Controversy
Performing at the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha, the anti-caste band expressed dismay at the city police for curtailing their freedom of expression.
Courtesy: Casteless Collective

An evening of soul-stirring musical performances quickly turned bitter as the Chennai police clamped down on Casteless Collective, an anti-caste band, from performing a song with the word ‘Modi’ in it. The band was performing at Elliot’s Beach in Besant Nagar on Sunday as part of the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha when the incident unfolded.

Shortly after the band began the performance of the song, a police officer on duty at the event, ran to the microphone set-up, asking the event organisers to stop the song immediately. Even as the band stopped the song midway on the request relayed by the festival organisers, they continued with another song, after which the show came to an end.

Speaking to TNM, Sub Inspector A Selvakumar said, “This is a cultural program. They asked permission (to perform) without any communal or caste-wise discrimination. That’s the basis on which they took permission.” When asked what was deemed communal by the police, the officer refused to answer further questions, stating that higher authorities should be approached.

Speaking to TNM, both the band members as well as the festival organisers expressed dismay at the way the Chennai police had acted, although other songs had not faced any objections.

Tenma, who leads the Castesless Collective said, “The song is titled Modi Mastan. It is about rituals in general and politics. They asked to stop the song and wanted us to switch off the microphone. We didn't know what to do and stopped. A lot of people specifically asked us to perform the song. The band's songs are all educational, not for agitation. It is to make people understand about politics and the status quo. Our intention is not to instigate or make people fight. The band was started to unify everyone. We didn't hurt anyone.”

“We speak reality. We are only talking about society that has been ruined by caste, class and corruption. We are using the art we have, to showcase this. We don't know why they objected to this specific song. It's just a song. Someone or the other continues to be the victim of casteism and corruption. The future generations should become aware of this. So there is a need to educate them,” said another band member, condemning the move by the police.

"The song was just building and we were trying to understand what the song was about. It talked about the country being looted. We were very confused about which Modi was being talked about because there many-- Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi. But we respected the sentiment of the police and requested the musicians to stop," said Nityanand Jayaraman, one of the organisers of the festival, adding, "The problem is with the situation that has been created in this country where even the mention of a name-- a vitiation of the social environment—has come to be hugely problematic in a country which celebrates the right to free speech and tolerance."

The evening, which started off with a riveting parai attam performance by artistes Pandian and Aruna was followed by hit numbers from singer Chinmayi who crooned popular songs from films such as 96, Kannathil Muthamittal and Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. The festival organisers, who thanked Chinmayi, also expressed support for the singer who has been an important voice in the Me Too movement that has taken the media and entertainment industry by storm in the country in recent months.
 
Incidentally, Sunday also witnessed hundreds of people on social media trending the hashtag #GoBackModi, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tamil Nadu to inaugurate the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Madurai.