The Songs They Want To Snatch From Our Lips

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In 1986, during Zia’s despotic and dictatorial military regime, when Iqbal Bano sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s revolutionary lyrics ‘Hum Dekhenge’ to a packed and applauding audience at Alhamra Hall in Lahore. ‘Hum Dekhenge’ is a revolutionary poem, penned in 1979 by the leftist Faiz Ahmad Faiz, in response to General Zia ul Haq’s repressive dictatorship and remains a critical commentary of Zia’s brand of authoritarian Islam. In this poem, Faiz used Islamic motifs as a metaphor to link the Islamic history of fight for Kaaba with the resistance against Zia’s tyranny – a clever ploy to beat the hardline Islamist right-wing regime with Islamic symbolism. The essence of the poetry was neither Islamic, nor anti-any religion. Wearing a black saree, an attire banned by the Islamist Zia-ul Haq government, and singing the banned communist poet’s lyrics, she became a symbol of defiance and the song an epitome of revolutionary spirit. It is a song that unites people resisting against tyranny anywhere in the world.

By raking up a controversy over the song, IIT Kanpur which has ordered an inquiry into whether the song is anti-Hindu, we may be plunging into new depths of absurdity in measuring the rhyme and metre of the poetry to the quotient of religiosity. The inquiry ordered by the IIT authorities after a complaint was made by a faculty member, who began viewing the poem with his Islamophobic lense, betrays contempt for not just literature but also the ignorance of poetry and Urdu language. The lines ‘Jab Arz-e-Kuhda ke Kaabe se, sab butt uthwaye jayenge..’ reportedly objected to for the alleged “hurting of Hindu sentiments” was a barb against those in power who take the name of religion to mislead people. “Bas, naam rehega Allah ka…” is used as a metaphor of ‘triumph of truth and justice’ and ‘peoples power’, which the next few lines explicitly elaborate. “An-al-Haq” meaning “I am the truth” has its origin in Sufism and it exalts humanity. Words can be taken out of the context only at the risk of displaying ignorance, poverty of intellect and a communal bias. The probe is also in line with the official narrative of pressing to hilt the Islamophobic button.

It is this Islamophobia that raises the heckles of some over the utterance of very word “Allah”. It is enough for them to press the panic button in a country where songs like “Allah Tero Naam, Ishwar Tero naam…” have been appreciated and regaled by musical aficionados and devotees for years without any objection. Both Krishna bhakti songs and Sufi poetry have been our collective repository – celebrated and sung by people of all religions. However, we’ve now reached a level of absurdity when songs like “Tu Hindu banega, na Musalman banega, Insaan ki Aulad hai insaan banega….” can no longer be composed without rallying cries calling for DNA testing of children to determine their religion. Can one even imagine a remake of ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’ showcasing three siblings professing three different religions without much ado. Back in the 70s, the movie was received as a typical masala blockbuster without much fuss over the religiosity of its three protagonists – neither celebrated, nor shunned. It was just considered a normal way of life. Those times are gone. The “Hum Dekhenge” controversy confirms that India has marched into a different era where uninformed opinion will guide the course. Every song, every poem, every word would be under the scrutiny – and stupidly so.

By turning the prestigious institution of higher learning into a laughing stock, the only thing that the IIT Kanpur probe will prove is that Faiz’s words have stung the present Indian regime and its worshippers as much as it hurt the arrogance of Zia’s regime under which Faiz’s poetry was banned. When Iqbal Bano displayed her open defiance by singing it, wearing a banned ‘un-Islamic attire’, the regime cracked down on her and barred her from singing at concerts and Pakistan’s television and radio. The recordings of the concert at Alhamra were seized (but one recording was secretly sneaked out of Pakistan to not just showcase Pakistani resistance but also inspire resistance movements across the globe). Words of reason and words of resistance have power that the absolutist powers cannot withstand and will continue to demonise and ban. Any such bid is a bid to erase the words of resistance, erase the memory of the inspiring minds who penned these words and to snatch from the lips of the people struggling against tyranny their songs and poetry.

