K.P.Sasi: An Activist With Creative Expressions
Compassionate and talented
The decade of the 1970s was crucial, as the social scene was dominated by the rise of resistance movements all around. It was continuation of the organised movements like workers and peasants movements on one hand, and it heralded coming to the fore of movements of Adivasis, Women and Dalits.
Adivasis displaced by big dams started organising their protests. In the North East, the AFSPA was creating havoc. Later after the Mathura rape case in Chandrapur in the state of Maharashtra the women's movement articulated its aspiration in a more forthright way.
Further in the decade of 1980s the Rath Yatra and unleashing the anti minority violence was picking up. This culminated in the horrific violence of Meerut, Malyana, Bhagalpur, Mumbai, Surat and Bhopal.
This was the backdrop in which K.P.Sasi, who was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), came forward to respond as an activist. He chose cartoons, satire as a medium of protest to begin with.
Son of K. Damodaran, the founder of Communist Party in Kerala, Sasi was primarily a compassionate activist who was in search of a medium and language for his protests and resistance against injustices prevalent in the country. While working initially in Free Press Journal, he communicated through his punchy humour. In due course he adopted documentary films as the main medium for his association with social activism for an ethical, humane society.
A lot can be written about his documentaries. I was deeply appreciative of his brilliant, America America, a powerful satire on the imperialist United States, in the aftermath of its attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.
While he has many awards to his credit, Sasi also founded 'VIBGYOR. A film festival'. He primarily remained an activist with a strong sense of humour, compassion and commitment to the social causes of deprived sections of society, raising his voice against the injustices prevalent in the system.
Knowing some aspects of his work was a great boon for me to request him to draw the visuals for my book, 'Communalism: An Illustrated Primer'. I came to know about his creative expressions and commitment through Vikas Adhyan Kendra, which helped me in putting together a simple book, which aimed at communicating to average people in society: students, teachers, villagers, and people on the street; the problem posed by the rise of communal politics.
The idea was that we have great scholars who have contributed immensely to the understanding of the divisive phenomenon of communalism and their ideas need to be taken to the masses. Here came the concept of an illustrated book, which should retain the complexity of the phenomenon and at the same time should be simple enough for reading.
For me, K.P. Sasi steps in here. He discussed the concept for hours and in a short time came out with a series of brilliant cartoons, which make you ponder on the subject, which make you think in a very intense way. What struck me in his work for this book was the forthright articulation of the issue and a tongue in cheek humour.
Can't forget some of his contributions which gave strength to the book. A few of them are worth recalling. One is the cartoon where two skeletons are conversing with each other and asking the question, 'What is your religion? The other one was where symbols of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are holding hands in celebration, yet another was the children being brainwashed through misconceptions. This association was richly rewarding for me and I kept in constant touch with him.
I also came to know about his film making in due course. His film 'Ek Alag Mausam', with Nandita Das and Renuka Shahane dealt with the violation of rights of victims of HIV. Over a period of time he had an impressive list of films to his credit. He was more interested in screenings and reaching out to the people through these, most of the time.
His participation in various film festivals is a rich testimony to his total involvement in this medium. His commitment to environment, displacement, impact of reckless capitalist development, victimisation of innocents gets reflected through his massive contribution in all these fields.
No wonder his craft did yield him many prestigious awards including Best Film Award, International Rural Film Festival, France, Special Jury Prize, International Environment Film Festival among many others.
Most of his documentaries leave a strong imprint on the mind about the issue he was engaging with. It is difficult to draw the line between Sasi the film maker and Sasi the activist. Some of the remarkable one's can be recalled and need to be propagated in time to come.
Just to recall a few, 'Ilayum Mullum' (Leaves and Thorns) is a feature film on the social and psychological violence on women in Kerala, 'Ek Chingari ki Khoj Mein' is an attempt to question the values associated with the dowry system in India, 'Gaon Chodab Nahin' deals with adivasis, the original or indigenous dwellers, facing massive displacement due to developmental projects, 'Fabricated', a documentary on the fabricated cases on Abdul Nasar Maudany & Others, 'Redefining Peace: Women Lead the Way' captures the work of a few among a thousand remarkable women from all over the world who were nominated by networks of women's groups for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005, 'A Valley Refuses to Die' is one of the first documentary films on the Narmada dams.
What brought me further closer to him was his association with justice for Kandhamal violence victims. This violence was unleashed against Christian minorities in Orissa, on the pretext of 'Forcible Conversion' by Christian missionaries. He was one of the founding members of "National Solidarity Forum", which held the 'Peoples Tribunal' in Delhi, with Justice A. P. Shah as the head of the jury.
At the same time the film maker in him started chronicling the voices of victims of majoritarian violence leading to his 95 Minute films, 'Voices from the Ruins – Kandhamal. In Search of Justice'.
We (NSF) planned to follow up activities for justice to the victims, and an annual event has been regularly organised to commemorate the memory of the ghastly violence. Sasi was mostly the first amongst us to remind us of the event and that the preparations needed a couple of months in advance.
The last major activity which we put together as NSF was a petition against 'Karnataka Freedom of Religion Bill' (a.k.a. Anti Conversion Bill). He was instrumental in steering the Change.org petition where we got responses from over 30 thousand signatories.
Sasi's unique quality was to associate with human rights groups/activists all over the country with ease and get involved in the campaigns for rights of the marginalised. He interacted at grass root level and drew his ideas and conceptualised his films through that.
Surely he was one of the rare activists whose creativity was brilliant and humour-satire matchless. At the same time he uniquely shed his ego to relate to diverse people for the sake of causes which were dear to him, and those causes reflected a broad and wide spectrum of present social movements.
Teetsa Setalvad spoke for most of Sasi's friends and coworkers, when she tweeted, "K P Sasi, a compassionate, powerful voice of film-making is no more. An era comes to an end. Era of honesty, audacity & passionate commitment to people's cinema… Rest in peace and power dear comrade Sasi. Cartoonist too! Music for the resistance #RIPSasi.'"