"When the scorpion bit me, the first thought that crossed my mind was, it must be of the same caste as I am. It did not treat me as untouchable." - Vira Sathidar to The Hitavada
Vira Sathidar was an active participant in the Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra, mostly inspired by his childhood experiences. The Convener of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi, Sathidar was a staunch anti-caste activist, poet, and author.
Speaking to the Indian Cultural Forum, he talked about the way the political and cultural environment permeated into his psyche, creating an activist and an artist especially inspired by artists who embodied Dadasaheb's ideologies into their work. The anecdote with the scorpion occurred during his work as a labourer in his teen years. Even then, he saw trade unions rise against unfair treatment, and was often in the middle of it all.
According to him, even before the rise of the Dalit Panthers, Dalit artists and poets had created such a rich repertoire of stories that actually reflected the state of minorities. He soon started using street plays and music as weapons to unite people for the cause, after he realized his real calling for activism during a brief stint in active politics.
He played the role of Narayan Kamble in the award-winning film Court. Court examines the justice system through the eyes of an aged protest singer who is accused of encouraging a manhole worker to take his own life. The movie then explores the reality of sanitation work and the ways Kamble is used as a scapegoat for "justice". It must be noted, much like the character of Narayan, Sathidar was also once arrested under the UAPA for selling books with 'objectionable' literature. For that, and many other reasons, Vira believed that the film was reflecting his own life.
Like with Court, Sathidar believed that films as a medium could bring change to the world and believed that they should be used to send out a message, one of solidarity and equality. He didn't consider commercial success to be a the mark of a film's impact.
Court won the 'Best Film in the Horizons' at the 71st Venice International Film Festival 2014 and was also India's entry to the Oscars.
Vira Sathidar passed away on Tuesday morning after suffering from COVID-19.
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