The 1st of January is not only significant as it marks the onset of a new year but also because of the grim tale of tragedy that crippled India. On 1 Jan 1989, Safdar Hashmi was attacked in broad daylight while performing a street play, “Halla Bol” in an industrial township, a few kilometers away from Delhi. An immigrant worker from Nepal Ram Bahadur was also shot dead and lost his life that very day. Later, the following day(2nd January) Safdar succumbed to his injuries. This is tragically poetic that a spectator and a performer both lost their respective lives to this brutal attack. Two days later, the Jan Natya Manch(JANAM) went to Jhandapur and completed their play and gave a defiant tribute to the comrade, Safdar Hashmi. Lest we forget his murder and this act of gallantry by his fellow playmates and most importantly his spouse Moloyshree Hashmi.
Halla Bol was a play performed in solidarity with the industrial workers and their working demands. JANAM since its inception works around political movements and tries to lend its voice to progressive causes. An act of bravery inspires another such act, people were not afraid to voice their opinions at that time. Many condemned Hashmi’s brutal murder, millions of people marched in protest, Shabana Azmi shocked everyone when she read out the protest accusing the Congress(the ruling party at that time) while receiving an award at the 12th International Film Festival of India.
Safdar Hashmi, a force to reckon with was undeniably the greatest thing that happened to the political street theatre. A St Stephens alumnus, Hashmi identified himself as a communist. He sort to bring awareness, a change, to challenge the regime via his plays. The Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar said he continues making theatre because it’s a tool of resistance, resisting despair and depression. Jan Natya Manch founded in 1973 (by Safdar Hashmi) also illustrates its power as a theatre of resistance. Hashmi believed in this narrative and wanted to introduce the masses, especially the middle and lower strata of the society to this art called theatre. In trying times like today where freedom of expression is met with sedition charges, it’s imperative to remember Safdar Hashmi’s legacy of reclaiming civil liberties, changing and challenging narratives.