Discussion on Zakia Jafri Protest Petition, Report

On 7th of May 2013 SAHMAT and Communalism Combat together organised  a discussion on the protest petiton filed by Zakia Jafri. She has been assisted in her legal endeavours by the Mumbai-based by Citizens for Justice and Peace .The interaction with senior representatives of the political class and journalists was held at India International Centre, New Delhi. People from varied walks of life participated in the discussion and put forward different viewpoints on the issue of communalism in general and  in particular what happened in 2002 in the state of Gujarat and the role of the state administration in conspiring to allow violence to spread. The audience comprised of lawyers, journalists,teachers among others. A cross section of political parties also got represented with the presence of D.P. Tripathi, Brinda Karat, Mani Shankar Aiyer, A.B. Bardhan, Sitaram Yechury; all of whom participated in the discussion and made it more lively and enriching. Zakia Jafri, her son Tanvir Jafri and former DGP Gujarat, RB Sreekumar particpated in the interaction.
Ram Rehman initiated the proceedings by giving a short introduction that was one in a series of public hearings, protests and discussions organised by SAHMAT along with Communalism Combat and CJP since 2002. Teesta Setalvad initiated the discussion. She gave a brief outline of the evidences that were available but ignored by the Special Investigation Team (SIT).  She then argued that the Gujarat pogrom was distinct from other acts of communal violence by the sheer depth of orchestration and connivance by sections of the government and administration. Setalvad in her arguments laid bare the fact that the Gujarat pogrom was preceded by several warnings given to the home ministryadministration by the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) that were laid bare by the affidavits of former ADGP Intelligence, RB Sreekumar. These signals were deliberately ignored by the government. She underlined the fact that SIT during the course of its investigations turned a complete blind eye to documentary evidences that pointed to the deliberate neutralisation of the neutralisation including evidence from the mobile records, PCR (police control room messages) and SIB messaged.   She put forth the point that various methods were used to mobilize the crowds along communal lines especially the use of provocative hate speech and hate writing including by the chief minister, senior functionaries and frontmen of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In her short introduction she gave details of the pogrom and the incidents which preceded the actual period of killings. She appealed for debates or interactive sessions on these issue to enable the political class conscious of this menace. The fact that Zakia Jafri has fought bravely the Gujarat administration and has withstood all kinds of threats was also highlighted by her. Before concluding Setalvad also cautioned that the scope of discussion should be broadened to communal mobilisation and its portents across the country and should not remained focus not only on what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
D.P. Tripathi in his short speech elaborated upon the wider communalisation of the polity and administration in Gujarat, within which the communal mobilisation and 2002 carnage needed to be located. He congratulated Zakia Jafri on her bravery and courage. In this context he shared discussions he had had, in 1985 with former Gujarat chief minister, Madhav Rao Solanki who had predicted that the aggressive anti-reservation agitation would eventually take a sharp anti-minority, communal term. Solanki, an extremely progressive politician had predicted aggressive hindu mobilisation. He also reminisced about his meeting with Ahsan Jafri . This was way back in 1985. He concluded by arguing forcefully that it is the weakness of secular forces which has allowed phenomena like Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi to rise and grow, and the communal mobilization of the sort witnessed in recent times in Gujarat and other parts of the country to take place.
Brinda Karat applauded the courage of conviction of Zakia Jafri and her family for waging this legal battle which is both significant and a rallying point for secular forces in the country. The absence of professionalism in the investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the conspiracy and widespread communal violence in Gujarat, was specially also highlighted by Karat. She underlined the point that SIT has functioned in a non-transparent and unaccountable manner deliberately concealing evidence that exposed the governance by Modi and his government. It has therefore been a struggle to bring these documents into the public domain. Now that these are available and have been analysed threadbare in the Zakia Jafri protest petition, the secular forces need to disseminate this information to explode the bubble of good governance that is being so brazenly claimed by the government of Gujarat. With more than ample