People's Democracy

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

Vol. XXX

No. 02

January 08, 2006



Saluting The Memory Of Comrade Safdar Hashmi


Janam play in progress at Jhandapur on January 1, 2006

Sudhanva Deshpande


Throughout the entire country, the first day of the year is observed by numerous theatre groups as a day of paying homage to Safdar Hashmi, street theatre activist and communist, who was killed in performance by Congress-supported goons in 1989. The play that Jana Natya Manch, the group Safdar belonged to, was performing that day was called Halla Bol (Attack!), and it depicted the historic 7-day strike of the working class of Delhi, Ghaziabad and Faridabad led by CITU in November 1988.


The attack that killed Safdar and a worker Ram Bahadur took place in Jhandapur in Sahibabad, on the outskirts of Delhi. This small urban village, populated predominantly by industrial workers, has seen a unique cultural-political mobilization on every 1st January. Thousands of workers and their families come to salute the memory of a fallen comrade, whose name has become synonymous with people’s culture.


The programme this year began with Jana Natya Manch singing a song, followed by its street play Nare Nahi To Natak Nahi (No Play Without a Slogan). This play was first prepared for the September 29 all-India strike, and was performed extensively all over. The play begins with a slogan but it is interrupted by a worker, who says that if his employer were to hear slogans and see red flags outside his factory, he would be thrown out of a job. He urges the actors to do a play like any other play, with song and dance, a love story, and all that. The actors agree, and begin a love story of a young worker. However, as the story progresses, we find that slogans have a way of entering even a love story, since to talk about a worker’s life is to talk about hardship and struggle.


This was followed by a street play by The Players, which is the Dramatics Society of Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. Successive batches of The Players have performed in Jhandapur over the past few years. This year the play they had brought was centred on the lives of three workers – a boy who works in a shop, a young woman who works as domestic help, and an industrial worker. The play deals with the migration from the villages to the cities, and the exploitation that workers have to face in the cities. The youthful actors played their parts with verve and energy, and the tight script commanded the attention of the spectators.


This was followed by the public meeting at which Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) and Rajya Sabha MP, was the main speaker. Karat spoke about Safdar and the ideals he stood for. She said that Safdar was an artiste of immense talent. However, rather than using his creativity to earn fame and fortune, he put his art at the service of the working class, because he was a communist. She explained how, for communists, the question of ethics and morality applied equally to public and private life. It is well-known that the representatives of bourgeois parties speak in a pro-poor language when asking for votes, and a different, pro-rich language when taking stands in parliament. And as the recent cash-for-questions scam shows, these parties, are shameless in using every opportunity to indulge in sleaze and corruption.


The stand taken by L K Advani is instructive in this context. When the whole nation was unanimous in condemning the corruption of the guilty MPs, Advani, speaking in parliament, merely lamented the foolishness of his party members who were caught on camera. Karat advised Advani, who was set to relinquish his post as BJP president, to open a school for MPs, where they can be trained to indulge in all manner of corruption, but not be caught!


Karat pointed out that the only political force that is untouched by scams is the Left. The reason for this is that the Left represents the working class and its ideology. The only MPs who do not indulge in double standards in and out of parliament are the communist MPs. The CPI(M) fought the election with the promise that it would uphold the interests of the working people, and this is a promise it lives by. On issue after issue, communist MPs have taken unequivocal stands in parliament against the pro-rich policies of the UPA government. This has resulted in the government being forced to back off on some issues. Though these are not decisive victories for the working class, overall the situation is somewhat more favourable than when the BJP-led government was in power. In this situation, it is imperative for the Left to launch and lead big struggles of the working classes.


The meeting was also addressed by Upendra Jha and K M Tiwari of CITU and Pushpendra Grewal, secretary of the Delhi state committee of the CPI(M).


The meeting was followed by two more performances: Yeh Bhi Hinsa Hai (This, Too, is Violence), a play on violence on women by Jana Natya Manch and a performance by Act One on the theme of the role of Gandhi in the anti-imperialist struggle of the Indian people. In between the two performances, there was an impromptu poetry recitation programme, in which local workers and others read out poems.


Safdar Hashmi was injured in the attack on January 1, and he succumbed to his injuries the following day. Accordingly, Jana Natya Manch observes January 2 with a small, intimate meeting of Janam members. This year, Janam had invited K M Tiwari of CITU Ghaziabad to also share his memories along with Soman and Mukeshwar of Janam. K M Tiwari recalled the immense impact that Janam’s first street play Machine (written in 1978) had on him and his comrades. He marveled at the creativity of the people who had made the play, of course, but it also taught him that the real weapon of the working class is its class consciousness and organisation. In a rich and moving tribute to Safdar, he spoke at length about what Safdar and his martyrdom meant to the working class movement. Soman, in recalling Safdar, spoke about his warmth, his cheerfulness, his ability to lead without seeming to be a ‘leader’, and his political foresight. Mukeshwar, who joined Janam several years after Safdar’s death, spoke about how over the years he has become acquainted with Safdar, his life and work, and how this inspires him. He also read out a small poem he had composed for Safdar. Safdar was very fond of poetry, and Janam organises a poetry session every year on January 3 in his memory. This year, the topic was dalit poetry, and the noted litterateur and activist Ramanika Gupta was a special guest on this occasion. The evening was conducted by Brijesh of Janam.