This 24-year-old uses protest poetry as her weapon to raise awareness

Updated: 13 September, 2020 08:51 IST | P Vatsalya | Mumbai

The collegian who has been slapped with a Rs 50 lakh surety to "behave" by the Mumbai police, says she has no choice but to sing in protest if future generations of Dalits must lead equal lives

Suvarna Salve, a student of Siddharth College, uses protest poetry to advance the anti-caste struggle. Pic/ Suresh Karkera
Suvarna Salve, a student of Siddharth College, uses protest poetry to advance the anti-caste struggle. Pic/ Suresh Karkera

Bheema tujhya naave hyanchi hoti re kamaai re hoti re kamaai
Galli bolya phire banun dada aan bhai re, dada aan bhai
Hoarding chya photovar, khotya natya matansathi
News chya channel var, popti bhashansathi
Bheema tula ikal ba, porane tujhya,
khurchichya eka padasathi re baba re baya

(Bhima, they're earning by using your name
They roam around gullies being ruffians
They're using your photos to garner votes,
On news channels they give luring speeches
Bhima, your people have sold your soul for power)

It's a song that Suvarna Salve and her elder sister Shrushti sang on December 5, 2016, a day before Mahaparinirvan Divas (BR Ambedkar's death anniversary) at Dadar's Chaityabhoomi, a memorial that acts as the visionary's final resting place. The Salve home in Kurla is a 'ladies special', where Suvarna lives with her mother, who holds a government job with the railways.

On August 24, it was her mother who accepted a notice from the Mumbai police seeking a surety of Rs 50 lakh from the student of Siddharth College for protesting at the Gateway of India in January, after the students and staff of Jawaharlal Nehru University were attacked by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) students' wing, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). She was arrested and later let off on bail. A total of 31 people were named in the FIR, but Salve says the surety has been demanded only from her against "good behaviour" for a period of two years, with the police classifying her as a "habitual offender".

Section 110 of the CrPC applies to those who have been booked in a number of unlawful activities. If convicted, Salve stands to be externed for a fixed time period outside of district limits.

Salve, 24, who is a member of Samata Kala Manch, says it is her constitutional right to peacefully protest. "My mother was shocked to see the surety amount in the notice, but she supports my work," says Salve, who as a lokshahir uses protest poetry as her weapon to raise awareness. "The administration fears us because the masses listen to us. They hear us sing and they respect our opinion."

Salve's activism journey began a decade ago when she heard about Mira Kamble, a young Dalit woman who was stripped and paraded in Reay Road over an altercation over using the community water pump. "It left us enraged that Dalit lives are considered to be unimportant and disposable," Salve says. It led her to take on the role of student activist and eventually slip into the role of Mumbai coordinator for Samata Kala Manch, the cultural troop associated with the Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement.'

Ramesh Gaichor /
Ramesh Gaichor of Kabir Kala Manch

Salve, who is known for her fierce stance and fiery vocals, decided to sing because she was moved when she would watch Dalit artistes incorporate socio-cultural issues into their performances.

Donning blue and asking the important questions in her songs and through street plays, Salve uses her art to advance the anti-caste struggle. "We have not been able to annihilate caste just yet, but if we don't try, how will future generations live free and equal lives?"

Despite the pressure of dealing with the notice, Salve was busy mid-week working on a social media campaign in support of Pune-based Kabir Kala Manch members, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe.

Jagtap, 33, was sent to NIA custody till September 11 in the Elgaar Parishad case, which was held on December 31, 2017, and is being accused of instigating people, resulting in clashes between caste groups and violence in the Koregaon Bhima area in January 2018. So far, 15 people have been arrested.

Harshali Potdar, an activist with Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement
Harshali Potdar, an activist with Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement

Salve says, "This repression is not new to us. Harshali Potdar has also been slapped with a notice demanding a surety sum of R10 lakh. It surrounds a fabricated case about a Facebook hate post she never wrote."

Salve and Potdar are represented by the same lawyer, Ishrat Ali Khan. The women say they visited the Assistant Commissioner of Police's office along with their lawyer on September 7, but to no avail.

Shrushti, who holds a job with a private firm, says no notice will discourage Salve from her path. "They are using intimidation tactics. We are committed to the cause of caste annihilation. Suvarna is a resolute woman, who won't back down. Multiple notices have been slapped on her in an attempt to pressurise her, but we can see through the strategy of the state."

Salve is a final year BA (history) student at Siddharth College, an educational institute whose foundation stone was laid by the People's Education Society, set up by Dr BR Ambedkar.

Sagar Gorkhe of Kabir Kala Manch
Sagar Gorkhe of Kabir Kala Manch

"I belong to the first generation of learners from my family to have reached college. I want to continue to study," says Salve, who hopes to get a PhD in archaeology.

It was Ambedkar who famously said: educate, agitate, organise! Salve believes in it. "I will carry on with academics alongside my struggle, because one is rendered meaningless without the other."

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First Published: 13 September, 2020 07:49 IST

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