Professor DN Jha, chairing a lecture by professor Irfan Habib, SAHMAT. 2017. We lost professor Jha yesterday. Every interaction with him over the decades was rich with historical fact and information and delight with his hysterical wit and wicked humour. The Indian Express obituary is below.


Celebrates 110 years of
Faiz Ahmed Faiz

An evening of poetry, discussion and music
7.30 pm on Saturday, 13 February 2021

The concert will be live at the following links:


SAHMAT Statement

10 February 2021

We strongly deplore the raids by the Enforcement Directorate on the independent online news portal, NEWSCLICK. This is in continuation of the attacks on journalists and media persons, including Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Zafar Agha, Siddharth Varadarajan, Mandeep Punia, Vinod Jose, Aman Nath, Paresh Nath and others, who have been vocal in their support of the farmers’ agitation. 

In solidarity,

A N DAMODARAN, janasamskriti 

A.G.K. Menon, architect/urban planner

Aban Raza, artist

Abhilasha Kumari, former director, KIIT University, professor, communication ISID,

Achin Vanaik, retd. professor, Delhi University

Aditi Chowdhury, citizen

Aditya Mukherjee, professor retd., JNU

Ajay K. Mehra, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Senior Fellow, NMML

Ahmar Raza,

Ajith Pillai, independent journalist

Albeena Shakeel, former president, JNUSU

Amitabha Basu,retired scientist, CSIR – NPL

Amitabha Pande,  IAS retd, former secretary, Government of India.

Amitava Das, artist

Amitava Sanyal, journalist

Anil Bhatti, professor emeritus, JNU

Anil Chandra, activist

Anil Rai, retd. professor, NIUA

Anisha Shekhar Mukherjee, conservation architect and writer

Anita Rampal, educationist

Antara Dev Sen, journalist

Anuradha Kapur, theatre worker

Apoorvanand, writer, teacher

Archana Prasad, JNU

Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey, MKSS

Avinash Kumar, assistant professor, JNU

Ayesha Kidwai, JNU


Badri Raina, author, columnist

Basanta, editor, Tulika Books

Bishnupriya Dutt, JNU

Deepak Sanan, retd. civil servant

Dhanu Swadi, concerned citizen

Dinesh Abrol, retd scientist, CSIR

Dr Anis Ansari IAS (r), president, All India Professionals ‘ Congress, UP

Dr. S.Krishnaswamy, retired senior professor, ex Madurai Kamaraj University

Estell Desai, activist

Gautam Mody, general secretary, New Trade Union Initiative

Geeta Kapur, independent art critic and curator

Gigi Scaria, artist

Harsh Mandar, activist, writer

Indira Chandrasekhar, publisher

Indranil Chowdhury, assistant professor, Delhi University

Irfan Habib, professor emeritus, AMU

Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Association for Democratic Rights (Punjab)

Jahar Kanungo, filmmaker, writer

Joe Athialy, New Delhi

K. L. Sharma, former professor, JNU

Kalyani Menon Sen, independent researcher

Karuna D.W., assistant professor, Azim Premji University

Kausar Wizarat, former assistant professor, NIEPA

Kumar Shahani, independent film maker

Latika Gupta

Lima Kanungo, retd teacher, DU

Lt Col Anuj Srivastava, retd.

M.G. Devasahayam, chairman, People-First

M.K. Raina, actor, theatre director

Madan Gopal Singh, writer, singer

Madhu Prasad, retd. teacher, Delhi University

Madhusree Dutta, filmmaker, curator

Maitrayee Chaudhuri, professor, JNU

Mandira Sen, Director, Stree, Samya

Manini Chatterjee, journalist and author

Mani Shankar Aiyar

Maya Krishna Rao, theatre artist

Meera Sanghamitra, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) 

MG Devasahayam

Mohan Rao, retd. professor, JNU

Moushumi Basu, JNU

Mridula Mukherjee, retd. professor, JNU

N.D.Jayaprakash, social worker

N.K. Sharma, theatre director

Nancy Adajania, cultural theorist and curator, Bombay 

Nasir Tyabji,former director, professor, Jamia Millia Islamia

Narayani Gupta, retd. professor, JMI

Navsharan Singh

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, independent journalist

Nuzhat Kazmi,

P. Sainath, journalist

P.K. Shukla, former secretary, ICHR

Padma Velaskar, retd. professor, TISS (Mumbai)

Pamela Philipose, independent journalist

Parthiv Shah, designer, photographer

Prabhat Patnaik, professor emeritus, JNU

Pradip Kumar Datta, retired professor

Puneet Nicholas Yadav, journalist

Pushpamala N, artist

R. Ramakumar

Rajendra Sharma, writer, activist

Rajinder Arora, writer, designer, publisher

Raka Chakravarty, architect

Ram Rahman, designer, photographer

Ramesh Dixit, retd. professor, Lucknow University

Ras Bihari Das, retd., IRTS

Rashmi Doraiswamy, professor, Jamia Millia Islamia

Renu Gupta, entrepreneur

Rimli Bhattacharya, writer, teacher & translator, University of Delhi

Ritambhara Shastri, journalist

Ritu Menon, publisher     

Rupinder Kaur, social activist

S.N.Sahu, retd. IAS officer

Saeed Mirza, writer, filmmaker

Saif Mahmood, advocate, Supreme Court of India

Sajid Raza Khan, retd civil engineer, DDA

Sarita Sabiruddin 

Shabnam Hashmi, Anhad 

Sehba Taban, Activist

Sharmila Samant, artist 

Sherna Dastur, designer

Shireen Moosvi, retd professor, AMU

Smita Gupta, independent economist

Sohail Hashmi, writer, filmmaker

Sucheta Mahajan, professor, JNU

Sudhir Chandra, retd, professor

Tejal Kanitkar, associate professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

Thomas Franco, People First

Utsa Patnaik, professor emerita, JNU

Valay Singh, writer, journalist 

Vivan Sundaram, artist

Zoya Hasan, professor emerita, JNU.



Celebrating Foundation Day of SAHMAT in a Novel Way, 1-1-2021

The year gone by would be remembered in human history for the havoc that COVID19 created in the lives of one and all. The epidemic that began sometime in late December soon turned into a pandemic making its presence felt in all the continents, including Antarctica. While countries like Cuba, China and Vietnam were able to successfully control the spread of the disease with timely intervention majority of the European and Latin American countries including Brazil and above all United States of America— the so-called super power— became its worst victims. The virus indeed exposed the harsh realities of the health care systems in place in these ‘developed’ nations.

Like other parts of the world India too was not able to escape this menace. Tragically people here, especially the poor and the downtrodden, due to the delayed and reckless response by the incumbent government, had to pay a heavy price. And while states like Kerala did make sincere attempts in reducing the pain of these people majority of the states governments failed them miserably.

The pandemic has brought about far reaching changes in our lives. It has forced people to go beyond their comfort zone and explore avenues which have hitherto remained under-explored. One such avenue is that of the virtual world. In last one year virtual platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Youtube, Facebook et al. have become an important part of human lives and have changed the manner in which day to day human interactions take place. While some have found it difficult to adjust to this change others have found such platforms quite convenient. Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) too, as this past 1st January showed, experimented quite creatively and with gusto with the virtual platforms.

Traditionally the cultural evening organized by SAHMAT is marked by riveting performances and camaraderie and bonhomie among long associates and friends. However, since the proceedings of the 32nd Safdar Hashmi Memorial took place virtually, it, unfortunately, meant the absence of the latter element.

The theme of this year’s event, depicted aesthetically on the SAHMAT brochure titled ‘Dukh Likha Jana Chahiye’ (‘Sadness should be Documented’), was the plight of the downtrodden, particularly the migrant labourers— people who were let down by the Indian state.

