Halla Bol: How Safdar Hashmi Inspires the Anti-CAA, NRC Protests

Theatre activist Safdar Hashmi was killed in Ghaziabad while staging his play, ‘Halla Bol’ in 1989.

Updated
India
2 min read

Editor: Md Ibrahim
Camera: Mukul Bhandari

(The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 7 October, held that the Constitution gives a right to dissent and protest but that such protests cannot occupy public spaces, in a judgment relating to the pleas against the Shaheen Bagh protests against the CAA that ran from December 2019 to March 2020. In light of this development, we are republishing this story, originally published on 2 January, 2020, from The Quint's archives.)

Theatre activist Safdar Hashmi, who took theatre to the streets, was fatally attacked on 1 January 1989 while he was staging his play, ‘Halla Bol’ in Sahbibad, an industrial town in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district.

He was 34.

At an annual event on New Year’s day 2020, thousands gathered at the Constitution Club in New Delhi to celebrate Hashmi’s legacy. At a time when the country, led by its youth, had taken to the streets against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, how did the playwright activist find new meaning amidst the ongoing protests?

“The spirit that Safdar Hashmi embodies is through his words: ‘Bhale hi hum besurey hai magar humari aawaaz buland hai’ (So what if we don't sound melodious, our voices are  powerful’), said Krishna, a theatre actor who performed a short play on the NRC exercise with his troupe, Bigil, at the annual event

File Image of Safdar Hashmi.
File Image of Safdar Hashmi.
(Photo Courtesy: Jana Natya Manch)

Vedi Sinha, who along with Ujjwal Sen and her sister Paakhi, sang at the event, told The Quint, “Safdar Hashmi, I think, is one of the many, many people who have inspired a whole lot of people to actually speak out, to actually be able to put your thoughts out there fearlessly.”

Social activist and former Haryana MLA Swami Agnivesh, who had come to the event along with Maulana AR Shaheen, said “We neither want ISIS, nor do we want RSS. We wants SDS – 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav', Sarva Dharma Samvaad, Sarva Dharma Sansad. (All faiths are one, and equal.) This is what we need and Safdar Hashmi laid down his life for this ideal.”

Wajahat Habibullah, former chairman, National Commission for Minorities, commenting on the recent protests against the CAA and NRC and the ensuing violence in Uttar Pradesh, told The Quint “Well, you see that the positive side of this is that the people are asserting their demands and they are asserting them primarily through – what is the voice of the people? That is the youth.”

“I would strongly urge the government to take notice of this. That is the essence of a democracy,” he added.

“In UP, the reaction of the government has been particularly brutal. That is not the way a democracy functions and Safdar Hashmi was the one who gave his life for the purpose of the freedom of people in society and that is what we are observing today.”
Wajahat Habibullah, Retired IAS & Former Chairman, National Commission for Minorities

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