Safdar Hashmi Memorial

AS always Safdar was remembered on January 1 by the left and democratic people all over the country through a series of events that signified a celebration of secular and democratic culture and the role of the Indian people in making this culture. They also signified a commitment to defending this culture from the onslaught of the forces of globalisation and communalism. Amongst the thousands of participants there also the rememberance and articulation of Safdar’s own commitment to left politics and class struggle.
In and around Delhi the events were, as every year, organised by the Jana Natya Manch and SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust). The tone of the events in Delhi was set by Prabhat Patnaik who said that India, like all other young nations in the world, had come into being in the phase of a weakening of imperialism and in the context of anti-colonial struggles, but an attack on this nationhood is taking place today in the context of a stronger imperialism. The resurgence of right wing forces propelled by the growing strength of imperialism pose the greatest threat to our nationhood today, he said. The struggle for nationhood must therefore be simultaneously a struggle for democracy, and a firm and uncompromising opposition to imperialism and the communal forces, which derive a great part of their strength from imperialism. Saying this he inaugurated a seminar titled ‘The Making of India’ organised by SAHMAT at the Constitution Club, New Delhi, on December 30, 2004.
DN Jha, through a scholarly presentation on the idea of India, argued against the Sangh Parivar generated communal claims of India as an ancient Hindu nation. Quoting ancient historical sources, he showed that India was never conceptualised as a nation during the ancient period. The only reference, Saptasindhava, which could be claimed as a Rigvedic reference showing awareness of belonging, denotes in the text a very limited geographical area. In the later Vedic period there is some geographical information on the region around Magadha, in the post Vedic period Panini, the grammarian, refers to 39 janapadas, and in the 1st century BC and in later sources we have references to mahajanapadas. But none of these denote areas or territory beyond the northern region around the Indus and going up to Bihar. In fact the earliest references to the idea of this land as constituting even a civilisational entity are later and by foreigners, particularly Ptolomy and the travellers who came to India, and even these do not see the South as part of the country. The puranas refer to seven regions or dvipas, the word Hindustan first occurs in the 3rd century AD, and Jambudvipa during the Moghul Empire, but all such references also see the area as constituting the Indus basin and parts that now are northern India. There is no reference to or concept of Bharatvarsha in the Vedas, and the idea of Hindustan as a country and large territory became a usage only with the establishment of the Sultanate and Moghul Empire. His presentation thus strengthened secular claims of consciousness of India as a country of diverse faiths and languages and kingdoms as having emerged during the medieval period of our history, and of our nationhood as been forged during the anti-imperialist struggle.
Aijaz Ahmed not only elaborated on how this nationhood was forged



during the anti-imperialist struggle but also questioned the Hindutva notion of Indian civilisational unity. The civilisational unity which shaped the emergence of India as a nation derived not from the Brahminical order or what has been characterised as the ‘Great Tradition’, but in fact from the opposition and struggle against this very Brahminical tradition and the caste system which has sustained and legitmised the division of labour and class society through centuries. It is this civilisational unity derived essentially and primarily from the common struggles of peoples of different languages, regions, faiths and beliefs, against this Brahminical order which was consolidated during the anti-imperialist struggle, which also objectively ensured the secular and multi-lingual, multi-nationality character of our aspirations for nationhood. In arguing thus Aijaz Ahmed not only underlined the popular character of our freedom movement, which has been underlined in some of our more progressive history textbooks, but also the popular basis of our civilisational unity and the contribution of the anti-caste movements and popular religious streams like bhakti in challenging the hierarchical order and giving a firm basis to what we see as the basic character of our national mosaic --- cryptically called the unity and diversity of our country.
He further argued that it is this nationhood, formalised in the Indian republic as a ‘union of nationalities’ and not just as a nation-state in the European sense, that is being challenged and ‘unmade’ today, by the ruling classes that have adopted right wing Hindutva as their weapon and imperialism as a senior partner against the forces of democracy in this country. He stressed that it is important to understand “what kind of forces are competing today, for the making and remaking of Indian culture, economy and polity, as communal majoritarianism combines with neo-liberal economic policies to dismantle much of what has been fundamental to our understanding of ourselves nationally and even civilisationally.” The fight against the forces that are out to undo even the incomplete and half fulfilled aspirations of our people is simultaneously a struggle for democracy and involves afight against the forces of casteism and communalism and a positive class struggle of the working classes in this country. It involves a virtual second liberation movement, he said, against the ruling classes who want to unmake the India that the majority of our people aspire for to replace it with one that serves them exclusively.

The seminar was followed by a half-day concert at the Safdar Hashmi Marg celebrating India’s composite culture. Among those who performed were Shubha Mudgal and Madan Gopal Singh, two well known singers of Sufi poetry, the Malbarians who played a ‘raga symphony’ for the first time, and Manganiars, the traditional and best known singers of sufi verses from Rajasthan. There were street plays by Jan Natya Manch, Safdar’s own group, and Act One, and dhrupad singing by Nirmalya Dey, modern dance by Navtej Jauhar, a film on Safdar by Sashi Kumar, a video installation ‘Unity in Diversity’ by artist Nalini Malini, and a short film Gandhi by Amar Kanwar. On this occasion an art exhibition is also being held at Lalit Kala Academy, including the works of Vivan Sundram, Ghulam Sheihk and Nilima Sheikh, and a poster exhibition also titled ‘The Making of India” which uses historical, architectural and archaeological material to underline the plurality of Indian culture.