An Interview with activist-film-maker, K.P. SASI by Md. Eisa, Badre Alam Khan and Abhay Kumar.
K.P. Sasi is a well-known social activist and filmmaker. In his several decades of activism, he has been associated with a number of social movements ranging from anti-globalisation and anti-nuclear movement to anti-death penalty struggles and the movements led by environmentalists and marginalised social groups such as Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims etc. He has expressed his activism through making more than two dozen documentaries and a few feature films. But his two music videos —America, America and Gaon Chhodab Nahin, watched by lakhs of people, continue to motivate social and political activists standing against injustice and inequality. The lean and thin Sasi, who spots thick grey beard, is again in controversies for his latest spell of activism. Early in this year he screened a 94-minute long documentary Fabricated based on the life of Muslim leader from Kerala Abdul Nasar Madani, accused in Coimbatore and Bangalore serial bomb blasts. Fabricated has been the fruit of Sasi’s two years of hard work during which he did an extensive research, met a number of people and travelled thousands of miles and received threats as well. Why did he take so much pain and risk his life? Fabricated, in Sasi’s words, is an attempt to bring a ray of hope to thousands of innocent people, mostly Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, oppressed nationalities, workers and others languishing in jails for years and decades under draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Fabricated is mostly woven around the story of Madani, making a strong case that the Muslim leader of Kerala is innocent and has been jailed for years simply because has been framed. He has a charisma, a great skill of oratory and above all a vision of the uplift of the marginalised sections. In the early week of November, Sasi was in Delhi where Fabricated was screened at many places. After watching the documentary at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Md. Eisa, Badre Alam Khan and Abhay Kumar had a detailed interview with K.P. Sasi during which he went on a great length about a host of issues from state terror, human rights, Hindu right, caste, and class to the Muslim politics. The excerpts of the interview are as follows:
When did the idea of making Fabricated come to your mind?
Sasi: Three years back I was provoked by a meeting of human rights groups in Calicut, Kerala in which I was also invited to speak on minority rights and 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The meeting was an opportunity for me to learn in great detail about issues of under-trials. As I have closely been working with some Muslim organisations on a host of issues from anti-globalisation, anti-nuclear campaign to Justice for Irom Sharmila I was approached by Solidarity Youth Movement (SYM), the youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Kerala, asking me if I could take up the issue of Abdul Nasar Madani who was then arrested for the second time in Bangalore serial bomb blasts.
Could you speak about your experience about the making of Fabricated?
Sasi: I was approached by T. Mohammed Velam, a leader of Solidarity Youth movement, a Muslim youth movement which addresses a large number of human rights and developmental issues in Kerala, requesting me to initiate a meeting on the human rights violations on Abdul Nasar Madani who was then second time arrested in Bangalore serial bomb blasts. I said we can take it up as a larger issue of various Fabricated cases and thus a public meeting called `The Indian State and the Art of Fabricating False Cases’ was called in Bangalore, organized by 22 organisations. A resolution was passed in that meeting on Madani and a facebook group called `Human Rights Organisations Express Concern on Madani’ was initiated by our colleague Neethu (who shot most of the film Fabricated later). This was the beginning. As time passed on I was supported by more and more activists and the campaign gathered strength. Then we launched a website fabricated.in and a people’s hearing of fabricated cases was initiated involving several organisations at a national level. It took us much more time, energy and money than I had planned. The reason for this is that the canvas of Fabricated is huge as the case of Madani has not been presented as an isolated event but it was placed within a wider political, social, economic and cultural context. In other words, from the very beginning we decided not to limit our struggle around Madani alone. For us, the campaign for justice for Madani is linked to the fact that the state is in fact the biggest terrorist which has stuffed jails with innocent people, mostly Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, oppressed nationalities, women, sexual minorities and others as Islamic terrorists and Maoists. Finally after two years of hard work the film was complete. But it was not an easy task. We had to mercilessly reduce 100 hours of video into 8 hours, then from 8 hours into 5 hours and finally into 94 minutes.
What message do you want to communicate through Fabricated?
