Entrepreneur & Alternative careerists

Prem Ayyathurai and Sahana Mahesh, co-founders, Kranti, on Government inaction, the culture of dissent and bridging inequalities

Prem Ayyathurai and Sahana Mahesh are peers and graduates in law from NLSIU, Bangalore. They co-founded Kranti, an initiative that attempts to mobilise politically conscious students from across the country. Sahana is currently working in the chambers of Jawahar Raja and Rajat Kumar and Prem is in the final trimester of 5th year in law school. They trace their path from law school to kick starting this initiative and highlight their experiences along the journey.

In this interview we speak to them about:

  • The need for an organised, mobilized student movement
  • Government inaction, disillusionment with the system and trying to bridge inequalities
  • Offering political resistance through art, and celebrating the culture of dissent

 

How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

Prem: I have always sucked at introductions, so I’m going to avoid getting into one here.

Sahana: I am Sahana Manjesh. I’ve recently graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Originally from Mysore, I will soon be moving to Delhi to start my litigation practice in the chambers of Jawahar Raja and Rajat Kumar.

 

Tell us about your childhood and schooling. Is there any particular childhood incident that has proved to be an inspiration for you?

Prem: Most of my schooling was done at the erstwhile Dr. Kalmadi Shamarao School in Pune. I then attended BMCC and came to NLSIU. There were far too many inspiring people and moments in my childhood that have shaped me and compelled me to push harder; but if I were to place my finger on one, it would be the humbling realization that one generation before mine, my family lived in a small hamlet – the realization of this growth has never left me and pushes me to challenge myself, continuously.

Sahana: I studied in St.Joseph’s Central School till 10th grade, after which I studied in the Demonstration Multipurpose School for two years, both in Mysore. Again, many moments of inspiration to name.

 

How is life at NLSIU, Bangalore? Have you always wanted to study law?

Prem: I didn’t really fit into the law school environment for a long time but I’m sure most people find it lovely. The great thing about NLSIU is that it enables a student to do a great many things – if you have the potential and more importantly, the desire to see things through, this place won’t let you down. The administration and, more importantly, the alumni are always there to support something good.

I didn’t always want to study law. I decided to aim for legal education after noticing how far too many successful organizers of people’s struggles had some background in law. I want to work on social questions later on in life and so it seemed to be a natural choice, in that context.

Sahana: I have wanted to study law since I was very young. It seemed to combine my love for words and arguments and oration with my interest in rights and politics. My time in NLSIU has been very rewarding. It is a space that exposes you to a world of opportunities if you allow it.

 

krantiTell us something about your brainchild ‘Kranti’. 

Kranti has taken shape, slowly, over the last six months. But it is the culmination of years of wondering about political processes and involvement with student groups. In Pune, I was involved in founding Yugpath about seven years ago. Over the last two years, especially, I have seen with great interest the mobilization of students in different urban spaces across the country (India Against Corruption, and after the rape of Nirbhaya). These were legitimate outbursts of long running disappointments of our generation with the government of this nation. Unfortunately, however, while the mobilization was on an inspiring scale, it was not rooted strongly in ideology. That, amongst many other factors led to the dissipation of these movements once the mass media looked away. Clearly, then, there is frustration in our generation. Enough frustration to step out on the streets (which takes courage) and face police batons. But this expression of frustration needs direction. This was my inspiration for Kranti.

The aim behind the campaign is to bring together the experiences of veteran organizers of peoples’ struggles along with academics who have been speaking about the failure of the Indian political processes. Having done this, we want the youth across India to engage with these veterans and, together, ponder over what the solutions to India’s future may be.

Kranti is a festival. It is a festival to discover, celebrate and reclaim the rich culture of dissent in our country. Although Kranti originated in the National Law School of India University in Bangalore early this year, it has since gone on to spread to a few other cities with students from elsewhere joining in. The purpose of Kranti is to introduce college students to the many struggles that are part of India’s story of ‘development’ through the culture of dissent. This, we believe, will go a long way in raising solidarity for these movements and their causes. We do this through street plays, movie screenings, songs of protest and conversations with students.

