New Delhi: The pitch in
support of M.F. Husain's return to India, and the opposition to
the gag on writer Arundhati Roy and legal action against human
rights activist Teesta Setalvad rose a notch at the 22nd Safdar
Hashmi Memorial hosted by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT)
in Delhi Saturday.
Safdar Hashmi, theatre personality, writer and crusader for
communal harmony, was murdered while performing a street play "Halla
Bol" against communal discord Jan 2 1989. He had founded the
liberal theatre ensemble Jana Natya Manch, an offshoot of the
India People's Theatre Association (IPTA).
The memorial ceremony, themed on high priest of contemporary Urdu
poetry Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a progressive Left wing litterateur,
marked the beginning of the poet's birth centenary celebrations by
Faiz was born in Sialkot in Pakistan Feb 13, 1911. The writer, who
protested against imperialism and colonialism in his works, was
known as the voice of protest in Pakistani poetry.
More than 150 writers, performers, activists, intellectuals,
artists and members of the media who attended the daylong memorial
function linked the plight of the country's leading contemporary
artist M.F. Husain, writer Arundhati Roy and activist Teesta
Setalvad to Safdar Hashmi and the brand of poetry championed by
Faiz, one of the founding members of the Progressive Writers'
"M.F. Husain as an issue does not end with M.F. Husain. His fate
represents a process which is being used against writer Arundhati
Roy and anti-communal riot activist Teesta Setalvad. The state
forces in both Mumbai (Maharashtra) and Gujarat are mobilising
again against Setalvad. She might be arrested any time on funny
charges of exhumation of bodies of riot victims," said
artist-photographer and designer Ram Rahman, one of the founding
members of SAHMAT.
On a personal note, Rahman, who met Husain on his birthday in
September, said "the artist was keen to return to the country".
"His son was seriously ill and hospitalised in India. He could not
come to visit his son. He is 95 and is missing the country. He can
return any time if the government of India withdraws the legal
cases against him - which the government can if its wishes to do
so," Rahman told IANS.
Husain, who courted controversy for painting Indian goddesses in
the nude, left the country in 2006 after right wing Hindu groups
slapped legal suits against him. Since then, he has been in exile
and is now a citizen of Qatar.
As a tribute to Faiz, Husain has donated five drawings and a
sketch of the poet to SAHMAT which have been compiled into a
calendar in the poet's centenary year.
Calling for change, Safdar Hashmi's mother Qamar Azad Hashmi said
the "country was in need of good leaders".
"Every politician is tainted by corruption. I am sure that the
country has good leaders, they need to come out. Pandit Nehru was
a very good prime minister. Indira Gandhi was good too, barring
her decisions about Punjab and Sikh terrorism. She had to die for
it," Qamar Hashmi told IANS.
Historian and academic Sohail Hashmi, brother of Safdar Hashmi,
said: "Anybody who demands for people's right is persecuted in
(our) democracy, is arrested and sent to jail for sedition." He
also recounted the story of his brother's death.
Writer and political editor Manini Chatterjee said the situation
"was unfortunate as one of the great things about India was that
it was one of the world's largest democracies and a truly great
She said "harassing people like Arundhati Roy and M.F. Husain
diminished all of us as Indians".
The highlights of the memorial function was a musical performance
by Pakistan-based writer Ali Sethi, who said "Faiz is relevant to
youngsters in his country".
Modern dance exponent Astad Deboo danced to three of Faiz's poems
and renditions of Faiz's ghazals by Madan Gopal Singh, Rekha Raj
and Manu Kohli.