People's Democracy

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


No. 01

January 06, 2013





Remembering Safdar


Sudhanva Deshpande


FOR the past several years, the residents of Jhandapur village in Ghaziabad look forward to the month of December, because in this month the entire locality comes alive with a series of cultural programmes which culminate in the huge memorial for Safdar Hashmi on the following January 1. It was in this little village, in the middle of the Site IV Industrial Area of Sahibabad, that the Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) was subjected to a brutal attack while performing a play on the first day of 1989. A Nepali migrant worker, Ram Bahadur, was shot dead, while Safdar Hashmi was fatally injured. He died the following night in hospital.




This year, on Sunday, December 16, Jhandapur residents witnessed a most unusual spectacle. Some actors from the Jana Natya Manch, wearing giant puppet masks, along with others without the mask, gathered in Ambedkar Park and started playing a cricket match. A large crowd gathered to see the match. The two teams were announced, the toss conducted, and the match began – except that there was no ball! Rather, the ball was imaginary. But the bowler was bowling, the batsman was batting, and the fielders were fielding – and the spectators were enjoying a good, keenly contested game of cricket in which some of the players had bigger heads than others.


Soon, though, one of the captains said she wanted an extra fielder. The batting side also demanded an extra batsman. So the commentator turned to the spectators to ask if anyone would like to volunteer. And sure enough, a couple of young boys did volunteer. As the match progressed, more and more local players were recruited from among the spectators. In the end, one team won and the other lost, but the outcome of the match was never an issue. The spectators were treated to, and some of them took part in, this most unusual match without a ball – and everybody had loads of fun!


After the match, the local children made paintings on two large pieces of cloth under the guidance of artists. These two paintings were later displayed on January 1, 2013.


The children of two schools took part in another fun activity – a comics workshop led by resource persons trained by Sharad Sharma. The schools were Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Jhilmil Colony and Great Child Public School in Karkar. Children learnt how to make comics and tell stories of their own surroundings. Using simple drawings to depict experiences they had been through or witnessed, the children created over 40 small comics. The stories covered a gamut of issues – from child labour to the environment to corruption to the status of the girl child. One child even made a comic about learning how to make comics. All the comics that came out of the two workshops were displayed on January 1 at the site of the memorial programme, and drew eager audiences, both children and adults.


For the past several years, children from several schools near the Safdar Hashmi Smarak Sthal take part in a two-day workshop where they play with material of various kinds. Aged between 5 and about 12, children create small figurines with clay, create images using different textures on paper, paste images from magazines on cardboard to create simple hangings, make murals on the walls of the Smarak Sthal (memorial site), and take part in a host of other craft activities. Whatever they make in the workshop belongs to them, so they take their works back home. They also learn new songs, and are treated to a story-telling session using glove puppets. JANAM actors, along with several trainee school teachers, volunteer time for this workshop. This year too, children took part in the workshop in large numbers, learning simple and fun craft techniques.




On January 1 every year, Jhandapur comes alive with a big memorial programme jointly organised by the JANAM and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). The venue is Ambedkar Park in the centre of the basti, which is transformed by JANAM actors with large cloth images and banners. This year it was biting cold on January 1, but by the time the programme began at 12.30, the sun had finally beaten away the fog and the mist; so audiences could enjoy the programme in the warm sunshine.


The programme began with songs by Ratan Gambhir, who came all the way from Bulandshahr to take part in the programme. His songs, about price rise, poverty, communalism, etc, have been part of the workers’ and peasants’ struggles in Western UP for years, and were enjoyed by the large gathering. JANAM actors, along with Suranjan from Parcham, sang three songs in tribute to Safdar, as did members of Jana Natya Manch of Kurukshetra, who have been coming to Jhandapur to perform for several years. Komita, who is the secretary of JANAM, addressed the audience and spoke about the relationship between the workers’ movement and JANAM’S plays, and about Safdar and the attack that led to his death.


Two plays were performed. The first was by the young students of Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Jhilmil Colony, who had taken part in a theatre workshop led by Komita last year, which inspired them to create their own play this year. Written by Vikrant and directed by Anupam Tripathi (who are both students of the Vidyalaya), the play was a hilarious expose of superstition and godmen masquerading as healers. The young actors performed with aplomb and abandon, and had the audience in splits. Without doubt, their performance was the high point of the programme.


The second play was by JANAM. Titled The Great Indian Circus, it is an unusual show which uses the circus format to make comments about hunger, food and poverty in India. This was created under the guidance of Anurupa Roy, who is among India’s most creative modern puppeteers. The acts in the circus include: the tigers Mannu, Monty and Cheetabrahm, who don’t listen to the Indian people, but only to their American ringmaster; a housewife who walks the tightrope and does jugglery with the household budget; the strongman who can break the toughest metal but is helpless in the face of hunger; and the common man whose life is a giant trapeze act, dangerous and precarious.




The main speaker at the public meeting was J S Majumdar, a leader of the CITU and member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M), who spoke about the challenges before the working class movement and the anti-poor policies of the UPA government. P M S Grewal, secretary of the Delhi state unit of CPI(M), spoke with passion and feeling about the recent incident of gang rape in Delhi, and the need for the working class movement to ask itself tough questions about its own record on gender equality.


Every year, on January 2, JANAM organises a small, intimate meeting to remember Safdar. This year, the main speaker was Dr Dinesh Abrol who interacted with Safdar as a science activist. On January 3, JANAM members and friends read poems in memory of Safdar Hashmi.