Protests against the CAA-NRC in New Delhi | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
File photo | People at a protest against CAA-NRC in New Delhi | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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If the protests in India against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the potential National Register of Citizens have proved one thing, it is this: poetry is the best language of dissent. Poet, comic, lyricist Varun Grover may have given us ‘Kagaz nahin dikhayenge’ as the new protest poem, but Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge is an evergreen – not just at Studio Safdar’s MayDay event, but at every Jantar Mantar and India Gate protest. The song of hope amid darkness, was sung against Dow Chemicals in Bhopal, anti-nuclear stir at Jaitapur, and at women’s marches.

Hum Dekhenge is now being sung in anti-CAA-NRC protests. And in Narendra Modi’s India, some think it’s anti-national. In IIT Kanpur, a professor found the lines from Faiz’s poem, which the protesters were chanting, as ‘objectionable’ and ‘spreading hate against India’. Now, IIT Kanpur is setting up a panel to decide if Hum Dekhenge is anti-India.

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke Ka’abe se, sab buut uthwaae jaayenge / Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram, masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge / Sab taaj uchhale jaayenge, sab takht giraaye jaayenge/ Bas naam rahega Allah ka, hum dekhenge

(From the abode of God, when the icons of falsehood will be removed / When we, the faithful, who have been barred from sacred places, will be seated on a high pedestal / When crowns will be tossed, when thrones will be brought down, only Allah’s name will remain.)”

But what is the place for Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s lines in Hindutva-saturated India today? He is, after all, Pakistan’s controversial and unofficial poet laureate.


Also read: IIT Kanpur sets up panel to decide if Faiz poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ is anti-Hindu


Dire times

Moneeza Hashmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s daughter likes to narrate an anecdote. Someone asked Faiz in the 1980s how he felt about his poetry, written years ago, remaining relevant and contemporary. He replied, laughing: “Hamne to likh diya, ab aapke halaat nahin badle to kya karen (I wrote what I had to, now if your circumstances are the same, what can one do).” Hashmi tells ThePrint on the phone from Lahore, Pakistan, “that is the genius of any talent, to remain relevant well after his death. And that is the tragedy of this subcontinent – the bigotry, racism, gender discrimination he talked about, the underdogs he wrote about, still exist”.

A lifelong Communist, Faiz was imprisoned for four years for planning a coup against Liaquat Ali Khan’s government in 1951. His nazmHum Dekhenge, written in 1979 as a protest against the rising Islamisation of Pakistan under Zia-ul-Haq, who had deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a coup in 1977, has become the anthem sung by students across campuses in India, from Jamia Millia Islamia to Aligarh Muslim University. At many protests, the mass reading of the Preamble to the Constitution gave way seamlessly to Hum Dekhenge – ‘we the people’ to ‘we shall see/overcome’. Protest songs are the literature of people’s movements. But the best are those that age and travel well across causes, geographies and generations.

The nazm‘s most famous rendition, by Iqbal Bano, to a full house at Lahore’s Alhamra Arts Council in 1986 at the Faiz Foundation annual event, made it particularly famous. Legend has it that Iqbal Bano defied the ban on sarees by Zia and turned up in a black saree to sing it, but Hashmi says it is not true—Iqbal Bano never wore anything other than sarees.

“I have a picture of Faiz above my bed at home,” says Hashmi. “I look up at him and he is smiling. And I say to him, you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

The irony is that a nazm written in protest against Islamic fundamentalism, which even got a stanza unofficially banned from time to time, has raised the hackles of the custodians of student morality such as the IIT Kanpur professor. He objected to the same stanza that was banned by the Zia regime for quoting from the Quran.


Also read: What Coke Studio did to Faiz’s song, Pakistan is doing to its people


Pakistan to India

Moneeza Hashmi believes the popularity of Hum Dekhenge arises from how simply it is worded: “Faiz was not a simple poet. He used Persian, Arabic, and his visual and verbal imagery was in the classical tradition. But this was an exception.” When a version sung by Pakistani artistes broke on Coke Studio in 2016, it won Faiz a whole new generation of fans.