evidence of Narendra Modi’s complicity in what happened in his state in 2002, he had no right to continue as chief minister nor harbour intentions of becoming prime minister, stressed Karat. Modi, she stressed, has violated all the minimum norms of governance but despite this he and his party continue to project him, unashamedly. Karat also appreciated the role played by Teesta Setalvad at great personal risk and deplored the attacks made on her. In her speech Karat also reminded all those present that it had been the Left parties who had taken a direct political stand on the issue, demanding his resignation. She also emphasised that the documents that are now part of the protest petition, have brought out some important facts about what actually happened in those days of February and March in 2002 in the state of Gujarat and these need to be disseminated widely. Karat also pointed out the urgent need to link the battle against communalism with movements for social justice. She also mentioned that secularism combined with a strong political class, executive and judicial system is an important pre-requisite for  fighting the menace of communalism.  She said that it is illogical to believe that the issue communal mobilization can be isolated from that of electoral reform. The two issues are intricately related to each other.
Kamaal Farooqui in his very brief speech raised issues related to finding ways to expose the SIT and also take the initiative given by this interaction to involve larger sections of the people. He said that it is surprising that the expose by Headlines Today did an expose of the SIT investigation the day the protest petition was filed (April 15, 2013) but this story was largely ignored by the mdeia in general. He also wondered whether there is a possibility of filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against SIT chairperson RK Raghavan for the unprofessional and biased role he has played in the investigation by concealing evidence and manipulating it. Intervening in the debate Teesta Setalvad expressed her anguish at the media’s lacklustre response to the serious issues of misgovernance and communal mobilisation, stating that it appeared to have been party to promoting Modi as the future PM of the country, consciously ignoring exposures to his role in Gujarat carnage. This deadlock created by sections of the mainstream media needs to be overcome. She said that it is surprising how there had been relative silence on the pathbreaking Naroda Patia verdict (29.8.2012) and its implications for the BJP nationally. A ruling party MLA and former minister Maya Kodnani had been convicted to life imprisonment for distributing weapons and inciting mobs as well as being party to a conspiracy. Yet the media remained soft on grilling the party for this indictment despite the fact that the Judge had held that a cold blooded conspiracy had taken 96 lives. The media has been complicit in allowing the  political consequences of that judgement to become defused.
R.B. Shreekumar  in his turn profusely thanked Setalvad and CJP for their undying support extended to him in his fight against the Gujarat administration at a time when everyone had deserted him. Going into the details of the role Gujarat police played during the period of carnage in 2002 he bought out some little known facts. He stressed that there is truckload of evidence of involvement of against Modi  apart from organizations such as RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP. Refering to the role of Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani he stated that it is surprising that it is only in one case that the planner(s) was arrested while in all others it were the foot soldiers who have been arrested.This, according to him  does not send a correct signal. As a sidenote he mentioned that subversion is a masterpiece of Narendra Modi. He argued that the subversion was done by the people who were in judicial power, rather than by just the police administration. He argued that unlike the 1984 pogrom when not a single Sikh policeman testified in the case of Gujarat 2002 atleast three to four police officals have testified against the state government. All those policemen who acted as servants of the Indian Constitution have been harassed and victimised by the Gujarat government.
Congress Member of Parliament and former union minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer began by saying that very little in our politics is issue based. He talked about his visit to Porbandar before the defeat of Congress in Gujarat when his own partymen urged not to mention Modi’s name in the campaign. Listening to this one was reminded of a popular fantasy tale in which the main villian character whos name is Voldemort is often called as He Who Must Not Be Named.  The Congress by not taking a clear and principled position on the issue of secularism was risking both taking the right stand and defeat. He advocated that on such a critical issue like secularism, it was adviseable to  go down fighting rather than compromise. Even in Parliament he said that while the vast silent majority across party lines stood for secularism, it is the voluble minority that did not. Yet he felt that the minority supporting the divisive forces of communalism is not strong enough to challenge a country as diverse as India. In conclusion he said that the best gift that BJP could give to this nation is to adopt Modi as its prime ministerial candidate as that would allow all the secular forces to come together and fight the phenomenon unitedly. However, he also expressed his fear that such a move could also backlash. 