The proceedings of the evening began with moving tributes to Astad Deboo, Arjun Dev, Kumi Chandra, Manglesh Dabral and Anjum Singh all of whom were closely associated with SAHMAT and its workings and whom the organization lost in the year gone by M.K. Raina talked about Astad Deboo’s long association with SAHMAT and his life-long commitment to the ideals of the organization. Raina while remembering Deboo’s contribution in the field of dance threw light on the fact that even though he was a trained classical dancer he had over a period of time created his own dance form influenced by several ideas from around the globe.

Rajesh Joshi in his tribute to Manglesh Dabral talked about his immense contribution in the field of literature. The mark that he has left in Hindi journalism was too underlined by Joshi. That Manglesh Dabral was a master of protest poetry was also pointed out by Rajesh Joshi. His poetries reflected the problems encountered everyday by the urban dwellers. He also spoke about Dabral’s close association with SAHMAT. His untimely death has left a vacuum in the literary world which will be hard to fill. In Manglesh Dabral’s memory extracts from one of his works Ghar Ka Raasta (co-authored with Mannu Bhandari) were also narrated.

Tributes to Kumi Chandra were paid by Madhu Prasad. She in her tributes narrated not just her personal relationship with Chandra but also her contributions to the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust. Prasad talked about the enthusiasm that Kumi Chandra and her husband Anil Chandra showed in bringing out a weekly newspaper, Mongolpuri Samachar in 1990 during the days when the first Janotsav was organized in Mongolpuri, Delhi. An interesting thing of this weekly newspaper was that all the work associated with its publication was done by the local population of Mongolpuri itself. She also spoke about the proactive role that Kumi Chandra played in organizing the musical concert Muktnaad  in Ayodhya in 1993 in the months following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. That her loss to SAHMAT is immense was underlined.

Year 2020 also saw the passing away of eminent historian Professor Arjun Dev. Tributes to him were paid by two of his closest colleagues Professor Harbans Mukhia and Dr. P.K. Shukla. While Mukhia in his tributes remembered the immense contributions of Arjun Dev in the project which was undertaken in 1950s and 60s of re-writing school textbooks by NCERT. As a member of NCERT and part of this project Dev ensured that the school textbooks being written did not carry the colonial perspective. Even though the project faced a lot of opposition by the right wing organizations Arjun Dev’s efforts made sure that the textbooks survived the onslaught. And his demise, Mukhia underlined is more than just a personal loss. It is a loss to the entire education fraternity which is today under a grave threat.

Dr. P.K. Shukla spoke about the close bond that Arjun Dev shared with SAHMAT. The values and ideals that Dev and SAHMAT stood for complimented each other. Shukla too recounted the firmness that Arjun Dev showed in dealing with the right wing groups’ opposition to the NCERT textbooks written by him and other historians. Shukla narrated how SAHMAT provided a platform in those decades to historians like Arjun Dev and others to voice their anger against such ‘intellectual’ attacks. That Arjun Dev from the platform of SAHMAT voiced his protest against politics guided by communal and fascist agendas was also highlighted in P.K. Shukla’s tribute. The important part that Arjun Dev played in opposing, along with SAHMAT, the irrational approach in history writing cannot be ignored. His staunch support to SAHMAT in its fight against ‘saffronization’ of various educational institutions as well as right wing organizations’ repeated attacks on the essence of Indian Constitution was also spoken about by Shukla.

Tributes were also paid to Anjum Singh. Her long and close association with SAHMAT was fondly recalled by Parthiv Shah.

Following this Danish Hussain, well known film artist and dastango presented a poem penned by Faiz Ahmed Faiz titled ‘Intisaab’. The poem incidentally was dedicated by Faiz to the farmers of the country. Though written quite a long time ago it remains relevant even today. And, moreover, given the current scenario in which farmers are fighting for their rights the addition of this poem in the evening’s proceedings was quite apt. Another poem by Gauhar Raza about the ongoing farmers protest and titled Kisan was also recited by Danish Hussain.

The recitation of the poem was followed by a reading of a message by Professor Irfan Habib. In his message Habib remembered the martyrdom of Safdar Hashmi and paid tribute to him. He underlined Hashmi’s dedication and steadfast approach in supporting the cause of poor and the oppressed. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, he highlighted, has, since its inception, stood for the protection of secular traditions of India and has fought vehemently against groups that have made attempts to divide India on lines of caste and religion. SAHMAT has also through various mediums including publications, plays, discussions et al. has made successful attempts over the years to pursue the cause of the people apart from making them aware of the Indian culture. SAHMAT in its three decades of existence has played a pivotal role in fighting communal forces. It has never bowed to the communal agendas. He also recounted the active role that SAHMAT played in spreading messages of peace in places like Ayodhya in the months following the destruction of Babri Masjid through various means. SAHMAT has, through lectures and publications, made sincere attempts to present an accurate account of the Indian national movement and has thus tried to protect the heritage of the Indian national movement. He concluded by saying that at a time when Indian Constitution’s ideals are under attack from the dark forces of the right wing groups an organization like SAHMAT which is at the vanguard should get support from one and all.

The message was followed by a melodious performance by Avahan— a musical group comprising of young students from University of Delhi, Delhi. The group presented some moving Sufi compositions centring on the teachings of Sufi saints.

M.K. Raina and Sohail Hashmi ably assisted by Anjali Raina and Saif Mehmood shared their memories of SAHMAT. Talking about their experiences they reflected upon the colourful history of the last thirty two years of the organization. They also stressed upon the fact that SAHMAT’s foundation is based on ideals of secularism, peace plurality of cultures. In this context they spoke about the important role that it played in strengthening communal harmony which was under grave threat in the decades following the wilful destruction of the Babri Masjid. Raina and Hashmi also underlined the commitment shown by the younger generation in recent years towards the ideals of SAHMAT and the active role they played in taking forward its legacy.

A book on the seventy years of Indian Constitution was also released on this occasion. The book which is a result of an exhibition curated by Aban Raza which was put up on the occasion of the SAHMAT celebrations by seventy artistes was released by well-known artist Ghulam Sheikh. While releasing the book Sheikh briefly discussed about his long association with SAHMAT.

Professor Romila Thapar in her short but crisp message recalled some of her past memories from the days when she was a school student in 1940s. It was a period when national movement was at its peak. She recalled the struggles and sacrifices which were made to achieve some of the fundamental rights. And since today many of such rights are facing threat of being obliterated it is, she was of the opinion, time for another national movement akin to the one in the past. Such a movement is needed to secure the equal rights of all Indians and establish an unshakeable secular democracy. 

Professor Prabhat Patnaik in his message highlighted the fact that virtually from the time of its formation, SAHMAT has constantly campaigned against the rising tide of communalism. He reiterated the fact that SAHMAT has played a pivotal role in fighting communal and fascist forces. Its unique style of fighting communal agendas by bringing together people from all walks of life on a common platform was also highlighted by Patnaik.   The all-India character of SAHMAT was also underlined by him. That unlike many other NGOs, SAHMAT is political in nature and that it straddles the two worlds of politics and culture is also something which needs to be borne in mind. In this sense it is a unique organization and one of its kinds in India. He concluded by saying that SAHMAT needs to reach out more to the people outside of Delhi and that the pan- India character that it already has should be strengthened further.

This was followed by a book release of a collection of poems written in Hindi and Urdu titled Dukh Likha Jana Chahiye. The title of the book has been adapted from one of the poems of Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’. The collection was released by Ashok Vajpeyi. He also read extracts from some of the poems.

A couple of members of BIGUL, a young theatre group, recited poems like ‘Rail Gaadi’ and ‘Shikari Kaun Hai’. On the occasion Hussain Haidry, film maker, too presented some self composed poems which touched upon a range of themes. 

