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

[email protected]

There is a life beyond survival which demands freedom and dignity. Peace at the cost of liberty is just sugarcoated slavery. However, violence should not be seen as some over the counter solution for every political problem.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” -Lord Acton

Throughout human history, there has been a constant reshaping and change in the territorial boundaries and power equations. There have been imponderable wars and conflicts followed by incalculable treaties and agreements. However, these conflicts have been almost cyclic. Wars have been characteristic of human history. Textbooks teach that all these wars resulted because of the consequences that emerged in some specific contexts but when we look at them through a broader perspective, we realize that they were fought because people wanted more; more land, more resources, and above all more influence and power. Noam Chomsky, in his own understanding, says that “It is only in folk tales, children’s stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes willful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.” But there is a critique to this anarchical line of thought. Power is not bad but absolute and unchecked power is surely problematic. Humans by nature need an authority to control them and keep them organized.


People which seek absolute power without any legal/moral restraint are bound to be subjugated by those who have embraced authority with self-regulation.

Power is accompanied by violence. Violence is to power what pollution is to fossil fuels. As hard as one might wish, these two cannot be separated. Violence is terrible. The ugliness of violence is what has led most of the modern day thinkers and pro-democracy forces to denounce it and reject it as a form of struggle. However, one can not name a single nation state which emerged because of a struggle that employed peaceful methods throughout its course.

Indian National Movement, which is largely termed as a peaceful struggle, couldn’t have succeeded without violence. Tactics employed by Gandhi and leaders of his ilk were designed to provoke violent responses from their opponents. The images of unarmed protesters being attacked by the imperialists were extensively used to garner support for the movement. Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was elected through a peaceful electoral process but it was only made possible by a bloody revolution that happened more than a century ago (American Civil War) and various other violent struggles that followed. Non-violent methods can aid a struggle but they can not replace an indispensable form of resistance-violence, which is derived from power. Tiananmen Square protest is a classic example of a completely non-violent movement which was crushed using tanks and guns. The protesting students had enormous public support and yet they failed. The bitter truth is that force can only be defeated by force.


There has been a systematic demonization of violence in contemporary writings and narratives. However, it is ironical that proponents of such narratives are the ones who have been using violence as a tool for maintaining their power and dominance. Why does America impose sanctions on every country that has any nuclear ambitions? Being the only state which has used a nuclear bomb and having one of the world’s largest nuclear stockpiles, what moral high ground does it have to stop others from developing these weapons.


A state which has failed to protect its citizens from its own armed forces should not expect its citizens to protest peacefully. A state which is much oppressive and bans even the slightest forms of dissent has to be dealt with in a different manner.


The fundamentals of a nation state rest on the premise that only the state has the legitimate right to use violence and physical force within its territory for the purpose of maintaining its authority. And what is an authority? Who decides the legitimacy of this authority if the government is not elected by the people; if it works against the interests of the people? If it blocks the means to bring about a political change through civil resistance, how are people supposed to react? According to the social contract, a citizen surrenders certain rights and freedoms in exchange for the protection of his/her remaining rights and freedoms. However, when the government exploits these sacrifices without providing any security, it becomes obsolete and at times counter-productive.


There is a life beyond survival which demands freedom and dignity. Peace at the cost of liberty is just sugarcoated slavery. However, violence should not be seen as some over the counter solution for every political problem. A pre-condition for the success of any movement is political awareness. Violence has to have a purpose and it has to be the last resort. And to be purposeful and positively consequential, a struggle has to be well prepared, ordered and leader led.



Feature Image Credits: Sapiens


Maknoon Wani

[email protected]