This is not the only Faiz nazm that has caught the fancy of protesting students, most of whom were perhaps born much after the poet died in 1984. His Aaj Bazaar Main Pa-Ba Jaulaan Chalo written when he was taken in shackles across Lahore from his prison to his dentist in 1952 is also sung often, whether it is in the Jamia Millia Islamia sit-outs or Aligarh Muslim University sit-ins.

Words in exchange for violence, love in the time of lathis, the protests have thrown up a politically aware generation that wants to fight deep-seated hatred with stubborn love. As one of the placards at the protests said: Ma aur Mulk badle nahin jaate (The mother and the nation are never changed).

The young poet Sabika Abbas Naqvi is a fan of Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge. It makes me want to write new poems about dreams, she told The Print. “Dreams that will manifest into the new world that we are building with love, poetry, songs, graffiti, and togetherness. It establishes a distinction between those who oppress and those who rise, it gives us courage because it tells us that the victory of the marginalised is predestined because the reign of ‘haq’ is predestined. The world is meant to be equal, incisive and full of ishq. And ishqinquilab, and azadi have already found a place on lauh-e-azal [Quranic term for the eternal slate on which the destiny of the whole universe from start to end has been recorded]. We are mere foot soldiers who will make it happen,” says Naqvi.

The Right-wing loathes it, she says, because they lack the will to dream anything that has love, that challenges the status quo. Only those who can dream can understand the strength the poem offers.


Also read: Visa rebuff to Pakistan’s Moneeza Hashmi ignores the Faiz family’s deep Indian connection


Hashmi says young people in Pakistan too are fighting the good fight against ultra conservatives: “They are coming forward and not toeing the line, not letting the hatred cloud their judgement.” Habib Jalib’s Dastoor and Fahmida Riaz’s Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle are also being sung, recited, and read. Poet and lawyer Saif Mahmood told ThePrint, it’s because these were written in and for similar political circumstances that we are going through now—both Jalib and Riaz were bitter critics of the rise of Islamic extremism in Pakistan. “The kind of suppression of dissent and societal regimentation we have started facing was being faced by Pakistan when these poems were written. They became songs of resistance for a people who decided to take on the oppressive regime. We in India are going through the same. Pakistan had its Narendra Modi in Zia-ul-Haq. This is our Zia-ul-Haq moment,” says Mahmood.

And what would Faiz himself say about the Zia-ul-Haq moment in India? “Unhe afsos hota,” says Hashmi, who spent many years in Pakistan Television Corporation. “Yeh to hona hi tha, woh kehteKab tak logon-ko dabaye rakhoge. (He would be sad. This was expected, he would say. How long can you suppress people?)”

Whether it is Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Indira Gandhi or Zia-ul-Haq, the best time for poetry is in the worst of times. During the recent students’ protests in Pakistan, star activist Arooj Aurangzeb sang Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna. When a song urges people to rise, it becomes a ‘seditious’ act – not because it brings powerful people to their knees, but because it promises the tantalising possibility of change. That possibility to dream is itself a powerful weapon to hold on to.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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37 Comments Share Your Views

37 COMMENTS

  1. COMPARISON OF INDIRAJI ,A DYED-IN-THE-WOOL-DEMOCRAT,WITH MODI, SHAH AND ZIA IS SIMPLY ODIOUS. SHE MAY HAVE HAD HER FAULTS , BUT WAS SHE WAS A DEMOCRAT TO THE CORE

  2. The committee is set up to find if it is anti Hindu or anti India.. as reporters please try to be accurate or readers get confused.

  3. I have a question for the” Seculars” here.
    If some guys (say from the same IIT Kanpur) sing any poem that even “seem to” remotely allude to their Prophet or Allah, will they accept it? You will then bring this issue out as another proof of Modi’s India consisting of fanatical Hindu nationalist that is hurting the sentiments of the Muslims and may even justify a “fatwa” from any cleric for this act.

