A communist playwright and director, Safdar Hashmi is best remembered for his powerful street plays.
Hashmi was born on 12 April 1954 in Delhi. He spent his early years in Delhi and Aligarh. Hashmi became associated with the cultural unit of Communist Party of India’s student wing during his years spent in Delhi University where he earned his bachelors and masters degree in English literature. And it was also during this time that he became a part of IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). Eventually Hashmi created his own theatre group in 1973, called Jan Natya Manch, which is popularly known by its acronym JANAM.
Hashmi is believed to have brought the culture of protest to Indian street theatre; a fact that harboured much criticism and opposition towards him.
Though JANAM’s performance of political plays were the primary medium of Hashmi’s political activism; he also worked for newspaper and even as a lecturer during the emergency of 1975. He also wrote books for children and on Indian theatre; and even produced some shows for Doordarshan. However, in 1984 he left all other jobs and political activism became his sole focus.
He performed several plays with JANAM, often critiquing the current political scenario/personalities. And it was during one such performance that Safdar Hashmi was attacked fatally by a crowd. On 1 January 1989 he was performing ‘Halla Bol’ in Ghaziabad supporting the then Communist Party candidate. The performance was disrupted by goons. Hashmi was grievously injured and succumbed to his injuries.
“Comrade Safdar, we do not mourn you, we remember you in celebration.”
Qamar Hashmi, mother of Safdar Hashmi
His shocking death at the age of 34 was a great loss to Indian theatre, though the spirit of Hashmi is still continues to be celebrated. His works, his struggle, and his brutal death is often remembered by artists and “comrades” as a source of inspiration.
In 1989, several artists collaborated to found Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, popularly known as SAHMAT. It strives to keep the essence of Hashmi alive. Every year SAHMAT celebrates 1 January as the ‘day of resolve’.
-Article by Priyanka Kharbanda