Zakia Jafri spoke with powerful clarity about the horrors she and her family had to go through during the harrowing days from February 28, 2002 onwards. Commenting on recent remarks by Modi that he stood for both Hindus and Muslims, she said in response, “who were the mobs that attacked us that day, at Gulberg?” That is my only answer to him. She and other families who lived at Gulberg had also been affected in the 1969 communal violence and had to spend 4-6 months in relief camps. She described in detail the incident which eventually led to Ahsan Jafri’s death. In her speech she brought to light the gruesome details of his killing. Listening to her a cold shudder went up one’s spine.  She said that her husband was confident that nothing would happen to him as he had cordial relatins with everyone living in that area. (Ahsan Jafri was a renowned trade unionist and lawyer). But subsequent pre-planned developments showed how wrong he was proven. Before ending Mrs. Jafri also spoke about the manner in which she left her home and went to safety that evening with fellow residents. She said that the Commisioner of Police never came to meet them when she reached his office at night that day after escaping from the horrors.  Intervening at this point Teesta Setalvad said that killing of Ahsan Jaferi was not merely a vendetta against Muslims in general which was orchestrated in 2002 in several districts of Gujarat but his killing had also to do with Modi’s personal vendetta against Ahsan Jafri as he had campaigned against him in Rajkot days before (Fenruary 21-22 2002) when Modi had won the bye-election with a narrow margin of 14,000-odd votes, The minority community, especially women had responded to Ahsan Jafri’s campaign. This point has been raised in the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri.  
Tanvir Jaferi talked about his father. He reminced about his childhood at his home and his relations with his father. He also thanked everyone present for being with them in their struggle for justice.
Sitaram Yechury congratulated Zakia Jafri and Teesta Setalvad for forcing the court to reopen and sustain this case. He pointed out that that this was merely a personal fight of the Jafris but this a crucial battle struggle at various levels; one being the conservation of the country’s secular fabric when the state of Gujarat has failed to provide protection. The failure of deliverance of justice whether it is in Gujarat or anywhere else in the country would spell doom for the republic’s secular ethos. He himself recalled what happened 28th of Feb 2002 in Delhi, parliament was on. Little news of what had been happening in Gujarat had percolated through as it was a budget day. Media attention was  on budget and little on Gujarat. He recounted his experience of his visit to Gujarat on March 1 as part of a four member delegation which comprised of Amar Singh, Shabana Azmi, Raj Babbar (Sitaram Yechury was not a Member of Parliament at that point of time). Yechury narrated his experience of his interaction with Modi when he spoke to him on the phone during his visit. Yechury who had known Modi since his sojourn in Delhi asked him what he and his administration were doing. “Sabak sikha raje hain (teaching them a lesson),”  was the chilling reply. He brought out the details of the atmosphere which was prevailing when he visited the state during those days in 2002. He also narrated his experience when he visited the Police Commisioner’s office on 1st of March. The situation he saw there was a revelation for him as he had not seen such a situation anywhere in peace time. He said that the gravity of the violence in Gujarat is still not known to the people. But it is due to people like Setalvad and Mrs. Jafri  that truth came through in bits and pieces and is still coming in the public domain. History taught us lessons through the coincidences of dates, he said reminding us that it was on 27th February (1933) that the Reichstag (German Parliament) was set on fire and it was on the same date that Godhra (2002) had happened. January 30 (1948) the day Gandhi was killed and January 30 the same date that Hitler assumed power. The delivery of justice is crucial said Yechury.  There is  deeper struggle between the three visions of India viz. secular, secularism with social justice and theocratic state;  and the result of this battle would show us how our country will be like. He in the end stressed that one cannot even think of isolating secularism from social justice and equality and that both go hand in hand.

