Shaheen bagh


Giving rise to a new style of writing – prosetry – free verse has been an essential tool since ages ago, and has been increasingly relevant till date.

Free verse reminds one of the voices of resistance and anecdotes of expression, be it as vocal as it was at the Shaheen Bagh protests or as subtle as ‘Instagram poetry’. It has contributed, ironically, what cannot be measured in verses or penned down in words – an abundance of artistic expression, breaking free from what really ‘art’ is to narrate what can be referred to as ‘prosetry’ of individual as well as the collective self of one’s confrontations with the world.  While some have dismissed it as “not worthy” or “not having much to say”, free verse poetry is one of the rawest and most passionate forms of expression

Types and Styles of Free Verse

Some free verse poems are so short, they might not resemble poems at all. In the early 20th century, a group who called themselves Imagists wrote spare poetry that focused on concrete images. The poets avoided abstract philosophies and obscure symbols. Sometimes they even abandoned punctuation. 

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

  • Ezra Pound’s poetry, Imagist Movement

More reminiscent of a haiku than of Pound’s Anglo-American poetic forebears, this poem packs enormous meaning into a mere fourteen words. In just two lines, Pound describes both a setting and an unspoken mood, as well as a speaker’s perspective.

Other free verse poems succeed at expressing powerful emotions through run-on sentences, hyperbolic language, chanting rhythms, and rambling digressions. Perhaps, the best example is Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem “Howl“. Considered to be one of the greatest works of American Literature, the poem consists of 112 paragraph-like lines in more than 2,900 words and can be read as three strikingly lengthy run-on sentences. 

Therefore, free verse goes on to compose a story, tell a tale, and weave a narrative – something that Geoff Ward, a renowned writer and poet, refers to as “prostery”. Even though it doesn’t look exactly the same as prose when penned down, when read out loud, it does make more sense as prose, which further tells us that free verse poetry ‘must be heard’.

Am I good enough?
I’m not really sure.
In fact, I’m sure I’m probably not.
What made me think I could write this poem?
Everyone will laugh at it when they read it,
Or worse, they will be silent and hold their criticism in.
Or worse yet, they’ll say exactly what they think and I’ll be crushed.
Or worst of all, they’ll tell me it’s great but not mean it.
And even if they truly love it, I’ll still wonder if it’s good enough

– ‘Endless Self-Doubt’, Kelly Roper


Origin of Free Verse

Tracing its origins can be a daunting task as they appear to be rather ambiguous: the first poets of Ancient Greece composed in lines unstructured by syllables and rhythm at the time lyric poetry was being developed. There are traces of free verse in the Middle English ‘alliterative revival’ (c1350–1500), which was differentiated from Old English verse by its looser structures and many rhythmic variations. Clear instances of the same are ascertained in the translations of The Song of Songs and particularly, King James Version of the Bible (1611) – for instance, Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,’ which went on to influence one of America’s most influential poets, Walt Whitman. He contributed more to free verse than anyone else of his contemporaries. In his early 30s, Whitman decided to focus on his poetry and began writing what would become “Leaves of Grass,” a collection of poems using free verse with a cadence based on the Bible. 

(Read also: A Brief History of Free Verse)

When ‘Leaves of Grass’ was first published in 1855, his readers didn’t know what to make of Whitman’s unheard-of informality with the reader (‘Listener up there!’– he gestures toward the end of ‘Song of Myself’) and his shockingly raw, revolutionary subject matter… He was criticized for breaking every rule of good form and good taste — of course, this was all intentional on his part.

  • Karen Karbiener, a scholar of 19th century American Literature, NYU

Matt Cohen, a professor of English at the University of Texas, notes that part of what made Whitman special was that he broke the rules of poetry, which at the time meant “writing in rhyme and meter, in stanzas with traditional shapes.” Instead, Whitman wrote in “long, unrhymed lines, with a sort of conversational cadence rather than iambic pentameter or some other meter, and played fast and loose with stanzas and other sorts of organization.” Whitman’s innovations went even deeper. He broke the boundaries of poetry that he believed restricted freedom. In a sense, Cohen believes, by choosing free forms, “Whitman built democracy into his very style.”

20th Century Verse

Free Verse went on to become the centre of the Imagist movement in early 20th century America. Looking back from the 1950s, T S Eliot denoted Imagism as the starting point of modern poetry, when more and more poets began taking up free verse.