Sasi: The message of Fabricated is direct. The state manufactures terrorism. Most of blasts are manufactured. Why does the state do it? The fear of terrorism serves the interests of many such as political ruling classes, armies, businessmen, police and administrations. Let me give an example. Every state in India is catching innocent people in name of fighting Islamic terrorism and Maoism. Even the Kerala police are training the sons of fishermen to keep guard at coastal areas so as to prevent terrorists entering India by sea route. But the real purpose of arresting thousands of people under draconian laws is to maintain the fear of terrorism and Maoism so that states could receive more funds. Even the PUCL report said that the Coimbatore blasts which Madani was alleged to have been involved, was manufactured. Similarly, the identity of often quoted organisations like the Indian Mujahideen (IM) appears very vague and raises several doubts to any thinking person. Why should a terrorist organisation call itself `Indian’? Given the background of what has been propagated so far, we have strong reasons to assume that it is a creation of the Intelligence agencies itself. The bomb blasts are done at Modi and Advani’s rallies to make them heroes. However, the media is just reporting the police version and calling innocent people like Madani a terrorist.
Why do you say that the state is the biggest terrorist?
Sasi: The state is like that only. India, which is one of the poorest countries of the world, has the second largest army. Half of our national budget is spent directly or indirectly on defense related areas and our Government is accumulating more and more arms. I am not an admirer of Gandhi but he was right to say that India should have a minimum military force. But today Gandhi’s message has been forgotten and he is there only on currency notes. The state has reduced him as a symbol of consumerism. Indian armies have done gross human rights violations in Kashmir, Nagaland, Sri Lanka, Chhattisgarh and other places. The state has to always create an enemy. Why do we need always an enemy? The state through its ideological apparatus has created beard as a symbol of the terrorist. The police, the judiciary, the state machinery are all sold up. You can buy whole institutions of power in Orissa for just 300 crores and big multi-national companies and corporate houses are buying them. Even the academicians, whose salary is unreasonably around a lakh a month, have been detached from the reality and thus they have become completely irrelevant.
What course of action will you suggest to deal with these problems?
Sasi: The making of Fabricated is just a humble attempt in this long battle. We should mobilise people for abolishing draconian laws. Moreover, the marginalised groups have to come together and stand in solidarity with each other. An issue of Dalits should be as important for Muslims as for Dalits and vice versa. At an ideological level we have to fight against deep-seated prejudices including Islamophobia that are deeply rooted in middle classes. The success of my work can only be achieved if I am able to activate a number of social and political activists to take up the issues of fabricated cases. I do not want anyone to suffer the way the wife and the children of Madani have suffered humiliation. . Madani’s son could not tell anyone in school that he was his son when Madani was in Coimbatore prison. We must realize the extent of social isolation and boycott of families, relatives and friends face when one person is branded as a `terrorist’. Therefore, when there are thousands of fabricated prisoners in our jails, it means that there are millions of people who are more directly affected.
What was the response to Fabricated?
Sasi: VIBGYOR International Short and Documentary Festival organized screened the film as a curtain raiser and around seven policemen were present questioning the organizers and others. Later, it was also shown by the Kerala International Short and Documentary Film Festival organized by the Kerala Government. On the second day of the VIBGYOR festival, Afzal Guru was mercilessly hanged and immediately we organised a protest against capital punishment outside the festival. The police charged four fabricated cases on five of us for this peaceful protest. The press was with us. Therefore, they could not go further. It was also interesting that after making the film Fabricated. I myself received fabricated charges. Fabricated was screened at Calicut and Manjeri, followed by its screening at hundreds of places in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi etc. While the police and Hindu right forces such as the RSS, Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu People’s Party) in Tamil Nadu opposed its screening, I was also overwhelmed by an emotional support from intellectuals, journalists, left dissidents, Muslims, Dravidians, Dalits and other marginalised sections. The youth organization of CPI (M), its writers’ organization Purogamana Kala Sahitya Samiti (Progressive Art and literature Forum) as well as CPI(M) dissidents in Kerala screened the film.
Could you tell us some of the memorable events which you had with the viewers of Fabricated?
Sasi: On the occasion of its screening at one place a group of Muslims came to me and said that they would pray for the release of Madani but I told them that the prayers alone were not enough and they should also work for his release. The sweetest rewards for me are the moments when I see that people, having watched Fabricated, said that Madani was innocent. I also remember an interesting incident when a group of Muslims came to me and said that they would pray for me and I replied that your prayers would not be heard as I am an atheist.
Since Fabricated has strongly argued that Madani was innocent, then why has he been in jail for so many years?