    • listen to the song as rendered by Iqbal Bano – freely available on the net. after listing a few times you will not ask such stupid questions. for good measure read up the history of Faiz and Zia-ul-Haq and Bano too. And think how a song like this makes the akhand-bharat dream come true at least in the hearts of people of the sub-continent.

  4. Nobody gives a sh1t about Faiz except some JNU and AMU tukde-tukde gang members. I had never heard of this bigot Faiz before this controversy.

  5. The person who made the original complain at IITK, Vashi Mant Sharma, is not a faculty member but temporary staff. He is a known hindutva guy and has written against liberal voices before (do a search and you’ll see for yourself). In this context, the intent to make trouble is obvious.

      • He didn’t say this idiot, Vashi Mant Sharma, has no right to protest. The concern is that, like you seem to, he also seems to be using his right to protest to write LIES TO GET PAID.

        • Just like journalists do all the time. Get paid for writing lies. This article is the best example. There is no proposal for any committee in IIT Kanpur to examine if Faiz’s poetry is anti-Hindu. Complete fake news.

    • Don’t try to blame messenger or whistle blower. See the message. Had there been any reference to allah or islam you wouldn’t have dared to share your views. And now please shut up.

  6. Dear ThePrint, I know my comment here will tickle your prejudiced minds to call me a Sanghi, Bhakt or Islamophobic, but all I want to ask is how a “Buut”/ Idol can be an “icon of falsehood” (as per your translation)? Can “Bas naam rahega Allah ka” be chanted in a “Secular” India? I guess that can be, only if the mission is to make India an Islamic country.
    So if our Gods are icons of falsehood for you, and if the ones you are sympathising with are calling for only Allah’s name to remain in the end (meaning to wipe off all the other names of God), shouldn’t the Hindus feel offended? Your take please…hopefully without bias or prejudice.

    P.S.: Every Hindu is not a Sanghi or Bhakt.

    • Every Hindu is not a Sanghi or Bhakt but uneducated, intolerent comments often do come from (paid) Bhakts. The whole should be seen as symbolic. If I simply quote wikipedia: “the Day of Reckoning is transformed into the Day of Revolution, wherein Zia’s military government will be ousted by the people and democracy will be re-installed”

      • Why should an atheist talk about day of reckoning if he doesn’t believe in it? Given the institutionised anti- hindu bigotry in Pakistan, where Hindu marriages aren’t even recognised as legal, is it surprising that such idol breaking iconoclasm is popular in Pakistan? Remember, many Islamic scholars didn’t find Pakistan wasn’t Islamic enough and they were jailed in Pakistan. Zia was collaborating with the great Satan, America in Afghanistan. Just because it is popular with Pakistani protestors doesn’t mean it cannot exalt the iconoclasm of Islam?

  7. communal peudeo nationalist will never understand Faiz and his poetry for they are full of hatred and revenge , both feelings are averse to poetry

    • yes! the word “Allah” simply means “god” in urdu and Faiz uses it in the metaphorical sense. The last lines of the poem tell it all: “Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda Jo mai bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho. ” he is subverting islamic imagery to argue for democracy.

  8. We are tolerant it does not mean the Hindus cannot write instigating poems against the cruel attacker of India, who killed millions of Hindus and forced Islam over the rest. If allowed such poems , it will only deteriorate the situation and fill the country with the rivers of blood. Minority also has to fulfill its responsibility to respect the major religious group.

  9. How smartly the author has twisting the translation, butt hataye jayengey means will remove hindu idols. Keep Up fooling your reader.

  10. This is so sad that Indians cannot even come up with their own protest songs and have to borrow some from Pakistan. This is intellectual bankruptcy.

    • your knowledge is indeed little – there is no compulsion for communists to be also atheists (and vise versa of course). However, Fiaz here is using the word “Alla/God” as a stand-in for truth and justice.

    • Yes. Communist systems as in Russia, Eastern Europe and China are atheistic and have always discouraged religion and religious beliefs. So I guess an ideal Communist has to be an atheist.

