Unforgotten Safdar Hashmi: The Artist’s Resistance

    Safdar Hashmi was one of the best known playwrights of India who wrote captivating plays on social issues, granting a voice to dissent in contemporary times.

    Mohammad Zafar is working in the field of science education in district Uttarkashi of Uttarakhand.

    Safdar Hashmi in a street play from the 1980s Image: Sahmat

    On 12th April, 2018, I was working in my office and shared some messages on social media about the day. Some theatre friends tried to organize something but we all were busy in our own work so nothing could really get concretized.

    Almost nothing was visible on the mainstream as well as social media. I was surprised how things have changed now, and for us birthdays of celebrities, film actors, and leaders like Pundit Deen Dayal Upadhyay are far too important as news and not the birthday of a man who revolutionized the creative methods of dissent and resistance. A day which only some years back was very special for us had now become another usual day. Our small group used to celebrate this day, known as ‘National Street theatre Day’ in the memory of playwright, theatre artist Safdar Hashmi.

    I remember, a decade ago street plays were visible on the channels and newspapers. Several groups used to show social issues by this creative mode. But now it seems that either it’s mainly limited to college students and fests or by groups who work mainly for promoting government policies and schemes among people. The satirical plays on government, direct resistance to an issue, are not dominant these days.

    Of course, there are still some groups who are working on activism through plays but the momentum is different from the previous decade. There can be many reasons for it. From the changing scenario of politics and the changing lifestyles or desires of the people dominated from the market driven needs, the causes for our indifference could be many. For us, some caricatures made and promoted by some political parties are more important now than the real voices of people. Perhaps that’s why Safdar Hashmi is not important for newspapers and TV Channels.

    Safdar- a name known for his rebellious performances of street plays, and dramas for a purpose and change can seldom be forgotten. There was a time when he and his team developed an atmosphere of theater of activism and resistance and raised their voice against various issues. Their comic and satirical punches on the governments, politicians, corrupt bureaucracy, communalism, oppression and many important issues gave a message to those who were on the side of the oppressors.

    Shameful attacks by the corrupt political goons on him and his team is historical evidence of his powerful impact. He used stage and street theatre as a powerful method of resistance and dissent. Not only this, he is known for his plays and poems for children such as “Gadbadjhala” and the famous one “Kitabein kuchh kahna chahti hain”.

    The later one is the well-known poem which one can find on the walls of many libraries. He also wrote plays for children including good issues of concern in it.

    Now come to the long list of his great plays which still give guidance to theater artists and writers. He converted lots of stories in plays such as story of May Day, Premchand’s “Himsa Parmo Dharmah” and also wrote plays like Raja Ka Baja, Hatyare, etc. He was the key person behind the formation of Jan Natya Manch, the group known for lots of good stage and street plays on various issues like “Andhera Aftab Mangega” “Aurat”, etc. His group is still active and does plays on current issues. One example of their activeness is a play they developed after Nirbhaya case.

    So if we know his name, we must be knowing that Safdar faced bullets on 1st Jan, 1989, while performing a Street play “Halla Bol” on the issues of corrupt partnerships of capitalists, police, politicians and their resistance by common workers. This play was like a punch for corrupt politicians who then organized an attack.

    This was great news in the world of art because an artist was shot during performance. Unfortunately, Safdar died the next day along with his companion. And then a huge crowd came on road to give him the last salute. People wrote articles and stories on that incident and artists still remember him as a man of courage and creativity.

    Now when plays and street plays are mainly limited to colleges and institutes and people are leaned more towards following political leaders instead of questioning the wrongs. Then it’s important to remind the masses of the role if this creative person in the field of artistic dissent. The play “Halla Bol” was a satire on the corruption, oppression of workers and the monopoly of greed. His courage realized people strength of street plays and still groups use his plays as a rebellion against the odds of society.

    Now Jan 2nd is the day of his martyrdom and I am sure not much is going to happen on this day. I know that SAHMAT, Jan Natya Manch and various kinds of groups will remember his martyrdom day and some journalists will write articles on him.

    But the way Safdar has gave his life for a cause was not just limited to whatever ideology he had followed. He is an example to people who use creative arts as form of resistance and perhaps his assassination was a day which we all should remember. But, as we know that he has just been labelled as a communist ideologue in the time of growing communalization, fascist attractions towards political gains, and in such times of labeling it’s difficult to acknowledge his contributions. Of course, that cannot affect his rebel identity and his way of questioning power holders.

    Safdar will be remembered always as a person who made plays a strong force to question the issues, who developed a creative way of expressing resistance. His plays on communalism, oppression, status of workers, women, political hypocrisy and many such issues will always guide people who think for a better India.


    1. In times when trivia is mad over taimur Ali khan and his day to day updates a thoughtful tribute by the new leam platform is commendable.


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