Our online content on the culture of dissent is growing. Between July and August we had and continue to have documentary screenings in colleges in Bangalore, Mysore, Pune, Bombay, Hyderabad and Delhi. We have photo exhibitions in Bangalore during August. Through this time, Delhi, Mysore and Kolkata will witness street plays in solidarity with Kranti. Our main events will be in Bangalore during September. On the 7th, activist musicians will perform in our event, “Songs of Protest”. On the 8th, celebrated film makers will present their work. And finally on the 15th, academics and activists will participate in the “Dissent Conference”.

Kranti is a result of a string of experiences I have had during my time as a law student.  My internships in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Bombay exposed me to peoples’ struggles and legal activism both inside and outside the courts. I was associated with the Legal Services Clinic while in college and my activities there sensitized me to various issues of rights. Attempts at legal critique and reform have also led me to discover politics and activism. Kranti to me personally is an effort to share these realisations about India’s inequity with people of my age, for we have the ability to engage in redistributive politics.

 

It is indeed a commendable initiative, but what do you think about the sustainability of such a revolutionary idea? What makes Kranti different from other similar campaigns?

What makes Kranti different is straightforward – we are under no illusion that our attempt to strike conversations across the country will culminate in a campaign which will bring change. Note how Kejriwal was involved in a fast earlier demanding democratic revolution but his latest fast was to facilitate gas and electricity connections. That climb down happens when campaigns are not thinking at least 5 years ahead.

For us, Kranti is special because we are asking deeply uncomfortable questions – by organizing the screening of Kak’s Red Ant Dream, Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade, or a performance by Kabir Kala Manch, our statement is clear. There may be other platforms which set up ‘conversations’ between the youth and parliamentarians. Our conversation is amongst the youth itself, to ask ourselves what we understand to be the role of the Indian government in ensuring social security, and whether it is legitimate, for example, for India to call left-wing violence ‘terrorism’ but right-wing violence as ‘an expression of frustration’, and so on.

Personally, I am constantly amazed at the many incredible people who are doing some amazing work – through their art, through their politics, through their words, through their appreciation of contemporary concerns. Kranti is a small idea, in a large world of possibilities. In the time that we have conceptualized and started executing Kranti, we have made many friends and sought guidance from several mentors. These are relationships and networks which help build solidarity for various causes; these relationships will outlive Kranti. At the core of Kranti is the desire to introduce youngsters to the world of dissent, to enable a moment of revelation which could change the way they look at their choices, their politics. If we achieve this with a handful of friends in different corners, I think our job is well begun.

 

How do you think a common man can contribute towards the movement? And, how can anyone join the movement or volunteer?

The effort at Kranti is to discover and share information about the many brave dissidents in India and we therefore spend considerable energies in curating this information. You can come take a look at our work, follow us on Twitter @KrantiFest and also spread the word about us!

Also, in order to ensure our independence in the causes we wish to discuss and engage with, we are funding Kranti through crowd-sourcing. We still have quite a bit of money we need to raise. If you think this idea is worth your money, or know anyone who may be able to afford it, please write in to us at [email protected] to find out about the donation process.

We need students from across the country to reach out and participate – they can do so by organizing film screenings and talks, or by setting up street plays and reclaiming the public spaces like roads and parks for expression of dissent, or by helping us design posters, pamphlets, films, online campaigns and so on.

As Sahana pointed out, we are also raising funds ourselves – we are cash-strapped and running a tight show. If people are interested in helping us raise funds, or know of institutions/organizations which can contribute, we’d love to hear about these opportunities.

 

How supportive have your parents been about this? Were there oppositions from friends and family that you’ve had to face, regarding Kranti?

My family has always been supportive right from the times of Yugpath, for all the activities I have taken up. There have been times that I called up family and said, “I am filing RTI applications against IAS officers, nobody will employ me after graduation if this thing comes through,” and they’re like, “Haan, thikhai!

My parents, sister and friends have indulged me in my obsession with this campaign, through moods both blue and orange.

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