Protest Poetry In India : Powerful Verses Of Resistance
Poetry as a medium of protest goes back to the time of India's independence but yet again bloomed during the Anti-CAA & NRC protests in India and saw the new poets coming with their verses of resistance to show their dissent.
The weaponizing of language against the authority is not a new phenomenon. The use of art and poetry to criticize as well as show dissent has been practiced since the early decades of the 20th century.
On Dec 6, 1992, when the demolition of Babri Masjid took place Jagan Nath Azad wrote a poem addressing his anger-
“Ye tune Hind ki hurmat ke aaine ko toda hai
Khabar bhi hai tujhe Masjid ka gumbad todne wale
Humare dil ko toda hai imaarat ko nahi toda
Khabaasat ki bhi had hoti hai had todne wale
(What you have broken is the image of reverence of India
Do you have this idea, you who have broken the dome of the mosque
Not the building but our hearts have been broken
Your wickedness is limitless)
A lot of poems have been written in regional languages about protests. As poet Manglesh Dabral said, ‘Regional languages have always written about the protest. After Babri Masjid, three-four anthologies of poems were published.’
In 2016, when Najeeb Ahmed, a Student of JNU went missing, renowned protest poet Imran Pratapgarhi who has written on Kashmir and Palestine protested for Najeeb through his poem,
‘Suna tha ke behad sunehri hai dilli, samadur si khamosh gehri hai dilli, magar ek maa ki sada sun na payi, to lagta hai gungi hai, behri hai dilli.
Several protest poetry surfaced amidst the wake of anti CAA protests around the nation.
15th December 2020 marked the anniversary of police brutality against protesting students at Jamia Millia Islamia. The Delhi police lathi-charged and fired tear gas shells entering the Library to thwart the ongoing protest.
The incident spurred the nation and students from other universities and colleges stood up in solidarity. What began at the university level turned into a national movement. The students took to non-violence methods to project their resistance against police brutality and to protest against Citizenship Act.
The anti CAA protestors turned arts and aesthetics into the weapon of protest.
Graffiti on the walls, slogans, songs, and poetry became their voice of resistance. Poetry was written and recited from Shaheen Bagh in Delhi to Azad Maidan In Mumbai. These verses of protest were majorly written and performed in Hindi and Urdu languages.
The decade-old poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib resurfaced. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Hum dekhenge Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge’ was written in 1979 while his stay in U. S. It was first published in Merey Dil, Merey Musafir (1981), and later Iqbal Bano rendered it in her beautiful voice.
The revolutionary poem of Faiz Ahmed Faiz became the voice of resistance against General Zia-Ul-Haq. Hum Dekhenge later ran into controversy when on Dec 17, a student of IIT Kanpur recited Faiz’s poem in Solidarity with the students of Jamia Millia Islamia. Faiz’s poem that was once removed from the poetry collection in Pakistan during Zia’s reign became the voice of protest in India against the government.
Another revolutionary poem of Faiz that begin as ‘Bol ke lab azaad hai tere’ was popularly sung and performed throughout the nation. This is another celebratory point of protest poetry. Not only the protest poetry united the Indians but also bridged the age-old rift between the rival countries India and Pakistan.
Other poems that got popular among the anti CAA protestors were Habib Jalib’s and Rahat Indori’s. Habib Jalib’s ‘Dastoor’ which was originally written to oppose Pakistan’s 1962 Constitution during general Ayyub Khan’s regime. Jalib faced persecution and imprisonment for his poem that is a pure call for rebellion. This poem that was written years ago to protest against the Constitution in Pakistan resonated with the Indians protesting to save guard their Constitution.
Lyricist Rahat Indori’s poem on Hindustan was widely recited and the following couplet ‘sabhi ka khoon shamil hai yahan ki mitti me kisi ke baap ka hindustan thodi hai’ was even chanted as slogans in protest rallies. Indori is recorded to have said that “If I don’t write on what’s happening around us, what will be the difference between me and Nero? There is a fire raging through my city, my country and if at this time I write about my mehboob’s zulf (beloved’s tresses), I must be either blind or deaf”.
Another lyricist and screenwriter Varun Grover wrote a Hindi poem ‘Hum Kagaz nahi dikhayenge’ that got viral and inspired protestors. The verse of protest reads as,
“Dictators will come and go. The NRC papers, we won’t show. You blind us with tear gas, you poison our waters. That our love will sweeten And we’ll drink it all in a go.”
The relationship between protest and poetry is not new and it goes back to before partition. This relationship can be traced back to the formation of the Progressive Writers Association in the 1930s. The inaugural meeting of the All India Progressive Writers Association was held in Lucknow on 9-10 April 1936 with the purpose to campaign social equality through their writings.
Hindi and Urdu language writer Premchand was made the president. Writers, poets, play writers joined the association in great number. Some of them included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Mulk Raj Anand, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Sahir Ludhayanvi, Kaifi Azmi, and others. All of them were against British Imperialism and also incorporated the same in their writings.
The Association rewrote the relationship between poetry and politics. These writers awakened the masses by instigating in them, Political awareness. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also affiliated with IPWA and even was imprisoned two times for standing against the government in Pakistan. These writers were dire supporters of socialism and became its bigoted missionaries.
The Anti CAA protest in India saw the artists, poets, students, writers, coming together and expressing their dissent fearlessly through poems.
Tum Zameen pe Zulm likh do
Asmaan pe Inquilab Likha jaega
Sab yaad rakah jaega, sab kucch yaad rakah jaega
Aamir Aziz awakened the nation when he took to stage with such a powerful poem. This poem of his was a call to protest in solidarity with the students of Jamia, AMU, JNU that were beaten and attacked brutally. His poem beautifully talked about how history will remember everything, all crimes against students, against humanity. The inaction of the government and the indefinable will of the Indians to stand with
the truth, will all be recorded in history.
Husain Haidry’s poem ‘ Hindustani Musalmaan’ which was first performed in 2017 at Kommune became the verse of resistance during Anti CAA protests. The poem questions the identity of Hindustani Muslim and hence resonated with the sentiments of the Indians during the protests.
Poetry has incorporated truth at several occasion to project dissent and will continue to voice resistance every time fascists ideologies will try to manipulate and divide nation or in the words of Amir Aziz
‘Ho hamare khoon se hi ho sahi sach zaroor likha jayega’.