Friday, December 31

22nd Safdar Hashmi Memorial Moment

Safdar Hashmi
12 April 1954 – 2 January 1989

Born on April 12, 1954 in Delhi, Safdar did an M.A. in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, in 1975. During his years at University he became a member of the Students Federation of  India and then joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association. He was one of the founder members of the Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) in 1973. In 1976 he became a member of the CPI(M).

After brief stints of teaching at Zakir Husain College, Delhi, and the Universities at Srinagar, Garhwal and Srinagar Kashmir, he worked for a period as Press Information Officer at the West Bengal Information Centre at New Delhi.
In December 1983 he became a full-time theatre activist and party worker.

JANAM had by this time acquired national prominence in the cultural sphere with plays such as Machine, Aurat, Gaon Se Shahar Tak, Raja Ka Baja and Hatyare.
Safdar wrote the songs for these plays and contributed greatly to the scripts which dealt with issues concerning the exploited sections of society. Largely due to Safdar’s efforts, JANAM has played a major role in the creation of an all-India street theatre movement.

Safdar’s creativity was not confined to JANAM. He has written poems and plays and done sketches and masks for children, designed hundreds of posters, written scripts and directed short films for television, and written on culture and theatre for national newspapers and the SFI journal Student Struggle. He was one of the main organisers of the Committee for Communal Harmony and its activities to counter the rise of communal, fundamentalist and divisive forces.

He organised a number of seminars and workshops on theatre and culture. Safdar was developing the idea of nation-wide democratic cultural movement and envisaged the organisation of a ‘Janotsav’ to generate forms appropriate to the experiences and struggles of the Indian people.

In recognition of his contribution to the street theatre movement and to the growth of a democratic culture, the Calcutta University conferred on Safdar Hashmi the degree of D.Litt. posthumously.

Safdar’s political commitment and artistic creativity, coupled with a keen sense of fun and irrepressible friendliness and warmth, made him extremely popular not only among those he had worked with but even those who had met him only briefly. With his death the CPI(M), the Jana Natya Manch, the cultural movement and the democratic and secular forces of the country have lost a beloved friend, a talented artist and a committed political activist.

Safdar Hashmi: Fighting for justice till the end

On the afternoon of January 1, 1989, Safdar Hashmi's troupe Jana Natya Manch (Janam) was performing a play -- Halla Bol -- in Sahibabad, on the outskirts of Delhi.
People poured in to see the thought provoking play, which was about factory workers in Sahibabad who were on strike to protest against their employers and the government.
In the crowd were henchmen of the 'ruling elite', who were targeted in the play.
They dragged Hashmi out and beat him in front of the crowd, repeatedly hitting his head with a stone. He bled profusely and died on his way to the hospital. Hashmi was 34 then.
Fourteen years after the incident, a Delhi court on Tuesday convicted nine people, including Congress member Mukesh Sharma, for killing Hashmi.
The activist was campaigning in favour of one Ramnath Jha, against whom Sharma was contesting the parliamentary election.
Hashmi was an activist, playwright, actor, teacher, member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, and a columnist for a national daily.
He made street play an important tool of mass communication and expression of political ideology.
A day after his funeral, his wife Moloyshree went to Sahibabad with the troupe and completed the play.
The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust is now carrying on his legacy.
Hashmi, son of Haneef and Qamar Azad Hashmi, grew up in Aligarh and Delhi.
After completing his school, Hashmi went to St Stephen's College in Delhi. He joined the Students' Federation of India , youth wing of the CPI-M, and worked with its cultural unit.
He then joined the Indian People's Theatre Association, where he went on to produce several plays.
Hashmi's initiation to street theatre came when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was accused of rigging elections, refused to resign.
Janam came up with a short skit called Kursi, Kursi, Kursi (Chair, Chair, Chair) about a king who is in power when his replacement is elected. He gets up from his chair but the chair rises with him. Despite trying, it is impossible to separate the two. The troupe performed this skit outside on the Boat Club lawns in New Delhi every day for about a week. Each day thousands of people came.
In 1975, Gandhi imposed Emergency and banned all political activities. During these years Hashmi taught English literature in universities in Garhwal and Kashmir.
He returned to Delhi in 1978 and started doing plays for Janam. He was also in the forefront of CPI-M activities.
One of his famous plays, Gaon Se Shahr Tak (From Village To City), focused on the problems of migrant labourers. Other subjects included communal riots, oppression of women, mismanagement and corruption.
He explained the importance of May Day to common people by using the speeches of the four Chicago workers who were jailed in 1886. Most of the plays were performed in slums, working class neighbourhoods, factories and workshops.
Hashmi developed a kind of political theatre that effectively expressed the concerns of the working class and peasantry. He had a melodious voice and used traditional folk songs in his plays.
Hashmi worked for the Press Trust of India and later The Economic Times. He also produced several documentary films. He wrote the theme song, Ek Purdah Nasheen (A Veiled Woman), for the documentary In Secular India, which dealt with the controversial Muslim Women's Bill passed in May 1986.
He also worked for communal harmony during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
Hashmi was involved in building ties with progressive groups in Pakistan. In 1987 and 1988, he and Badal Sircar, the prominent playwright and director, held a series of workshops for Pakistani political theatre groups in Karachi and Lahore.

