India is afire with protests against the country’s new citizenship law (CAA). To those of us who have been watching fascism’s brutal take-over of India with growing dismay, the last couple of months have brought dawning hope. The people have finally risen against injustice and tyranny.
The protestors have been expressing their dissent in wonderfully creative ways. From recitals of Faiz’s Hum dekhenge and his other poems, a musical version of the “Azadi” anthem popularized by Kanhaiya Kumar, to beautiful poetry, satirical plays, and rousing songs – this movement against India’s “liar-in-chief” has spawned a veritable cultural bonanza!
Here are my thoughts on the protests, in the voice of old Hindi film songs.
1. Apni azadi ko hum hargiz luta sakte nahin
Film: Leader (1964)
Back in the 80s and 90s this played a lot on TV and radio, usually on Independence Day, Republic Day and other patriotic occasions. I’ve always liked this song, but with India once again in the grip of a brutal, authoritarian government, the lyrics have assumed a new meaning. Dilip Kumar (in Rafi’s voice) raises the cry that “we cannot lose our freedom, we’d rather have our heads chopped off than bow them”.
Kya chalegi zulm ki ahl-e-wafa ke saamne,
Aa nahin sakta koi shola hawa ke saamne,
Laakh faujen leke aaye amn ka dushman koi,
Ruk nahin sakta humari ekta ke saamne,
Hum woh patthar hain jise dushman hila sakte nahin.
Brutality doesn’t stand a chance against our true resolve,
No ball of fire can face this wind.
No matter how many armies the enemy of peace brings,
He cannot hold out against our unity.
We are the rock that our enemies cannot move.
Shaqeel Badayuni could’ve written this for the brave women of Shaheen Bagh, and for the women spearheading countless other such protests all over India.
2. Bacchon tum taqdeer ho kal ke Hindustan ki
Film: Didi (1959)
Children, you are the fate of tomorrow’s Hindustan, the future of Gandhi’s boon and Nehru’s vision. The students brutalized by armed goons and police personnel across countless university campuses (Jamia, Aligarh, JNU – to name a few) are a lot older than the children Sunil Dutt and Shubha Khote are addressing in this song. But they are still children of India, the youngsters who will be the future of the country.
Deen dharam ke naam pe koi beej phoot ka boye na,
Jo sadiyon ke baad mili hai woh azaadi khoye na,
Har mazhab se oonchi hai qeemat insaani jaan ki.
Let no one sow the seeds of religious division,
Lest we lose the freedom we have won after centuries.
More valuable than any religion is the price of human life.
Given the strongly secular voices emerging from the movement, it does seem like the children of India have taken Sahir Ludhianvi’s words to heart.
3. Humne suna tha ek hai Bharat
Film: Didi (1959)
Like the youngsters of today, Sunil Dutt’s students also question social and economic inequality. Isn’t India one? Why so many differences and religious clashes? Why so much inequality? Sunil Dutt’s character was clearly not educated by the Sangh Parivar! When his students question him, instead of labelling them anti-national and asking them to go to Pakistan, he explains that differences do not mean divisions. And then goes on to explain inequality:
Dhan aur gyaan ko taqatwaalon ne apni jaagir kaha,
Mehnat aur ghulaami ko kamzoron ki taqdeer kaha
The powerful claimed wealth and education as their province,
And they said labor and slavery is the fate of the powerless.
While there were several progressive poets in Bollywood, kehte hain ki Sahir ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan kuch aur! (It is said that Sahir’s style and expression are something else again.)
4. Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab humare dil mein hai
Film: Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963)
The protestors have drawn parallels between the forces aligned against them and those against Ram Prasad Bismil, the young freedom fighter who was executed by the British on Dec 19, 1927. Last year, Dec 19 was chosen for the launch of the nation-wide anti-CAA protests and Bismil’s famous poem has often been quoted during protest speeches. So how can my protest list be complete without it? There are several film versions of it, all of them in movies about Bhagat Singh (Bismil’s fellow freedom fighter). And the 50s and 60s versions all feature Rafi as one of the singers! For this list I have chosen the song from a lesser known film that stars Shammi Kapoor as Bhagat Singh.
