhile, have appeared in the Pune police charge sheet in 2018 Elgar Parishad case with allegedly strong evidence that shows their connection to Naxalites, according to police officials.
“No matter who is in power, the ruling government becomes regressive. The likes of Bhide and Ekbote have been granted a safe haven. Be it by Pune police, Maharashtra state, or NIA. The picture is pretty clear. And if we really went to the jungles, why not prove it in the earlier case that is still awaiting trial? We Dalit Bahujan are soft targets,” said Rupali Jadhav of KKM.
In a documentary made by an FTII student based on their work, Gorkhe is heard saying, “When we (wife) first met, we discussed that this (activist) life is tough. One can go to jail, there’s a struggle, protest, marches.”
Another documentary by noted film-maker Anand Patwardhan and an internationally acclaimed film “Court” also tried to showcase the issue.
While the documentary showcases a vulnerable side of the organisation, the police officials close to the case have a different narrative to present.
“Angela Sontakke, wife of Milind Teltumbde, had held a training camp in a village in Pune in which KKM people had participated. There is a recorded statement by Amarnath Chandaliya (founding member of KKM) describing how Sudhir Dhawale (arrested earlier in Elgar case) infiltrated the group and pivoted it towards Naxal activities. Along with seized literature, there were statements from surrendered Naxalites that mentioned Gorkhe and Gaichor,” said an official close to the investigation.
The 2011 case is awaiting trial in a court in Mumbai. The two people named in that case who is now absconding - Shelar and Pawar - are believed to have joined the CPI(M) force.