The activist and playwright Safdar Hashmi was 34 years old when he was brutally injured, on 1 January 1989, while performing a street play in Delhi with Jana Natya Manch, often referred to as Janam, the theatre group he led. The troupe had gathered to perform in the neighbourhood of Jhandapur, Sahibabad, and was attacked, allegedly by a group led by Mukesh Sharma, an independent Congress-backed candidate contesting municipal elections at the time. A labourer named Ram Bahadur, who was a resident of the area, died on the spot. Hashmi succumbed to serious injuries the following night. Around fifteen thousand people attended his funeral procession.
In his new book, Halla Bol: The death and life of Safdar Hashmi, his colleague and friend Sudhanva Deshpande, who is a Delhi-based theatre director and actor, as well as the managing editor of LeftWord Books, chronicles the moments leading up to the attack and the aftermath, in which Hashmi’s death galvanised widespread protest around the country. This excerpt focusses on Janam’s electrifying performance of the play Halla Bol, led by Moloyashree—Hashmi’s partner—on 4 January 1989.
2 January 1989: Mala