By arresting me, they have made my poem (CAA and govt) bigger than poet: Siraj Bisaralli

Amrita Dutta
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Siraj Bisaralli was released on bail, a day after ex-CM read out his poem in House

When former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy was reading out his poem in the Karnataka Assembly, journalist-poet Siraj Bisaralli (43) was in a court in Koppal, where that very same poem was in the dock, and where his bail plea was being heard.

“After the judge granted us bail, I heard about it. I am happy he did so. But it is not just Kumaraswamy, anyone who is concerned about the rights of freedom of speech and expression should speak up now against the rights of people being trampled,” Bisaralli said.

The poet was arrested Tuesday under Sections 504 and 505(2) of the IPC for the poem that he had read out at the Anegundi district festival, in Koppal district’s Gangavati taluk on January 9. The editor of a local news website, kannadanet.com, Rajabaxi H V, who had uploaded a video of Bisaralli reciting the poem a few days later, was also arrested. Both were granted bail Wednesday after spending a day in police custody.

The poem, ‘Ninna dakhale yaavaga needutte? (When will you show your documents?)’, is a series of rhetorical questions addressed to a government machine that is demanding hapless citizens to furnish documents. It refers to this machine as one that “licked the boots of the British” and “believes in Goebbels”.

“The BJP workers say the poem insults the Prime Minister, but I have not named any person, party or organisation,” said Bisaralli, a resident of Bhagyanagara, a city in Koppal district. Soon after he read out the poem, BJP workers of the area presented a memorandum to police, asking for action against Bisaralli as well as the district administration that organised the cultural festival, alleging he had insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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“They say I misused government space. But even in a festival organised by the government, we have the right to speak. There has never been such censorship before,” said Bisaralli, who is also a district reporter of a Kannada channel, Praja TV.

Nearly two weeks after he read out the poem, on January 24, BJP Yuva Morcha leader Sivakumar Arakeri filed an FIR, accusing Bisaralli of causing breach of peace and inciting enmity. The FIR also named Rajabaxi. “I had uploaded 20-25 other videos of poets and other people speaking. Why was this singled out? I was just doing my job. It is just a way to shut the mouths of those who are speaking up,” said Rajabaxi, 42.

Also read | Poet gets Rs 1 crore notice for cost of police deployment in UP for CAA protest

Both Rajabaxi and Bisaralli were granted bail by the Principal Civil (Junior Division) and JMFC Court at Gangavati against a surety of Rs 50,000 each.

In the Assembly, Kumaraswamy read out the poem and asked what was so offensive about it, comparing it to far more critical work by older Kannada poets like K S Nissar Ahmed, who once compared politicians to goats in a poem.

“The British had arrested the great Kannada poet Da Ra Bendre for a poem. But that was a colonial government. This is for the first time in Karnataka that after Independence, a poet has been arrested for writing a poem. The BJP government’s actions in Bidar, where a school play led to the arrest of a mother and a teacher, and in Siraj’s case, show that they are selectively targeting the minority community,” said writer K Neela, who had spoken out against the campaign against Bisaralli in the recent literature festival organised by the Karnataka government in Gulbarga.

Bisaralli declined to comment on his motivations for writing the poem because “the matter is in court”. “But it is a writer’s responsibility to reflect what is happening in the society around him,” he said.

Though it does not mention the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens, Bisaralli’s poem is similar in spirit to the poetry being written across the country against the CAA-NRC. “It has been translated in more than 15 languages and shared by thousands. So, in effect, the poem has grown bigger than the poet,” Bisaralli said.