Interview With The Brains Behind ‘KRANTI’: Prem Ayyathurai and Sahana Mahesh from NLSIU

Kranti logoNeeati Narayan recently interviewed Prem Ayyathurai and Sahana Mahesh, the two brains who conceptualised the ideas of Kranti – which is a festival, a festival to reclaim the culture of dissent.

Sahana Mahesh is a recent graduate of National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Prem is a final year student at the college.

The interview starts off with a discussion on its origin, development and growth. It also focuses on several practical challenges they have faced since then.

Being the optimists Prem and Sahana are, they hope the best for Kranti’s future and desire to promulgate the change they seek.

“This initiative is not to inspire people to leave everything and become grass root activists, but because we believe that sensitivity to such issues can mould everyone’s chosen professional and political trajectories more responsibly.”

1. Hi you guys! So, we recently came across the Facebook page of ‘Kranti’ and found the entire philosophy powering it to be extremely motivating. Can you explain to the readers as to what exactly is ‘Kranti’ all about?

Kranti is an effort to reclaim the culture of dissent. India has a rich history of protest – be it through hartals, songs, street plays, documentaries or photographs.

While we wished to discuss the many peoples’ struggles where dissent is brewing in India today, we realised there are many ways of doing this.

The culture of dissent is an interesting and necessary medium by which to communicate the politics we wish to discuss, and hence we decided to model Kranti in the form a festival.

A festival in which we trace, discover, celebrate and reclaim the culture of protest through songs, documentaries, poetry, discussions in as many cities as we can.

2. Let’s admit it, as law students we indulge in our fair share of political debates arising from contemporary issues in our Constitutional Law or Political Science Classes. But an entire e-movement based on this seems absolutely fantastic and unreal. How was the idea conceived? 

Personally, our discussions over time in law school made us realise that while there is rich debate on many issues, there is also an alarming lack of awareness about some issues given the elite and comfortable space we occupy.

Displacement, caste atrocities, womens’ struggles, the changing nature of trade unions are seemingly far removed from our lives.

And we wanted to raise these questions, and seek answers from people who work on the ground. Activists who have spent lifetimes in each of these spaces come with knowledge that we believe must be circulated far and wide.

Not because we want to inspire people to leave everything and become grass root activists, but because we believe that sensitivity to such issues can mould everyone’s chosen professional and political trajectories more responsibly.

“Our goal is to ask some really uncomfortable questions and seek answers to them.”

3. What was your elevator pitch when presenting the ideology? What would you say is its USP?

When we say it is a festival to reclaim the culture of dissent, we already have attention because there are so many powerful ideas in those few words. And these are deeply political ideas.

Our USP would be that it is an independent student effort, which is trying to reach out to other students in as many cities as possible, and the goal is to ask some really uncomfortable questions and seek answers to them.

In fact, there are many things we seek to do through Kranti, but the underlying theme is to present dissent not as a roadblock to development but as a means of questioning existing order.

4. We will all agree on one thing – The name is rather captivating and motivating on its own. Any particular reason or exciting story behind it?

Kranti means revolution in many Indian languages, and we wanted to relate to as many Indian students as we could. And while we are nowhere close to a real revolution, the idealism and romanticism of one is a deep and abiding inspiration to the both of us.

The campaign has taught us that we must have a name that is akin to a call-to-arms, something that is recognisable and then push it. Kranti seemed to be the perfect pitch.

5. How does it feel to be a part of this movement?

We wouldn’t call it a movement, yet.

What happened in FTII, Pune (More details in the response to Question No.8 and HERE and HERE), over the last few days does suggest the potential for it to become one. At the moment, the idea is more a campaign to us than a movement.

It feels incredibly refreshing and humbling. Our efforts have enriched us perhaps more than the audience we have set out to reach. This is because of the sheer number of incredible people we have been able to meet or know about.

Whether it is resource people who have put us in touch with others, or students who we have built a bond with, or artists who are performing and ideating with us, it is very energising.

It is also deeply inspiring to read about the rich history of dissent we have. So many humbling efforts go on to make the narrative of India’s movements.

6. As law students, how tough has this political deliberation been?

The law, we believe, is a very political being. Political deliberation then comes very naturally with the study of law. And so these deliberations are part of how we think and engage with the law, and vice versa.

 7. How did this idea transit from the planning stage into the realm of execution stage?

Slowly at first, while we were still imagining what we wished it to be. And then gradually, as we got clearer in our heads and met the right people, things started falling into place. We only had a conference planned at first.

And then we decided to have a festival in Bangalore. And then we decided to help organise other events in other cities. It has got to a stage where Kranti has a life of its own.

“Recently, our friends in FTII, Pune were beaten up by ABVP members for

hosting the Kabir Kala Manch and Anand Patwardhan”

kabir kala manch

8. What have been the biggest challenges rather roadblocks. What have been the mini morals of these stories up until now?

