Campaigns Against Cultural Terrorism

Ban on film Fire, 1999

legal_fire_2In December 1998, the Shivsena (the right wing xenophobic party of Maharashtra) cadres imposed a ban on the film Fire by Deepa Mehta. The film was on a lesbian relationship of two women. The Shivsena deemed it anti-national and attacked a few cinema halls showing the film. Shivsena was in power in Maharashtra. Hence the civil society was forced to keep quiet, newspapers maintained a distance. But we feared it to be a test case for more violent censorship to come up. Along with some friends we launched a clandestine campaign against the state and the police. Money was collected without any official paraphernalia, posters printed secretly in the dead of the night and pasted all over the citylegal_fire_1by volunteers

while playing hide and seek with the police. The clandestine poster campaign slowly grew into a full-fledged public protest at the Chowpatty (sea beach) on 15th December 1998. This was one among the very few substantial protests against Shivsena’s cultural terror at that time.

 

Sexuality,Morality and Law–Defending the Bar Dancers, 2005

The female dancer / entertainerlegal_bar_1 has been an integral part of the city’s thriving nightlife, of the Bombay that never sleeps. The city is hailed as the crowning glory of the nation’s entertainment industry and the proliferation of dance bars was due to the boost given to the liquor industry within the state of Maharashtra to increase its revenue.

The presence of the bar dancers in the city first made news when in August, 2004, a large number of girls with their faces covered, came out, along with the bar owners, in protest against police harassment within bars.
“Are our fundamental rights so fickle that a citizen has to dance to the State’s tune”, was the caustic comment. The state filed an appeal against the High Court ruling and the case is pending in the Supreme Court. While we wait for the Supreme Court verdict, it became a case of ‘winning a battle and losing the war’ for the bar dancers.

Suddenly, the dancer from the city’s sleazy bars and shadowy existence had spilled over into the public domain. Her photographs were splashed across the tabloids and television screens. She had become the topic of conversation at street corners and market places; in ladies compartments of local trains and at dinner tables in middle class homes. Every one had an opinion and a strong one at that. Saint or sinner…worker or whore…spinner of easy money and wrecker of homes or victim of patriarchal structures and market economy? The debate on sexual morality and debasement of metropolitan Mumbai seemed to be revolving around her existence (or non-existence).

On July 21, 2005, the Bill was passed. Since the demand for the ban was shrouded with the mantle of sexual morality, it was passed unanimously which came into effect on August 14th, 2005. We challenged the ban on behalf of bar dancers. While the case was pending a large number of girls who were working in bars as waitresses were arrested and humiliated in police custody and in prison. We brought out an investigative report on the plight of these girls, ‘Abuse of Power’ which was released by a panel of eminent citizens. We also negotiated with bar owners and were able to secure bail for around 100 bar dancers who did not have the means to pay the bail amount that was ordered.

legal_bar_2Finally in April 2006 the Court struck down the dance bar ban on the ground that it violates fundamental right to equality and freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
“Are our fundamental rights so fickle that a citizen has to dance to the State’s tune”, was the caustic comment. The state filed an appeal against the High Court ruling and the case is pending in the Supreme Court. While we wait for the Supreme Court verdict, it became a case of ‘winning a battle and losing the war’ for the bar dancers.

The Bar Dancer and The trafficked Migrant_Flavia Agnes

 Against attack on Fine Arts Faculty, MS University, 2007

baroda1In May 2007, a young Fine Arts Faculty student, Chandramohan, was attacked and arrested for his art work that was on display as part of his third year examination fulfillment requirements.

Subsequently, the University as part of the same case suspended the Dean of the Faculty. A massive protest campaign was launched in Baroda, and across the nation against attacks on freedom of expression. A busload of artists, academics and students from Mumbai went to Baroda to support the campaign.