Report of 7 May 2013 by Amol Saghar


Date: 08-08-2009
The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust held a one day seminar Against the Neo-Liberal Thrust that is being given to the education policy by the UPA government. The seminar focused on the recently passed Right to Education Bill and the hundred days agenda of the new HRD minister Kapil Sibal.

Eminent educationists, teachers from Central Universities , Representatives of School and College Teachers’Associations attended the seminar and highlighted the dangers of the UPAs agenda in school and higher education.

The inagural session of the seminar was addressed by Sitaram Yechury, Prabhat Patnaik ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Muchkund Dubey (President, Council for Social Development), Yashpal and Zoya Hasan (National Commission for Minorities). All speakers in this session spoke of the need for having an equitable and publically funded educational system which also met the need of socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

Prof Patnaik stated that the university needed to be oriented towards intellectual engangagement which was not subservient to the market. This could not be achieved without fighting the neo-liberal context. Sitaram Yechury hightlighted the need for expanding state responsibility in education and increasing social control over all private educational institutions, both in terms of their fee structures and admission policies. The dangers of privatisation of educational institutions was highlighted by Prof Yashpal, while Prof Zoya Hasan emphasised the need for increasing access of minorities to state funded institutions and reducing their dependence on minority educational institutions.

The second session of the seminar focused on school education and was chaired by Arjun Dev (formerly of NCERT) and addressed by Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Ashok Agarwal (Social Jurist), Ravi Kumar (Jamia Millia Islamia) and Mr Rajendran (School Teachers Federation of India). This session highlighted the problems in the Right to Education Act and the Minister’s proposal to make 10th class examinations optional. Prof Jayati Ghosh highlighted the silences within the Right to Education Act in terms of absence of financial responsibility of the state for providing education, and on the norms for educational institutions. Ashok Agarwal used his vast experience in dealing with private schools for evaluating the ways in which the current Right to Education Bill created and institutionalised a discriminatory system against disadvantaged groups and diluted Article 45 of the Constitution guaranteeing right to education to all children from 0-14 years. This aspect was also taken up by Mr Rajendran who stressed the need to include children from 0-6 years within the ambit of the act and the need to struggle against the current neo-liberal educational agenda through a broad mobilisation of ordinary people. He also demanded a National Commission on Education and a debate on Kapil Sibal’s proposals in the CABE so that the federal structure of education was respected. Ravi Kumar highlighted the basic contradiction between the goal of achieving an equitable educational system and the broader neo-liberal context and said that the Right to Education act needs to be seen in this context.

The third session of the seminar focused on higher education and was chaired by C.P Chandrasekhar ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ). Speakers in this session included Sudhanshu Bhattacharya (NEUPA), Dhruv Raina and Soumen Bhattacharya ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Vijender Sharma (Democratic Teachers Forum, Delhi University ), N Raghuram ( Indraprastha University ) and Dinesh Abrol (National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies). The session highlighted the limitations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yashpal Committee with respect to their recommendations for reforming higher education. Sudhanshu Bhattacharya said that the government needed to set up a National Commission on Higher Education to check malpractices and privatisation of education. Vijender Sharma showed how the Yashpal Committee had created space for private education and why there was a need to oppose foreign investment in education. This could only be done by increasing social control over private capital. Dhruv Raina highlighted the need to democratise education and research in institutions of higher learning. Dinesh Abrol argued that technical education needed to be subservient to social goals and control and not to the market. Thus market and not overregulation was the problem. The seminar ended with a resolve to oppose the current neo-liberal agenda and called for a sustained fight to amend the right to education act for achieving equity in educational opportunities.

Press Release condemning ban

Date 3.08.2009
We are shocked to learn from press reports that the BJP government of Chhattisgarh has banned Charandas Chor, a classic of the modern Indian theatre, written and produced by Habib Tanvir. The play was first done in the 1970s, and is originally based on an oral folk tale from Rajasthan. Habib Tanvir worked on this tale, introducing into it elements of the art and beliefs of the Satnami community. Satnami singers and dancers have performed in this play, and it has been seen by members of the community several times. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, there are several rural troupes who are today performing some version of this play.

The play itself is the story of a thief who, under the influence of a guru, pledges never to tell a lie. He sticks to his pledge, even at the cost of his life. This superb tragic-comedy, in a thoroughly entertaining and artistic manner, brings into focus the moral and ethical degeneration of our society, in which, paradoxically, it is a thief who ends up being more honest than those who supposed to be the custodians of our morality.

Charandas Chor remains Habib Tanvir’s best-known play, and has been performed literally hundreds of times by his world-renowned Naya Theatre troupe all over India and in several countries across the world. It was made into a film by Shyam Benegal, with Smita Patil in the lead, in 1975, and was the first Indian play to win the prestigious Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in 1982. It then did a successful run on the London stage.

We demand that the Chhattisgarh government immediately revoke this absurd ban.

Act One, M.K. Raina, Arvind Gaur, Moloyashree Hashmi, Asmita Theatre Group, N.K. Sharma, Bahroop Art Group, Sahmat, Brijesh, Shahid Anwar, Govind Deshpande, Sudhanva Deshpande, Jana Natya Manch, Vivan Sundaram, Jan Sanskriti, Wamiq Abbasi, Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Javed Malick, Madangopal Singh

Press Statement Date 29.07.2009

We are deeply disturbed by attempts being made by interested quarters to take over several historically important and protected monuments in different parts of the country, in clear violation of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, on the excuse of offering worship there. Many of the monument are parts of the precious legacy of the country and under the rules framed under the Ancient Monuments Act, there can be no installation of worship wherever it had ceased.

