"Rohith's gone, a Dalit is dead, and with him dies democracy."
Kabir Kala Manch member and founder Sheetal Sathe performed on Sunday at the Delhi Press Club, dedicating the song above to Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar from Hyderabad University who committed suicide on January 17. The song, "Rohith Gaya, Dalit Gaya, Mar Gayi Hai Lokshahi" comments on the death of democracy,
Sathe, a founder of the Pune based cultural troupe, sings about how casteism blocks the education system. Referring to the Manusmriti she sings about how it placed restrictions on Dalit education in particular.
If a so-called lower caste person heard or read the Vedas, the book instructed that molten iron be poured into their ears. Calling Rohith Ambedkar "Baba Sahib's" son, she says he went to university but casteists couldn't stomach it, and by humiliating and throwing him out they've displayed their hooliganism.
Sathe breaks into Hindi in the middle to give context to her audience in Delhi and comments on how Ambedkar fought against casteism, and how saddening it must have been for Rohith to realise that it is still alive. Demotivated, he died, but the struggle will continue.
The song ends on the positive note that, though saddened by the suicide, the struggle will continue and the entry of Dalit students into education will keep democracy alive.
Various members of the Kabir Kala Manch or KKM, a Pune based cultural troupe which uses music to protest the caste order and discrimination in the country, have been jailed since 2011 on charges of being Naxalites. Troupe member Deepak Dengle was arrested in 2011 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, ostensibly for being a member of a banned Naxalite (Maoist) party. Other members too were charged with the same crime.
In 2012, Sheetal Sathe and her husband – and co-founder – Sachin Mali gave themselves up to the police, saying that their action was not "surrender" as they had done no wrong, but "satyagraha" for the freedom of expression.
While Sathe was released on bail the following year on humanitarian grounds as she was pregnant, Mali and other members of the troupe still languish in jail, despite no evidence of any act of violence on their part. They have been consistently refused bail and are awaiting trial.
The troupe featured in Anand Patwardhan's 2011 documentary Jai Bhim Comrade. Below is an excerpt from the film featuring Sathe: