India is at the crossroads of a major contradiction in the character of its development — at one end there is growing modernity and at the other end moral regression like the revival of communalism, khap panchayats and repression, a veteran Left leader contended Tuesday while speaking on the ‘state of the nation’ at the 24th Safdar Hashmi Memorial Congregation in the Capital.
Issues like atrocities, repression, communalism and democracy in the context of the growing social unrest in the country were at the forefront of the day-long memorial service to progressive intellectual and rights activist Safdar Hashmi, who was killed 24 years ago barely 20 km from the Capital during a street play on eliminating social injustices.
The memorial was clubbed with the centenary of iconic Hindi and Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto and activist and actor Balraj Sahni.
Presented by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), the day-long programme included interpretations of progressive poetry into plays, music, performances of Manto’s story, readings from their books and the screening of a documentary collage of Balraj Sahni's movies made by MK Raina.
The highlight of the event was a rendition of Saadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh by Astad Deboo.
The tradition of Sufi-Bhakti music was celebrated by Vidya Shah, Madangopal Singh, Jasbir Jassi, Rabbi Shergil, Scott Moses Murray and Imran Ahmad Khan. It was followed by a Dhrupad recital by exponent Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar. A calendar based on Manto’s Partition poetry was released by Ashok Vajpeyi.
Explaining the significance of the day, Ram Rahman, a senior functionary of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, said every year since 1989, when Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked the day has been used by Left-oriented and progressive people to commemorate his death by underlining the ‘need to inculcate secular culture’.
Some of the themes explored over the years include ‘artists against communalism’, ‘popular intervention for communal harmony’, ‘Hindu-Sufi devotional music’, ‘Mahatma Gandhi’, ‘Against War’, ‘The Making of India’, ‘Dandi March Anniversary’ and the anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
‘We try to interpret culture and history from a progressive point of view. The younger generation know Balraj Sahni as a movie star, but few know him as Left activist. Very few remember sitar maestro Ravi Shankar’s days at Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). In fact, Balraj Sahni, Ravi Shankar and Zohra Segal were at the IPTA together,’ Ram Rahman said.