 Safdar Hashmi (April 12, 1954 – January 2, 1989) was a Communist playwright, actor, director, lyricist, and theorist, chiefly associated with Street theatre in India, and is still considered an important voice in political theatre in India.
He was a founding member of Jana Natya Manch (People's Theatre Front; Janam for short) in 1973, which grew out of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA). He was brutally murdered in Delhi while performing a street play, Halla Bol.
Early life and education
Safdar Hasmi was born on April 12, 1954 in Delhi to Haneef and Qamar Azad Hashmi. He spent early part of his life in Aligarh and Delhi, where he grew up in liberal Marxist environment, and went on to complete his schooling in Delhi.
He graduated from St Stephen's College Delhi in English Literature, and did M.A. English from Delhi University, it was here that he became a associated with the cultural unit of 'Student Federation of India', the youth wing of the CPI-M, and eventually with IPTA, with which he went on to work on several plays during and post his graduation years such as Kimlesh, presented at the Kisan Sabha (Peasant’s Union) All India conference, and Dekhte Lena.
Career and Activism
The issue is not where the play is performed (and street theatre is only a mode of ensuring that art is available to the people), but the principle issue is the "definite and unresolvable contradiction between the bourgeois individualist view of art and the people's collectivist view of art.
- Safdar Hashmi, The Enchanted Arch, Or the Individual and Collective Views of Art (April 1983), The Right to Perform, pp. 28-29.
 He co-founded Jana Natya Manch, People's Theatre Front or JANAM (birth), as an acronym, in 1973, which grew out of the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and was associated with Communist Party of India (Marxist), with which he was actively involved in 1970s. When Indian Prime Minister, was blamed with rigging the elections, he produced a street play, 'Kursi, Kursi, Kursi' (Chair, Chair, Chair), wherein, when a king tries to leave his throne for an elected public representaive, the throne lifts along with him. The play was performed everyday for a week, at the Boat Club Lawns in New Delhi, then a hub of political activity, and proved to be a turning point for the group.
Till 1975, Janam performed open-air proscenium and street plays for mass audiences, then during the Emergency years (1975–77), he worked as a lecturer in English literature in universities in Garhwal, Kashmir and Delhi.
Post Emergency he returned to political activism, and in 1978 Janam took to street theatre in a big way, with Machine which was performed for a trade union meeting of over 200,000 workers on 20 November 1978. This was followed by plays on the distress of small peasants (Gaon Se Shahar Tak), on clerical fascism (Hatyare & Apharan Bhaichare Ke), on unemployment (Teen Crore), on violence against women (Aurat) and on inflation (DTC ki Dhandhli). He also produced several documentaries and a TV serial for Doordarshan “Khilti Kaliyan” (Flowers in Bloom) on rural empowerment. He also wrote books for children, and criticism of the Indian stage.
He was the de-facto director of Janam, and till his death, 'Janam' gave about 4,000 performances of 24 street plays, performed mostly working-class neighborhoods, factories and workshops.
He was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the largest communist party in India. In 1979, he married his comrade and theatre actress, Moloyshree. Later he worked in the Press Trust of India (PTI), Economic Times as a journalist and then joined as the Press Information Officer of the Govt. of West Bengal in Delhi. In 1984, he gave up his job and devoted himself full-time to political activism.
Safdar’s output includes two proscenium plays – an adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s Enemies (1983), and Moteram ka Satyagraha (with Habib Tanvir, 1988) – many songs, a television series script, poems and plays for children, and documentary films. While committed to radical, popular, leftwing art, Safdar refrained from clichéd portrayals and was not afraid of formal experimentation.
On 1 January 1989, while performing a street play, Halla Bol (Attack!), during Ghaziabad municipal elections, at Sahibabad's Jhandapur village, (near Delhi), the Janam troupe was attacked by political hoodlums of Indian National Congress Party. Safdar succumbed to his injuries the following day. On January 4, 1989, two days after his death, his wife Moloyshree Hashmi, went to the same spot again, with the troupe of 'Jan Natya Manch' and defiantly completed the play.
Fourteen years after the incident, a Ghaziabad court convicted ten people, including Congress Party member Mukesh Sharma, for the murder.
He has become a symbol of cultural resistance against authoritarianism for the Indian left. Janam continues its theatre work in Delhi. The writer Bhisham Sahni, along with many other artists, founded the 'Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust' (SAHMAT) in February 1989, as an open platform for politically and socially conscious artistes. Safdar Hashmi's writings were later collected in The Right to Perform: Selected Writings of Safdar Hashmi (New Delhi, 1989).
Today, each year on January 1, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Day, is observed as a 'Day of Resolve' by SAHMAT, and a day-long cultural congregation, 'Jashn-e-Daura', is organized in New Delhi. The day is also commemorated by 'Jan Natya Manch', the theatre group he co-founded in 1973, by organizing street plays at Jhandapur village, in Sahibabad, where he was killed. In 1998, 'Safdar Hashmi Natyasangham' was formed in Kozhikode, Kerala, which provides free training to economically backward students.
The 2008 film, Halla Bol, made by Rajkumar Santoshi, was inspired by his life, and also depicts a scene, where a street theatre activist is shown being beaten by political goons, but turns into a catalyst for public uprising in the film.

