जब अर्ज-ए-ख़ुदा के काबे से
सब बुत उठवाए जाएँगे
“ … from the abode of God
When deities of falsehood will be taken out …”
These are the lines from Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem Hum Dekhenge which has sparked a new debate whether the poem is “anti-Hindu”.
On December 17, 2019, students of IIT Kanpur gathered inside the campus to show solidarity with the students of Jamia Milia Islamia who were brutally assaulted by the police during their protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
A faculty member misconstrued the nazm and filed a complaint against the students alleging that the poem instigates anti-Hindu sentiments.
The institute went ahead to form an inquiry committee of six members to probe whether the recitation was done with malicious intent.
The authority has misapprehended the context of the poem and fabricated a redundant discourse of ‘communalism’.
In 1985, President General Zia-ul-Haq imposed martial law (direct military control) in Pakistan. Under the law, the rights of people were seized, and Zia’s authoritarianism took a religious turn with his understanding of Islam being obtruded to the citizens of that nation.
In his conservative Islamic definition, the colour black was banned as it symbolises the colour of the protest and women were also prohibited from draping Saree as it was considered a Hindu attire.
It was then that Iqbal Bano came in the act of resistance. In the presence of over 50,000 people in a stadium of Lahore, wearing a black saree, she sang this revolutionary nazm Hum Dekhenge, Laazim Hain Ke Hum Bhi Dekhenge, Hum Dekhenge.
Hum Dekhenge was written by Faiz in 1979 to condemn the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq and his Islamic fundamentalism.
The poem was an indirect way to criticize the actions of the oppressor since back in those days criticising the government openly was outlawed. Hence, the artists and poets used many metaphors which has a deeper meaning.
For instance, from the same nazm Faiz says
Jab Zulmo Sitam Ke Kohe Garah
Rui Ki Tarah Udd Jayenge
Literally, the lines mean “when these high mountains of tyranny and oppression, turn to fluff and evaporate”. However, that meaning is superficial, which insinuates to say that the melancholy which took the shape of a mountain, will vanish into thin air – someday.
The concept of inexplicit criticism is not new. Some of the nursery rhymes date back to the 18th century and maybe even older, and they are now very obliviously made part of textbook literature for kids when they have deeper connotations. The jurisdiction even then could not take criticism well. Hence, dissenters made their opinions take the shape of parody. For example, Bah Bah Black Sheep is a little more than an innocent nursery rhyme. It actually questions the taxation system in the wool industry of England during that particular period.
It was denunciation through art. And that is what the students were doing – to show their solidarity to Jamia students who were raising voice against CAA and NRC. When they came out in the open for demonstration with placards and slogans, a violent clash broke down between the police and the students. Again, the nerve to speak against the authority led to what happened after the appointment of Zia-ul-Haq in 1978.
To retaliate the police brutality, Kanpur IITians were doing what Iqbal did in 1985 – dissent through song and poetry. They questioned the authority for its fascism to impose law without the consent of its citizen.
Coming back to the present-day debate on Faiz’s poem, it was questioning the undemocratic ruling of then ruler Zia-ul-Haq, which unfortunately misread by the administration of IIT Kanpur and in turn diminishing the essence of the poem.