Invitation for People’s Literary Festival 2019, Kolkata – Bastar Solidarity Network

January 18, 2019

Dear Comrade, 

It’s been a year since Bastar Solidarity Network (Kolkata Chapter) organized the People’s Literary Festival in March, 2018. Three of our participating writers, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao have since been arrested in cue with a staged plot by Maharashtra police, which can be likened to the Reichstag Fire Trial.

This might seem a distinctively cynical introduction to the second edition of our literary festival. These are however difficult times. Fascist and imperialist forces have laid siege on our democracy. Rational thought, any form of dissent, other political and cultural practices are under attack from rightwing forces and it does not seem to take much for writers and artists to be labelled as ‘anti-nationals’, to be charged with sedition. It is however, necessary to clarify that by writers and artists we do not mean those who have sold their art to serve the biddings of the state/ corporate and/or write to cater to the whims and diktats of the market. The glittering cosy chairs of literary festivals sponsored by Tata or Vedanta anointed with the blood of the displaced and dispossessed, are adorned by them across the country.

Literary production has for long been controlled by the state and its handymen of big publishing companies who set the trends for what one must read/ watch/ see and how. In such a context, it is our contention that mainstream literature or literature that becomes ‘bestseller’, are those that refuse to question the oppressive structures that bind society. Such writings gloss over systemic injustice, cushion hard truths and work towards maintaining status quo. Such art does not purport to hold a mirror to society or speak truth to power.

Literature of the oppressed, stories that talk of the marginalized, cultures of resistance, of dissent are either banished to the fringes or appropriated, subsumed and mummified by the capitalist neoliberal market. Literature which recognizes the power structures around which our world is built and tells stories – of the jutemill worker whose mill shut down three years ago, of the dead farmer whose loans weren’t written off because she wasn’t Ambani, of the 65-year-old labourer at a construction site whose farmland was taken at gunpoint for ‘development’, of the Dalit students who clean the plates after the mid-day meals, of the housewife whose dreams and emotions are trampled upon by every member of her family, of the local shop that shut down, of the confused youth with a degree but without a job, of the tired youth without a degree who works fourteen hours in sweatshops, of the patient whose family went broke paying for his treatment at a hospital which was built on land acquired from the government for 1 rupee, of the persons who could not ‘love’ the way their parents and their culture wanted them to, of angry women in Manipur and mass graves in Kashmir, of those who rebelled, of the imaginations that scare those whose interests lie in ensuring the have-nots remain that– have no takers in such a market that only peddles drawing room tales of the individual elite. 

While mainstream literature has always toed the lines of big publishing companies and propagated the agenda of the capitalist Brahminical patriarchal state, with the rise of right-wing fascism in the country and around the world, we are faced with another crisis. With a Hindutva government that is changing syllabi, rewriting history, to reconfigure India as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, things are only getting worse. Writers are being hounded and jailed; progressive literature, culture, and art are increasingly being censored and banned, universities attacked by a fascist state that is set to destroy the secular fabric of the country. With all forms of rational thoughts, ideas, culture of criticality, and questioning being criminalised, literature is being reduced to Hanuman Chalisa and WhatsApp forwards. Fake news and the nonsensical pronouncements of Manu Samhita are becoming legitimate public discourse. 

The People’s Literary Festival is to challenge that narrative. It is to celebrate writers and artists who have relentlessly questioned the powers that be, who have repeatedly tried to bring to the fore stories of the people the state wants to obliterate from our ‘collective conscience’. It is to problematise the sanitised space of corporate literary festivals and bring in voices that raise uncomfortable questions, push us out of our comfort zones and confront hard truths, to listen to movements that challenge the status quo, to find poetry in songs and slogans that declare war against this fascist Brahminical state. We further note how scared the state can be when resistance shapes up in the form of art and literature. Recall how author Sudhir Dhawale’s prosecution alleges him to be guilty of quoting Brecht in a popular Marathi play. The People’s Literary Festival, therefore, commits to nurture the revolutionary potential of the literary world by connecting such writers among themselves as well as with their readers. 

In the first edition of the festival we had writers from different parts of the country, activists from different movements – Jacinta Kerketta, Kutti Revathi, Iravi, Chandramohan S, Haripriya Soibam, Rinchin, Kalyan Rao, Shahnaz Bashir – who had emphasised the importance of destabilizing the coterie that corporate literary festivals create and bring in voices that put the state in discomfort. This year too, we wish to take forward the process we started last year, to reclaim literature and rehabilitate people’s stories of struggle, resistance and aspiration. 

We request your presence at the People’s Literary Festival on 15-16th February, 2019 to be held at Sukanta Mancha, Kolkata. We believe your invaluable contribution is essential for the success of the event.