Poetry In The Time Of Resistance


It has been more than three months since the protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is happening across the country. The protest has achieved its reach across the national boundaries. Jamia Millia Islamia has been the flag bearer ever since it has started, soon universities across the world joined this protest; firstly against the brutalities unleashed by Delhi Police on students and secondly against the discriminatory nature of CAA on the basis of religion. One of the significant features of the anti-CAA protest can be seen that how it has brought art in the movement through poetry, paintings, street play, rap song and finally slogan. Among all other forms of art, poetry has attracted much attention in the ongoing anti-CAA protest to express the anger against the ruling regime for attacking the secular ethos of the country.

Poetry and Protest

In historically, poetry has always been at the forefront of social change be it fascism, oppression, injustice anywhere in the world. In the context of India poets like Kabir, Ravidas, Chokhamela, women Sant. Soyaraboi and Namdeo Dhasal have written several poems against the Dalit discrimination and Barahminical supremacy. Similarly, in the western world Poets like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou against written poems against racial discrimination in United States. It is interesting to see that injustice to Dalit and Black contributed radical abolitionist poetry in 20th century. The world of today is witnessing a good number of protests against the state for its inability in managing social inequality, socio-political discrimination, rising fascism and religious hatred. Countries like Chile, Colombia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and most recently Hong Kong and India are experiencing mass protest. Globally prominent news paper Washington Post remarked that “2019 has become the year of the street protester”. One should also see that what contribute to these protests to emerge. Despite having a local grievance each protest is also driven by growing inequality and injustice which is an outcome of global financial crisis and emerging disenchantment with the idea of democracy in electoral sense. The ongoing anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protest against the Modi regime in India which is being reported worldwide can also be read in the context of the spirit of resistance where poetry is creating a ground for solidarity against the neo-liberal policies and the growing fascist character of the state. The accountability of the state is being set by questioning it through composing poetry which makes the government more sensible towards its citizens.

Emerging Poetry

Poet, artist and activist create poem for socio-political conciseness, poetry as an art form have more power to connect with peoples aspersions. In this regard many old and new poets and their poetry become the vice of the Peoples movement. Like Faiz Ahmad Faiz nazm “Hum Dekhenge” (We will see), and Habib Jalib nazm “Main Nahi Manta, Main Nahi Janta” (I shall not defer to, I shall not acknowledge)  and other peoples poet like Balli Singh Chima, Gorakh Pandey, Paash, Gajanan Muktibodh, and Dushyant Kumar etc. And new generation of poets also did remarkable poetry, for example comedian and lyricist Varun Grover “Hum Kagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” (We will not show papers), how beautifully these few words capture the basic essence of the protest against CAA-NRP-NRC and “Tum Kaun Ho Be?”, (Who the hell are you?) by young poet Puneet Sharma is another assertive poem. Also some internationally popular anti-fascist folk song like “Bella Ciao” (Goodbye Beautiful), from Italy, had become the revolutionary anthem during World War II. This Italian folk song has been translated and composed in Hindi as “Wapas Jao” by activist singer Poojan Shail against the current Modi regime. Similarly the Chilean poem ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (A rapist in your way), is another popular performance performed by a group of women in Santiago on ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’, in November 2019 about sexual assault and rape. At the downtown Manhattan court house in US where famous film maker Harvey Weinstein’s rape case trial was on, some women activist performed on Chilean poem ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (A rapist in your way) outside the court as mark of their protest against sexual violence.

Many women activists are of the opinion that sexual violence against women in terms of rape should not be seen as an individual crime against women but it must be considered as a major social issue. The poem A rapist in your way’ captures and reflects pathetic social condition built around a women. The poem reads as;

And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed
And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed
And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed
And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed

The rapist is you.
The rapist is you.

It’s the cops,
The judges,
The state,
The president.

The oppressive state is a rapist.
The oppressive state is a rapist.”*

However, in the context of India where literary art works like folk songs, poems and other vernacular artistic works are significant contribution in this regard. The poem A rapist in your way influenced the women activist in India. In particular women activist in West Bengal borrowed the same poem and converted it into Bengali language “Ami ki porechi, kothaye giyechi, dosh ta amar noye” (What I have worn and where I have gone cannot be my fault).” They performed on it through women’s collective, a group of women activists, in Kolkata. In this protest women protesters also attacked on Hindutva nationalism and patriarchy nature of the Indian society. Such poems and artists works are influencing women for standing up to any issue and taking it forward until it is resolved. Such poems also honor women protesters around the world for their courage and commitment. As one can see in the context of India where anti-CAA-NPR-NRC is continuing for last three months and more significantly how women become torch-bearer of this movement. Poet and scholar Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee has brought out a lovely poem which signifies the role of women sitting in a place called “Shaheen Bagh”. Manash in his poem “Come to Shaheen Bagh” attempts to inform the world about courage, conviction and many sources of inspirations that one can draw from women protesters in Shaheen Bagh. The poem reads:

If you want to see ripples of light
In the heart of darkness,
Come to Shaheen Bagh.