The evening also witnessed an array of musical performances by Ananya Gaur, Priya Kanungo, Parvathy Baul, Vidya Shah and Madangopal Singh. While Aanya Gaur put on a musical performance of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poems, Priya Kanungo sang some compositions of the Bhakti saint Meera. Vidya Shah sang some traditional folk songs centring on the city of Benaras and Ganga. Parvathy Baul, known throughout the country as well as outside as one of the most outstanding baul singers, presented some pieces from this great singing tradition. Madangopal Singh, the famed Sufi singer took the audience on a memorable musical journey. He sang about the Jallianwala Bagh and also a song that he had composed from a Jan Natya Manch in 1985.

When the People are Not ‘We the People’ a book comprising of articles by various journalists documenting experiences of their own as well as of migrants during the misconceived countrywide lockdown was also released on the occasion. The book was released by Sashi Kumar, a senior journalist.

A poem recitation by Navin Chaura and a dance performance by Aditi Mangaldas were also part of the 32nd Safdar Memorial.

The evening’s proceedings came to an end with an enthralling musical performance by Shubha Mudgal. Mudgal a close associate of SAHMAT put on a riveting performance of Dushyant Kumar’s powerful poem titled ‘Ho Gayi Hai Peer Parvat Si Pigalni Chahiye’ which focuses on bringing about a radical change in the social justice system.  

With this the 32nd foundation day celebrations of SAHMAT culminated. Though the whole experience of attending virtual session of SAHMAT was quite exhilarating it is sincerely hoped that it was the first and last of its kind. 

  Amol Saghar
















The greatest modern dancer that we have had the privilege of knowing is no more. Astad Deboo was a phenomenally talented dancer and choreographer, He had learnt Kathak as a child in Jamshedpur, was exposed to modern western dance in his college days at Bombay and travelled to the UK and enrolled at the Martha Graham academy, retuned to India to learn Kathakali under Guru E. Krishna Panikar and then he combined all this and more, everything that he had learnt through his journeys through the US, Japan, Europe and Indonesia into a form that was uniquely his own. 

What made him really great was his ability not only to combine diverse dance forms, vastly different rhythm patterns and choreographic movements into a comprehensive whole that was creatively stunning but also his engagement with the world all around. His deep concern for the world of the deprived, marginalised and ignored made him draw the children of the Salam Balak trust, and hearing impaired students of the Clarke School of the Deaf and travelled with these students all over the world. He drew in the Thang-Pa drummers from the secluded monastic traditions from Manipur and presented then on the world stage. Through his work he showed that all that is needed for creativity to flourish is an opportunity and he made it possible for many of these children to realise their dreams.

Astad was constantly travelling conducting workshops, performing, choreographing mega events and yet he made it a point to be in Delhi on 1st January, to perform at the Safdar Hashmi Memorial. Astad Deboo’s association with Sahmat is as old as Sahmat, he was among the artists who performed at the Safdar Samaroh on 12th-16th April 1989. Beginning with that first event Astad stood with Sahmat unwaveringly, because he would not compromise with his commitment to an inclusive, democratic, secular and creatively free India. 

Sahmat pays its tribute to Astad. 

Good Bye Friend and Brother____


Losing a friend and brother Astad Deboo has shattered me and my family. We were family in Delhi for him for the last 40 years or more. Wherever he was on this planet, he made sure to be in touch with each one of us. I fondly used to call him HAMAAL JAMAL KAMAAL, because he was his own peon, performer and persuader. He was a creative giant, who danced everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Alps and made friends in all the five continents. Today there will be mourning all over, his loss will be felt personally by each one whose life he had touched and he touched everyone he met because his very being was infectiously friendly. People in high art will mourn him, his Manipuri dancers will be praying for his beautiful soul, his Delhi Dancers from among the economically marginalised will be in shock to lose him; the physically challenged children he helped grow into accomplished dancers will feel his absence.

All these beautiful people whom he had trained into becoming world class dancers had travelled with him to high art venues of the world to perform and show how the weakest can conquer the world with their talent.

Astad constantly worried about the wellbeing and survival of these young dancers, the spread of the covid pandemic saw Astad raising funds for his dancers and supporting them through the Astad Deboo foundation. He was a true Guru in the Indian sense, constantly caring and providing for the welfare of his Shishyas. He was pained at the plight of the Indian performers and about the absence of support systems in our country and he did all he could on his own.

The Last chat I had with him was when he was in hospital, he had recovered some of his strength and made a video call from his bed and he said “yes yes I am composing a dance piece here from my hospital bed”.

He danced till the very end, his energy seemed inexhaustible. The pieces he composed and performed with his group of young dancers on all kind of locations inspire a sense of awe and wonder. He could not get his tests done during this lock down  and he must have been in great pain and yet he continued. He never rested.

 Now rest my brother and friend I will miss you I still remember the time more than 4 decades ago, as if it was only yesterday, when you came home and cooked Dhansak for all of us on Diwali.

 Good bye Astad my Brother.”


We strongly support the demand of the farmers -SAHMAT Statement, Date: 7-12-2020

We the undersigned members of the artists community and academicians stand firmly  in solidarity with the country's farmers, lakhs of whom are protesting across different states and gathering in strength at the borders of the national capital to express their rejection of the three Farm Acts and the Electricity Amendment Act 2020. These Acts seek to regulate the entire system to promote the corporatization of the agrarian sector and contractualization of farming to benefit corporate investors.  Exploiting the surging Corona pandemic,  the central government brought ordinances that speedily received presidential assent, and passed the Acts in a completely undemocratic manner and with no respect for the strong opposition of the farmers and workers. 

Further, the Acts themselves are anti-constitutional as agriculture is a concurrent subject and cannot be legislated on without the involvement and consultation of the state governments. However, this shocking behaviour is no longer even a surprise with the present government. 

Hence we strongly support the demand of the farmers that the three Farm Acts and the Electricity Amendment Act 2020 must be immediately repealed. We support the call for all citizens to observe    'Bharat Bandh' on 8th December 2020.  

Vivan Sundaram


Ram Rahman

Geeta Kapur

Parthiv Shah

Sohail Hashmi

Madangopal Singh

Indu Chandrasekhar

Veer Munshi


S. Kalidas

Vidya Shah

Saeed Mirza

Irfan Habib

Jasbir Jassi


Atluri Murali


Zoya Hasan

Shireen Moosvi

Rajinder Arora

Rajni Arora

Nalini Malani

Aban Raza

Valay Singh

Simar Puneet

Pallavi Gaur

 Arushi Vats

Ahmar Raza

Nuzhat Kazmi

Shriyam Gupta

Vishwaraj Mohan

Shatam Ray 

Shreya Varma

Maitreyi Sinha

Priyanshi Saxena

Samira Haksar

Shreya Varma 


Rishabh Arora

Tsering Negi

Kumaraswamy Pashikanti

Deepani Seth

Subrat Beura

Prerna Kapur

Ramesh Dixit

Badri Raina

Prabhat Patnaik Economist

Utsa Patnaik       Economist    

Astad Deboo Modern Dancer

Prerna Sharma Artist

Gigi Mon Scaria Artist

Aviral Scaria Artist

Sania Hashmi Film Maker

Moggallan Bharti, Academician

Kausar Wizarat  Retired Lecturer

Zafar Agha  Journalist

Sarah Hashmi Actor

Salman Khan Producer

Rahul Verma Journalist

Anjali Raina Doctor

Jaishree Shukla Photographer

Abhilasha Kumari Academician

Ras Bihari Das retired IRTS

Namita Unnikrishnan  

Deepak Sanan Retired IAS

Manohar Nayak Journalist

Sushil Singh Journalist

Puneet Nicholas Yadav, Journalist

Medha Dutta, Journalist

Himanshu Joshi, Travel writer Photographer 

Namita Jain, Free Lance Writer, Editor

Vibha Galhotra Artist

Rahul Aggarwal Graphic Designer

SAHMAT pays its humble tribute to the late Vidushi Smt. Shanti Hiranand, (1932-2020), who left us in the early hours of Friday, the 10th of April,2020. Shantiji was one of the foremost disciples of the legendary Begum Akhtar, and the only one who spent her entire lifetime teaching, propagating and keeping alive the musical traditions and legacy of her Guru, for whom her devotion was unquestioning and absolute.With her passing has fallen one of the last bastions of traditional classical ghazal gayaki. She had a bright and vibrant personality, was fond of good music, good food and loved swimming. She was always interested in, and engaged with fresh musical talent, so much so, that in the past few years, even with physical and visual handicaps, she was often seen in music concerts and soirees. She engaged with us at SAHMAT, during our all-night ANHAD GARJE performance , in defence of our secular traditions. For this performance, she made the effort to take out the poetry of Sindhi Sufi poets, and composed and sang them to an enthralled audience. She will be missed, both for her personality, and her music.


