Jai Bhim Comrade: Songs of justice that threaten the State

Something is terribly wrong when a government feels threatened by protest songs and jails singers, says Satyen K Bordoloi as he profiles the now underground group Kabir Kala Manch through Anand Patwardhan’s searing documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade.

One important question rang in everyone’s mind as they sat stunned watching a 10-minute clip from Anand Patwardhan’s seminal documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade. Why would the government of one of the biggest, richest and most populous states of India, Maharashtra, feel threatened by a rag-tag, seemingly nondescript street music group – that had neither cut any major record deal nor had any songs go viral like Kolaveri Di?

Sheetal Sathe of Kabir Kala Manch

So threatened and desperate that they sent the best of their police force, the ATS – Anti Terrorism Squad, after them? The answer stares at you in the face in Jai Bhim Comrade.

A woman in her mid 20s, Sheetal Sathe, stands on the stage in a maroon kurta. The bad sound system is unable to hide either the soul-wrenching quality of her voice or the power of her words. She intersperses her songs of poverty and exploitation of her people, the Dalits (untouchables), with comments like: “Ambedkar had once said that if this Constitution fails to give people economic, social and political justice, then it will be brought down by my own people.”