Gauhar Raza

A Poet against Fascism


Poet Gauhar Raza wrote in his twitter on August 18, 2021:

'I was born in Allahabad, it doesn't exist, was brought up in Aligarh soon it will vanish. In other words, I was never born and I will never be brought up. Two institutes (NISTADS & NISCAIR) where I served don't exist so I was never employed. Tragedy has hit many, I am not alone’.

He sees his birth place Allahabad does not exist now; even Aligarh where he was brought up will soon be vanished. He feels he was never born and brought up. Tragedy, he says, has hit many people of India besides him and yet he feels he is not alone. A day before he wrote:

‘Shocked to know that Allahabad University cancelled Mushaira/Kavi Sammelan at the last moment because Chief Minister's office did not like some poets. It is a city where poets like Raghupati Sahay could criticise Nehru (PM) in his presence’.

As the office of the Chief Minister didn’t like some poets, the Mushaira or the poets’ conference had been cancelled by the authority of the Allahabad University at the last moment! He reminded that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t disapprove criticism launched from the poets against him even in his presence. And the renowned poet Raghupati Sahay did it openly. He was not disliked or punished by Nehru.

Intolerance has now got its height in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime where no sorts of criticism against the government or the political party in power or any leader of the party can be endured.

Raza, an Indian scientist and an Urdu poet, social activist and documentary film-maker, was born on August 17, 1956 at Aligarh. He was well-known to the public for his films like Jung-e-Azadi on India's First War of Independence of 1857 and Inqilab (2008) on Bhagat Singh.

Wizarat Husain was his father who was a freedom fighter and a communist party member. He was a renowned educationist and science teacher and taught in the Aligarh Muslim University and his mother, a social worker, was intensely involved in freedom struggle. Raza was graduated in engineering from the Aligarh Muslim University in 1977 and did his MTech from Delhi in 1979. During his student life in the Aligarh Muslim University he was attached to the student front of the CPI(M) and during emergency in 1975 he was the secretary of the SFI of Western Uttar Pradesh.

During the JNU episode in 2016, Zee News, acting predominantly as a mouthpiece of BJP, aired many a fake news and doctored video to brand some students as anti-national. On March 9 the renowned Urdu poet and scientist Gauhar Raza got in the raze of BJP. Only four days before he attended the 51st Shankar-Shad Mushaira–a prestigious platform for Urdu poets of India and Pakistan and recited his poems. He was branded by this channel as a member of Afzal premi gang and therefore obviously a ‘desh drohi’ or anti-national. Even this channel’s reporter alleged that Raza had made a documentary on the Gujarat riots as if it was a crime to make such a documentary on Gujarat riots as the then Gujarat government led by Narendra Modi was involved in this act of brutality. Indeed, Raza made such a documentary on Gujarat riots in 2002.On his work he said in an interview:

‘My documentary was not a technically sound one but was the first on the Gujarat riots. It was attacked and banned from screening in some places but the media always supported it. When media starts opposing you, you don’t know whom to go to even if you are right. So, it is very important to have not just a free and fair media but also a responsible media’.

Such a brief presentation on the life and activities of Raza is placed to get a short idea of him and the world of this thought. He said:

‘If in a country, the artists-painters, actors, poets, writers and many more warn you about the dangers that look ahead, they should be taken seriously. Voices are being suppressed across the country. It’s time now to vote against hatred spewing leaders’.

When such an alarm is ringing at the door, the demand of the poets and the intellectuals of Bengal to get united with their performance to face fascism led by BJP-RSS combine is a must. They should take to the streets in protest against the said merchant of disdain and malice.

Despite march of ‘iron heels’ no anti-fascist outcry by the activists of cultural front. Where have gone the days of vehement protests in Bengal? Where have gone the descendants of those artists-writers-poets and intellecutuals who standing against the anti-people role of the government openly created a history? Kolkata no longer has the distinction of being called a city of marches and rallies!

The man who in the forties of the twentieth century organisided successfully almost all the writers-poets-artists and intellecutals of the time and got them actively involved in open protest on the streets and organised a culture of protest and resistance, was PC Joshi, the leader of the then CPI. His political line may draw many a flaw, but he instanciated an unforseen struggle against fascism in the cultural arena. Far from the particracy, he organised an active platform to launch a cultural protest movement against fascism though his efforts did not last long. Particrats did their best to disarm this platform and created a mess of disorder. And later, during the Ranadive period, the worst had been done. For this act of disorder the particrats did never repent, rather remained busy at branding even the loyal and dedicated party-intellectuals with dissenting voice ‘trotskites’.

