34th National Street Theatre Day

 


 

SAHMAT continues to grow because all of us contribute to it all the time.


                                                                                   Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust

c/o 36 Pt. Ravi Shankar Shukla Lane

New Delhi-110001

Email: sahmat8@yahoo.com

Tel-23381276/23070787

Dear friends,

 

After a lock-down period of one and a half years, SAHMAT has started functioning, observing complete Covid protocol.The office is opening six days a week. You may recall that the lock-down came when our exhibition constitution at 70 was on at Jawahar Bhawan and a couple of lectures by Rajeev Dhavan and Sanjay Hegde were held and the remaining lectures had to be cancelled.

 

During the lock-down period we published the following books:

 

Constitution at 70’

We the People’

Dukh Likha Jana Chahiye’-(Hindi) (nq%[k fy[kk tkuk pkfg;s)

Kisano ke Liye jeene marne ka sawal’-(Hindi)-Prabhat Patnaik

‘A Matter of Survival of the Peasantry’-Prabhat Patnaik

‘The Attempt of Imperialism to Destroy Food Securiy in India’-Utsa Patnaik

 

We also organized a successful webinar with Social Scientist & Tulika on “In Defence of History’ on the occasion of the 90th birthday of our Chairman Prof. Irfan Habib.

 

Safdar Memorial on January 1, 2021 had to be held online.

 

We now have mounted an exhibition ‘India is not lost’ which showcases the work that we had done to observe various events of the National Movement.  The exhibition is on at Jawahar Bhavan, R.P.Road since October 2, 2021. If the situation permits we can have a lecture series, music performances, etc coinciding with the exhibition. In mid-November we will have to take a call on the organization of the Safdar Memorial on January 1, 2022.

 

During this period we have kept all our colleagues on full emoluments.

 

We are approaching you with the request to find some time to visit the exhibition at Jawahar Bhawan.

 

Please contribute to meet the expenses for the smooth running of SAHMAT and plan future programmes.

 

Donations to SAHMAT are exempt under Section 80 G of the Income Tax Act.

 

SAHMAT continues to grow because all of us contribute to it all the time.

 

Sohail Hashmi

M.K.Raina  

Ram Rahman

 

Gandhi in a New Avatar: Advisor to Savarkar on Mercy petitions

 

Mridula Mukherjee

 Aditya Mukherjee

 Sucheta Mahajan

 

 

The Indian Express, 13 October 2021, tells us that Shri Rajnath Singh, the Indian Defence Minister, has claimed that “A lot of falsehood was spread against Savarkar. It was repeatedly said that he filed multiple mercy petitions before the British government. The truth is he did not file these petitions for his release. Generally a prisoner has right to file a mercy petition. Mahatma Gandhi had asked that you file a mercy petition. It was on Gandhi’s suggestion that he filed a mercy petition. And Mahatma Gandhi had appealed that Savarkar ji should be released. He had said the way we are running movement for freedom peacefully, so would Savarkar.”. He also said that “You can have differences of opinion, but to see him condescendingly is not right. The act of demeaning his national contribution will not be tolerated”. (Note the threat. Setting up Godse temples and hero worshipping him can be tolerated but no criticism of Savarkar!)

 

What are the facts?

 

Rajnath Singh’s statement is presumably based on documents pertaining to the year 1920: a letter from ND Savarkar, brother of VD Savarkar and Ganesh Savarkar, to Gandhiji, Gandhiji’s reply, and an article in Young India by Gandhiji.

 

The facts are somewhat at variance with the claim made by Rajnath Singh.  The first mercy petition was filed nine years earlier by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1911 itself, within six months of his conviction, and numerous other petitions followed in subsequent years, without any evidence or claim of it being at Gandhiji’s suggestion! To quote from one such petition, submitted personally to the Home Member, Sir Reginald Craddock, when he visited the Andamans jail in 1913, for his release, offering to be loyal to the British Government:

 

“If the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the strongest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?”