Sasi: Madani was arrested because he and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) became a threat for many political parties as his vision was not only to talk about the issues of Muslims but also to stand for the rights of all other marginalised groups like Dalits. He has a charisma, a great skill of oratory which no other politician including E.M.S. Namboodiripad, has matched in Kerala’s political history so far. As opposed to the allegation, he has never given a hate speech. Even after the demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindu communal-fascist forces, he asked Muslims to maintain restraint and communal harmony. He even went on to an extent to say that even if thousands of mosques were demolished no Muslim should take a fist full of sand from a Hindu temple. In other words, he stood for peace and truth, which pulled huge crowds to him. Above all he is sincere and religious. But the most ridiculous thing is that Madani’s wife has also been accused of carrying out an act of terror. She was alleged to have set a bus ablaze. This is absolutely nonsense. How could a house-wife, who hardly went out of her home before Madani’s imprisonment, carry out such an act? But if it is supposed for a moment that she had set the bus on fire and it amounted to an act of terror then many of the left and right politicians of Kerala would become terrorists because burning a bus is like burning fire-crackers for many political activists in Kerala.
Which political outfits felt threat from Madani’s politics?
Sasi: He was a threat for everybody from left to the right. There was no doubt that the RSS was the mastermind but it was during the left-front government in Kerala that Maudany was twice handed over to Karnataka police. I can understand that the Sangh Parivar has its interest in imprisoning Madani but the most unfortunate part is that the RSS, despite lacking a base like one in Gujarat, has been successful in setting the agenda in Kerala and South India as well and other parties are just following them. It was the Hinduva forces which first called Madani a terrorist but other parties including a section of the CPM, the Congress and the Muslim League also branded him as terrorist.
Could you tell us more about the politics of Kerala about the issue of Madani?
Sasi: As I told you the image of the terrorist Madani was primarily created by the RSS and mainstream media supported the Hindutva outfit. I have no hesitation in saying that had secular and left forces were sincere he would not have been arrested. But most shocking is the response of the Muslim League in Kerala, which also felt a threat of the erosion of its social base by the rise of Madani. Therefore, a section of the Muslim League called him a terrorist. I do not want to criticize the Muslim League here because I am working for the widest possible solidarity for Madani but I feel sometime had the Muslim League were sincere in Madani case, he would not have been framed by the police not to talk of his release. Unfortunately, the Muslim League saw its benefits in the RSS targeting Madani. Had Madani been free, there was a potential for a major change on the landscape of Kerala’s politics, with his slogan `Power to the Avarnas’ and his call for the unity of the marginalized Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalized sections. As far as the left forces are concerned, they are also not sincere about the issues of the marginalised groups including Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. In short, most of the parties in Kerala accepted that Madani was a terrorist. It was a casteist agenda because the leadership of both the left and the right are savarna (upper castes) and his politics for the marginalised identity and culture hurt their interests.
What do you have to say about the role of the left in Kerala, particularly the CPM?
Sasi: Madani was first handed over to Tamil Nadu police to be jailed in Coimbatore prison and second time to Karnataka police to be jailed in Bangalore prison. This has to do with the left’s misplaced ideology and the party’s social composition. Most of the communist leaders in Kerala are upper castes whose progressive politics does not allow them to talk about caste and gender discrimination. Things are becoming worse with each passing day. While it is true that the communist leaderships worked for lower castes in 1930s and 1940s but the current generation of leadership is detached from subalterns. Marxist intellectual and CPI leader C. Unniraja was correct to say that if you lift the dhoti of progressive activists you will find saffron shorts.
You have said that the left’s politics is misplaced? Can you elaborate further?
Sasi: CPM leader Prakash Karat said that identity politics was splitting class politics. If this is his understanding then why in Nair-dominated areas CPMs candidates are Nairs and in Muslim-dominated regions the party fields Muslim candidates. If identity politics is so bad, then why is the women’s wing of the CPM headed by Brinda Karat? Moreover, I have no hesitation in saying that no communist leader today sincerely believes that the working class will lead a revolution but they are forced to speak that language due to an ideological heritage to maintain their faith in a working-class led revolution. That is why the left parties since 1957 generated limitations on themselves due the association of power of the State institutions.
Could you explain what this new ideological paradigm is all about?
Sasi: Marx was right to talk about class struggles but there is also the other way to look at discrimination, exploitation and humiliation in society. It can be seen through caste and gender lens as well. For example, in India caste was created after the occupational division of society but after two-three generations class became the byproduct of caste because a son of a cobbler, even if he is talented and is willing, can’t become a priest. This simple fact has not been understood by the left in this country. Sadly, the entire communist activists are only looking at the economic liberation as a goal but they are not sensitive towards cultural issues such as discrimination faced by the marginalised identities such as Dalits, Adivasis, and sexual minority. It is high time to initiate a Cultural Revolution as Mao did in China but today’s Cultural Revolution should not repeat the mistakes and human rights violation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The flip-side of Mao’s Cultural Revolution was the occupation of Tibet and the violations of Tibetans’ human rights. That is why I am for cultural revolution without human rights violation and this can only be ensured if we ensure people’s freedom not only economic but also cultural. I will give you an example of food. One can also write a history of exploitation and humiliation through the history of food. For example, some foods are considered pure, some are impure. Some foods are promoted, others are erased. If one wants to see the impact of communalism, human rights violation, cultural genocides, gender discrimination, discrimination of nationalities, caste and race discrimination, globalization, environmental issues, politics of health, etc you just have to look at your food critically. That is why the left should look at culture in a wider term and think about adopting a new ideological paradigm.
