Read how a politically stimulated University
of Delhi (DU) student became the icon
of cultural resistance in India.

As soon as you exit the Mandi House
metro station, one of the roads you might
come across is the Safdar Hashmi Marg,
which houses the famous Shri Ram Centre
for Performing Arts. Mandi House, home
to the prestigious National School of
Drama and other prominent cultural hubs,
acknowledged the fiercely rebellious artist
by naming a road after him, posthumously.
Safdar Hashmi is an indispensable figure
when it comes to cultural resistance
through art, specifically theatre art.
He pursued English Literature from St.
Stephen’s College and then got a Master’s
degree in English from DU. During his
post-graduation, he got associated with
Indian People’s Theatre Association
(IPTA), the cultural unit of Students’
Federation of India (SFI).
Hashmi soon left the body and founded Jan
Natya Manch, commonly abbreviated as
JANAM, as IPTA’s offshoot in 1973. When
Indira Gandhi was alleged to have rigged
the elections against Raj Narain, Safdar
produced a street play named Kursi, Kursi,
Kursi based on the questionable incidents
that took place during the 1967 elections.
The play made JANAM and Safdar Hashmi
immensely famous across the country.
In 1976, impacted by the exploitation
of labourers’ and workers’ conditions in
factories, Safdar Hashmi, along with five
other artists, directed a 13-minute-long
play titled Machine, depicting a situation
where factory workers were beaten up
by the security guards when they asked
for fairer working conditions. This play
instilled the conscience of people and
made them question the vicious cycle
of capitalism. It became so popular
that it was recorded and later remade
in several languages.
After Machine became a cult hit, there
was no looking back for Safdar Hashmi
and JANAM. JANAM got actively involved
with the issue of workers’ rights and,
within six hours of fare hikes by Delhi
Transport Corporation (DTC) buses, the
group directed and performed a nukkad
natak (street play) on the same. This was
followed by plays on various themes like
the distress of small peasants, religious
fascism, unemployment, inflation,
violence against women, etc. In the
short life of 34 years that he lived,
Safdar Hashmi gave 4000 performances
of 24 street plays.
It was a doomsday for the cultural
resistance movement when, on a chilly
winter morning, Safdar Hashmi was
attacked while performing a play in a
neighbourhood of Ghaziabad. Hashmi,
along with his fellow artists, was
performing a play for the candidate of
Communist Party of India (Marxist),
Ramachand Jha, when the Congress’
candidate, Mukesh Sharma, came and
asked him to evacuate the area to let his
rally pass. When Hashmi asked him to wait
until the play ended or to take a detour,
Mukesh and his goons got infuriated and
created a ruckus, vandalising and beating
the audience as well as the performers.
One labourer, Ram Bahadur, was killed,
and Hashmi, while trying to save his mates
and fellow artists, got hit by an iron rod.
He was fatally injured and got admitted
to a hospital but could not be saved. He
passed away the following day.
At the time of his death, he had earned the
stature of a hero amongst the proletariat
(workers, laborers and deprived citizens)
and artists. A huge crowd gathered to
witness his last rites. Incidentally, it was the
largest mobilisation after Independence
where people joined with a prior notice.
Today, Safdar Hashmi is a cult figure seen
as the symbol of Indian cultural resistance.
His life and legacy have continuously lived
beyond his own years, through art and
cinema. For instance, in 2008 Rajkumar
Santoshi directed Halla Bol starring Ajay
Devgn as an ode to Hashmi, who died
while performing a play titled Halla Bol!
In times of political unrest and democratic
upheaval, it is important for us, as
students in the hotspot of youth and
national politics to look back at those who
persistently utilised art to stand up for their
principles, voicing the need for justice and
revolutionary change.

Feature Image Credits: Telegraph India

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Wikipedia describes rock and roll as a genre of music that originated in America in the 1950s and is played with a lead guitar, a rhythm guitar, a string bass and a drum kit…or is it? rock Rock and roll proved to be much more than just music. It was the sound that truly shook conservative America for good, and eventually took pretty much the whole world by storm. It wasn’t just music, it was a provocation. It was an affront to authority and the oh-so-propah world with its set rules, rules the youth was desperately trying to find a way to break away from. As rock critic Jim Miller put it, “the name itself was sexual, derived from black slang for copulation.” There was something about the music itself, which with it’s out of the world back- beat and amplified guitars broke all conventions, perhaps it was the crudeness and utter madness of it all. But can we really blame music for bringing a revolution in a quiet, conventional world? Well, the music then itself was pretty simple, with plain riffs and casual lyrics. However its origins were not. In fact, rock and roll was the result of more than a century of musical cross-pollination between white and black, master and slave; a music born of miscegenation. It was a symbol of fighting back and breaking the chains of subordination and slavery. It thus went on to become one of the first signs of democracy and a true product of the consumer society. It was also its easy availability which soon led to its rapid base growth followed by an ever increasing fan following. And this was only the beginning. Then came the (in)famous 60s when it became official- the new mantra was that of ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ (President John F. Kennedy being a notorious icon and consequently a victim of the age himself). This is when bands like The Beatles, The Doors and the Rolling Stones came into the mainstream with path breaking music defying conventional thoughts and gave their listeners a new zest, the freedom to question, to fight. At that point of time, any kid who could muster up the finances for a new guitar and find some like – minded people could start a band of his own, and not surprisingly this is how many of the most famous bands came into existence. Thus this is where rebellion took its initial shape and was molded further. It definitely had its pros and cons, as this was followed by the hippie culture which was more subtled down yet deeply influenced nonetheless. And Elvis Presley, Queen and AC/DC et al prove it. The 70s will always be remembered for the revolution it brought which changed the way people thought around the world. Forty years have passed since then but the impact remains deeply embedded in our beings, mostly passed on to us as legacy by our parents by having been contributors to the age themselves, the age of sheer rebellion, the age we feel we deserved to have been born in, the age that started it all…the age of rock n roll. ]]>