 

Further, as testified by GS Khoparde, a Savarkar supporter’s question in the Imperial Legislative Council on March 22, 1920, “Mr Savarkar and his brother had once in 1915 and at another time in 1918 submitted petitions to Government stating that they would, during the continuance of war, serve the Empire by enlisting in the Army, if released, and would, after the passing of the Reforms Bill, try to make the Act a success and would stand by law and order". In his reply, the Home Member, Sir William Vincent, confirmed that : "Two petitions were received from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar - one in 1914 and another in 1917, through the Superintendent, Port Blair. In the former he offered his services to Government during the war in any capacity and prayed that a general amnesty be granted to all political prisoners. The second petition was confined to the latter proposal”.

 

Thus, it is very clear that Savarkar had submitted numerous petitions between 1911 and 1920, without any advice or prompting from Gandhi,. offering loyalty to the British government, and expressing his willingness to serve them in any capacity.  Therefore the Defence Minister’s statement that Savarkar did not file mercy petitions but did so only on the advice of the Mahatma is not borne out by the actual historical record.

 

So where does Gandhiji come into the story?  Only in 1920, when N D Savarkar, the younger brother of the two Savarkar brothers who were in jail, wrote to Gandhiji seeking his advice, when he found that the list of prisoners being released under the Royal Proclamation of Clemency by the British did not include the names of the brothers. Gandhiji replied saying it was difficult to give advice but suggested that he might draft a brief petition. In addition, he wrote an article in Young India on 26 May 1920, titled Savarkar Brothers, where he refers to the Royal Proclamation of Clemency and notes that while many other political prisoners had been released under this but the Savarkar brothers were not.

 

He says “Both the brothers have declared their political opinions and both have stated that they do not entertain any revolutionary ideas and that if they were set free they would like to work under the Reform Act…” (Government of India Act of 1919) “They both state unequivocally that they do not desire independence from the British connection. On the contrary they feel that India’s destiny can be best worked out in association with the British.”

 

It is to be noted that nowhere in Gandhiji’s article is there an appeal for Savarkar’s release, as stated by the Defence minister. “Mahatma Gandhi had appealed that Savarkar ji should be released.”  Gandhiji questions the government decision not to release them as they appear to pose no danger to “public safety” or “danger to the state”, but does not appeal to the British. Nor does Gandhiji anywhere say in his article, as claimed by the Defence minister, that “the way we are running movement for freedom peacefully, so would Savarkar.” On the contrary, Gandhiji is emphasizing that the Savarkar brothers do not want independence, and want to work under the Reform Act.

 

There is a strange irony in this entire episode. That Mahatma Gandhi is being roped in to establish Savarkar’s nationalist credentials, that too on such flimsy grounds! The attempt is to create a picture in the public mind that Gandhiji and Savarkar had a close relationship, to the extent that the latter took Gandhiji’s advice on such crucial issues as mercy petitions and that Gandhiji appealed for his release. It is a clear attempt to try and normalise Savarkar’s begging for mercy when numerous other nationalists refused to do so and  Gandhiji even demanded the severest punishment for himself.

 

What  are the facts, which we are expected to forget?

 

In January 1948, when Gandhi was assassinated, Savarkar was arrested as he was suspected of being the mastermind behind the conspiracy. Sardar Patel, who was overseeing the whole case as the Home Minister, being a fine criminal lawyer, was personally convinced of Savarkar’s guilt, otherwise he would not have agreed to put him up for trial. He told the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in unambiguous terms, ‘It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through’. (Durga Das, Sardar Patel Correspondence, 1945–50, Vol. VI,  p. 56.)

 

In response to the Hindu Mahasabha’s disclaimer, Patel wrote to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the Hindu Mahasabha leader, on 6 May 1948:

 

“…we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that an appreciable number of the members of the Mahasabha gloated over the tragedy and distributed sweets…. Further, militant communalism, which was preached until only a few months ago by many spokesmen of the Mahasabha, including men like Mahant Digbijoy Nath, Prof. Ram Singh and Deshpande, could not but be regarded as a danger to public security. The same would apply to the RSS, with the additional danger inherent in an organization run in secret on military or semi-military lines.” (Sardar Patel Correspondence, Vol. VI, p. 66.)

