by Harsev Bains
ON June 8 evening, Sitaram Yechury, Rajya Sabha member and a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, inaugurated the Ghadar movement centenary celebrations in Southall, the heart of the Indian community in UK.
Tracing the inspirational history of the Ghadar movement and the first call for Complete Independence, Yechury emphasised that the independence that was being sought was not simply political but social and economic as well. This call for poorna swaraj was given by the Ghaderites more than a decade before its proclamation by the Congress at its Lahore session on 31st December 1929. The Ghadarites’ dream was to overthrow British colonialism and create an independent India free of exploitation, a secular country, a land of equality in caste and gender. They wanted to create a socialist India, which continues to be the objective for us to march towards a better India.
Yechury recalled the contribution of the Gadhari Babas (as they are fondly called) as a catalyst to the emergence of the Communist Party. It was the Ghadar movement, the spirit of ultimate sacrifice and love of freedom demonstrated by Kartar Singh Sarabha that had the most profound effect on Bhagat Singh.
The Ghadarite idea of an armed struggle to overthrow the British was the inspiration which led to the creation of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army by Bhagat Singh and his comrades, and subsequently the Indian National Army of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
In a detailed speech highlighting the key aspects of the freedom struggle, Yechury summed up by defining the need to safeguard India’s freedom from the twin dangers of communalism and the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist policies. He reminded the audience of what Dr Ambedkar had said when he placed the draft of the constitution for debate in the Constituent Assembly: that while India had taken a huge leap forward by giving one vote for every citizen regardless of class, caste or gender, and while each vote had the same value, what we needed to create was a society where each person had equal value. In other words, one-man-one-vote and one-vote-one-value did not automatically translate into one-man-one-value. This is the unfinished agenda of the Ghadar movement and the freedom struggle which we have to strive to bring to conclusion.
The Ghadar Party centenary celebrations, organised by the Association of Indian Communists and the Indian Workers’ Association across Britain, are being observed in a dozen different events throughout UK with a five-week performance tour by India’s leading street theatre group, Jana Natya Manch. Popularly known as JANAM, the group was formed in 1973 by radical youngsters that included Safdar Hashmi, the iconic playwright and actor, who was killed by anti-social goons while performing a play for workers’ rights on the very first day of 1989. In the 40 years since it was established, the group has about 8,000 performances of nearly 100 street and proscenium plays to its credit. This is the group’s first tour of the UK. Seven of the group’s members are on tour, including Moloyashree Hashmi, the president of JANAM, and Komita Dhanda, its secretary.
The JANAM began the evening’s programme with Yeh Dil Mange More, Guruji, a farce on the Hindu Right. The play is particularly topical right now, given the internecine war within the BJP around the elevation of Modi. The play itself was first prepared as soon as the violence in Gujarat began in 2002, and has evolved since then into a part hilarious, part trenchant critique of the shenanigans of the Sangh Parivar.
The JANAM followed this up with a play against the violence on women, Yeh Bhi Hinsa Hai. This play incorporates elements from the recent events in Delhi around the gang rape of December last, but is not limited to those events. As a matter of fact, the play itself is an older one from the JANAM’s repertory, and was updated subsequently. Beginning somewhat lightly, the play becomes dark and ominous as it reaches its chilling denouement.
The third play performed by the JANAM was Machine, the historic first street play produced by the group. The play shows how the capitalist system is ultimately unsustainable, and that it brings to life the very force — the working class — that will destroy capitalism itself. An excerpt from a documentary film on JANAM by Lalit Vachani which focuses on Safdar Hashmi, was also screened.
The highlight of the evening was a reading performance on the Ghadar movement by JANAM. Weaving together poetry, images and prose pieces with commentary, this piece had the audience spellbound, as it brought alive the people, incidents, and the legacy of the Ghadar movement in a moving and inspiring manner.