1st January 2008 to 1st January 2009 marked the 20th Anniversary year of the attack on Safdar and his passing away. Sahmat organised a range of activities through the year that reached their peak with the 20th Safdar Hashmi Memorial, organised under a Shamiana in the Vithal Bhai Patel Lawns in New Delhi.

The 20th Safdar Memorial was remarkable in many ways, the most remarkable of these was the very fact that an organisation largely run on voluntary contributions, by artists and by friends of Sahmat, has survived for two decades. Many of those who got involved with Sahmat in their teens now come to Sahmat programmes, with their teenage children. Sahmat has not only kept the spirit of resistance and solidarity alive among those who came together against the attack on creative expression 20 years ago, it has also been able to reach out to the younger generation through its innovative and thought provoking interventions in the sphere of the creative.  The fact that Sahmat and its activities continue to appeal to a wide cross section of people was in evidence through the large presence of Artists, Writers, Performers, Academicians, Office Goers, Students, Trade Union Workers, Youth and others who thronged the venue from early afternoon, when the programme began, to the conclusion of the event well past 10 at night.

Within 2 years of its formation, Sahmat had come to realise that communalism and more specifically, majoritarian communalism had emerged as the biggest threat to creative expression and artistic freedom and it is this understanding that has informed the major initiatives taken by Sahmat over the last 18 years. This year too the theme of the Memorial was against communalism and it was this and the struggle against intolerance that found expression in most of the performances, especially those presented by musicians.

The Shamiana where most of the performances took place was decorated with Huge printouts of Photographs highlighting Sahmat activities, through the last two decades. Held across the length and breadth of the country, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Bombay, Trivandrum, Calcutta, Lucknow Aligarh, Faizabad, Ayodhya. and another 35 locations.

The Sahmat Bookstall that also serves as a meeting point for friends  and for exchanging notes and addresses aside from picking up latest publications from Sahmat and other progressive publishers was, because of the extreme cold of Delhi, located under the shamiana and shgared space with an Exhibition on Safdar and The Hum Sab Ayodhya Exhibition that was attacked by the RSS and its progeny in 2003.

The programme began with an Act One presentation of a street theatre performance out Side the Shamiana, the play focussed on the frenzied non stop TV coverage of the Terrorists Killings in Bombay and brought out the insensitivity of the voyeuristic coverage of the gruesome tragedy geared towards encashing human suffering for increasing viewership

The audience moved inside the shamiana for the rest of the evening, On Behalf of Sahmat Ram Rahman the well known designer, photographer and Sahmat Member paid tributes to Sabina Sehgal Saikia, Senior Journalist with the times of India. Sabina who had been instrumental in Helping Sahmat organise the “Artists Against Communalism” concerts at Delhi, Aligarh, Bombay, Baroda, Valod, Surat and Ahmedabad was one of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Bombay. The tribute to Sabina was followed by Sahmat Member Academician, writer and vocalist Dr Madan Gopal Singh, Madan recalled Manjeet Bawa’s deep association with Safdar and with Sahmat and his abiding commitment to the Secular and Sufi traditions, one of the banners displayed inside the venue had a beautiful photograph of the famous Artist Manjeet immersed in Playing the Dholak as Allan Faqir, the well known sufi singer from Pakistan sang the verses of Bulleh Shah.

The tributes were followed by two theatrical performances the first was



presented by the activists of  Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti. The play dealt with the obnoxious practice of Honour Killings and highlighted caste oppression and atrocities on women committed in the name of caste honour in large parts of North India notably, Haryana, West Up and Rajasthan.

The second play, on the dangers of Drugs and AIDS was presented by Children of the Salam Balak Trust under the direction of the famous Modern Pupeeteer Dadi Pudumjee. Meera Nair, well known Film Director and founder of the Salam Balak Ttrust and her Husband, well known political Scientist and theoretician Mahmood Mamdani, released A Sahmat Publication that documents all Sahmat Activities and Statements issued by Sahmat on issues related to culture, attacks on artists, banning of books and films and a whole range of issues that have a bearing on contemporary cultural practices.

The play was followed by a vocal recital by Meeta Pandit, Meeta Pandit one of the most well known vocalists of the Gwalior Gharana of Hindustani Music presented light compositions including two Ghazals by Dushyant Kumar and rounded of her performance by well known composition of the 18th century Sufi poet Bulleh Shah.

Vidya Shah, who has been associated with Sahmat  from the beginning and has trained as a vocalist in both the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions and is a disciple of Shubha Mudgal presented compositions by Kabir, Meera and Dharamdas.

Prahladsingh Tipaniya and his colleagues were next to be invited on the stage. Prahlad Singh Tipaniya the most well known exponent of Kabir Bani, and his team held the audience spell bound both through the text and their girah bandi as also through expressive voices and the accompanying percussion.   

The audience was by now one with the arists in their exploration of the rich diversity of our pluralistic traditions but they were not prepared for the next act. The next event was a  solo theatrical performance by Maya Rao, the well known theatre personality, had the entire auditorium in splitsof laughter at her sharp repartees and scathing comments on war mongers and senseless sabre rattling on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

Maya Rao was followed by a stunning dance performance by Astad Debu, who had specially prepared a dance piece inspired by the Tagore poem “every particle of dust is awkwned”. The audience watched one of the finest exponents of modern indian dance in total silence, the piece came to an end, but it took a long while before the spell was broken by Sunanda Sharma, a young vocalist who has learnt from severalmmasters and whose singing cuts across diverse traditions. Sunanda regaled the audience with a Punjabi Sufi text set in a Chhota Khayal composition and this was followed by a beautifully enunciated composition by the Sufi poetry of Ghulam Fareed.

Night had truly set in by the time Jasvinder Jassi came on stage and presented a melange of some of the finest Sufi poetry of the Sub-Continent Gurbaani, Baba Fareed, Amir Khusro and Bulle Shah. After Jassi it was Rabbi Shergill who took the stage, Rabbi with his Urban Folk music and Bulla ki jaana mein Kaun has come to acquire cult status among the Urban Youth  and the young in the audience hasd waited for his music the whole day ,now was their moment and they did not leave disappointed, Jassi rounded off his performabce with a song dedicated to the memory of Safdar, Sabina and Manjeet Bawa.

The Manganiyars, the wandering ministrels from Rajasthan bought the curtain down  with their exposition of  Madad a song in praise Dastgeer Peer that articulates the  feminine voice in the sufi tradition.They followed it up with a composition by Bulleh shah and another by Shah Hussain, Madan Gopal Singh joined them in this last piece that marked the end of, what has been described by many in the audience as one of the most memorable New Year’s Day that they have spent.