We call upon the PM, who is also in-charge of the ministry of Culture to initiate immediate action to save these monuments from encroachment. We also call upon the Chief Minister of Delhi to rein in all such elements who are aiding and abetting the violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. We also call upon the authorities to initiate immediate steps to evict the encroachers and to take all steps to ensure the protection of all listed monuments. This should set a model for official action against law-breakers irrespective of the religious community or ritual concerned.

Irfan Habib, Ram Rahman, Amar Farooqui, D. N. Jha, Prabhat Shukla, Arjun Dev, Sohail Hashmi, Zahoor Siddiqui, Shireen Moosvi, Suraj Bhan, Suvira Jaiswal, Archana Prasad

Released to the press

To celebrate the life, theatre, politics and creativity of

Habib Tanvir

(1923-2009) join us at the memorial meeting at

6.00 p.m. 10 June 2009 Muktadhara Auditorium Banga Sanskriti Bhavan 18-19 Bhai Veer Singh Marg, near Gol Market

Jana Natya Manch Sahmat Janvadi Lekhak Sangh Directions: This is the road between Gol Market and St. Columba’s School. From south and east, take Ashok Road up to Gol Dak Khana, then Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right. From west and north, take Mandir Marg, Gol Market, turn right on Bhai Veer Singh Marg. Most bus routes for Shivaji Stadium take this road and will drop you in front of Muktdhara. From west and south-west, from RML Hospital, take Baba Kharag Singh Marg where there is the construction of the express metro, Gol Dak Khana, then left at Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right.
9868301864 (Sudhanva), 9868254822 (Moloyashree), 23711276 and 23351424 (Sahmat)

jananatyamanch@gmail.com, sahmat8@yahoo.com, jlscentre@yahoo.com

Habib Tanvir
, the legend of contemporary Indian theatre, was also a writer, poet, actor, organiser of progressive writers and people’s theatre - passed away on June 8, 2009 at Bhopal. Habib Tanvir, whose plays make him a true citizen of the world will always be remembered for his abiding commitment to the values of secularism and progressive ideas.

For us at SAHMAT, Habib Saheb was an inspiring presence as its founder trustee and its chairman after Bhisham Sahni’s passing away in 2003. His was one of the most militant voices in the spontaneous protest after Safdar Hashmi’s brutal murder in 1989. Habib Tanvir had earlier collaborated with Safdar Hashmi in dramatizing Premchand’s story

Mote Ram Ka Satyagraha”. Habib was an important organizer and participant in SAHMAT’s Hum Sab Ayodhya exhibition and the Mukt Naad cultural sit-in in Ayodhya in 1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition.

Habib Tanvir was born on September 1923 at Raipur, Chattisgarh. After initial education at Nagpur, he went to RADA in 1955 and travelled in Europe during 1956-57. He became the organiser, secretary, playwright and actor-director of IPTA during 1948-50.

In 1954 he had directed ‘Agra Bazar’ which he himself described as “the first serious experiment integrating song with drama and rural actors with urban” For the last 55 years Agra Bazar’ has been performed all over the country countless number of times. He founded Naya Theatre in 1958. Habib’s abiding contribution to contemporary culture will be his remarkable incorporation of traditions of folk and tribal theatre, music and language into his modern formal craft. The power of his plays delighted and moved audiences cutting across all class boundaries from the man on the street to the powerful elite.

During the last two decades Habib Tanvir had through his plays invited the ire of the Sangh Parivar and the reactionary forces for firmly standing against fundamentalism and obscurantism through plays like “Ponga Pandit”, “ Zamadarin”.

Habib Tanvir will be missed by progressive artists all over the country. His passing marks the end of an era.

To Nagin and the artists of Naya Theatre we convey our heart-felt condolences.

Statement on 14-04-2009

Press Statement on Tendentious Reporting in Media

We are deeply disturbed by the tendentious reports in the media of the Supreme Court proceedings on April 13 dealing with the S I T report on the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

This unhealthy trend in the media reporting is going to seriously compromise the credibility of the media and undermine “ freedom of expression” enjoyed by the media which we all cherish.