Master painter M F Husain joined the million-dollar club with his painting on Safdar Hashmi going under the hammer for over $1 million. An unidentified art collector went past the keenly fought bidding at an auction organised by Emami Chisel Art Auction House in Kolkata to bag 'Tribute to Hashmi' for $1.038 million (approx Rs 4.4 crore). Incidentally, this was the first painting of an Indian artist to cross the Rs ten lakh mark in 1989.

Nine convicted in Safdar Hashmi murder case

A Ghaziabad court has convicted nine persons for the murder of noted theatre activist Safdar Hashmi 14 years ago.
Additional District Sessions Judge C D Rai found the accused guilty after examining about 24 witnesses and will sentence them on Wednesday.
Those convicted are Mukesh Sharma, Devi Saran Sharma, Jitendra, Ramautar, Vinod, Yunus, Bhagat Bahadur, Tahir and Ramesh.
Hashmi, a CPI-M leader, was beaten to death while performing a street play Halla Bol during municipal elections in Jhandapur Sahibabad area here on January 1, 1989 by the main accused Mukesh Sharma and others.
The theatre activist was campaigning in favour of one Ramanath Jha against whom Mukesh Sharma was contesting.
All the accused were present in the court.
Reacting to the ruling, CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said, "It is a welcome verdict, though belated."