Safdar Hashmi: Champion of Street Theatre and Social Justice

OV Digital Desk

Safdar Hashmi (12 April 1954-2 January 1989) was an Indian actor, writer, and theatre activist. In 1973, he co-founded Jana Natya Manch.

Life and Career

Safdar Hashmi was born on 12 April 1954 in Delhi. Originally from Delhi, he got his bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Stephen’s College and his master’s degree in English from Delhi University. While in Delhi, he joined the CPI-M student wing and the Indian Peoples Theatre Association. The IPTA gave him several roles in plays. His Communist Party affiliation lasted until his death. Janam, who he founded, has roots in the IPTA.

He used his plays to express how he felt about the government and how it abused its power. Amid a rigging controversy against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, He produced a popular street play called “Kursi, Kursi, Kursi”. Janam’s activities had to be pushed back during the Emergency, so he taught English at various universities.

He did a lot of street plays after Emergency, including ‘Machine’, ‘Gaon Se Shahar Tak’, ‘Teen Crore’, and ‘Aurat’. There was talk about violence against women, marginal farmers, and employment. During Hashmi’s lifetime, Janam performed hundreds of street plays. Additionally, he worked in television, which, despite being state-controlled, was developing into a promising new format.

Hashmi turned into a political theatre artist because he likes politics and theatre. As part of his works, he aimed to expose the unscrupulous and corrupt workings of establishments, which was also what killed him. The Janam troupe performed Halla Bol at Jhandapur village in Sahibabad on 1 January 1989. During the performance, political goons attacked the troupe. The next day, Hashim died from his injuries after being severely injured during these attacks. He died on 2 January 1989.

Hashmi has become a cultural icon as a symbol of resistance against authoritarianism because of his contributions to society and theatre. As a legacy to him, JANAM still does theatre and street performances. Studio Safdar and the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust were created in honour of the artist, but also to give a platform to next-generation artists interested in politics and social issues.

The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Day is celebrated every year on the 1 January by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust as a “Day of Resolve” and a daylong cultural event called “Jashn-e-Daura” is held in New Delhi. JANAM also puts on a lot of street plays on this day to honour Safdar Hashmi.

His work and ideas are still relevant in today’s times, especially in the face of ongoing resistance and struggles against the current regime.