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Danseuse Mallika Sarabhai seeks support from friends

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | October 28, 2003 18:55 IST

Celebrated danseuse and social activist, Mallika Sarabhai, who has been critical of Gujarat government's role in last year's communal riots in the state, has written to her friends seeking support to fight 'harassment and intimidation' by the state machinery.

Please see: The complete coverage of the Gujarat riots

Sarabhai, who heads the Ahmedabad-based performing arts institute, Darpana Academy, has been accused of cheating students by promising to help them to illegally immigrate to the United States masquerading as performers in her troupe.

Sarabhai says the case has been fabricated by a government hell bent on punishing her for her critical remarks on its role in the riots.

A criminal case of cheating has been filed against her and she has applied for anticipatory bail in a Ahmedabad court.

The case against her is quite similar to the one against Punjabi pop singer Daler Mehndi.

In an emotional letter to some friends, a copy of which is with rediff.com, she speaks about the 'atrocities' of the government against her and her academy.

"Over the last 20 months, many of you have been aware of my stand against the anti-Muslim pogrom that happened in Gujarat. Many of you know that I had to go underground and that I and Darpana have been harassed and threatened continuously amongst other things, to try and cow me down into withdrawing my public interest litigation in the Supreme Court and to stop me from talking at a variety of fora about the continuing boycott of the Muslims, the continuing lack of justice and other issues."

Sarabhai, with two others, has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court demanding an independent inquiry into last year's violence and the subsequent distribution of compensation to the victims.

The PIL is likely to come for hearing soon.

The complaint against Sarabhai has been filed by Manushi Shah and a dozen others. The complainants allege they had paid Rs 3.30 lakh each to the academy for a six-month training and a subsequent performance trip to the US and Brazil. But when the US consulate denied them visas, Darpana refunded them only Rs 3.10 lakh.

"There is not an iota of truth in it [the allegations]. All money for the cancelled dance tour, as per the contract with the students, was returned, as were their passports.

'This is a huge and apparently successful attempt to defame me and the institution and [my] family, nationally, through the media. It is also a huge attempt at intimidation."

An official of Darpana told rediff.com that the remaining Rs 20,000 was non-refundable and it was clearly mentioned in the contract.

Leading activists like Javed Akhtar, actor-turned-member of Parliament Shabana Azmi, adman Alayque Padamsee, Prabhat Patnaik, Valson Thampu and Teesta Setalvad issued a statement in Sarabhai's support on Tuesday.

Thampu, a member of the Delhi Minority Commission, has also written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Among a number of relief works for the riot victims in Gujarat, Sarabhai last month completed a music album 'Peace Works.' The money raised by the album's sales is to be used to help riot victims.

The album has a poem written by President A P J Abdul Kalam.

In the letter, Sarabhai hints she may have to underground again.

She writes: "I have to be unavailable for arrest. Non-euphemistically, that means in hiding and on the run. Yet again. I veer between despair and anger. Between wanting to be a martyr for truth if that is what my larger purpose in life is, and wanting to throw up my hands and say 'neither the country nor its people for whom I have spent 25 years working deserve me'.

"This is a democratic country and they are doing this to one of the most known faces and voices. What of the millions of others?

"I am trying to keep sane and sensible. All my colleagues at Darpana have been and continue to be wonderful and out in the open...and my brother and my daughter who are there in Ahmedabad. And as happened before, the many idealistic 'friends', well-wishers and intellectuals, seekers of truth in Gujarat have deafened me by their silence.

"I don't know if I will be able to write again or when. Nor what today holds. But I wanted you all to know that if I go down, it shall be fighting for what I believe is true and right."


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