The new poetic inclination was not without its detractors, however. In the early 1900s, critics riled against the rising popularity of free verse. They called it “chaotic” and “undisciplined”- the mad expression of a decaying society. In 1916, the American scholar and critic John Livingston Lowes (1867–1945) remarked: ‘Free verse may be written as very beautiful prose; prose may be written as very beautiful free verse. Which is which?’ Robert Frost once commented famously that writing free verse was like ‘playing tennis without a net,’ while the poet and physician William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) said: ‘Being an art form, verse cannot be free in the sense of having no limitations or guiding principles.’ 

On the other hand, proponents of free verse claim that strict adherence to traditional rules suffocate creativity and leads to convoluted and archaic language. A landmark anthology, Some Imagist Poets, 1915, endorsed free verse as a “principle of liberty.” Early followers believed that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse” and “a new cadence means a new idea.”

Modern Day Verse

In contemporary times, free verse has evolved to produce some of the best forms of artistic work and expressions, which is a testimony to centuries of altered discourses and changed narratives. Einstein introduced his theory of special relativity. Picasso and other modern artists deconstructed perceptions of the world. Technological freedom and the rise of online platforms has to lead to an abundance of artists, writers, poets, just waiting to be heard. With a newly acquired sense of discontentment from the rat race and the search for meaning in life, while also dissenting against what is considered to be the ‘norm’, poetry has come a long way in terms of personal exploration and experimentation. 

Especially with the rise of ‘Instagram poetry’, free verse has broadened, both in existence and understanding. Not unlike before, free verse still implies breaking free from rules and rhymes to express what is necessary – what needs to be written and heard, in a manner free from elitist categorisations or exclusionary meters. The most popular of these ‘Instagram poets’ would be Rupi Kaur, her signature style being short sentences, lower case, free verse, and accompanying illustrations with hidden philosophical implications of self-doubt and self-discovery. 


Even though Kaur’s poetry has been controversial and sometimes criticised for being overly formulaic and monetised, penning it down with the purpose of writing what sells. However, despite the existence of such beliefs and notions, from a personal opinionated space, Kaur’s poems are liberating, to say the least for what or who really defines ‘art’ or if it is ‘worthy’ enough or not. Drawing any conclusions as to what is the ‘acceptable’ form of writing or how to create ‘art’ is up to no one.


Another one of my personal favourites would be Live Wire which publishes poetry submitted by anyone and everyone pertaining to dissent, expression and everything art.


It can turn out to be one of the strongest means of dissent and asking the right questions and sometimes, just having a voice to pen down verses of resistance.


Such poetry also becomes an outlet for altered discourses and deconstructing, and then reconstructing narratives. The purpose, then, is not to create ‘art’ or pen down something to be read by generations to come but just voicing out your epiphanies and ensure your being amid the uncertainty of things. 


And sometimes, that’s exactly what they are – ‘prosetry’, narrating beautiful memories and telltales.


What, then, becomes rather interesting is how the continued digressions from its commonly perceived understandings, free-verse poetry today stands for anything and everything devoid of any limitations, accompanied with illustrations, colours and paints, so as to achieve its sole absolute purpose – expression. 


Therefore, today, poetry dominates the literary scene and only time would tell its lasting impression as wheels on the sand of passing time.

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Featured Image Credits: Unsplash

Annanya Chaturvedi

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Here is an eye-opening first hand account of the Shaheen Bagh protests from the pen of a participating media-person.

I have seen various media personnel visit and report about the protests at Shaheen Bagh. But as media students, we are often told that the more comfortable a person is with us, the more heartfelt the conversation will be. Thus, I made it a point to be without any media equipment and be a part of the protest. The result of this was eye-opening.

As I reached the locality, the first thing I could notice was the posters of the local MLA Amanatullah Khan all along Jasola puliya (bridge), besides which are huge dumps of garbage. The area suffers heavily from lack of sanitation facilities. The Delhi Police have placed barricades at multiple places around the demonstration. 

Dissent and fulmination form the basis of a vibrant democracy. In neoteric times, a demonstration which has become the flag bearer of these rights are the protesters of Shaheen Bagh. These protests have, for antipathetic and sympathetic reasons, been the hot topic in national politics as well as media for over two months. 

One can’t help but notice several roadside shops selling, in simple words, protest merchandise. These include shirt pins, mufflers, head wraps and t-shirts. The shopkeeper tells me that he, a class 7th student, along with his father can make around Rs. 200 to 300 each. On being asked about his schooling, he gives me a sad shrug. When I ask him about his meals, he tells me that just twenty metres ahead, a ‘Sardar Ji’ and his wife, both advocates have started langar and they feed everyone. “They both get pensions every month as they are lawyers. What a life they have. I wish I could also just do nothing and earn a lot.” The point of doubt in this statement was that advocates do not get any pension, so where was that money coming from? Even after multiple tries, I couldn’t get the answer to this question. The whole area is witnessing the rise of a gig economy which survives on the protests and if the protests stop, this economy will also crash. 

