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It is time to be vigilant against divisive politics, say Aparna Sen, Riddhi Sen

Artistes from the film fraternity and from other fields came together with their individual crafts and presentations to create a collective voice of awareness in Kolkata on 7 March.

Roushni Sarkar

Citizens Speak, a joint forum of artistes, organized a cultural event on Saturday to raise its voice of dissent against the divisive politics of the central government, the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, the proposed National Register of Citizenship, and the recent deadly violence that took at least 53 lives and left over 350 injured in Delhi, besides rendering thousands homeless.

Artistes from the film fraternity and from other fields came together with their individual crafts and presentations to create a collective voice of awareness at Nazrul Manch, Kolkata, on 7 March.

National award-winning filmmaker and actress Aparna Sen, actor-director Parambrata Chatterjee, actors Anirban Bhattacharya, Riddhi Sen and Rwitobroto Mukherjee, actress-singer Surangana Bandyopadhyay, music director Debajyoti Mishra and his team, lyricist and stand-up comedian Dipangshu Acharya, vocalists Somlata Acharyya Chowdhury, Silajit Majumder and Rupam Islam, and many other artistes attended the event.

While the background stage graphics inspired by the continuing sit-in at Shaheen Bagh in the national capital region and student protests across the country added more energy to the ambience, the artistes made sure to imply that with so much restlessness going around the country it would be insensitive and insipid not to have reflected this in the arts.

The event started with Aparna Sen describing the objective behind forming the Citizens Speak forum and its journey so far. “We are the same forum that sent the infamous open letter to the prime minister against the CAA, NRC and NPR [National Population Registry]," she said. "You all know what followed. An FIR [first information report] was lodged against us, but we did not react. We have continued to do our work.” Sen said Citizens Speak aims to create an environment for citizens to raise their voices.

Aparna Sen

“It is important for us to speak, because we must remember that our responsibility doesn’t end with casting our votes,” the veteran artiste said. “We also need to see whether the people whom we have elected are working in our favour.”

Sen also described the cultural and grassroots work that has been done under the Citizens Speak aegis. “We have attempted to stand with the riot-ravaged areas in Bhatpara Kakinara and arranged for relief," she said.

Sen said the time to be extremely vigilant had arrived. “We cannot just get done with our professional work and rest at home," she continued. "We cannot rely on the political parties any more. I am not pointing at any single political party, but we all know that they all are for vote-bank politics. However, we are here for issue-based politics.”

Aparna Sen has been vocal about contemporary issues without associating with any party. She has not only continued to question the central government’s divisive politics, but has also been openly critical when a host of artistes from Bengal joined the Bharatiya Janata Party before the 2019 general election.

“Today, we are not even sure whether we are citizens of the country,” she remarked caustically. “However, we cannot refrain from paying income tax either. Therefore, it is imperative to be aware of the application of the tax money. We need to know how it is being spent; is it being spent on killing people?” BJP leaders in particular have been seen publicly stoking the fire of hatred.

Sen ended by reading out a few poems written by eminent poet Shankha Ghosh, reflecting on the dynamics of the oppressor and the oppressed, and on the irony of democracy in our country.

Anirban Bhattacharya

Anirban Bhattacharya read out two poems, too. He first read out 'Hitler', a poem written by him, which personifies all the fascist entities with one name, and then he read the Bengali translation of the popular 'Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega' or 'Everything Will Be Remembered' by Amir Aziz.

Rwitobroto Mukherjee drew reference to a horrific killing in Rajasthan of a migrant labourer from Bengal a couple of years ago and read out a poem written by him, expressing angst and helplessness against the violence. He also read out a heartrending letter, written to his late grandmother, who would often advise him not to think about victory or defeat but to concentrate on his work.

Mukherjee asked his guiding star in the letter whether the ones who have been inflicting violence on innocent people have not had grandmothers like he had.

“Our country is unique in the entire world in terms of its diversity," said Riddhi Sen. "However, in recent times, whenever we open our news channels, we get news of death and despair. The death toll continues, and we change the channels, to divert our attention, sitting in our drawing rooms or debating.” The young actor also performed a song from Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person Of Szechuan, translated by Ajitesh Bandyopadhyay, along with Surangana.

“These incidents are not even bestial; beasts are in better positions than us. While consciousness separates us from other beasts, we are beginning to lose it now and it is quite worrying,” said the youngest actor to win the National award.

Riddhi Sen and Surangana Bandopadhyay

“Our dharma is now determined by people’s religious faiths, thinking about eating practices and clothing culture, while it should be about staying awake and vigilant. Otherwise, the cost will be too heavy to pay,” said Riddhi Sen, pointing out how, with the violence in Delhi sending a wave of fear across the country, we have forgotten that the environment is also in grave danger.

Before accompanying Surangana Bandyopadhyay on the guitar as she sang another song, this time by Kabir Suman, the actor called for creating an environment of friendship across the country.

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