We have criticised the government through our songs, but they have paid no heed to it.

Exclusive interview with Kovan I have no fear social media takes our voice to masses
news Sedition Case Sunday, November 22, 2015 - 16:00

When people are ignored and blighted by the powers that be in a democracy, a counter culture seeks validity. People hit back hard at those who rule them, and art and culture become an important part of that resurgence. That’s perhaps how and why the human race has survived.

For instance, in the 1980s, it was Johnny Clegg who brought apartheid to people’s homes and hearts through music. Historically people have rallied around music to fight against injustice or show solidarity.

In Tamil Nadu, in his own small way, 53-year old Sivadass, now popularly known as folk-artiste Kovan, and the political outfit he belongs to, Makkal Kalai Ilakkiya Kazhagam, are fighting the battle against government-sponsored alcoholism through music and theatre. The folk-singer and father of two has been a political activist for 25 years, with humble beginnings at the unions of the public sector unit BHEL. He has travelled to several places across the country to create awareness over issues like farming and agriculture, communalism, entry of MNCs into India, water scarcity and environmentalism - but his latest affront on alcoholism has brought him fame.

In an exclusive interview with The News Minute, Kovan talks not just about his music and politics, but also about how social media has opened up new frontiers for their struggle. As opposed to his firebrand persona in his music videos, Kovan speaks with calm and ease, and says that he has no fear and will continue to campaign against alcoholism in the state ahead of the 2016 polls. Translated excerpts.

Not only did they arrest you for a song, now the TN government has approached the Supreme Court seeking your custody, what do you make of it?

Most people have the opinion that the case against me is baseless. In such a situation, where even the basic freedom of expression is being restricted and everyone is condemning it, they wanted me in custody. Now they have gone to the Supreme Court for the same. So I think they want to show that they won’t back down. We have criticised the government through our songs, but they have paid no heed to it. That’s what the government’s action shows. They want to show that they will condemn any criticism from the people against them.

What is your plan for the immediate future, especially with assembly elections in TN in a few months?

We have been fighting against the government on many issues, one of them is alcoholism. We have raised issues like caste and religious divisions, entry of multi-national companies, issues of livelihood for people and other such issues. We have been fighting for a while. As usual, during elections we will bring out whatever issues we fight for. We believe in democracy, and elections are a democratic process. We will campaign so that the people make the right choice.

Are you planning to participate in the elections in anyway? 

As usual, whatever the ideologies of the MKIK, we will propagate that ahead of the elections.

Will you campaign against AIADMK?

We don’t view the politics in terms of DMK or ADMK.  Now we could be criticising the AIADMK which is in power in Tamil Nadu or the BJP which is at the centre, if they do not do right by the people. But generally, our point of view is this: People believe in political parties, the judiciary, the police and such institutions, and if those in position do live up to the faith people have in them, then we will take that to the people during the elections. That’s how we function. We want people to hold power and democracy to function. We will not target parties specifically. The present AIADMK government has failed in its duties, we will raise those issues.

What is the importance of music and drama in your political activism? Is it a powerful tool for you?

It is not like it is a power tool. It is more about what we know best. We know music, so we use it. We know to compose good folk songs, so we have been using it for the activism. More than the music, what has been a powerful tool is social media. Because of social media, now several lakh people listened to our music and have become aware of issues. We have been using music for a while now. But it is social media which has taken our music and activism to the masses.

Do you think all governments in India are misusing laws like sedition and NSA?

I think this government in Tamil Nadu has been doing so quite a bit, that’s how I feel. And they are using such laws even for verbal protests. Only under monarchy are people punished for verbal protest. In a democracy criticism should be allowed. In fact I feel there is an authoritarian streak to the present administration which is why they used sedition laws.

Do you think your arrest has helped take your work to a larger audience?

See, more than that we need to understand that there is an emotion against alcoholism. People who are sharing my songs are people who believe that alcoholism should not exist. Moreover, now people feel that a person who was doing a noble job is being targeted. That’s why the message against the government has spread so far.

Does your family support you?

Of course, they think like me and they support me.

 

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