During the last decade of seventies, when the blood-hunters were at large on the open streets along with the police and the ruling party leaders, when a deep darkness of terrorism on the part of the government itself was on the move over the nation, at least one poet and an editor cum journalist were seen to come to the fore to create an epic of protests. They did pay a deep hearing to this ruling class terrorism. They were not armed with rifles. But they turned their pens into firey weapons to combat inhuman atrocities. Of them the poet was Birendra Chattopadhyay and other Samar Sen, the editor of ‘Frontier’. To quote Shakespeare there was ‘black days’ prevailing on the land. The state police and ruling class- paid hooligans were elated to wipe out the Naxals and the time got bloodened. In such a time on August 4 (at night) the police of the then notorious Chief Minister of West Bengal dragged the Poet-Journalist and Political leader Saroj Dutta and beheaded him in the Maidan at the dawn (August 5) so that he could not be identified. Poet Birendra instantly protested against such a heinous crime of the police and Samar Sen was unhesitant to pen against fascist activities of the state.

Days after, people found Poet Kamalesh Sen to organise protests of the cultural workers along with fellow poets, writers, artists, intellectuals to assemble on the street against the anti-people role of the ruling class in power.Then people got poet Sankha Ghosh to follow the path initiated by the poet Birendra. Though the language of his protest was more polished and sublime than that of the language of open conflict, yet it did much to serve the purpose and hundreds of poets-artists-writers and intellectuals along with cultural activists came down on the streetes to voice their protest against anti-people role of the ruling regime. Today there is none. The vacuum expands with every passing day, goes up by degrees. Where have gone those writer-intellectuals ejaculating fiery slogans on the streets once?

Now the hindutwabadi fascist forces led by the BJP-RSS combine are continually seeding hatred and dividing the people of the country by caste, creed and religon. The voices of protest are being suppressed by the colonial era rules and acts. They have had their free entry into the realms of constitution, judiciary and the legislature while establishing their absolute hegemony over the systems. Cultural activists are being attacked and put into the police custody or jail custody without trial for years. West Bengal is no exception.

Tragically enough, the left- wingers too are being dissociated and unorganised to launch protest on the streets. Some of them are hesitant to give due importance to the fascist onslaught of the establishment and as such stage no organised mass mobilisation. A conception has cropped up in the official left circle that through the election this authoritarian regime of the BJP can be replaced, and thus they essentialy deny the neccesity of combating the fascist gangs. They perhaps forget that the fascist forces cannot be fought through electioneering politics sans battle on the open streets.

Coming back to Raza, he had to face the Hindutwabadi fascists many a time. He wrote a poem in 1994 in memory of the martyrs of Jallianwalabagh massacre in Punjab which happened in 1919 causing 381 killed out of which 222 were Hindus, 96 Sikhs and 63 Muslims. Such a heart-breaking incident encouraged him to write a poem on it after seventy- five years of the massacre. Poet Gauhar Raja did not compromise a bit and as such he was defamed and branded being a member of Afzal premi gang which was evident with his reciting a poem in the Shankar-Shad Mushaira. Raza declined the accusation and said in an interview:

‘There is no reference to Afzal or terrorism in that poem. Whoever has followed my work knows that my poetry is always against violence and terrorism, against jihadis. I have written poems against killings by jihadis in Afghanistan. In 2010, I wrote a poem on two journalists killed in Afghanistan. I have written verses against Punjab terrorism’.

He went a step further more and said that Zee News episode did the worst and triggered threatening him ‘through phone calls and email.’ He had been called a jihadi, a threat to mankind, a threat to the country. Even the channel kept showing his photograph so that he could have been identified easily and he might be attacked anytime and anywhere. He then could not move freely and was frightened that the faceless enemy had been following him all the time. He felt himself insecure and helpless and failed to understand how to get careful. But more than four hundred people across the vast field of work (comprising actors, painters, filmmakers, singers, lawyers and activists) stood by him and demanded not only apology from the channel but also appealed to the Centre and Delhi Government to initiate criminal proceedings against the said channel for putting a citizen’s ‘life under threat’.


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Vol 56, No. 17-20, Oct 22 - Nov 18, 2023