The reason for this letter is two incidents which have recently occurred in Mumbai and Pune and left me worried. The reason I am writing is because the occurrence of these events should also be worrying for everyone. These incidents are to do with a play and the theatre fraternity. I would also like to know your opinion, which is the purpose of writing this letter.
These incidents occurred in August and the silence so far is disconcerting.
Between August 9 and 11, a theatre group, Jan Natya Manch (Janam), from New Delhi, was to perform a play, ‘Tathagat’, in Mumbai. Approximately 45 minutes long, it is in the form of a street play. The troupe has performed this even in closed auditoriums. In three days, they staged eight performances at different locations. On August 10, they were to perform at Ambedkar Bhavan, Dadar. At that time, police came and made a few inquiries about the play and left. This did not particularly bother any one.
However, the next day, on August 11, around 7pm, when Tathagat was to be staged at a small auditorium, Harkat Studio in Andheri, two Crime Investigation Department officers from Versova police station were present at that time. They photographed the set and moreover, also questioned Sudhanva Deshpande, the head of Janam. They further questioned the manager of Harkat Studio, asking him why he had given permission for this performance. After this, the policemen went outside the auditorium and photographed the audience who had come for the play. When the show began, five to seven minutes later, they barged into the auditorium and stood four to five feet from the stage, in the doorway, throughout the performance. Afterwards, they left.
The second incident occurred in the intervening night of August 14 and 15, at a hotel in Pune and relates to the theatre group Qissa Kothi, established three years ago. They were going to stage their Hindi play, ‘Romeo Ravidas Aur Juliet Devi’ in Pune. On August 14, this troupe staged their show at the Lalit Kala Kendra, Pune University and five of them left for Kamini Hotel in Chinchwad. Around 2.30am, two policemen banged on the door of their hotel room and then burst in, asking, “Who amongst you is Yash Khan? How did he come here?” Following which, they frisked young Khan and asked him for identification. Thereafter, they questioned the other two and asked them their relationship to Khan. They questioned two females who were in the other room and searched both the rooms. They closely inspected the stage equipment and left. The police had no search warrant. They said, keeping in mind security for August 15, they had taken this measure. Were this the case, police should have also searched other rooms in the hotel and questioned the other guests too, but no such thing happened. This means, police had been tipped there was some danger due to a young man named Khan. Who provided them with this tip-off? What did they get out of this search exercise? We still have no answers for any of this. However, what they have succeeded in doing so is strike terror in the hearts of the entire family of the ordinary, young Yash Khan, who handles backstage operations. I believe both these incidents speak of the immense terror that has been perpetrated by the state machinery.
In these times, many feel that when things are functioning ‘smoothly’, why should these two incidents be blown out of proportion? Because those who try and speak up against such incidents are viewed with anger. It is a huge misconception that everything is rosy in the world of art, there is no censorship.
Worse still, we have even forgotten two intellectual activists, who were also writers, have been murdered. Now there is a belief that if one speaks against such incidents, it is creating obstacles in nation-building.
In this backdrop, do you think these developments are grave and valid? Is it all right to say why bother because after all, these incidents are not related to Marathi theatre? The first group, Janam, is a Left-leaning group. (The group is led by Maloshree, wife of the renowned theatre artiste, Safdar Hashmi, who was slain in the Congress rule). While an artiste in the second group is a Muslim. Do you think it is wrong being a Leftist and Muslim? Is it a crime to have an ideology against the establishment? Do you think it is possible for the police to to burst into any premises and conduct search operations or question people, without any government order or instructions or a search warrant? Would you support anyone questioning the government about these incidents?
I am demanding answers from you and please do not misunderstand me. Even if you fail to answer any of these questions, I will not say anything. In the end, silence speaks volumes. However, it is expected you will speak up. I will not endorse silencing anybody, not even my detractors. That is why as a friend, I am reaching out to you through this letter.