 

Patel further pointed out to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, ‘The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the state’.  (18 July 1948, Sardar Patel Correspondence, Vol. 6, p. 323.)

 

 

The Chief Minister of Bombay, B.G. Kher, explained  the political situation in Maharashtra to Patel, ‘The atmosphere of hatred against the Congress and Mahatma sought to be created by the Hindu Mahasabha culminated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of a few Maharashtrians’. { B.G. Kher to Patel, 26 May 1948, ibid., Vol. VI, pp. 77–78.)

 

Savarkar was eventually not convicted in the Gandhi Murder Trial due to a technical point of criminal law: for lack of independent evidence to corroborate the testimony of the approver.

 

However, the Commission of Inquiry set up in 1965 under Justice Jiwan Lal Kapoor, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, got access to a lot of evidence which was not available to the trial judge. Two of Savarkar’s close associates,  A.P. Kasar and G.V. Damle, who had not testified at the trial, spoke up before the Kapur Commision, now that Savarkar was dead, and corroborated the approver’s statements. It is possible that If they had testified at the trial, Savarkar would have been proven guilty. In fact, the Kapur Commission came to a conclusion very similar to that of Sardar Patel: ‘All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group’.( Report of Commission  of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi, 1970, p.303, para 25.106.)

 

Immediately after Gandhiji’s assassination, the Government of India, with Sardar Patel as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, banned the RSS and put some 25,000 of its members in jail.  The Hindu Mahasabha chose to dissolve itself when confronted with a ban. Tainted by its link with Gandhiji’s murder, the Hindu Mahasabha beat a tactical retreat and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, its main leader, founded the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951. This was to be the main political vehicle of Hindu communal articulation from then onwards, its frontline political party, till it merged into the Janata Party after the Emergency and then was replaced by the BJP.

 

It is indeed ironic that the political forces who lay claim to being the most ardent nationalists today played no role at all when the actual struggle for India’s freedom was being fought. Savarkar, after his release from prison in 1924, never took part in any anti-British politics. In fact, he was the originator of the theory of Hindutva, which defined authentic Indians as those whose fatherland and holy lands, pitribhumi and punyabhumi , were in India, thereby excluding Muslims and Christians, whose holy lands were outside India, from the fold. The Hindu Mahasabha also became increasingly loyalist in the 1930s and 1940s. Though the loyalist tendency was there earlier, initially some of its leaders participated in Congress-led movements.  But from 1937 onwards, when Savarkar became the President and undisputed leader, they joined the Muslim League in competing for the crumbs thrown from the Imperial table.  The outbreak of the Second World War brought the differences with the nationalist forces out into the open. While the Congress provincial ministries resigned in protest against the British Government’s decision to make India a party to the War without her consent, Hindu Mahasabha leaders offered cooperation to the British, and advocated that Indians participate in the war-effort and join the Army. Savarkar, as President of the Mahasabha, appealed to Hindus ‘to participate in all war-efforts of the British Government and not to listen to “some fools who “condemn” this policy ‘as cooperation with Imperialism’.( Savarkar, Hindu Rashtra Darshan, pp. 203ff.)

 

 In private, Savarkar told the Viceroy in October 1939 that the Hindus and the British should be friends and made an offer that the Hindu Mahasabha would replace the Congress if the Congress ministries resigned from office.( Linlithgow, Viceroy, to Zetland, Secretary of State, 7 October 1939,  Zetland Papers, Volume  18, Reel No. 6.)

 

In accordance with this pro-British policy, when the Quit India movement was going on in 1942, and the entire nationalist Congress leadership including Gandhiji was in jail, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee  of the Hindu Mahasabha was a minister in the Fazlul Haq Ministry in Bengal. The Hindu Mahasabha also formed coalition governments with the Muslim League in Sind and the NWFP. It is another matter that all this loyalism could not get them electoral success and they suffered a rout in the 1946 elections!