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab humare dil mein hai
Dekhna hai zor kitna baazoo-e-qatil mein hai
Bismil says that he and his fellow freedom fighters now have the desire to sacrifice their heads for the country, and that they will see how much strength their enemy can exert. I love the poem but do hope that none of these peaceful protestors will have to sacrifice their lives like Bismil and Bhagat Singh!
5. Dushmanon saavdhan shatruon saavdhaan
Film: Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (1966)
When Gandhi, Nehru, Bismil and Bhagat Singh are invoked, how can Bose be far behind? I cannot find a video of this song, but it isn’t hard to imagine soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj marching to this song, vowing to free their homeland.
Chal pade hain aaj Hind ke jawaan,
Sar pe bandh kar kafan, seena taan.
Chhod do chhod do chhod do, paapiyon humaara hindustaan.
The youth of India have started their march,
With shrouds on their heads, shoulders squared,
Leave, leave, leave our Hindustan, O evil ones.
And “Hind ke jawaan” are once again on the move against their “paapi” rulers.
6. Jagega insaan zamaana dekhega
Film: Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969)
A country with such enlightened and motivated youth can only have a bright future!
Chamkega desh hamara mere sathi re,
Aankhon mein kal ka nazara mere sathi re,
Kal ka Hindustan zamana dekhega.
Our country will shine, O my friend,
My eyes see a vision of the future, O my friend.
The world will see the India of tomorrow.
It is ironic how many progressive songs star Dharmendra. He and his family are deeply involved with the ruling ultra right dispensation – he was a member of parliament for the BJP and currently his wife Hema Malini and his son Sunny Deol are BJP MPs. His BJP credentials notwithstanding, there is no denying the magnetism of young and progressive Dharmendra!
7. Kadam kadam se dil se dil mila rahe hain hum
Film: Char Dil Char Raahen (1959)
All workers have matched their steps and their hearts, and are laying the foundation of a new India where there won’t be inequalities and injustice. The music and the song’s optimistic vision reminds me of the “march-past” songs that used to play in Kendriya Vidyala school assemblies.
8. Kehne ki nahin baat magar ab zor se kehna hai
Film: Pyar Kiye Ja (1966)
And because this is a Bollywood protest, there has to be some dancing and some eye candy! So here is my favorite protest song of all, with Shashi Kapoor providing both dance and eye candy. He is voicing the needs of India’s youth who have become unemployed (thanks to the current government’s economic policies) and have joined anti-government protests in droves, “Naukri chaahiye, chaahiye naukri.” (We want jobs.)
9. Salaam kijiye aali janab aaye hain
Film: Aandhi (1975)
As you well know, you cannot have a proper masala film without a villain. And he’s missing from this list. There should be a reference to Modi, or “Saheb” as Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, and others refer to him. This song’s original target, as I am sure you know, was Indira Gandhi. But just check out the lyrics – aren’t they so much more applicable to India’s pradhaan sevak and his cronies?
Ye nange jism chhupaa dete hai qafan de kar,
Ye jaadugar hain, ye chutki me kaam karte hain,
Ye bhookh pyaas ko baato se ram karate hain.
They cover nakedness (of poverty) with shrouds,
They are magicians who do their work in the snap of a finger,
They use talk to magic away people’s hunger and thirst.
10. Jaago jaago savera hua raat gayi
Film: Baaz (1953)
Geeta Bali and friends use singing and dancing to incite rebellion against villainous ruler Barbosa (K. N. Singh) in Portuguese-occupied Malabar. The fact that they succeed in freeing Malabar from the Portuguese (a century or two before 1947) is, I think, largely due to this song.
Dekh chaman me aag lagi hai,
Rut jaag uthi hai kuch bol kuch bol.
Sun jo sake to sun pawan pukare,
Teri ghaat me shikari, aankhe khol.
Look, the garden is aflame.
It is the season of awakening, say something!
If you can, listen to the call of the wind,
The hunter lies in wait for you, open your eyes.
Women took an active part in India’s freedom struggle and today they not only lead, but also form the bulk of anti-CAA protestors around the country. But history has largely cast them in supporting roles in the freedom struggle – they inspired their menfolk, followed their leads, or sacrificed for them. Even Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi is famously eulogised as having fought like a man – presumably because fighting for freedom is a male trait. Hindi films have largely followed this trend, but Baaz is unusual. Geeta Bali’s Nisha gets to be a pirate chief and a main character in Malabar’s battle for independence.
What songs would you include in your protest list?