Remembering Safdar: his life and his legacy as a voice of resistance

“So you missed the demolition of the Babri Masjid

And the violence and hate that followed
You missed Ramabai and other Dalit massacres
You missed your nation’s love for the atom bomb
In 2002, you missed the Gujarat pogrom
And in neighbouring Pakistan you missed
The creation of the Taliban and here
This year you missed the coronation of killers

We who survived you missed none of these
We missed you.”- Anand Patwardhan

29 years ago, on 1st January 1989, Safdar Hashmi, one of the founding members of Jana Natya Manch (Janam), a theatre artist, a political activist and above all a gentle human being, was beaten up by the goons of Congress while performing a street play in Jhandapur, UP. He succumbed to his injuries and died on 2nd January. A worker, Ram Bahadur, was also killed. On 4th January, Janam, in one of the most significant moments for theatre in India, went back to the same site to finish the play that was halted by the Congress goons. Safdar died at an age of 35. In the current era when the voices of dissent are aggressively suppressed by the establishment, Safdar’s legacy and how he challenged the power centers by taking a medium which was considered elite to the streets, to the people, become vital. Following is a collection of articles, videos, and interviews on Safdar, Janam, and its role in continuing Safdar’s legacy.

  • “He was neither willing to patronize his audience with propaganda, nor was he willing to deliver a cathartic experience designed to evade harsher realities.”. . . Pragya Tiwari, in a piece for Live Mint, dives into the life and death of Safdar Hashmi and the art of cultural resistance.
  • 7 years ago NDTV did a show on Safdar Hashmi and the legacy of Janam around the time Janam was crowd-funding for building an alternate space dedicated to arts and culture. In a two-part series, part 1 and part 2, various artists share their experiences about the art scene in India and significance of Safdar Hashmi as well as Janam in the context of using art as a tool for political as well as the cultural resistance.
  • Every year on 1st of January, Janam organizes Safdar Hashmi Shahadat Divas in Jhandapur, UP, at the site where Safdar Hashmi was beaten up by Congress goons. In the next two clips, comrades from Janam sing ‘Lal Jhanda Lekar Comrade’ and ‘Sangarsh ki raah par’ remembering Safdar Hashmi in the Shahadat Divas event held in 2012.
  • Moloyashree Hashmi, member of Janam, in conversation with Newsclick talks about "relentless continuity" in Janam's work and its future. In an interview with The Hindu, she reflects on how her journey got intertwined with the journey of Janam.
  • Sudhanva Deshpande, in a piece for Scroll, talks about the cultural significance of Safdar Hashmi and reflects on his own years in Janam. In another interview with Sahapedia, he remarks on the history of street theatre in India and the role Jana Natya Manch played in taking theatre to the people.
  • Nandita Das worked with Janam in the late eighties. In an interview with Mint, she recalls her time spent doing street theatre and how Safdar Hashmi and Janam left an indelible imprint on her personality.
  • Naseeruddin Shah talks about Safdar in this video interview. Here is another clip in which Naseeruddin Shah is introduced to street theatre by Jana Natya Manch.
  • "And given that Safdar’s theatre was an extension of his politics, it is likely that he would have been censored, if not labelled ‘anti-national’.".. Aakash Joshi remembers Safdar in the times of a censor like Nihalani in a piece written for Quint in 2016. Since Prasoon Joshi has been equally disappointing as the head of CBFC, this piece holds true in the times of Prasoon too.
  • And to learn more about Safdar and Janam, you can get these books... 'Theatre of the Streets', edited by Sudhanva Deshpande on Safdar, Janam and street theatre. Also, there is 'Sarkash Afsane', edited by Ashok Tiwari, a collection of Janam's plays.

Ending this with a video of revolutionary artist Shankar Shailendra's song 'Tu Zinda Hai', which has a compilation of Safdar and Janam's photos in the background.

तू जिंदा है तो ज़िन्दगी की जीत में यकीन कर
अगर कहीं है स्वर्ग तो उतार ला ज़मीन पर. तू जिंदा है ….