 

The  RSS too, as an organisation did not participate in any of the major battles for freedom from colonial rule. The RSS was founded in 1925, and apart from the Simon Commission Boycott in 1928, at least two major movements, the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930–34 and the Quit India Movement of 1942 were launched by the Congress after that date. In none of these did the RSS play any part. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS did go to jail in his individual capacity in 1930, but he kept the organisation and its members away from the Civil Disobedience movement. The government was very clear that it had nothing to fear from the RSS. A Home Department note on the RSS reported that, ‘At meetings of the Sangh during the Congress disturbances (1942), speakers urged the members to keep aloof from the Congress movement and these instructions were generally observed’.

 

It is of course legitimate to ask why there was a silence on Savarkar in the RSS and Jan Sangh-BJP camp for over four or five decades after Gandhiji’s murder. Was it because it was politically suicidal to mention Savarkar as he was associated in the public mind with Gandhiji’s  murder, and now that much time had lapsed, it could be assumed that public memory was short and Savarkar could now be resurrected? Also, with the new public emphasis on ‘Hindutva as part of the new aggressive phase, it was difficult to ignore the original creator of the concept. Further, for a party claiming to be ‘nationalist, it is a little embarrassing not to have any freedom fighters to show. Therefore, in a desperate effort to discover nationalist icons, Savarkar was sought to be cast in that mould.

 

A nationalist veil is drawn over Savarkar’s communalism by remembering him as Krantiveer, the Andamans revolutionary. That Savarkar shamed the revolutionaries by repeatedly asking for pardon in the Andamans and that he never took part in any nationalist activity after his release as he had promised to the British government, was sought to be forgotten. And in 2003, when the BJP-led NDA government was in power, despite considerable opposition, Savarkar’s portrait was installed in the parliament. One would imagine that even if there is a whiff of suspicion about Savarkar this should not have happened. And now the latest: an effort to legitimize Savarkar by normalizing his embarassing mercy petitions as being sanctioned by the Mahatma! The aim is also to project a close and friendly relationship between the two, and thus hide the fact that they had nothing in common. Savarkar as the ideologue of Hindutva and leader of the Hindu Mahasabha was a consistent and vehement critic of Gandhiji, especially of his non-violence and inclusive attitude towards the Muslims. There could not be a sharper contrast between their formulations of who India belongs to. Savarkar clearly says that “India must be a Hindu land, reserved for the Hindus”. He unambiguously asserts that Hindus should be “masters in our own house, Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus”. (Hindu Rashtra Darshan, pp 92, 63). Gandhiji, on the other hand, in his  famous speech in Bombay in August 1942 where he gave the call for ‘Quit India’, declared unequivocally: “Those Hindus who, like Dr. Moonje and Shri Savarkar, believe in the doctrine of the sword may seek to keep the Mussalmans under Hindu domination. I do not represent that section. I represent the Congress. The Congress does not believe in the domination of any group or any community. It believes in democracy which includes in its orbit Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jews—every one of the communities inhabiting this vast country….Millions of Mussalmans in this country come from Hindu stock. How can their homeland be any other than India?”

 

One cannot help thinking what a contrast there is between Savarkar and his men, and revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh who prided themselves on never asking for clemency, choosing to suffer all punishment, including death. In fact from the very early days Indian nationalists had evolved the practice of bravely accepting responsibility for committing anti-British acts, face trials, using the trials for further propagation of nationalist goals and then willingly accept imprisonment, exile or even death as punishment.

 

 It is pertinent to note that Savarkar’s habit of petitioning the government for release from internment and making offers of good behaviour did not end with his release from British jails in 1924. Within three weeks of his arrest in connection with Gandhiji’s murder, on 22 February 1948, he made a representation to the Police Commissioner from Arthur Road Prison expressing his ‘willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that [he would] refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the Government may require in case I am released on that condition’. Even the most brilliant advocate would find it difficult to prove that this too was on Gandhiji’s advice, unless of course so strong was the bond between the two that the atheist Savarkar could claim communion with Gandhiji’s spirit!

 

PRESS RELEASE OPPOSING THE NEO-LIBERAL THRUST IN EDUCATION

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)

jananatyamanch@gmail.com, sahmat8@yahoo.com, jlscentre@yahoo.com

Statement
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.

M.K.Raina
for
SAHMAT

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 (http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/5830.html). 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,

Yours,

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