Further down the street is a vendor who is selling kufis. Talking to me, he reiterates his anger towards the establishment, “The government is doing nothing. Modi and Shah along with the RSS are onto us. Sometimes, I feeling like burning the whole parliament down. They are not doing work anyway.” Just beside him is an old lady or as she was being addressed ‘Dadi’. She tells me about her son working in the Delhi Metro as an engineer. She emphasises on the fact that no one can defy ‘Allah ka Farman’ or God’s order, “These people in the government are just humans and they can’t defeat Allah.” On knowing that I was a college student, she gives me her best wishes. 

The place was full of buzz as the arrival of Supreme Court lawyers was due in a short while. Even though the people there are protesting for the same cause, still everyone’s views are different. And without a leader, these views clash. While some wanted to talk to the lawyers, others were steadfast on the fact that the Apex Court itself is a ‘slave’ of the government. 

The stretch which is being used by the protestors for the sit-in is home to many big showrooms. And due to the protests, the business of these shops has crashed. The streets also had the rumour that these showroom owners are bribing the authorities to clear the road and get their businesses running. Annoyed by this rumour an attendee says, “These people won’t understand. If they won’t earn for some time, what bad can happen? But if the protests finish our future generations won’t be able to live, they’d become slaves.” 

As opposed to the common narrative, people here were genuinely scared of the trio – National Register of Citizens (NRC), National Population Register (NPR) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This fear was also a result of mongering as most of the people didn’t know everything about the bill. The hoarding put up in the area, which did try to explain the matter was itself fallacious. This explanation connected the Aryan theory of Friedrich Schlegei and William Jones to the present scenario – where misconception goes on and on based on such assumptions and tries to force a particular interpretation of the trio rather than letting people using their sense.

The protestors themselves know the fact that the moment they unblock the road, nobody will care for their protesting anymore. Apart from this, the organisers also do not allow men to sit in the front, only women are allowed to do so. On being asked why, a bystander tells me that they only have these two factors – the roadblock and the women, as leverage for the protest. If they lose either of them, the protests will fail. 

This has resulted in the popular opinion of the place to shift from ‘saving the constitution’ to ‘saving the kaum’ or community. The protest is being led by the women of Shaheen Bagh but several men around the area do not want to accept this empowering symbol. “Are we wearing bangles that these lawyers will ask the women for their views? These women are just being given too much importance”, said a man when the Supreme Court lawyer asked for the views of women on the matter. After a short while, the so-called ‘volunteers’ barged into the sitting area and blocked the view of many women. When confronted they started pushing and heckling the women. Since these boys were locals and knew almost everyone, not many confronted them and they continued to stand wherever they wanted. 

Just a few days back so-called activist, Gunjan Kapoor tried to film the protests without consent while wearing a burqa and sitting among the protestors. After a while, she was caught by the protesters who reportedly had a hard time ‘saving’ her from the locals before handing her over to Delhi Police. Mentioning this, a dadi trying to give proof of the peaceful nature of the protests to the lawyers, said, “We handed over Gunjan Kapoor to the police. Even though she was a Hindu, we did not harm her.” These lines forced me to rethink about the secular nature of the protests. 

The Shaheen Bagh protests are facing the grave dangers of conflicting views and unclear narratives. If the protestors do not understand and address this, the whole protests will be delegitimised, thus breaking the protestors. 

Image Credits: Aniket Singh Chauhan for DU Beat

Aniket Singh Chauhan

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We, the people of India, may have grown up with school debates that argue in favour of India being a “soft State”. However, the delusional bubble can only carry so far as the world around you, as you know it, is crumbling and, to paraphrase Rick Blaine’s line from Casablanca – our delusions of peace don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

India, as a society, is violent and not mild about it. From the practice of female foeticide, dowry murders, and caste violence to the silencing of journalists (fifth-worst as per Reuters, circa 2015), danger posed to women (Reuters, The
Guardian, CNN reported India as the most dangerous country for women in 2018), and our educational model with its suicide stories of frustrated and frightened youth – we have internalised this violence as a part of the Indian
routine alongside “chai-paani”. Then, over a week ago, a CCTV footage surfaced from Jamia Millia Islamia, which would be enough to shake the ideological core of the people of a society not so blindly in love with violence and mob justice, as the Singham, Simmba, and whatever Rohit Shetty’s making next-applauding masses are.

