12th April is celebrated as the National Street Theatre day on the birthday of Safdar Hashmi, a celebrated communist playwright and director, gunned down while performing a play.
Born on 12th April 1954, Safdar Hashmi grew to become one of the leading idols for socially conscious artists, communists, and all those who struggle against the reaches of Authoritarianism. His life serves as a inspiration for what it means to stand up and fight for your rights. Safdar Hashmi graduated from St. Stephen’s with a degree in English, and then completed his M.A in English from Delhi University. A member of SFI (Students Federation of India) and IPTA ( Indian People’s Theatre Association), within which he founded his own group Jan Natya Manch (JANAM). Janam’s journey started with machine, a play about capitalism and the eventual victory of the worker. Safdar Hashmi revolutionized street theatre into a form of protest, a form of dissent, into a form of hope, inspiration, and power. It was during a performance Of Halla Bol on 1st January 1989 in Ghaziabad, that Safdar Hashmi was brutally attacked by political goons and died the next day. His memory however lives on, like a burning flame, igniting those of us who stand up against the authoritarian, fascist regime. He remains a source of inspiration and power to this day, in the face of the BJP-RSS and their sinister concoction of CAA-NRC-NPR.
Safdar Hashmi is not far from the minds of the revolutionary youth today, as many still draw inspiration from him on how they shape their life and activism. Adrija Bhadra, a first year student of Kirori Mal College says, “I’ve been involved with Jan Natya Manch and Dastak as part of their music teams, and both of those collectives are heavily devoted to the work and ideology of Safdar Hashmi. The way he lived steered me towards the mindset that art without a purpose is useless. His life and work showed me that music and theatre cant be elitist. It has to be made for the people and it has to be political in nature.” Faizan Salik, a second year student in Jamia Millia Islamia, when asked about what he learnt from Safdar Hashmi says “I learnt how theatre can induce so much social change, Safdar’s dedication to Street Theatre in fighting against the social problems has inspired many like me and has definitely our perception in making or watching theatre.”
Mohd Ghufran, who passed out from Jamia in 2013, and one of the founders of the Awaaz Theatre Society reminisces fondly about how he was introduced to Safdar Hashmi “I was introduced to Safdar Hashmi very late unfortunately. There was one event in 2013 organised by my team and there comes one volunteer who was helping us with the venue. He gave us two options, Habib Tanveer open air theatre and Safdar Hashmi amphitheater. This is how I got to know about Safdar Hashmi who I later started reading about him. A proud moment I remember is I was able walk on the same stage where Habib Tanveer did and I was able to perform on the stage that is dedicated to Safdar Hashmi. Later, I wrote few street plays and we used to them in saket, community center and different places in Delhi.
Sudhanva Deshpande, the author of Halla Bol, a book on the life and times of Safdar Hashmi, a member of JANAM, and a renowned actor says “Safdar Hashmi was 34 years when he was killed in 1989, and now its already 32 years since his death. But in a way you could say that he is more alive today than ever before, in the sense that before the lockdown, you could see his poetry being represented in the library at Shaheen Bagh, you could see his face and his name being represented in so many student protests across the country on several campuses. When the JNU campus was attacked by Right Wing goons, Aishe Ghosh held up a copy of Halla Bol, which is a book on Safdar Hashmi and so on. I think its really important for young people to draw inspiration from this incredible artist, this political artist who dedicated his life to his art, entirely to the cause of the working people.”
Featured Image Credits: Telegraph India
Prabhanu Kumar Das