  11. Modi’s India & Aurangzeb’s India

    But Aurangzeb’s India should try to think about certain issue

    1. When Aurangzeb’s India will discuss & start reconciliation of Kashmiri pandit.

    2. Aurangzeb’s India tell the truth that Dr. Ambedkar’s constitution never had secular word in the constitution & also not in preamble.
    3. Aurangzeb’s India should answer that PM Indiraji never made election issue for changing preamble in Democratic & constitution al way, but during emergency inserted that words. Against Dr. Ambedkar’s constitution.
    4. Aurangzeb’s India should also answer that when door lock of Ram idol in babri masjid was opened in Ayodhya, how many temple were attacked & destroyed in Kashmir.

    Like Gandhiji, who was one of Incident not pathbreaking ( as per Dr. Ambedkar ) event, Mr Modi is also one of ruler.

    • There is only Modi’s India, there is no Aurangzeb’s India.

      1. You should answer why Modi’s India hasn’t done anything so far to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits.

      2 & 3. There never was Dr. Ambedkar’s constitution. There was, and is, only people of India’s constitution, which was amended by PM Indira with the vote of their democratically elected representatives in the parliament, to introduce the word “secular” in the preamble.

      4. When there was Aurangzeb’s India, more Hindus worked in employment of Aurangzeb, than any other Muslim, or perhaps Hindu, ruler. May be, may be, your ancestors worked for Aurangzeb, and were involved in destruction of Hindu temples! You should answer how many Hindus were involved in destruction of Hindu temples.

      5. Two biggest traitors India ever had were both Hindus, Jaychand and Amichand. Jaychand invited Mohammed Ghouri to invade India. Other jealous Hindus also helped Ghouri to defeat the Hindu king of Delhi, Chouhan, whom Ghouri took as prisoner to Ghour, Afghanistan, where he died as a blind prisoner with his eyes goggled out. Even today in Ghour, Afghanistan, there is “samadhi” of Chouhan. Amichand was the other Hindu traitor who sold India to the British East India Company by helping Robert Clive to forge some documents. The Hindus also helped the British to rule and to loot India! May be, as I have written above, your ancestors were among these Hindus! You have now to answer why the Hindus helped the Muslims and British to loot India!

      6. The Hindu priest of Somnath temple in Gujarat personally helped, FOR A BIG BAG OF GOLD COINS, Mohammed Ghazni, THE MUSLIM INVADER FROM GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN, TO DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND ITS IDOL! HE TOOK THE MUSLIM TO Y=THE INNER SANCTUM OF THE TEMPLE, AND SHOWED HIM THE IDOL , SO THAT THE MUSLIM COULD DESTROY IT. GHOURI PERSONALLY DESTROYED THE IDOL BY BREAKING IT IN THREE PIECES, AND TOOK THEM TO GHAZNI WHERE HE INSTALLED THEM AS STEPS OF A MOSQUE. FOR MORE INFORMATION YOU HAVE TO GO TO GHAZNI, AND ASK AROUND, MAY BE A TOURIST GUIDE CAN HELP. WOULD YOU ASK MODI GOVERNMENT TO BRING BACK THOSE PIECES OF THE SOMNATH IDOL, IF THEY ARE STILL THERE?

      7. WHEN MODI WAS THE CM OF GUJARAT (BETWEEN 2001 AND 2014) HE ORDERED MANY HINDU TEMPLES RAZED AND DEMOLISHED MANY TEMPLES IN THE NAME OF DEVELOPMENT, AND BY CONDEMNING MANY OTHER TEMPLES AS “UNAUTHORISED” CONSTRUCTION! WOULD YOU PLEASE ASK FOR INFORMATION REGARDING HOW MANY TEMPLES WERE RAZED BY MODI’S ORDERS UNDER RTI ACT ?

      8. “Like Gandhiji, who was one of Incident not pathbreaking ( as per Dr. Ambedkar ) event, Mr Modi is also one of ruler.” – WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE, PLEASE EXPLAIN.

      • Interesting affirmations, Rohit. Can I have some links please? Fascinating to know that a lot of Indian history is in Afghanistan.

  12. That is the power of a dead poet. Establishment of both countries are afraid of him. Even his daughter was denied entry into India.

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