The Union government has of late adopted a number of measures which seek to undermine the Constitution in letter and spirit, to divide the people on the basis of religion, to reduce the Muslim minority to second class status, and to suppress all dissent against these divisive policies.

The unilateral abrogation of Article 370 in August violated the clear understanding of the Constitution that any change in J & K’s status could only occur with the concurrence of the representatives of the people of that state. And now the government has enacted a Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which not only violates the Constitutional provision of equal rights, but would lead, when its sequel the National Register of Citizens is drawn up, to the languishing of large numbers of people belonging to the Muslim community in detention camps. In fact millions of poor people belonging to all communities, who lack the requisite papers, would be subjected to immense hardships, uncertainty and terrorization.

While the country has erupted in opposition to the CAA and the NRC, with lakhs joining protest demonstrations, the response of the BJP government both at the Centre and the States, has been to weave a tissue of falsehoods, and to unleash unprecedented police brutality on the protestors, among whom again those belonging to the Muslim community have been singled out for particularly vicious treatment.

This assault on the right to dissent is unacceptable to us. This assault on the basic premises of our Constitution which express the values upon which modern India is founded is unacceptable to us. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in J&K, and the restoration of normalcy in that state through discussions. We demand that the government which holds office by swearing loyalty to the Constitution announce clearly that the NRC exercise is permanently abandoned. We demand that the CAA which discriminates between people on religious grounds is withdrawn. We demand that the basic right of the people to hold peaceful demonstrations is unconditionally respected.

Saying No to NPR and CAA, the SAHMAT Way

What do you do on an evening of dissent, especially at a time when the very essence of the Indian Constitution is under grave threat? You dance, you draw, you perform and yes, you sing. For as the vibrant banners, strung at the annual SAHMAT cultural event, reminded us of Bertolt Brecht’s iconic words, “Yes, there will be singing about the dark times”. But you also speak as Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in a beautifully composed poem, “Bol ke lab azaad hai tere, bol zabaan ab tak teri hai.” If it is true that the commissions of the first day of the year carry the signs of the coming year then the 31 Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust event on 1st January, 2020 promises that the coming year will only strengthen our resolve to protest and hold on to freedoms that we cherish.

SAHMAT’s beginning of the year event barely needs an introduction. Thirty one years ago the well-known political activist and a stalwart of street theatre Safdar Hashmi was brutally attacked by a group of goons while he and his colleagues belonging to the street theatre group Jan Natya Manch were performing a play in a worker's colony near Sahibabad. Hashmi was not able to survive the brutal assault and he succumbed to his injuries twenty-four hours later on 2 January 1989.

The untimely death of Safdar led to a series of protests in different parts of the country by artists, intellectuals, students as well as workers of different hues. One of the most important outcomes of these protests was the founding of SAHMAT or the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust. Formation of SAHMAT was in a way a spontaneous and an organic response to an uncalled for death of a young political soldier who was committed to the ideals of democracy and secularism. SAHMAT since its establishment has played an important role in bringing together people from different walks of life including artists, intellectuals and students on a single platform. And in the process it has re-affirmed time and again its commitment to upholding the principles of Indian Constitution including those of secularism and freedom of expression.

This year SAHMAT evening was all about registering protest against Union government’s undemocratic and authoritarian move of introducing Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. In keeping with this theme a creatively conceived badge carrying the message—NO NRC, NO NPR, NO CAA, KAAGAZ NAHIN DIKHAYENGE (We will not show papers) — in bold letters was handed out to all the attendees.

The proceedings of the day began with short skits by the street theatre groups Jatan Natya Kendra and BIGUL. The skits of the two groups one from Haryana and the other from Delhi were besides being entertaining extremely thought provoking. Basically a satire the performers through their acts tried to throw light on the issues that have wreaked havoc in the society since the BJP led NDA government has come to power. The plays were a report card of a different kind in that they highlighted the policies of the present government that have created problems not just for the deprived sections of the society but also minorities as well as intellectuals.

As the evening and became more chilly a slew of riveting performances by T.M. Krishna, Vedi Sinha, Pakhi Sinha and Ujjwal Raj Sen of Avahan, Dhananjay Kaul, Priya Kanungo, Madan Gopal Singh and others took place. While the members of Avahan sang songs of dissent drawn from the works of legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz like 'Hum Dekhenge', Krishna mesmerised the crowd with his Kannada rendition of the Vaisnava bhajan. Typical of his style he incorporated in this recital hymns from the various schools of Sufism. The amalgamation of the two strands— Vaisnavism and Sufism— provided for an exhilarating experience. T. M. Krishna interposed his performance with short comments on such themes as nationalism, importance of dissent, secularism and et al.

Madangopal Singh, the famed Sufi singer took the audience on a journey of Sufi poets. Led by Syeda Hameed an ensemble of performers brought out ecstacy of freedom through the speeches of Maulana Azad around 100 years ago underlining how Muslims, Christians and all others have contributed to the making of Modern India and belong to it as much as anybody else.

Rahul Ram and stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura regaled the audience with their satirical comments and songs on the current times through their famed programme “ Aisi Taisi Democracy”

The organizers also did not forget to remember and pay homage to those intellectuals and political activists who passed away in the year gone by. Among those to whom tributes were paid were Girish Karnad, Shaukat Azmi, Gita Siddharth, Ramakant Gundecha, Haku Shah, Salim Bhai, Zahoor Siddique among others.

The cultural performances were also accompanied by the release of the book Once Upon a Time There Lived a Man.A book of critical media articles on the Supreme Court judgement on the Ayohdya dispute Justice Denied was published earlier.Another book, a collection of essays, Pune Pune Gandhi, edited by Rajendra Sharma in Hindi was also released.

A statement which was read by Prabhat Patnaik and endorsed by all those present underlined the fact that since the present regime of BJP led NDA has come to power it has only indulged in politics which has wreaked havoc in the country. And it has specifically targeted those groups and individuals who are not in agreement with their outlook. It noted that the policies of the present government should be condemned in strongest of words and that in order to secure and safeguard the secular and democratic credentials of this country— which are being repeatedly attacked— individuals of all hues should unite and fight back.

Yet another highlight of the event was the exhibitions addressing different themes which were put up. While Parthiv Shah’s photo exhibition threw light on the Hashimpura massacre tragedy by capturing the struggles of the survivors and relatives of the deceased to survive in the aftermath of the massacre, Javed Sultan’s portrait collection pertained to the two day massive farmers’ march which took place in Delhi in the year gone by which highlighted the twin issues of agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides. The exhibition which was curated by Vertika Chaturvedi and Kanishka Prasad was all about bringing to light the important aspects of the preamble of the Indian Constitution. There were over 200 photographs in the exhibition. Through the exhibition aptly titled ‘We the People of India’ the photographs laid bare the fact that CAA, NPR and NRC are a direct attack on the Constitution. There were ten blown up photographs of the detention centres in Assam by Partha Sen which showed the horrors of the detention centres.

