In open letter, Marathi playwright Jayant Pawar appeals to artists to speak against 'gagging' after two plays come under scanner in Mumbai, Pune

  • Marathi playwright Jayant Pawar, detailing two incidents, appeals to the art community to speak up against the 'gagging of ideas

  • His letter speaks about developments around the performances of 'Tathagat' and 'Romeo Ravidas aur Juliet Devi' in Mumbai and Pune

  • 'Is it offensive to be Muslim or to be ideologically left of centre? Should it be a crime to be ideologically opposed to the people in power?' he asks in his letter

Editor's note: Noted Marathi playwright Jayant Pawar has written an open letter about developments when two plays in Mumbai and Pune, Tathagat and Romeo Ravidas aur Juliet Devi, were under the scanner of law enforcement officials in August. Pawar, detailing the incidents, appeals to the art community to speak up against the "gagging" of ideas and ideologies different from those of the party in power.


I write this letter because I am worried about two recent events in Mumbai and Pune. It's not just me. I think these events should worry anyone. Besides, these events are related to theatre and theatre people. That is why I feel compelled to write to all of you who are associated with Art. Also, I hope to know your thoughts on this. The said events transpired in the month of August this year and so far not much has been said on this in way of discussion or otherwise.

From 9th to 11th August, the Delhi-based group Jan Natya Manch (Janam) had come to Mumbai with their play "Tathagat". This is a small 45 minute play. It is a street play but the presenters also perform it in closed auditoriums. It was performed over 3 days at 8 venues across Mumbai. On August 10th the play was staged at the Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar. The police arrived at the venue and made inquiries about the play. No one made much out of this. But the next day in Andheri, at the Harkat Studio, 2 Crime Investigation Department (CID) cops from the Versova police station landed at the small auditorium and started taking photographs of the set.

After this, they started making enquiries about Sudhanva Deshpande, the leader of the folk-theatre group. Then they enquired about the nature of the play. Then, they questioned the manager of Harkat Studio and asked him why he permitted such a performance at his venue. Further they headed outside and took photographs of the people lined up to attend the show. Then when the play began, within 5-7 minutes into the play, they barged into the auditorium and stationed themselves 4-5 feet from the stage, stood at the exit door throughout the entire performance. Then nothing happened. They left.

The second event happened at a hotel in Pune in the early hours of 15th of August, rather just after midnight. The Mumbai based theatre group,  "Qissa Kothi", formed 3 years ago, were taking their Hindi play "Romeo Ravidas aur Juliet Devi" to Pune. After their show at the Lalit Kala Kendra, Pune University the five member group returned to Kamini Hotel, Chinchwad. At 2:30 AM a police party comprising of 2 cops raided their room. Their first line of questioning -- "Who among you is Yash Khan? How did he get here?" They identified Khan and searched the young man. They examined his ID proof. They questioned the two other men staying with him in the room and the two women in the other room. They wished to know how his four colleagues knew Khan and the nature of their relationship with him.

They searched the two hotel rooms thoroughly, going through all the play material and paraphernalia. Then they left. They had no warrant to conduct such a search. Apparently this search was a part of the general security scan for Independence Day. But if that was the case then why weren't the rest of the rooms checked or the other guests in the hotel questioned? No answer. This means that the police had been intimated of the security risks specifically posed by one Mr. Yash Khan. Who informed the police and what came out of this operation? No answer. An ordinary youngster who manages the backstage operations of a small theatre group and his family will however, forever live in terror. I feel that this has also instilled terror in the minds of all theatre people. I also believe all this has been systematically carried out by an administration.

Today most people seem to believe that all is well. There is no need to raise a hue and cry over such trifling matters. We find people who try to raise their voices against such things annoying. The art scene is free. No one has been banned. No one is being terrorized. We firmly believe this. (We have forgotten that 2 major thinker-activists of Maharashtra -- who were writers -- have been murdered). To even utter such negativity is to create hurdles in the process of national progress.

In this background do you find the above events worrying? Do you think it is prudent to say that these, after all, aren't related to Marathi theatre, so why bother? One of the two groups mentioned above is leftist. (Founded by the colleagues of popular theatreperson Safdar Hashmi who was slain during the Congress era, Moloyoshree Hashmi his wife is Janam's secretary and leader) In the other group, one of their team members is Muslim.

Is it offensive to be Muslim or to be ideologically left of centre? Should it be a crime to be ideologically opposed to the people in power? Without any direct orders or due process, do you think it is okay for the police to barge in, raid and search as they wish? Will you publicly oppose these events? Will you support those who question the government over this?

Please do not think that I am asking you to answer for this. I don't mind if you say nothing to the questions I ask you. After all silence speaks for itself. But I do hope you say something. I can not accept gagging, of anyone -- not even that of my opponents. That is why I write this, as a friend. Forgive me if I have upset you.

The letter has been published as is, it hasn't been edited for content or style by Firstpost staff.

Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 09:21:33 IST