Thursday, October 19, 2006

Activists protest against police action on play

Special Correspondent

Hindi play deals with the history of mills in Mumbai

# Power shut off while group was setting up the show
# Civil rights activists allege "state-sponsored terrorism"

MUMBAI: Civil rights activists and cultural organisations have protested against the police action in Nagpur which prevented a theatre group from staging three shows of `Cotton 56, Polyester 84,' a Hindi play that deals with the history of mills in Mumbai.

According to playwright Ramu Ramanathan, three shows of the play on September 23 and 24 were cancelled on a technicality and the police cited improper licensing as the reason. The play is directed by Sunil Shanbag.

Posters torn

Mr. Ramanathan told a press conference on Tuesday that the 14-member theatre troupe was followed by two armoured police vehicles and plainclothes policemen who also tore down the posters announcing the play in the city.

The Nagpur Police Commissioner did not meet the theatre group and they learnt from police sources that the decision not to allow the performance of the play was taken after it was staged at Rajura in Chandrapur, five hours away from Nagpur, on September 22.

The Vidrohi Sanskrutik Chalval, a co-host of the play at Rajura along with another union, created a scare that it was a naxalite-backed programme, Mr. Ramanathan said.

Some time ago, a poet Shantanu Kamble was arrested and kept in police custody for over three months. The play has already been cleared by the censors and has been performed over 30 times in Maharashtra and even in Bangalore. The play has famous names from the stage, including Nagesh Bhosale and Charusheela Sable.

To return

Undeterred by this experience, Mr. Ramanathan said the troupe was planning to return to Nagpur. Civil rights activists alleged that this was "State-sponsored terrorism."

Mr. Ramanathan said that there were a number of licences required for the performance that were to be given on the day the play was to be performed and that did not happen. The police used it as a reason and even shut off power while the group was setting up the show.

After this incident, on October 15, the police in Chandrapur seized books sold by Sunita Narayan, publisher and owner of Daanish books and called her in for questioning. Police seized several copies of books written by Clara Zetkin, Bhagat Singh, Baburam Bhattarai, Anant Swarup Varma, Che Guevara, Sachin Mali which are publicly available everywhere. Sunita's stall was at Deekshabhoomi, as part of a commemoration of the golden jubilee of Babasaheb Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism.

None of the books seized by the police is banned or declared offensive by any state agency. A contingent of about 70 armed policemen surrounded the stall of Daanish Books and remained there for over three hours, making a list of books they wanted to seize.

Later, Sunita was questioned for over 14 hours by the Chandrapur police and released later, according to her associates. Along with her, Vijay Vairagade, a local social activist and his 16-year-old son were questioned.


According to a protest statement issued by activists , the police claim that they have clinching evidence against Sunita which proves beyond doubt that she has Maoist affiliations and is associated in activities which are subversive in nature. It has been wrongly claimed by the police that Sunita belongs to Jehanabad of Bihar and her first husband was killed in police encounter.

"Supports Maoists"

Police also claim that 15 per cent of the literature seized from the Daanish Book stall is offensive and supports Maoists.

The seizure of books and subsequent questioning of Sunita has sparked off protests all over the country.

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