Arts & Culture

Remembering Safdar Hashmi

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Those who know Safdar Hashmi don’t celebrate New Year like the rest of the world does. For them the birth of a new year is tinted with the murder of an imaginative, inspiring and brave personality: Safdar Hashmi. However his death isn’t observed solely as an occasion of solemn, sad mourning, rather it also marks a esilient and resurging awakening.

Who was Safdar Hashmi?

Safdar Hashmi was born on April 12, 1954. He identified as a liberal Marxist and graduated from St Stephen’s College, Delhi University in 1975. During his college day he joined Students Federation of India and later became a member of CPI(M). After completing his M.A from Delhi University, he taught in English, Zakir Husain College, University of Kashmir and HNB Garhwal University where 1st January is celebrated as “Abhivyakti Diwas” in his memory. Later he worked in Press Trust of India (PTI) and The Economic Times as a journalist, and then became  Press Information Officer of the Government of West Bengal.

In his short life Safdar Hashmi did too many jobs, only to leave them for full time political activism.

In one rare interview with Eugene van Erven he explains how he pursued work in cinema and television to earn good amount of money so that he can sustain his brain child JANAM (Jan Natya Manch). He expressed his desire of making art accessible to theworkers who are culturally today starved and marginalized”. True to his cause, he enriched the theater activism with socially relevant masterpieces like Machine (exploitation of industrial labour),Aurat (violence against women), Gaon Se Shahar Tak (exploitation of  farmers),  Hatyare and Apharan Bhaichare Ke (religious and political fascism),  Kursi (based around the controversy of Indira Gandhi and 1971 rigging of elections),Teen Crore  (on unemployment) and Halla Bol (awakening of a common man and worker’s rights). It was during one of his performances he was fatally attacked by the goons backed by Indian National Congress.

Sequence of events.

On 1st January, 1989, Hashmi and his theater group JANAM were enacting their play “Halla Bol” in a labor colony in Jhandapur village, in Sahibabad. Those were the times when labor strikes for minimum wages and respectable labor laws were common and Ghaziabad City Board Elections were scheduled for 10TH January. Safdar Hashmi was supportive of CPI(M) candidate Ramanand Jha who was standing for the post of Councilor.

The play began around 11am before a huge crowd. Within minutes, Mukesh Sharma a Congress candidate along with his aides arrived and asked to move past the space where the play was being staged. Safdar Hashmi asked them to wait or use a different route. The tension was in seconds escalated to violence.The goons had pistols, iron rods and hockey sticks, the artist had none. Safdar Hashmi was brutally beaten up and a simple laborer Ram Bahadur was shot because he was mistaken as Ramanad Jha. Injured Safdar Hashmi and JANAM members sought refuge in CITU office, but a while later the goons barged inside the CITU office. When the lynch mob dispersed, unconscious Safdar Hashmi was rushed to Narendra Mohan Hospital and later to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospita, Delhi where next day at 10 pm he succumbed to the injuries. He was 34.


Safdar Hashmi’s death caused an immediate and overwhelming outpouring of solidarity from varied sections of society. On 3rd January his 10 mile long funeral procession was attended by around 15,000 people. And right after the funeral, on 4th January in display of awe inspiring strength Moloyashree Hashmi and JANAM went back to Jhandapur, to the very spot where Safdar Hashmi was assaulted and finished the incomplete-interrupted play.

Fourteen years later on 3rd November 2003, Ghaziabad court sentenced life imprisonment to Mukesh Sharma and nine others.

What now?

It’s been 28 years since that fateful day. In all these years, Studio Safdar and Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust have been established. Movies (Anbe Sivam, Halla Bol|), poems (Purnendu Pattrea’s A New Word: Safdar Hashmi and Ranjit Hoskote’s Assasination of an Artist) , paintings (M.F. Husain’s  painting “Tribute to Hashmi” was sold for over $1 million, the first time a painting by an Indian artist reached this price) and awards have been dedicated to him (Shabana Azmi used the National Awards forum in 1989 to speak about the horrific killing of Safdar Hashmi). Today many annual events eulogizing him mark the calendar. We have added Safdar Hashmi’s name alongside Juliano Mer-Khamis, Pash and Sumeet Singh, in the long list titled “Artist who were killed because their art was inconvenient”.

Every year he the same old discourse of remembrance is repeated, and even though many will say it’s just a token thing- these tweets, the facebook updates, I disagree. I think  it’s important to remember things this relevant, it’s okay to repeat the same things over and over again because they are worth repeating, it’s essential to not forget.

If Safdar Hashmi were alive today, then we would see him marching with the tea plantation women workers of Munnar, with the ASHA workers, with 180 million public sector labors demanding dignified labour laws, perhaps we he would have performed “Halla Bol” for the protesting Honda employees, we would have seen him in Pride Parades, with Kashmiri Pandits and against Babri Masjid. We would have seen him in streets proudly standing with struggles.

We can’t have him with us, but we have his legacy and the least we can do is to remember him, even if it comes in way of our New Year cheer.

Image Credits: The Hindu

Niharika Dabral

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Niharika Dabral is an average anti-national feminist who is currently pursuing Journalism at Cluster Innovation Center. This quixotically honest and technologically challenged Garhwali strongly advocates that Harry Potter must be included in elementary education. If you want to rant about how unfair life is or want to share something awful or awesome that needs to be reported then feel free to drop her a line at [email protected] 

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