Along side an exhibition on the genocide of 1984 was also put up by Vijay S. Jodha. The exhibition which was conceptualised in the form of commemorative stamps carried portraits of some of the many victims of the anti-Sikh genocide.

An exhibition on the plight of Sonbhadra farmers who are waging peaceful battle against the incumbent government in order to secure their land was also put up on this occasion. An interesting exhibition by Riyas Komu featured a series of woodcuts which documented the history of India since independence. The idea of this exhibition was to highlight the fact that violence has played an important role at many junctures of this country’s history.

Photo exhibitions which captured the unwarranted violence by Delhi police against students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi and the ongoing students’, intellectuals’ and other individuals’ protests against CAA, NRC and NPR was also put up at the venue. Some of the images which had protesters holding placard and banners with eye-catching slogans were blown up in size and put up.

The cultural evening organised by SAHMAT remains very hard to explain to those who have not had an opportunity to experience it. Besides a list of talented and motivated artistes performing one after another, this evening is also marked by camaraderie and bonhomie among long associates and friends.

Indeed it will not be too off the mark to quote Mulk Raj Anand to describe the spirit of the hundreds that gathered at the slightly chilly SAHMAT as “…(a) membership so large that it forms, quantitatively, one of the largest blocks for the defence of culture in the world.”

Amol Saghar

Exhibition: We the People?

The preamble to our Constitution is a collective pledge in the name of the People of India, all of those who cohabit this land. However, events of the recent months have led us down a path where the very definition of 'the People' is sought to be altered by various arms of the state. The bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its demotion to a union territory in contravention of undertakings given by the newly formed Union of India post independence and without any word of consent from its people, the similar exercise of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam that has delegitimised close to 19 lakh people resident here for generations, the linking of religion with citizenship under the newly amended Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the looming threat of these two being applied across India forcing all its 1.3 billion citizens to prove their identity and the recent attacks by the state apparatus upon institutions of higher learning for their voices of dissent, all represent acts by the executive that dilute the relevance of certain types of people from India. The judiciary too appears complicit with these transgressions or at the least appears reluctant to disagree presently with the executive.

It is in this context, that SAHMAT created at the 31st Safdar Hashmi Memorial, a space for each individual to confront the faces of these marginalised and disenfranchised peoples who in fact constitute the core of this country and its pluralistic base. It was in this “confrontation” with the portraits of these people, that the viewer was forced to co-habit the space of the victimised. The resultant face-to-face interaction staged in a constricted space was designed to raise unasked questions within each viewer. The experience of being contained was to exaggerate the discomfort of being surrounded with these questioned identities.

The contributing photographers included Vijay S. Jodha, is a writer, photographer and filmmaker who has produced five books and has shown extensively in galleries, museums and festivals worldwide. His contribution was drawn from a recent series titled Most of My Heroes that presented commemorative ‘stamps’ of the victims of the 1984 Anti Sikh Riots in Delhi as well as from a set of portraits from Arunachal Pradesh taken in 2016. Parthiv Shah, is a photographer, filmmaker and a graphic designer. He has made several documentary films, curated exhibitions and has several photo-books to his credit. He has been particularly engaged recently, in working on the issue of image perception and representation. His visual journeys have led him to work with communities which are finding a mainstream voice and identity, including the transgender community and street children. His contribution was drawn from his 2008 portrait series of survivors of the massacre at Hashimpura, UP.

Partha Sengupta, who is a documentary photographer committed to working on some of the “unresolved issues” pertaining to Partition, particularly of Bengal. He has worked on a series on the atrocities by the BSF at the Bengal border as well as on Bhumiputra, a series that documents the linguistic and cultural problems of the Bengalis in Assam. It is from this series that his series of portraits was drawn.

Javed Sultan, is a self taught photographer, who is presently engaged as a free lance photographer with the Anadolu Agency as well as pursuing his Ph.D from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. He has contributed to numerous national and international print journals as well as being nominated to various international competitions. His contribution was drawn from his series of improvised studio portraits at the Rohingya refugee camp in Delhi with the subjects having their eyes closed. Additionally, he contributed portraits from the Farmer Protest March in Delhi in November 2018 and the aftermath of the recent police action in the Central Library at Jamia. Tamara Anand, is an experienced commercial photographer with work in diverse genres like Commercial Photography, Digital Photography and Photojournalism. In her recent role as consultant to Citizens for Justice & Peace (CJP), Mumbai, she has immersed herself in chronicling via photo and video, the many grass roots movements and struggles that the CJP represents legally and socially. Her contribution was drawn from her series of portraits of Adivasis and Dalits engaged in a peaceful struggle for their lands.

Babri lawyer: What if…?

Babri lawyer: What if…?

A majority was converted into the most odious majoritarianism that we know: Rajeev Dhavan
By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 27.11.19, 2:12 AM
  • Updated 27.11.19
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who had represented the Sunni Central Wakf Board in the Ayodhya title suit, said on Tuesday citizens need to “retrieve” the Constitution from the political executive and courts.
Dhavan, who was speaking at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of Constitution Day, dwelt upon a range of topics, including judgments on defections of legislators, President’s rule in states and “majoritarianism”, as well as attempts to gag criticism through official agencies.
But he spoke at length on the November 9 Ayodhya verdict too that saw a constitution bench hand the entire disputed plot to Ram Lalla Virajman (baby Ram), represented by a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader.
“Majoritarian nation and to acquire a majority are two entirely different things. A majority was converted into the most odious majoritarianism that we know…. What happened to Indira Jaising, what happened to Amnesty India? The moment they said something about Babri Masjid… immediately the troops of the FCRA went to them,” Dhavan said in a lecture at the event organised by the CPM-backed Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust.
Senior advocate and activist Jaising and Amnesty India, who had criticised the Ayodhya verdict, are being investigated for alleged violations of the Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act.
“The effort of this exercise is not just an example of suppressing voices. The object of the exercise… is to make you lose your motivation to fight because that is the ultimate loss, not a censorship here or a censorship there. The ultimate loss is to silence activists so that these activists lose their motivation to fight…. This is the Constitution as it is working today,” Dhavan said.
Speaking about the murders of rationalists and outspoken journalists, he said: “Look at the lives that have gone since 2015. (Govind) Pansare, (Narendra) Dabholkar, (Gauri) Lankesh. Now you can’t have a secular Constitution without a secular people. If people are being murdered because of their free speech, pretty little has in fact been done for that.”
Dhavan questioned the court’s Ayodhya verdict. “Those stones in Babri belong to Muslims. The land was given away but the stones in Babri belong to the Muslims,” he said.
“It (the judgment) is a mandamus to destroy…. Assume that in 1992 the masjid was not destroyed and it was still standing today. The title in 1992, according to this judgment, would be with the Hindus. If that monument was standing today, but for this destruction, the order of the SC properly read, in fact, means: destroy it and move it.”
He explained: “They say between 1528 and 1857 you have no evidence to prove that you prayed there. A wakf is a wakf. If tomorrow I don’t pray there for a century it doesn’t cease to be a wakf. But the fact being from 1528 onwards, first the Mughals and then the nawabs ruled there. Why on earth would there be on the balance of probability a masjid that was not prayed to, while Muslims were in power.”
Dhavan said a review petition should be filed against the verdict. “Review is a way in which the people who were before the court will state their problems with this judgment. It is the only authoritative way in which the Muslim community can tell the court, not the media… this is wrong with the judgement…. It will be authoritative statement on record.”
The 72-year-old legal veteran added: “But why do people not want a review to be filed? Peace? Can there be peace without justice?”
Dhavan concluded his lecture by asking the audience to “retrieve” the Constitution, which he classifies as a collection of legal and political texts.
“There has been a tendency on our part, in what could be called classical constitutionalism, to find two answers for democracy. The first answer has been that the political texts are located with the PM, cabinet and Parliament. You concentrate on those political texts…. Then, if you have problems with the justice texts, you go to the judiciary…. Now, this is in my view, an entirely mistaken view of the Constitution.”
Citizens, Dhavan said, need to defend the Constitution. “We have surrendered our power to our rulers…. We are lucky that we have a Constitution at all. If tomorrow, a Constituent Assembly meets, we may not be able to agree to have a Constitution. This is what we have and this is what we have to work with…. My understanding of the Constitution in our times in 2019 is the Constitution is a site of struggle, not necessarily a site of welfare and justice... This constitution does not belong to them it belongs to us, and how is it that we are going to retrieve this Constitution,” he added.
Dhavan and economist Prabhat Patnaik released a collection of news columns on the Ayodhya verdict titled “Justice Denied”.


Date: 08-08-2009
The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust held a one day seminar Against the Neo-Liberal Thrust that is being given to the education policy by the UPA government. The seminar focused on the recently passed Right to Education Bill and the hundred days agenda of the new HRD minister Kapil Sibal.

Eminent educationists, teachers from Central Universities , Representatives of School and College Teachers’Associations attended the seminar and highlighted the dangers of the UPAs agenda in school and higher education.

The inagural session of the seminar was addressed by Sitaram Yechury, Prabhat Patnaik ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Muchkund Dubey (President, Council for Social Development), Yashpal and Zoya Hasan (National Commission for Minorities). All speakers in this session spoke of the need for having an equitable and publically funded educational system which also met the need of socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

Prof Patnaik stated that the university needed to be oriented towards intellectual engangagement which was not subservient to the market. This could not be achieved without fighting the neo-liberal context. Sitaram Yechury hightlighted the need for expanding state responsibility in education and increasing social control over all private educational institutions, both in terms of their fee structures and admission policies. The dangers of privatisation of educational institutions was highlighted by Prof Yashpal, while Prof Zoya Hasan emphasised the need for increasing access of minorities to state funded institutions and reducing their dependence on minority educational institutions.

The second session of the seminar focused on school education and was chaired by Arjun Dev (formerly of NCERT) and addressed by Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Ashok Agarwal (Social Jurist), Ravi Kumar (Jamia Millia Islamia) and Mr Rajendran (School Teachers Federation of India). This session highlighted the problems in the Right to Education Act and the Minister’s proposal to make 10th class examinations optional. Prof Jayati Ghosh highlighted the silences within the Right to Education Act in terms of absence of financial responsibility of the state for providing education, and on the norms for educational institutions. Ashok Agarwal used his vast experience in dealing with private schools for evaluating the ways in which the current Right to Education Bill created and institutionalised a discriminatory system against disadvantaged groups and diluted Article 45 of the Constitution guaranteeing right to education to all children from 0-14 years. This aspect was also taken up by Mr Rajendran who stressed the need to include children from 0-6 years within the ambit of the act and the need to struggle against the current neo-liberal educational agenda through a broad mobilisation of ordinary people. He also demanded a National Commission on Education and a debate on Kapil Sibal’s proposals in the CABE so that the federal structure of education was respected. Ravi Kumar highlighted the basic contradiction between the goal of achieving an equitable educational system and the broader neo-liberal context and said that the Right to Education act needs to be seen in this context.

The third session of the seminar focused on higher education and was chaired by C.P Chandrasekhar ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ). Speakers in this session included Sudhanshu Bhattacharya (NEUPA), Dhruv Raina and Soumen Bhattacharya ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Vijender Sharma (Democratic Teachers Forum, Delhi University ), N Raghuram ( Indraprastha University ) and Dinesh Abrol (National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies). The session highlighted the limitations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yashpal Committee with respect to their recommendations for reforming higher education. Sudhanshu Bhattacharya said that the government needed to set up a National Commission on Higher Education to check malpractices and privatisation of education. Vijender Sharma showed how the Yashpal Committee had created space for private education and why there was a need to oppose foreign investment in education. This could only be done by increasing social control over private capital. Dhruv Raina highlighted the need to democratise education and research in institutions of higher learning. Dinesh Abrol argued that technical education needed to be subservient to social goals and control and not to the market. Thus market and not overregulation was the problem. The seminar ended with a resolve to oppose the current neo-liberal agenda and called for a sustained fight to amend the right to education act for achieving equity in educational opportunities.

Press Release condemning ban

Date 3.08.2009
We are shocked to learn from press reports that the BJP government of Chhattisgarh has banned Charandas Chor, a classic of the modern Indian theatre, written and produced by Habib Tanvir. The play was first done in the 1970s, and is originally based on an oral folk tale from Rajasthan. Habib Tanvir worked on this tale, introducing into it elements of the art and beliefs of the Satnami community. Satnami singers and dancers have performed in this play, and it has been seen by members of the community several times. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, there are several rural troupes who are today performing some version of this play.

The play itself is the story of a thief who, under the influence of a guru, pledges never to tell a lie. He sticks to his pledge, even at the cost of his life. This superb tragic-comedy, in a thoroughly entertaining and artistic manner, brings into focus the moral and ethical degeneration of our society, in which, paradoxically, it is a thief who ends up being more honest than those who supposed to be the custodians of our morality.

Charandas Chor remains Habib Tanvir’s best-known play, and has been performed literally hundreds of times by his world-renowned Naya Theatre troupe all over India and in several countries across the world. It was made into a film by Shyam Benegal, with Smita Patil in the lead, in 1975, and was the first Indian play to win the prestigious Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in 1982. It then did a successful run on the London stage.

We demand that the Chhattisgarh government immediately revoke this absurd ban.

Act One, M.K. Raina, Arvind Gaur, Moloyashree Hashmi, Asmita Theatre Group, N.K. Sharma, Bahroop Art Group, Sahmat, Brijesh, Shahid Anwar, Govind Deshpande, Sudhanva Deshpande, Jana Natya Manch, Vivan Sundaram, Jan Sanskriti, Wamiq Abbasi, Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Javed Malick, Madangopal Singh

Press Statement Date 29.07.2009

We are deeply disturbed by attempts being made by interested quarters to take over several historically important and protected monuments in different parts of the country, in clear violation of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, on the excuse of offering worship there. Many of the monument are parts of the precious legacy of the country and under the rules framed under the Ancient Monuments Act, there can be no installation of worship wherever it had ceased.

We call upon the PM, who is also in-charge of the ministry of Culture to initiate immediate action to save these monuments from encroachment. We also call upon the Chief Minister of Delhi to rein in all such elements who are aiding and abetting the violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. We also call upon the authorities to initiate immediate steps to evict the encroachers and to take all steps to ensure the protection of all listed monuments. This should set a model for official action against law-breakers irrespective of the religious community or ritual concerned.

Irfan Habib, Ram Rahman, Amar Farooqui, D. N. Jha, Prabhat Shukla, Arjun Dev, Sohail Hashmi, Zahoor Siddiqui, Shireen Moosvi, Suraj Bhan, Suvira Jaiswal, Archana Prasad

Released to the press

To celebrate the life, theatre, politics and creativity of

Habib Tanvir

(1923-2009) join us at the memorial meeting at

6.00 p.m. 10 June 2009 Muktadhara Auditorium Banga Sanskriti Bhavan 18-19 Bhai Veer Singh Marg, near Gol Market

Jana Natya Manch Sahmat Janvadi Lekhak Sangh Directions: This is the road between Gol Market and St. Columba’s School. From south and east, take Ashok Road up to Gol Dak Khana, then Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right. From west and north, take Mandir Marg, Gol Market, turn right on Bhai Veer Singh Marg. Most bus routes for Shivaji Stadium take this road and will drop you in front of Muktdhara. From west and south-west, from RML Hospital, take Baba Kharag Singh Marg where there is the construction of the express metro, Gol Dak Khana, then left at Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right.
9868301864 (Sudhanva), 9868254822 (Moloyashree), 23711276 and 23351424 (Sahmat),,

Habib Tanvir
, the legend of contemporary Indian theatre, was also a writer, poet, actor, organiser of progressive writers and people’s theatre - passed away on June 8, 2009 at Bhopal. Habib Tanvir, whose plays make him a true citizen of the world will always be remembered for his abiding commitment to the values of secularism and progressive ideas.

For us at SAHMAT, Habib Saheb was an inspiring presence as its founder trustee and its chairman after Bhisham Sahni’s passing away in 2003. His was one of the most militant voices in the spontaneous protest after Safdar Hashmi’s brutal murder in 1989. Habib Tanvir had earlier collaborated with Safdar Hashmi in dramatizing Premchand’s story

Mote Ram Ka Satyagraha”. Habib was an important organizer and participant in SAHMAT’s Hum Sab Ayodhya exhibition and the Mukt Naad cultural sit-in in Ayodhya in 1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition.

Habib Tanvir was born on September 1923 at Raipur, Chattisgarh. After initial education at Nagpur, he went to RADA in 1955 and travelled in Europe during 1956-57. He became the organiser, secretary, playwright and actor-director of IPTA during 1948-50.

In 1954 he had directed ‘Agra Bazar’ which he himself described as “the first serious experiment integrating song with drama and rural actors with urban” For the last 55 years Agra Bazar’ has been performed all over the country countless number of times. He founded Naya Theatre in 1958. Habib’s abiding contribution to contemporary culture will be his remarkable incorporation of traditions of folk and tribal theatre, music and language into his modern formal craft. The power of his plays delighted and moved audiences cutting across all class boundaries from the man on the street to the powerful elite.

During the last two decades Habib Tanvir had through his plays invited the ire of the Sangh Parivar and the reactionary forces for firmly standing against fundamentalism and obscurantism through plays like “Ponga Pandit”, “ Zamadarin”.

Habib Tanvir will be missed by progressive artists all over the country. His passing marks the end of an era.

To Nagin and the artists of Naya Theatre we convey our heart-felt condolences.

Statement on 14-04-2009

Press Statement on Tendentious Reporting in Media

We are deeply disturbed by the tendentious reports in the media of the Supreme Court proceedings on April 13 dealing with the S I T report on the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

This unhealthy trend in the media reporting is going to seriously compromise the credibility of the media and undermine “ freedom of expression” enjoyed by the media which we all cherish.

An impression being created in a section of the media that the former CBI director R K Raghvan who led the S I T has “told” the court that Teesta Setalvad “ cooked up macabre tales of wanton killing” is mischievious. Only the Supreme Court, the amicus curiae and the Gujarat government have access to the report. The S I T has not filed any other document in court to which the media has access nor was Mr. Raghvan in the Court. It is therefore obvious that the media is only uncritically reporting what the Gujarat government’s lawyer said in the note liberally distributed to the press outside the Court.

While the Supreme Court observed that there was no room for allegations and counter allegations at this late stage, the media coverage has brazenly flouted this observation by reporting the totally baseless allegations against social activist Teesta Setalvad and the organisation she represents Citizen for Justice and Peace on the basis of the Gujarat government’s note circulated in the Court. This is all the more reprehensible because Teesta Setalvad and Citizen for Justice and Peace have neither been given a copy of the S I T report nor has their response been sought in the matter.

The proceedings in the Supreme Court related to the response of the Gujarat government and the amicus curiae Shri Harish Salve to the S I T report. The very fact that the Supreme Court had to set up the S I T to correct the miscarriage of justice due to the tardy investigation by the state of Gujarat was highlighted in the court’s observation that but for the S I T investigation many more accused, who were freshly added, would not have been brought to book. It was the untiring efforts of Teesta Setalvad and the CJP and the National Human Rights Commission that persuaded the Supreme Court to set up the S I T and on the basis of its findings further arrests have been made of persons who held administrative and ministerial positions in the government of Gujarat.


Statement on 23.3.2009

Open Letter to NDA Allies condemning Varun Gandhi’s hate speech

Press Release March 23, 2008

Open Letter to NDA Allies

The Citizens for Justice amd Peace (CJP) and SAHMAT urge the various allies who constitute the NDA coalition and who believe in Constitutional Governance to not only condemn outright, the communal hate-ridden speeches of Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh but to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not nominate him as a candidatefort he forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The letter has been written to Nitish Kumar of JD(U), Om Prakash Chautala Indian National Lok Dal, President Assom Gana Parishad and Ajit Singh of the RLD.

Varun Gandhi’s hate speech epitomises the core of the BJP’s supremist and ultra nationalist ideology that has always targeted India’s syncretic civilisational ethos and specifically (and crudely) targets Muslims, Christians and others sections of Indian.

The BJP’s core ideology stems from its politcal heart the Rashtryiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is openly being backed by the BJP party.

The allies of the NDA who swear by the Indian Constitution need need to make their position clear on Varun Gandhi’s speech and his possible prospective nomination as a Lok Sabha candidate from Pilibhit. Not to oppose his nomination and candiadture as Lok Sabha candidate is to support not just Varun Gandhi but the BJP that has grown from strength to strength through flagrant violations of the Indian Constitution and the rule of law.

In the past, prime minsterial aspirant Shri LK Advani has been known to have indulged in similar hate mongering (en route to Ayodhya in December 1992); senior party leaders like Shri Murli Manohar Joshi have also committed similar offences; Gujarat chief minister Naremdra Modi’s statements on the internally displaced refugees livng in pathetic conditions in relief camps of the state in 2002 were not just violations of the law, but shocking; fratermal organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parisgad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD) have taken the entire content and tempo of hate speech to the levels of a cynical game and continue to indulge in these criminal violations because they escape the long arms of the law.

It is about time that all those political players who have a stake in the future of Indian democracy, who are fighting the elections and especially those who have in the past and still continue to support the BJP-driven NDA come clean on Varun Gandhi’s speech and oppose his nomination as a BJP canbdidate. Not to do so would be to support the content of the violence ridden speech made by him.

Teesta Setalvad, Javed Akhtar, Javed Anand, Rahul Bose, Vivan Sundaram, Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Shakti Kjak, Archana Prasad, Madhu Prasad, CP Chandrashekhar, Indira Chandrashekhar, Badri Raina, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Chanchal Chauhan

Minister of Information & Broadcasting
Govt. of India
New Delhi
Dear Minister,

We are deeply shocked at the decision to cancel the screening of a documentary made by the eminent Indian painter M.F. Husain, after it had been scheduled for November 25 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India in Goa. We are also profoundly alarmed at the wider implications of this act of blatant censorship imposed on artistic production. You are surely aware of the background to this decision by the Directorate of Film Festivals. On November 22, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and an affiliated body that calls itself the Sanatan Sanstha, petitioned the chief minister of Goa and the director of the film festival, urging that the screening be cancelled since it involved a person who had allegedly caused offence to the “religious and National sentiments of crores of Hindus and Indians (sic)”. Almost at the same time, activists of the same two bodies carried out a series of protests in the city of Mumbai, in the vicinity of the Films Division office. As the website of the HJS puts it: they made a “representation with a warning” to the Films Division officials, about the plan to screen the Husain documentary. Then, in the narration on the HJS website: the official at Mumbai had “a long discussion with the Chief Officers in the Film Division”, “tried to contact the officers in Goa and New Dehli (sic) again and again and finally told the delegation at 3.30 in the evening that the screening of the abovementioned film was cancelled”. The craven and unprincipled capitulation by the film festival organisers has been portrayed by the HJS as “one more feather” in its cap ( At the same time, the official response has been to either feign ignorance or pretend that the issue is of little consequence. The chief minister of Goa has reportedly said that he had no knowledge of the entire process and the director of film festivals has taken the position that the screening was being “deferred”. Frankly, we are appalled at this abject failure of principle and the thorough abdication of responsibility by officials entrusted with safeguarding the autonomy of cultural and artistic production. The HJS and its affiliated organisation, the Sanatan Sanstha are, as you would know, under investigation by police and intelligence agencies for their possible complicity in a number of terrorist actions in the country. Indeed, the option of declaring them “unlawful” organisations, is reportedly under active consideration. You would also be aware that the HJS has for years been the central switching-board for a number of cases against M.F. Husain, lodged on the grounds of “obscenity”, “causing ill-will on grounds of religion” and “incitement”. This entire range of charges was considered by the Delhi High Court and in a historic verdict of May 8, held to be completely without substance. The Delhi High Court finding was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the HJS and its associates have managed to effectively mobilise a sufficient number of complainants scattered all over the country, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on a petition requesting that all cases be brought within its jurisdiction. You would appreciate then, that the continuing harassment of one of India’s greatest living artists, is a consequence of technical procedures involved in the administration of justice and most importantly, the failure of the administrative authorities to stand up to the coercive strategies of bodies that are currently under investigation for terrorism offences. We urge you to reflect upon the consequences that this would have, for the faith that the common man places in the system of administration he lives under. We urge you moreover, to reflect upon the consequences for artistic production in this country. Husain’s documentary was produced in 1967 and has been widely recognised and awarded by the most discerning judges. It is a sad day for creative activity everywhere, when work of such calibre is deprived of an audience, because of the power of the mob. In the interests of cultural freedom, we urge you to rescind the ban on Husain and allow his documentary to be screened at the ongoing film festival. In anticipation,


Vivan SundaramRam Rahman

ATTACK ON SAHMAT exhibition!

Protest meeting at 11 am on 25 August, at SAHMAT

SAHMAT had organized an exhibition of reproductions of eminent artist M.F. Husain’s works on 22, 23 and 24 August 2008, to coincide with the three-day Art Fair at the India Art Summit, Pragati Maidan, Delhi , at which galleries had been advised not to show the artist’s work. The exhibition had on display, apart from reproductions of Husain’s paintings, eight photographs of Husain by Parthiv Shah, two photographs of Husain painting a hoarding by Madan Mahatta, and three photographs from Husain’s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ series from the Village Art Gallery, Delhi.

On Sunday, 24 August, at around 3.30 pm, the exhibition, which was being held in a shamiana outside the SAHMAT office, was attacked and vandalised by 8 to 10 miscreants. The television channel ETV, whose crew was present, has recorded the entire episode. The vandals ran away from the scene after destroying the framed photographs and prints, a television set and DVD player (on which Husain’s films were being screened), and furniture. The artist Arpana Caur, and Anil Chandra and Santosh Sharma, SAHMAT members, were witnesses to the episode.

In protest against the attack on SAHMAT and the vandalism, the exhibition has been extended, in ‘as-is’, vandalised condition, for a day – till the evening of 25 August.

A meeting to protest against this cowardly attack, and the attempt on the part of rightwing forces to impose a narrow, majoritarian view of our culture, was held on Monday, 25 August, at 11 am, outside the SAHMAT office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. Those present at the protest meeting, and those who have sent messages of solidarity, include:

Abhijeet Tamhane, Aditi Magaldas, Aditi Raina, Ajay Srivastava, Akila Jayaraman, Albeena Shakil, Ali Abbas Yakutpura, Aman Farooqi, Amar Farooqi, Anant Raina, Anil Chandra, Anjali Raina, Anup Karar, Arpana Caur, Asad Zaidi, Ashalata, Ashok Kumari, Ashok Rao, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Badri Raina, Bani Joshi, Brinda Karat, C.P. Chandrasekhar, Chanchal Chauhan, Dadi Pudumjee, Danish Ali, Dayanand Singh, Dhiresh, Faizan Farooqi, Gautam Navlakha, Geeta Kapur, Geetanjali Shree, Hannan Mollah, Inder Salim, Indira Chandrasekhar, Irfan Habib, Jatin Das, Jauhar Kanungo, Javed Malick, Javed Naqvi, Jayati Ghosh, K. Bikram Singh, Kalpana Sahni, Kamakumar Hirawat, Kanishka Prasad, Kanti Mohan, Kumi Chandra, Lima Kanungo, M.K. Raina, M.M.P. Singh, Madan Gopal Singh, Madhu Prasad, Maimoona Mollah, Manjira Datta, Martand Khosla, Mithilesh Srivastav, N.D. Jayaprakash, N.K. Sharma, N.S. Arjun, Nalini Taneja, Nandita Narayan, Nandita Rao, Naslima Shahana, Neeraj Malick, Nilotpal Basu, Nina Rao, P. Madhu, P.K. Shukla, Parth Tiwari,
Parthiv Shah, Prabhat Patnaik, Preeti Bawa, Pushpamala N., Qausar Hashmi, Radhika Menon, Rahul Verma, Raj Chauhan, Rajendra Prasad, Rajendra Usapkar, Rajinder Arora, Rajinder Sharma, Rajiv Jha, Rajni B. Arora, Ram Nivas Tyagi, Ram Rahman, Riyaz Ahmed Bhat, Romi Khosla, S. Kalidas, S.M. Mishra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Sahba Farooqi, Sahba Husain, Sahiram, Samar S. Jodha, Sania Hashmi, Santosh Sharma, Sashi Kumar, Shabi Ahmad, Shakeel Ahmed, Shamim Farooqi, Shamshad, , Shamsul Islam, Shankar Chandra, Shanta Chopra,
Sheena Bhalla, Shireen Moosvi, Shruti Singhi, Shubha Mudgal, Sitaram Yechury, Sohail Hashmi, Sravan Kumar, Subhashini Ali, Sudha Sundararaman, Sudhir Chandra, Sudhir Suman, Sukumar Muraleedharan, Suneet Chopra, T.S. Johar, Utsa Patnaik, Uzma Mollah, V. Srinivasa Rao, Vandana Sharma, Veer Munshi, Vidya Shah, Vijay S. Jodha, Vijender Sharma, Vivan Sundaram.

Press Statement

We are surprised and unhappy at the decision of the organisers of the first India Art Summit to exclude the works of MF Husain from the displays of all the participating galleries from across India . The Art summit and three day fair, which opens at the Trade Fair venue in Delhi on the 22nd, is also supported by the Ministry of Culture. While the organisers may have made this decision out of a fear of attacks or protests against the work of Husain, by giving in to such threats by extremist political groups, they are playing into the hands of these forces. It is the duty of the state and the police to protect our institutions and citizens against threats of violence and surely the Trade Fair authorities and the Delhi police are capable of confronting any such threat. An earlier exhibit by Husain continued at the India International Centre last December under just such assurances by the Delhi police.For the artists community, Husain is the reigning father-figure, commanding enormous respect. In fact, Husain has been single-handedly responsible for putting Indian art on the world map and equally responsible for creating the world market boom in Indian art, without which such a summit and fair would not be taking place in Delhi at this moment. It is therefore deeply ironical that his work is being excluded by dictat. We request the organisers to rethink this decision. In solidarity with Husain, Sahmat will show Images of his work on all three days of the summit outside its office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. We invite all the citizens of Delhi and all artists to come view his work at Sahmat.
Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Madan Gopal Singh, Sohail Hashmi, Parthiv Shah, Vivan Sundaram, Indira Chandrasekhar, Geeta Kapur, K Bikram Singh