People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 09, 2005

Janam Observes Safdar Hashmi Martyrdom Day

Arjun Ghosh


JANA Natya Manch and CITU jointly observed the Matrydom Day of Comrade Safdar Hashmi, convenor of Jana Natya Manch and member of the CPI(M), and Comrade Ram Bahadur, CITU activist from Ghaziabad. The programme was held on January 1, 2005 at the Ambedkar Park at Sahibabad. Thousands of people from across Ghaziabad and Delhi thronged the venue taking advantage of the sun which had shone after stretch of foggy days. A contingent from the Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti also participated.


At the beginning of the programme the entire gathering observed two minutes of silence to mourn the loss of lives in the worst natural disaster in a lifetime, the tsunami that hit the countries adjoining the Indian Ocean. The cultural programme which began with a revolutionary song by a local comrade, included two plays by the Jana Natya Manch – a street play Akhri Juloos and a proscenium play Shambuk Vadh – and a public meting.


The principal speaker of the afternoon was Nilotpal Basu, CPI(M) leader in Rajya Sabha. In his speech Basu pointed out that the reason so many people throng the site of Safdar’s martyrdom fifteen years after his murder was because of his unflinching commitment to the cause of the revolution and the struggle of the people. It is the duty of all those who share Safdar’s worldview to keep his ideals alive.


The reason why the Jana Natya Manch was attacked on January 1, 1989 was because its plays projected the need for a revolutionary unity of the working class against the oppressive ruling sections. He described the attack as an attempt to break that unity. The best way to remember Safdar would be to strengthen the unity of the working classes and the people.


The present period, Basu said, was a time of test for the Left and progressive forces. He interpreted the results of the Lok Sabha elections 2004 as the mandate of the people against the policies of neo-liberalism. The people have not only indicated in no uncertain terms what should not happen, he said, but also made a clear indication on what should happen. Alongside the Left, especially the CPI(M) has entered the parliament with a record strength. This strength has to be used to constructively intervene in the seeking of a pro‑people path of development. It is unfortunate that the UPA government has so far miserably failed in implementing the progressive elements of the Common Minimum Programme and instead pursuing the same neo-liberal policies which spelt doom for the NDA. A path of struggle through the unity of the people is called for.


The other speakers on the occasion included Joginder Sharma, CPI(M) central committee member. He stressed that even though the NDA has been ousted from power and replaced by the UPA, the people can win back their rights only through the path of struggle. He also outlined the preparations for the upcoming CPI(M) Party Congress in Delhi in April 2005. ]


Before performing, the members of Jana Natya Manch paid a tribute to Safdar by singing ‘Lal jhanda leke, Comrade, aage badhte jayenge’. The street play Akhri Juloos defends the right to strike. It makes a sharp attack on the recent cases of judicial intervention which have sought to curtail the right to strike, place restrictions on rallies and sit-ins. In the play, a judge is caught in a traffic jam caused by a rally. Throughout the play, the contempt of the judge for the rally is contrasted with the enthusiasm of his driver for the tableaux which are a part of the rally. As the rally goes on the judge’s frustration increases and he passes an order declaring all forms of protest – rally, strikes and sit‑ins – illegal. Tableaux from the rally enact incidents from historic strike actions – the Railway Chakka Jam of May 1974 in Asansol, the workers’ strike in Mumbai in July 1908, the strike against the arrest of Tilak by the British police, and the historic May Day strike action in Chicago, May 1886. As the rally goes on the judge revels in the thought this would be the last ever rally – ‘akhri juloos’. Yet inspired by the tableaux his driver joins the rally. The judge remains caught in the jam.


The proscenium play Shambuk Vadh, which attacks the caste system, projects a strategy of a broad unity against Brahminism. The play itself is a reworking of a small story from the Ramayan in which a brahmin accuses Ram of causing the death of his son by his indifference towards the shudra Shambuk who has violated the caste hierarchy by reciting the Vedas. Ram kills Shambuk. The brahmin boy comes back to life.


In the play Shambuk is portrayed as a leader of the shudras who uses education to enlighten and empower the shudras. Trouble begins to brew when he begins the instruction of Sanskrit in his schools designed to study the Vedas which he describes as the repository of the best knowledge of mankind, from which the shudras and the out castes have so far been deprived.


Woven into this reinterpretation of Shambuk’s story is the character of Satyakam. Satyakam is not a character from the Ramayan, but is mentioned in the Chhandogya Upanishad. He was the son of a shudra woman Jabala, who was educated by the Rishi Gautama and given the sacred thread. In Shambuk Vadh Satyakam expresses his dissatisfaction with the Shambuk’s strategy of preparing the ground for the overthrow of the caste system through education. He argues for an armed revolt. Shambuk disagrees suggesting that without preparation of the mind the action of armed rebellion would be doomed to failure, particularly as it would not be able to forge the broadest unity of all who are exploited by Brahminism.


Although it is the reinterpretation of a mythological theme, Shambuk Vadh presents an analysis of contemporary issues concerning Brahminism and also analyses the social forces which are interested in maintaining the caste system. It also presents criticism of the principle values which keep the caste system in place through the characters of the Pandit, and the love story of Vridu, a carpenter and a Valaya, the daughter of the royal priest of Kaling. The play is written by Brijesh Sharma and directed by Sudhanva Deshpande. The songs set to tune by Kajal Ghosh are an added attraction to the play.


In the afternoon the workers and artists also participated in a rally to commemorate the occasion.


As in every year besides organising the Jhandapur programme in association with CITU, Jana Natya Manch also held two other meetings to remember Safdar. One was an intimate meeting where Janam members and some invited friends gather and recall Safdar, the man, the friend, the comrade which was held on January 2 (the day Safdar actually died in hospital). This year being the birth centenary of the People’s Poet Pablo Neruda, in the evening the film The Postman, based on the life and experiences of the poet, was screened.


On January 3, a poetry reading session was held in which Hindi translations of Neruda’s poems were read out. Vibha Maurya gave a talk on Neruda, his poetry and his commitment to the people.