It’s been 24 years since Safdar Hashmi, renowned street performer and CPI(M) member, was brutally murdered while performing the play Halla Bol on the outskirts of Delhi on Jan 1, 1989. The next year the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) was founded and since then each year the day has been observed as a day of resolve by the group.

This year too, the playwright’s life and achievements were celebrated and remembered at the Constitution Club in Delhi. The biting cold didn’t discourage people from turning out in huge numbers and the programme began in the afternoon with a theatrical performance by Haryana’s Gyan Vigyan Samiti where they paid tributes thematically to Balraj Sahni, Sadat Hasan Manto, Ravi Shankar and the unnamed medical student who lost her life after being brutally gang raped in Delhi.

The rape episode has awakened the nation and shocked it in equal measure, coming to represent all kinds of sexual violence women have to suffer on a daily basis. Led by Sitaram Yechury, visitors signed the pledge, “We are saddened by the tragic death of a young life and pledge that we will not tolerate violence against women in the home or in the streets in any form.”

Subsequently, American composer and singer Scott M. Murray alluded to the struggle of this young woman in his song Sun Angel, while his other songs – Waiting for the War to End and Belgrade Station – spoke of the forced militarisation the world has experienced by American and European armed forces in the last two decades. This theme of resistance also echoed in lawyer Saif Mahmood’s recitation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmad Faraz’s poetry while reiterating the courage of the young woman in Delhi.

The year 2013 also marks the centenary of legendary actor Balraj Sahni who was offered a tribute in the form of a cinematic montage of his work presented by theatre director MK Raina. “Khwaja Ahmad Abbas had once said that if there was an award for people’s artiste, Sahni would be the most deserving candidate for it,” Raina said. Excerpts of Sahni’s autobiography were read out by his niece Kalpana Sahni and a heart-warming rendition of the song Ae Mere Pyaare Watan from his film Kaabuliwala was sung by Punjabi singer Harpreet Singh.

Urdu writer Sadat Hasan Manto’s work was also celebrated in the form of a performance piece by actor Neeta Mohindra and dancer Astad Deboo. While Mohindra reflected on Manto’s short story Khol Do and the resultant persecution that he faced due to it, Deboo picked up Manto’s Toba Tek Singh and narrated this abstract story of madness through modern contemporary dance.

Sarod player Pritam Ghosal played a tribute composition to the recently deceased Ravi Shankar while photographer Ram Rahman displayed a video installation around video recording of his speech at the Artists Against Communalism concert in Mumbai in 1992. Other performances included those by noted Hindustani classical singer Vidya Shah, Dhrupad exponent Wasifuddin Dagar, Sufi singer and scholar Madan Gopal Singh, as well as popular Punjabi singer Jasbir Jassi, bringing this eight hour long marathon of performances to a close.

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