If you want to see the night cover
Its hair under the moon,
Come to Shaheen Bagh.

If you want to listen to the women
Unlike Kiarostami’s film,
Not silent, nor sobbing for Shirin,
If you want to hear
A mother who can hear the earth,
Come to Shaheen Bagh.

If you want to see children wave
Words they barely know,
Braving the cold street of protest,
Come to Shaheen Bagh.

If you want to see where freedom
Ends and fear begins,
And fear ends and freedom begins,
Come to Shaheen Bagh.

The master’s men shiver at the gates,
They inspire nothing, no one.

Their eyes measure our footsteps,
They fear what we desire.

The winter of fear belongs to all,
And the women fight for
What the police can only guard.

Come to Shaheen Bagh,
Come and see the children bear
Nothing except hope;
They know something we don’t.

They know something
The tyrants of the world forget.*

In this addition emerging young poet-activist Aamir Aziz has become a sensation among the youth in the ongoing anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protest in India. Aamir Aziz is associated with left cultural progressive movement for more than one decade. He is inspired many people for their revolutionary artistic works like Indian cultural activist Gorakh Pandey and Mukti Bodh, Black African-American musician and folk artist like B.B. King, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Johny Cash and Bob Dylan. As a theater artist Amir took part in many theater plays and street plays which largely symbolizes the social issues of common people. He found his first breakthrough on YouTube which recorded more than three lacs views of his poem “Achhe Din Blues” exposing PM Modi’s election promise of Achhe din. His second and one of the significant poems express pain and plight of an individual who is lynched because of his identity being muslim. His poem ‘The Ballad of Pehlu khan’ narrates the story of Pahlu Khan who was lynched. It also exposes the lawlessness of the state and the level communal politics. Amir gained a momentum when he wrote a poem on the brutalities unleashed by Delhi Police on students of Jamia Millia Islamia in the wake of anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protest. He praised the courage of girls from Jamia by composing Yeh Hai Jamia Ki Ladkiyan’ (These are the Girls of Jamia) for their bold and fearless gesture against the brutal crackdown of the state. His most recent and perhaps most impactful composition ‘Sab Yaadrakha Jayega’ (Everything will be remembered) has become a buzz word in the town. In this poem Amir recorded each brutalities and failure of the system and mocked the state for its inability and complicitness. Amir’s poem subtly captures the imagination of a nation reflected in the thoughts of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protesters also carry similar poetry and slogans on the street influenced by Amir’s poem. This particular poem was acknowledged and recited by world fame musician and activist Pink Floyd’s Roger Water recently when he demanded release of wikileaks founder Julian Assange against his state captivity. Water said poet was fighting against PM Modi’s ‘fascist and racist Citizenship law’. Amir also praised by renowned Marxist scholars like Tariq Ali and Vijay Prasad. Waters recited the English version of Amir Poem….

Everything will be remembered.
Kill us, we will become ghosts
and write of your killings,
with all the evidence.

You write jokes in courts,
we will write justice on the walls.
We will speak so loudly that
even the deaf will hear.

We will write so clearly that
even the blind will read.
You write injustice on the earth,
We will write revolution in the sky.


By poetry, artist and poet not only express their solidarity but expose ‘lived experience’ of the people and community. It also creates socio-political consciousness in order to evolve a egalitarian society. Political and social events historically inspire poets to react it its own time and space. Historically egalitarian art and literature born during resistance time, like USSR art and literature which still dominate on world stage against undemocratic regime. Poetry and poet will born again and again in future protests to resist the dark time. Once revolutionary German play-writer and poet Bertolt Brecht poem will keep us reminding ‘In the dark times/ Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing/ About the dark time’.

Dr Sanjay Kumar is currently pursuing research on Black Consciousness in Africa.

* (Poem ‘A rapist in your way’ English translation of the song published in Huffington post, 3rd  December, 2019,See link,  https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/viral-chilean-feminist-anthem_in_5de5edfde4b00149f734ce76)

* Published on 1st January, 2020 in the wire, https://thewire.in/rights/come-to-shaheen-bagh.




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