An impression being created in a section of the media that the former CBI director R K Raghvan who led the S I T has “told” the court that Teesta Setalvad “ cooked up macabre tales of wanton killing” is mischievious. Only the Supreme Court, the amicus curiae and the Gujarat government have access to the report. The S I T has not filed any other document in court to which the media has access nor was Mr. Raghvan in the Court. It is therefore obvious that the media is only uncritically reporting what the Gujarat government’s lawyer said in the note liberally distributed to the press outside the Court.

While the Supreme Court observed that there was no room for allegations and counter allegations at this late stage, the media coverage has brazenly flouted this observation by reporting the totally baseless allegations against social activist Teesta Setalvad and the organisation she represents Citizen for Justice and Peace on the basis of the Gujarat government’s note circulated in the Court. This is all the more reprehensible because Teesta Setalvad and Citizen for Justice and Peace have neither been given a copy of the S I T report nor has their response been sought in the matter.

The proceedings in the Supreme Court related to the response of the Gujarat government and the amicus curiae Shri Harish Salve to the S I T report. The very fact that the Supreme Court had to set up the S I T to correct the miscarriage of justice due to the tardy investigation by the state of Gujarat was highlighted in the court’s observation that but for the S I T investigation many more accused, who were freshly added, would not have been brought to book. It was the untiring efforts of Teesta Setalvad and the CJP and the National Human Rights Commission that persuaded the Supreme Court to set up the S I T and on the basis of its findings further arrests have been made of persons who held administrative and ministerial positions in the government of Gujarat.


Statement on 23.3.2009

Open Letter to NDA Allies condemning Varun Gandhi’s hate speech

Press Release March 23, 2008

Open Letter to NDA Allies

The Citizens for Justice amd Peace (CJP) and SAHMAT urge the various allies who constitute the NDA coalition and who believe in Constitutional Governance to not only condemn outright, the communal hate-ridden speeches of Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh but to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not nominate him as a candidatefort he forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The letter has been written to Nitish Kumar of JD(U), Om Prakash Chautala Indian National Lok Dal, President Assom Gana Parishad and Ajit Singh of the RLD.

Varun Gandhi’s hate speech epitomises the core of the BJP’s supremist and ultra nationalist ideology that has always targeted India’s syncretic civilisational ethos and specifically (and crudely) targets Muslims, Christians and others sections of Indian.

The BJP’s core ideology stems from its politcal heart the Rashtryiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is openly being backed by the BJP party.

The allies of the NDA who swear by the Indian Constitution need need to make their position clear on Varun Gandhi’s speech and his possible prospective nomination as a Lok Sabha candidate from Pilibhit. Not to oppose his nomination and candiadture as Lok Sabha candidate is to support not just Varun Gandhi but the BJP that has grown from strength to strength through flagrant violations of the Indian Constitution and the rule of law.

In the past, prime minsterial aspirant Shri LK Advani has been known to have indulged in similar hate mongering (en route to Ayodhya in December 1992); senior party leaders like Shri Murli Manohar Joshi have also committed similar offences; Gujarat chief minister Naremdra Modi’s statements on the internally displaced refugees livng in pathetic conditions in relief camps of the state in 2002 were not just violations of the law, but shocking; fratermal organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parisgad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD) have taken the entire content and tempo of hate speech to the levels of a cynical game and continue to indulge in these criminal violations because they escape the long arms of the law.

It is about time that all those political players who have a stake in the future of Indian democracy, who are fighting the elections and especially those who have in the past and still continue to support the BJP-driven NDA come clean on Varun Gandhi’s speech and oppose his nomination as a BJP canbdidate. Not to do so would be to support the content of the violence ridden speech made by him.

Teesta Setalvad, Javed Akhtar, Javed Anand, Rahul Bose, Vivan Sundaram, Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Shakti Kjak, Archana Prasad, Madhu Prasad, CP Chandrashekhar, Indira Chandrashekhar, Badri Raina, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Chanchal Chauhan