The footage from the University’s library showed policemen entering with lathis, charging at students who appeared to have been inside in their booths. The violence in the video is triggering as the youth holds its hands above its head to avoid injuries. The footage comes in, post the denial of the Home Minister and the Delhi Police regarding thelatter ever having entered the library on 15th December 2019. Media outlets like Republic TV, Times Now,etc. claimed to have found the “unedited” version of the footage, showing the students entering the library with stones, suggesting that the actions of the CRPF were provoked.

Alt News later fact-checked the authenticity of the footage and revealed that what had been propagated as a stone in the hands of a student was a wallet. The damage, however, to the collective conscience and moral psyche of India was done and dusted with, at that point. When Instagram pages like Indian Military Updates post captions that state “Condemn The Violent Actions of CRPF Bcoz (Because) They Were Not Violent Enough”, we need to analyse our problematic romance with violence.

Anurag Thakur and the like of his breed of politicians can get away with cries that lead to violent action, in the faces of the Jamia and Shaheen Bagh shooters, not because the judiciary or the State are being undemocratic, but because they are seemingly catering to the bloodlust of the masses. Family WhatsApp groups and dinner-table conversations should be one’s doorway to the horrifying glorification of the acts of the police. Lived experiences of the people, their dissent, a need to question – these become secondary in middle- class Indian households, to the need to dictate and control the narrative, even if it defies any semblance of fact.

Middle-aged people alike have justified the violence in the footage, believing that the acceptable realm of universities and for students is text-book education, employment, and not the acceptably dirty business that is politics. They fail to see the first two as inseparably linked with the course of political developments, blinding themselves conveniently to the ideals of the very Independence struggle that allows this nationalistic fervour but was carried on the martyred backs of young college students.
Like or dislike for student politics aside, what the attitude towards the Jamia violence shows is not just social tendency to dismiss our youth as misguided when they do anything but obey, but it is also reflective of a deeply problematic ideological acceptance and internalisation of Althusser’s repressive state apparatus. What this country needs to ask itself is not whether the students had stones or any other fictional weapon, but whether the Police has a
right to unleash that kind of barbaric violence. Or worse, when they think the State’s people condone the violence that contains and kills dissent.

Anushree Joshi
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As people come out on the streets every day to protest the draconian and unconstitutional laws of the government, an ode to the women who are the centre of revolution in our city.

The air is different here, Shaheen Bagh’s corners and roads echo with the cries of azadi and inquilab zindabad. A walk through Shaheen Bagh shows many things, toddlers and small children chanting azadi, a mother sitting who wants her baby’s first word to be azadi, songs of resistance playing over the speaker. With dissent and revolution in the air, one question becomes evident. How did this start and what is the significance?

The indefinite sit-in began the day after the Delhi Police entered Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and brutally unleashed violence on peacefully protesting students, even attacking those who were just in their hostels or the Central Library. What began as 10-15 women sitting and indefinitely protesting against the unconstitutional and Islamophobic CAA-NRC-NPR has now catalysed into a much larger protest site. The entire street has become a space for dissent in many forms, with speakers, singers, and artists all doing everything, a roadside library for people to study and read in, medical have all come up to help these brave women . Shaheen Bagh has also served as a model for many other similar indefinite sit-in protests, all led by brave women who have left everything behind to protest against fascism. Seelampur Jaffrabad, Inderlok Metro Station, Khureji, Hauz Rani, Ghantaghar in Lucknow and many other similar protest sights coming up all over the country to protest. 

The women of Shaheen Bagh and other such protests have come to symbolise so much in these dark times. In a country where gender roles and stereotypes have a large and pervasive role, Shaheen Bagh also stands a symbol fighting these unjust stereotypes. These stereotypes have been seen in several protests, an example being the Anti-CAA rally held in Lucknow on the 19th of December, where women were told to stand away from the main protesting crowd, and not allowed to go into the centre of the protest by their male counterparts and were told that “beech mai mat aaye, ye safe nahi hai” ( don’t come in between, it’s not safe).

The women of Shaheen Bagh and women throughout history, along with fighting the injustices of the time have smashed the patriarchal stereotypes which depict women as frail and weak. The strength shown by these women is an inspiration for all those who are protesting and dissenting against the Government and its policies. In these times of brutality and suppression, these women have done the bravest thing they could do, stand up and speak, and the entire country is listening.


Feature Image Credits: Manav Ahuja and Jassman for DU Beat

Prabhanu Kumar Das

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