There have been several challenges. Funding, which was initially not something we worried about soon became a challenge. We have also had to juggle around a lot of other work to make space for the effort that a new idea like this requires.

But there have been far too many moments of inspiration for these to get to us. Recently, our friends in FTII, Pune were beaten up by ABVP members for hosting the Kabir Kala Manch and Anand Patwardhan.

In response, they organised and executed a rally to condemn this attack. This was despite a police order that did not permit the march to take place in the first place.

They carried this out in the belief that their march was just and necessary as a strong statement against the rising antics of right-wing forces. We are greatly inspired by their act, and the solidarity they received from students in different pockets of the country.

We have also been fortunate to have a lot of people believe in the strength of our idea – and this has been expressed either through financial support, or through help with organising events, or contacts.

It is also always nice to have our audience at each of these different events respond to the art and politics in their midst. Kranti, after all, is about creating that moment of inspiration for as many students as possible.

9. Any particular people instrumental behind ‘Kranti’?

Kak red ant dreamKranti has introduced us to some amazing people.

Deepu of Pedestrian Pictures has been our go-to person for so many things from picking movies to deciding venues with the right sound to understanding what kind of trouble we can get to with the authorities!

Javed Iqbal, a photo-journalist, was one of the earliest people to help us establish contacts and continues to support us.

Hartman DeSouza, a theatre artist, has inspired us plenty with his rage and his just madness, and he continues to support us in all our antics.

Sanjay Kak, film maker, helped us start off Kranti with the screening of his latest work, Red Ant Dream, and continues to be of incredible support as we have come a long way since then.

Dilip Simeon, Chandan Gowda, Haragopal have been patient with our questions of academic nature.

Jeevan Kumar from the Bangalore University and our alumni have humbled us with their financial support. We have also met friends in various cities who share similar aspirations as us and it is with their help that we have been able to design our logo, build a website and expand Kranti to other cities.

10. What were the reactions of folks back at home? What did they say to you and you to them?

We fortunately have supportive parents who have indulged our obsession with this project over the few months that we have been working on it.

11. What would you term to be an ‘achievement’ for you and Kranti? Any such triumph which you could share with the readers?

We believe the achievement is invisible, really.

We have got through to many students, in different ways. Some have come out on streets to protest being beaten up, some have understood what naxalism means, others have stopped for a minute to look at photos or articles.

Different people have taken away different things, and each of these, in their own way, are moments of small change.

12. How has the initial reaction to Kranti been like? Can other students from Law and other disciplines be motivated and interested to join Kranti?

Some spaces and colleges have welcomed us, others have turned us away in disgust. But with growing visibility and work, we have been gaining recognition. We’d love for nothing more than to have people join us! We can help them organise small events in their cities.

Drop us a line at [email protected] if you’d like to organise screening/street play/ music event/conference/photo exhibition. Also, we’d love for people to come engage with us on our Facebook page, where we share news and stories about the culture of dissent, past and present, as also details of our events.

Sahana (left), Prem (right)

Sahana (left), Prem (right)

13. Describe a day in the life of Prem and Sahana?

Some days we work only on our laptops, sitting in different cities, networking with people in other corners. On some other days, we pack our bags and travel to cities to fix work or in solidarity.

Recently, we were in Pune in solidarity with our friends in FTII who were preparing to respond to the attack by ABVP members. On other days, we ideate with some incredible people, watch artists make art for us, and politics take shape in front of us. Exciting times!

14. Do tell me about any Future plans.

Finally, on the 15th, in the “Dissent Conference”, we have Anand Teltumbde, Prafulla Samantara, Volga, Gautam Mody, Mihir Desai, Amarjeet Sinha and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta discuss some of the most important issues of political dissent in India today.

We have many events taking place in different cities, but the main ones are coming up in Bangalore next month.

On the 7th, we have “Songs of Protest” in which we have Kabir Kala Manch, Makkal Mandram and Sambhaji Bhagat all coming together for a powerful performance.

On the 8th, in our event “Reel revolution’, we will have Anand Patwardhan do a retrospective of his work along with the screening of his latest movie Jai Bhim Comrade. He will be joined by Delhi Sultanate of the Word Sound Power project.

Finally, on the 15th, in the “Dissent Conference”, we have Anand Teltumbde, Prafulla Samantara, Volga, Gautam Mody, Mihir Desai, Amarjeet Sinha and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta discuss some of the most important issues of political dissent in India today.

After this, we will allow Kranti to take the course it can, given how we will have generated enough content and networks to come up with newer trajectories to travel.

15. Your message to the readers and the supporters?

We can be designing cars, or arguing in a court of law, or writing code for a bank, or building a school. Whatever work we choose, whatever politics we choose, we are all connected with bigger processes and systems around us. To be aware of them will make us more responsible in the work we do.

We need not all head to the village and bring about change, but stay where we are and understand that we too can be agents of change. That’s the hope with Kranti.

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