What is your view on other key constituent of Kerala politics, Muslim political and social organisations?
Sasi: I believe that there is a renaissance of Muslim youth and Muslim women in India. This varies from state to state. In Kerala, the Muslim youth today is doing what DYFI or AIYF or NAPM is expected to do. For example, the organization called Solidarity Youth Movement is connected to a large number of people’s movements right from the struggle against Endosulfan in Kasargod to the struggle against nuclear energy in Koodankulam. They have 963 units all over Kerala and support dozens of struggles on land, water and forests or against globalization or on issues of Dalit, Adivasi and fisher people. While most of their solidarity work is outside the Muslim community, the inherent motivation of their involvement in these struggles is definitely the Quran. But the Quran is being interpreted in a progressive manner than a communal or a mere ritualistic affair. The Muslim youths outside Solidarity Youth Movement are also sincerely searching for larger political alternatives than the emergence of fascism. I was pleasantly surprised when a leader of Solidarity Youth Movement offered to support the issue of sexual minorities on the basis that the Quran stresses more on the human rights of all sections and it is the duty of all Muslims to support the human rights of all sections. He went on to say that we are not the final judges as per the Quran and ultimately the real judgment will be up there. But this wisdom may not have percolated to all members in such organizations. The Liberation Theology Movement in Christianity was more grounded among the intelligentsia. But the Liberation Theology in Islam is more grounded as an organic movement. Some of them may even refuse to call it Liberation Theology since they feel Islam itself is Liberation Theology. But what is significant in this phase of history is to recognize the emergence of the Muslim politics for liberation in India. SYM has emerged as a very vibrant Muslim youth group which has 963 units in Kerala. I call it a Muslim youth renaissance. As far as Muslim politics is concerned in Kerala, more and more Muslim political organisations are entering the field. While the Muslim League is still much rooted electorally, there are other organisations like the PDP, the Welfare Party of India, and the SDPI etc. I am for diversity but while the competition for votes are bound to happen among the Muslim parties, there is also a need for coming together on important issues concerning the marginalised groups.
Are you in favour of the view that Muslims should have their own Muslim party in order to address their backwardness?
Sasi: While I recognize the fact that Muslims are discriminated, I will be happier if Muslims ally themselves with other marginalised groups such as Dalits, Adivasis, fisher folks and women etc. In other words, marginalised identities should come together.
There has been a critique of Muslim society by the perspective of caste. Some Muslim leaders and intellectuals argue that Pasmanda (lower castes) Muslims are the victims of the oppression of Ashraf (upper caste) Muslims. What do you have to say about it?
Sasi: These issues are not limited to Muslims alone. There are 4000 cultures in India as per the findings of the Anthropological Survey of India and there are discriminations of power in every culture. Why single out the Muslim community and look at them with closed lenses from outside? It has a lot to do with the growing Islamophobia all over the world. I am totally for reforms within the Muslim society. But I politically question the whole process of the demand for transformation. All the demands for transformation have been hijacked by the Sangh Parivar including the demand for the Uniform Civil Code. Why do you need one civil code for 4000 cultures and why do you provide absolute trust to the growing fascist State machinery to be the sole representative to look after the rights of women or any other identity of 4000 cultures in India? The executive set up of the institutions of laws of the Indian State in this country have historically failed in this process and they are also definitely more repressive than the human rights violations within cultures. Therefore, it is time that we think of cultures in a different way and promote organic changes without disrupting the already marginalized communities. As far as the caste factor in the Muslim community is concerned, everybody knows that it is much less in comparison with the Hindu or the Christian counterparts. In any case, the whole emergence of the caste issue came from the Aryan domination, who were the first colonial forces in this subcontinent, introducing Brahminism and casteism. Perhaps we must search for the roots of oppression than the appearances of oppression.
[Md. Eisa (firstname.lastname@example.org), Badre Alam Khan (email@example.com) and Abhay Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org) are Ph.D students of Centre for Arabic and African Studies, JNU, Department of Political Science, DU and Centre for Historical Studies, JNU respectively.]