ON January 1, Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) jointly organised a cultural programme and public meeting to commemorate the 29th Martyrdom Day of Comrade Safdar Hashmi at Dr Ambedkar Park, Jhandapur in Sahibabad Site IV.
Comrade Safdar and Ram Bahadur, a worker, were killed in a fatal attack on JANAM orchestrated by Congress supported local goons in Jhandapur on Jan 1, 1989. Since then, JANAM has been going back to the same spot to observe, along with the trade union comrades and local workers, the legacy of Comrade Safdar’s creative and political work. Over the years, this collective memorialisation of his commitment and contributions to the people’s cultural movement in the country has become a symbol of workers-artists solidarity.
As a prelude to the programme, Ratan Gambhir, a revolutionary singer from Bulandshehar (Uttar Pradesh) sang songs about workers’ struggle for their rights. Through his songs, he mocked the anti-people policies of the current government.
On a cold winter foggy day, the programme opened with songs – “Lal jhanda leke, Comrade, aage badhte jayenge” and “Tu zinda hai” – sung by JANAM members and protest music singer and composer Kajal Ghosh as homage to Comrade Safdar.
The songs were followed by a performance of Main Safdar, written and performed by a team of college students from Pune, Maharashtra. Produced like a dramatised reading performance, the play by these young theatre enthusiasts focuses on the story of how JANAM was formed in early 70s, its initial work and the attack that happened in 1989. The play imagines and tries to bring back, through its writing, Comrade Safdar’s personality and the circumstances that could have possibly led to the attack. The audiences appreciated the play. Later in the day, they performed it in the programme organised by SAHMAT. The team was also invited to perform in Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 2.
A young singer Shyam Rajan from Imtezaj Ensemble sung three semi-classical songs based on the idea of equality and justice.
JANAM presented its latest street play, V-Man ka Dhamaka. The play is directed by Dhwani Vij and written by Rajesh Nirmal, two young theatre-persons based in Delhi. The play satirically talks about the idea of “vikaas” that is being enforced on the common people by the current central government. It mocks the one-man personality politics played out by the BJP and the RSS time and over again to project Narendra Modi as a super-hero. While focussing on big corporate media, the play tries to expose their intention of fabricating the myth of “messiah” embodied by Narendra Modi. It busts the mere ‘jumlebaazi’ tactics that have no benefit for common people’s everyday problems whatsoever. The play scorned government’s anti-people plans and policies. A particular scene on currency demonetisation seemed to have struck a chord with the audiences watching the play.
The main speaker of the public meeting was Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). The meeting commenced with opening remarks made by JP Shukla, CPI(M) leader from Ghaziabad and Anurag Saxena, general secretary, CITU (Delhi). Anurag criticised the government for making fake promises and not paying minimum wages to the workers.
In a scathing attack on the central government’s performance, Mariam pointed out that Prime Minister Modi hasn’t delivered anything in favour of common people as he promised. She said, “We the common people are part of eighty per cent population. We have elected the government and it is our right to ask questions about the promises that were made to us three and half years ago. They made promises to workers, peasants, youth, women and children of this country but after winning they have betrayed us and we should not forgive them for this.” Specifically addressing women in the audiences, she recalled the adverse consequences of currency demonetisation on poor women’s lives. The promise, Dhawale said, of transferring money into poor people’s bank account was nothing but another jumla thrown at us by the government.
She mentioned how the government is offering tax rebates to big capitalists while farmers have to struggle and protest on the streets to receive suitable prices for the crop and debt waivers. Citing the starvation death in Jharkhand recently, Dhawale said that Santoshi did not die of hunger but was killed by systemic problems created by the BJP and the RSS. There are many such people in this country who are dying of poverty and hunger. She accused the government of doing “vikas” only of big capitalists like Ambani and Adani. Challenging the communal forces, she said that changing curriculum in textbooks, attempts to rewrite history, spreading communalism would not be tolerated anymore. She urged the audience to tell the local BJP and RSS leaders that their “achhe din” are about to get over very soon.
She claimed that whenever poor workers and peasants come together for joint struggles and shed their caste and religion biases aside, the BJP and the RSS unfold their communal agenda to divide and rule, similar to what colonial powers did to us in the past. At the end of her speech she underlined that the attack in 1989 was an act of cowardice and Comrade Safdar’s martyrdom keeps on reminding us that we must fight fearlessly for better future.
The meeting was followed by Jan Sanskriti’s play, Bullet. Holding the right wing forces responsible, the play tries to draw connections between the ‘bullet’ that killed Mahatma Gandhi and the one that took lives of Kalburgi, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh. They ended the performance with revolutionary songs.
JANAM also performed its play, Chor Machaye Shor. The play was made last year as a response to specific incidents that have taken in the recent past. Keeping media as an entry point, the play dwells upon the idea of daily news stories that appear in print, electronic and social media. Various scenes are based on actual incidents. Starting with news headline, each scene has a three-part structure – the incident, how media and government project it and our response to it. The play talks about the issues of Aadhar card for cows, mob lynching, communalisation, labour rights and killing of intellectuals in broad daylight.
The last performance of the programme was a short non-verbal piece on gender equality presented by Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti from Pune, an organisation founded by late Narendra Dabholkar.
The programme was ended by another round of satirical songs mocking the rich by Ratan Gambhir. The programme was well attended by local men and women workers, children and other residents of Jhandapur.
Every year JANAM also organises two other meetings to remember Comrade Safdar. An intimate meeting, “Safdar ki Yaad Mein” is held on January 2 (the day Safdar died in hospital) in which, along with couple of JANAM members, some invited friends also recall their interactions with Comrade Safdar. This year, poet and critic Manmohan from Haryana, spoke about his personal interactions with Comrade Safdar. He recalled the zeal and extent to which Comrade Safdar used to reach out to people across different sections of society.
On January 3, a poetry reading session was held on the theme of Freedom of speech and expression.