Minister of Information & Broadcasting
Govt. of India
New Delhi
Dear Minister,

We are deeply shocked at the decision to cancel the screening of a documentary made by the eminent Indian painter M.F. Husain, after it had been scheduled for November 25 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India in Goa. We are also profoundly alarmed at the wider implications of this act of blatant censorship imposed on artistic production. You are surely aware of the background to this decision by the Directorate of Film Festivals. On November 22, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and an affiliated body that calls itself the Sanatan Sanstha, petitioned the chief minister of Goa and the director of the film festival, urging that the screening be cancelled since it involved a person who had allegedly caused offence to the “religious and National sentiments of crores of Hindus and Indians (sic)”. Almost at the same time, activists of the same two bodies carried out a series of protests in the city of Mumbai, in the vicinity of the Films Division office. As the website of the HJS puts it: they made a “representation with a warning” to the Films Division officials, about the plan to screen the Husain documentary. Then, in the narration on the HJS website: the official at Mumbai had “a long discussion with the Chief Officers in the Film Division”, “tried to contact the officers in Goa and New Dehli (sic) again and again and finally told the delegation at 3.30 in the evening that the screening of the abovementioned film was cancelled”. The craven and unprincipled capitulation by the film festival organisers has been portrayed by the HJS as “one more feather” in its cap (http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/5830.html). At the same time, the official response has been to either feign ignorance or pretend that the issue is of little consequence. The chief minister of Goa has reportedly said that he had no knowledge of the entire process and the director of film festivals has taken the position that the screening was being “deferred”. Frankly, we are appalled at this abject failure of principle and the thorough abdication of responsibility by officials entrusted with safeguarding the autonomy of cultural and artistic production. The HJS and its affiliated organisation, the Sanatan Sanstha are, as you would know, under investigation by police and intelligence agencies for their possible complicity in a number of terrorist actions in the country. Indeed, the option of declaring them “unlawful” organisations, is reportedly under active consideration. You would also be aware that the HJS has for years been the central switching-board for a number of cases against M.F. Husain, lodged on the grounds of “obscenity”, “causing ill-will on grounds of religion” and “incitement”. This entire range of charges was considered by the Delhi High Court and in a historic verdict of May 8, held to be completely without substance. The Delhi High Court finding was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the HJS and its associates have managed to effectively mobilise a sufficient number of complainants scattered all over the country, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on a petition requesting that all cases be brought within its jurisdiction. You would appreciate then, that the continuing harassment of one of India’s greatest living artists, is a consequence of technical procedures involved in the administration of justice and most importantly, the failure of the administrative authorities to stand up to the coercive strategies of bodies that are currently under investigation for terrorism offences. We urge you to reflect upon the consequences that this would have, for the faith that the common man places in the system of administration he lives under. We urge you moreover, to reflect upon the consequences for artistic production in this country. Husain’s documentary was produced in 1967 and has been widely recognised and awarded by the most discerning judges. It is a sad day for creative activity everywhere, when work of such calibre is deprived of an audience, because of the power of the mob. In the interests of cultural freedom, we urge you to rescind the ban on Husain and allow his documentary to be screened at the ongoing film festival. In anticipation,


Vivan SundaramRam Rahman

ATTACK ON SAHMAT exhibition!

Protest meeting at 11 am on 25 August, at SAHMAT

SAHMAT had organized an exhibition of reproductions of eminent artist M.F. Husain’s works on 22, 23 and 24 August 2008, to coincide with the three-day Art Fair at the India Art Summit, Pragati Maidan, Delhi , at which galleries had been advised not to show the artist’s work. The exhibition had on display, apart from reproductions of Husain’s paintings, eight photographs of Husain by Parthiv Shah, two photographs of Husain painting a hoarding by Madan Mahatta, and three photographs from Husain’s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ series from the Village Art Gallery, Delhi.

On Sunday, 24 August, at around 3.30 pm, the exhibition, which was being held in a shamiana outside the SAHMAT office, was attacked and vandalised by 8 to 10 miscreants. The television channel ETV, whose crew was present, has recorded the entire episode. The vandals ran away from the scene after destroying the framed photographs and prints, a television set and DVD player (on which Husain’s films were being screened), and furniture. The artist Arpana Caur, and Anil Chandra and Santosh Sharma, SAHMAT members, were witnesses to the episode.

In protest against the attack on SAHMAT and the vandalism, the exhibition has been extended, in ‘as-is’, vandalised condition, for a day – till the evening of 25 August.