Poetry, literature and art has played an immense role in movements across the world. One of the most powerful mediums of peaceful resistance is through artistic and creative methods. Expressions can be articulated in more creative ways by some. Art forms are known to be the best and most powerful tools of resistance. In any resistance struggle, poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers and fiction writers have inspired movements and struggles. Art, poetry and literature are tools to attempt making changes not just outside but also internally. They deepen understanding, accommodate opposing ideas and also help build solidarities. They thus empowers individuals and communities and provide stimulation to movements world over. The French revolution was inspired by thinkers and philosophers like Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. And, French revolution inspired many other revolutions across Europe and later the world. Tolstoy was a great source of inspiration during Bolshevik revolution.

During the Indian freedom movement, Progressive Writers Association, not only opposed oppression or inspired people to struggle but also helped create the idea of India through their liberal views. Decades after independence and its tragic partition, the songs of ‘Sarfaroshi ki Tamana….’ Penned by Bismil Azimabadi and ‘Mera Rang de Basanti Chola……’ by Ram Prasad Bismil remain the collective heritage and anthems of people resisting any kind of oppression on either side of the border. So does the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad” coined by Maulana Hasrat Mohani. Poet Iqbal, who also penned ‘Saare Jahan se aacha….’, also wrote the iconic poem ‘Naya Shivalya’ that exhorts Hindu and Muslim fanatics to shed hatred and differences and raise a temple dedicated to Indian nation. He blends patriotism with communal brotherhood and his words were received much adulation and admiration for the richness of the rhyme and the idea:

sach kah don aye brahman! gar tu buraa na maaney
terey sanam-kadon ke butt ho gaye puraaney
apnon se bair rakhnaa tu ne button se seekhaa
jang-o-jadal sikhaayaa waaiz ko bhi khudaa ne
tang aa ke main ne aakhir dair-o-haram ko chhodaa
waaiz ka waaz chhodaa, chhodey tirey fasaaney
patthar ki mooraton mein samjhaa hai tu khdaa hai
khaak-e-watan ka mujh ko har zarraa devtaa hai

Poetry has been the essence of struggles in the past and continues to be – whether it is freedom struggles, struggles for land and justice, workers rights or political movements. It gives a stimulant to the freedom loving spirit that will always resist against attempts to being caged and crushed. The words of resistance, the poetry and literature of resistance would thus always be seen as a weapon by those at the other end of the spectrum. They would like to purge these words and snatch them from the lips of the people singing them – using some pretext or just their own brutal might.

A popular song at many peoples movements in India in recent decades thus goes:

Woh humare geet kyon rokna chahte hain
Khamoshi todo waqt aa gaya
Hum apne geet gaa rahein hain
Woh naaraaz kyon
Woh darte hain zindagi se
Woh darte hain maut se
Woh darte hain sapnon se
Woh hamare qadmon se darte hai
Woh darte hain, saathiyon
Woh humarein raahon se darte hain
Jan ki chetna se darte hain…….

An English translation of the poem by the writer Maniza Naqvi,
found in Times of India:
We shall see
Certainly we, too, shall see
that day that has been promised to us
When these high mountains
Of tyranny and oppression
turn to fluff and evaporate
And we oppressed
Beneath our feet will have
this earth shiver, shake and beat
And heads of rulers will be struck
With crackling lightening
and thunder roars.
When from this God’s earth’s (Kaa’ba)
All falseness (icons) will be removed
Then we of clean hearts-condemned by Zealots those keepers of
We, will be invited to that altar to sit and Govern-
When crowns will be thrown off- and over turned will be thrones
We shall see
Certainly we, too, shall see
that day that has been promised to us
The God’s name will remain (Allah will remain)
Who is invisible and visible too
Who is the seer and is seen
There will rise one cheer- I am God!
Who I am too
and so are you
Then the masses, people of God will rule
Who I am too
and so are you
There will rise one cheer- I am God!
Who I am too
and so are you

Hum Dekhenge
Hum dekhenge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Wo din ke jis ka wada hai
Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai
Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi
Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se
Sab but uthwae jaenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-harm
Masnad pe bethae jaenge
Sab taaj uchale jaenge
Sab takht girae jaenge
Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi
Utthega an-al-haq ka nara
Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho
Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda
Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho