At Mandi House, Rabindra Bahawan New Delhi

LIKE every New Year since 1990, artists, cultural workers, other intellectuals and social and political activists congregated at Safdar Hashmi Marg, Mandi House in the national capital again on this New Year day to remember martyr Safdar Hashmi, and renew their resolve to continue his tradition of struggle. The programmes organised on January 1 this year were the peak of a month-long series of programmes organised by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) to document the cultural resistance to the developments from Ayodhya to Gujarat. This series of programmes was meant to underscore the threat being posed by communal forces and also the resistance put to them in the last ten years since the Babri demolition.

The underlining of the cultural resistance to communalism started at 2.00 p m, with Vidya Shah singing Sufi-Bhakti poetry. Singing the creations of Sufi poets in Punjabi, Madan Gopal Singh then took up the thread. This was in accordance with the way the SAHMAT has been bringing to light the immense utility of the Sufi-Bhakti poetry, a glorious part of our heritage, in fighting the threats to our national unity and syncretic culture. It will be recalled that SAHMAT had organised a powerful programme of Sufi-Bhakti poetry, under the title Anhad Garaje (a phrase taken from a poem by Kabir Saheb) in the immediate aftermath of Babri demolition.

To this year’s programme a special invitee was Ghulam Hussain Khan from Mumbai; he belongs to the school (gharana) of Ustad Faiyaz Ahmed Khan who is known as Aftab-e-Mausiqi (the sun of music). It will be noted that during the state-sponsored carnage in Gujarat in 2002, a violent saffron crowd had also destroyed the tomb of Ustad Faiyaz Ahmed Khan in Baroda. Naturally, on this occasion, Ghulam Hussain Khan also presented several musical compositions from the repertoire of the great Ustan Faiyaz.

Renowned Dhrupad singer Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, one of the best representatives of the composite heritage of Indian classical music, once again sang after a gap of ten years, in memory of martyr Safdar Hashmi.

Shubha Mudgal, who has been associated for long with the SAHMAT’s New Year programmes, presented a poem by Wali Gujarati, especially set to music for the occasion. During the Gujarat carnage last year, the saffron crowds not only demolished beyond all recognition the tomb of this eminent 17th century Urdu poet; they even constructed a road there overnight. Shubha Mudgal also presented a lyric by popular Hindi poet Gopal Das Neeraj as well as some pieces by late Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the eminent Urdu poets of protest.

In her mono-acting, known theatre figure Vidya Rao targeted the Goa musings of prime minister Vajpayee. Her mono-acting presentations in the last few years appear to be the links in a series of satirical performances.

The all-embracing nature of the SAHMAT’s concept of cultural resistance was also underlined by a song presented by Usha Uthup, well known Indian pop singer, with which the programmes on this New Year concluded. She had especially arrived in Delhi this year to pay homage to martyr Safdar and register her participation in the cultural resistance to communalism. Uthup not only sang some songs on peace and harmony; her voice also inspired the audience to rise up and sing in unison with her. 

During the month-long programme which commenced on December 4, three symposia were held in which Professor K N Panikkar (vice chancellor Sri Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit), Professor Ashok Vajpayee (former vice chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Hindi University), famous lyricist Javed Akhtar, Professors Irfan Habib, Prabhat Patnaik, Romila Thapar, T Jayaraman and Sudhir Chandra, Ela Gandhi (a member of parliament in South Africa and grand daughter of Mahatma Gandhi) participated. These symposia were held at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Constitution Club and Delhi University.

During this month the following books were also released:

1) Saffronised and Substandard, a critique of the new NCERT textbooks. The book was released by Ela Gandhi.

2) Das Baras, a collection of Hindi poetry during the last ten years, edited by Asad Zaidi. This two-volume collection has 500 poems by 110 poets. The book was released by Krishna Sobti.

3) Drawing the Battle Lines, a book of cartoons that contains works by R K Laxman (The Times of India), Unny (Indian Express), Keshav (The Hindu), Surendra (The Hindu), Ajit Ninan (India Today), Ponappa (The Times of India, Bangalore), Yesudasan (Malayalam Manorma), Govind (Rashtriya Sahara), Irfan Khan (freelance), Rajendra (Dainik Hindustan), Sudhir Tailang (Hindustan Times), Salam (The Econimic Times), Shekhar Gurera (Panjab Kesri), Sorit (Pioneer), Paresh Nath (National Herald), Manoj Chopra (freelance), Chandran (Theekathir), Veera (Theekathir), Sudhi (Deshabhimani), Gangadhar (Prajashakti) and Venkatesh (Prajashakti).

The book is dedicated to the memory of Abu Abraham and contains probably his last cartoon. The book was released by Ashok Vajpayee.

4) The Republic Besmirched, A book containing press reports, commentaries and editorials after the Babri demolition on December 6, 1992. The book, having


tremendous archival value, has been edited by Anand K Sahay. The book was released by Professor Ajit Singh, eminent development economist teaching in Cambridge.

5) Communalism, Civil Society and the State: Reflections on a Decade of Turbulence, a book containing articles by 16 scholars and edited by Professor K N Panikkar and Sukumar Muralidharan. The scholars who have contributed include: Aijaz Ahmad, Javeed Alam, Neera Chandhoke, Sudhir Chandra, Rajeev Dhavan, Irfan Habib, Mushirul Hasan, Zoya Hasan, Manjari Katju, Sukumar Muralidharan, K N Panikkar, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, A Raghuramaraju, Kumkum Sangari and Romila Thapar.

A historic exhibition, Ways of Resisting, was mounted at Rabindra Bhawan Galleries from December 23, 2002 to January 2, 2003. Many of the works assembled in the project are part of political activism since the 1990s by artists who have worked with collectives to confront the forces of regression. Several other works arise from the longer-term agenda of individual artists to develop a critical language that reflects and critiques the historical situation: the distortion of democratic and secular values, and the parodying of these values by the rightwing ruling coalition.

There were multimedia installations and sculptures that presented, in material terms and through spatial encounters, political allegories to understand the unfolding present. The artists were Rumanna Hussain, Nalini Malani, N N Rimzon, Navjot Altaf, Sheba Chhachhi, Jehangir Jani, Pushpamala N, Walter d’Souza, Probir Gupta, Enas M J, Veer Munshi, Tejal Shah and Vivan Sundaram.

There were works by painters who questioned the easy appropriation of the Indian tradition and of the national legacy of modern India by the distorting ideology of Hindutva. These artists, who reclaimed an iconography that speaks about a plural and syncretic culture, included Akbar Padamsee, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Surendran Nair, Atul Dodiya and Arpana Caur.

This was complemented by the work of painters who speak in an urban vocabulary about violence and its aftermath, about people and their struggles. These included Altaf, Sudhir Patwardhan, Suranjan Basu, Jitish Kallat, Nataraj Sharma, Gargi Raina, Savi Savarkar, Riyas Komu and Indersalim.

The exhibition included a selection of photographs in a range of genres --- from reportage to documentary to narrative. The photographers were Pablo Bartholomew, Prashant Panjiar, Ram Rahman and Parthiv Shah. A selection of press photographs from Mumbai riots was also on show.

There was also a section of texts and video recordings that document the modes of opposition devised by artists’ groups in the public domain. These included the work of SAHMAT, Open Circle (Mumbai), Voices against Violence (Baroda) and Visthar (Bangalore).

Along with these, there was also a continuous screening of video documentaries and thematised narratives about the consequences of an ideological mindset that valorises (male) aggression and justifies violence against the already marginalised groups and communities in society. Videos from the following documentary makers were screened: Madhushree Dutta, Media Storm, Ruchira Gupta, Gopal Menon, Anand Patwardhan, Gauhar Raza, Saba Devan & Rahul Roy, Teesta Seetalvad, Lalit Vachani, Suma Jossan and Virendra Saini.

The exhibition was curated by Vivan Sundaram.

Popular films Naseem (director: Saeed Mirza), Fiza (director: Khalid Mahmood) and Zakhm (director: Mahesh Bhatt) were also screened. Mahesh Bhatt also participated in a discussion with the audience on December 19.

During this month, Players, a theatre group from Kirorimal College, presented two street corner plays --- Main Sachcha Deshbhakt Nahin? (Me not a true patriot?) and Khade Hain Lathi Taane (They are standing with their lathis raised).

Two full-length plays were presented at the Sri Ram Centre theatre to packed audiences. One of these was Dost..… Chokkas Ahin Nagar Vastun Hatun (There was once a city here, friend), a play in Gujarati by Fade-in Theatres, directed and written by Soumya Joshi. The other play was Tum Saadat Hasan Manto Ho (You are Saadat Hasan Manto!) by Prayog. Directed by M K Raina, the play depicted how communalism is destructive of entire culture. It was based on five Urdu stories by Saadat Hasan Manto, who in his short stories adeptly picturised the horrors of India’s partition in those very days.

Another play, Antigone in Hindi, was staged at Max Mueller Bhawan on January 4 to mark the conclusion of the programme. It was directed by Anuradha Kapur. Presented by theatre group Vivadi of Delhi, the play was a Hindi adaptation of a Brecht play that used an ancient Greek fable to send an anti-war, humanist message across. Significantly, the Hindi adaptation aimed at linking the plot with the anti-communal struggle, which we cannot escape from. The play beautifully and effectively combined the art of theatre with the medium of video; the latter was used to present the images of Gujarat massacre and violence as the background of its presentation. Through this method the play interpreted the original play’s message of the futility of a war as the futility and all-destructive nature of communalism. It was thus a fitting finale to the one-month long programme of SAHMAT.