A meeting to protest against this cowardly attack, and the attempt on the part of rightwing forces to impose a narrow, majoritarian view of our culture, was held on Monday, 25 August, at 11 am, outside the SAHMAT office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. Those present at the protest meeting, and those who have sent messages of solidarity, include:

Abhijeet Tamhane, Aditi Magaldas, Aditi Raina, Ajay Srivastava, Akila Jayaraman, Albeena Shakil, Ali Abbas Yakutpura, Aman Farooqi, Amar Farooqi, Anant Raina, Anil Chandra, Anjali Raina, Anup Karar, Arpana Caur, Asad Zaidi, Ashalata, Ashok Kumari, Ashok Rao, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Badri Raina, Bani Joshi, Brinda Karat, C.P. Chandrasekhar, Chanchal Chauhan, Dadi Pudumjee, Danish Ali, Dayanand Singh, Dhiresh, Faizan Farooqi, Gautam Navlakha, Geeta Kapur, Geetanjali Shree, Hannan Mollah, Inder Salim, Indira Chandrasekhar, Irfan Habib, Jatin Das, Jauhar Kanungo, Javed Malick, Javed Naqvi, Jayati Ghosh, K. Bikram Singh, Kalpana Sahni, Kamakumar Hirawat, Kanishka Prasad, Kanti Mohan, Kumi Chandra, Lima Kanungo, M.K. Raina, M.M.P. Singh, Madan Gopal Singh, Madhu Prasad, Maimoona Mollah, Manjira Datta, Martand Khosla, Mithilesh Srivastav, N.D. Jayaprakash, N.K. Sharma, N.S. Arjun, Nalini Taneja, Nandita Narayan, Nandita Rao, Naslima Shahana, Neeraj Malick, Nilotpal Basu, Nina Rao, P. Madhu, P.K. Shukla, Parth Tiwari,
Parthiv Shah, Prabhat Patnaik, Preeti Bawa, Pushpamala N., Qausar Hashmi, Radhika Menon, Rahul Verma, Raj Chauhan, Rajendra Prasad, Rajendra Usapkar, Rajinder Arora, Rajinder Sharma, Rajiv Jha, Rajni B. Arora, Ram Nivas Tyagi, Ram Rahman, Riyaz Ahmed Bhat, Romi Khosla, S. Kalidas, S.M. Mishra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Sahba Farooqi, Sahba Husain, Sahiram, Samar S. Jodha, Sania Hashmi, Santosh Sharma, Sashi Kumar, Shabi Ahmad, Shakeel Ahmed, Shamim Farooqi, Shamshad, , Shamsul Islam, Shankar Chandra, Shanta Chopra,
Sheena Bhalla, Shireen Moosvi, Shruti Singhi, Shubha Mudgal, Sitaram Yechury, Sohail Hashmi, Sravan Kumar, Subhashini Ali, Sudha Sundararaman, Sudhir Chandra, Sudhir Suman, Sukumar Muraleedharan, Suneet Chopra, T.S. Johar, Utsa Patnaik, Uzma Mollah, V. Srinivasa Rao, Vandana Sharma, Veer Munshi, Vidya Shah, Vijay S. Jodha, Vijender Sharma, Vivan Sundaram.

Press Statement

We are surprised and unhappy at the decision of the organisers of the first India Art Summit to exclude the works of MF Husain from the displays of all the participating galleries from across India . The Art summit and three day fair, which opens at the Trade Fair venue in Delhi on the 22nd, is also supported by the Ministry of Culture. While the organisers may have made this decision out of a fear of attacks or protests against the work of Husain, by giving in to such threats by extremist political groups, they are playing into the hands of these forces. It is the duty of the state and the police to protect our institutions and citizens against threats of violence and surely the Trade Fair authorities and the Delhi police are capable of confronting any such threat. An earlier exhibit by Husain continued at the India International Centre last December under just such assurances by the Delhi police.For the artists community, Husain is the reigning father-figure, commanding enormous respect. In fact, Husain has been single-handedly responsible for putting Indian art on the world map and equally responsible for creating the world market boom in Indian art, without which such a summit and fair would not be taking place in Delhi at this moment. It is therefore deeply ironical that his work is being excluded by dictat. We request the organisers to rethink this decision. In solidarity with Husain, Sahmat will show Images of his work on all three days of the summit outside its office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. We invite all the citizens of Delhi and all artists to come view his work at Sahmat.
Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Madan Gopal Singh, Sohail Hashmi, Parthiv Shah, Vivan Sundaram, Indira Chandrasekhar, Geeta Kapur, K Bikram Singh