Gained in Translation: They called me ‘anti-national’

I believe Zee News caused a much bigger damage. I was just a scapegoat. The democratic tradition of mushaira/kavi sammelan, where poets exercise freedom of expression, unhindered, was the real target.

Written by Gauhar Raza | Updated: September 17, 2017 1:42 am
gauhar raza,gauhar raza called anti-national, afzal premi gang, afzal guru, rohith vemula, kanhiaya kumar, Safdar Hashmi’s murder, zee news My name, Gauhar Raza, was sufficient evidence for them to attack me. A widely circulated email declared me an agent of Muslim fundamentalists.(Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

After Zee News declared me an “anti-national” and a member of the “Afzal Premi Gang”, there were three types of reactions. First, there were those who said you should not have taken the names of Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar. The second category said, we stand by you, your right to express has been violated. And the third category, abetted by the news programme, comprised of those who accused me of being a Muslim jihadi and abused me in the filthiest language.

The first two responses were rooted in the concern for my well-being. The third category declared me a ‘Muslim’, which was equated to a ‘jihadi’ and thus, a dangerous beast liable to be killed. My name, Gauhar Raza, was sufficient evidence for them to attack me. A widely circulated email declared me an agent of Muslim fundamentalists. Though, thankfully, the number of such people was quite small, but we knew that they are out there, trained, violent and uncontrollable.

Let us be clear that the first reaction, despite concern for my safety, also conveyed the sentiment that “you are a friend but why did you put us in a situation where we are forced to define our position on a contentious issue”. It is the reaction of the fence-sitters. The second category of response clearly identifies the assailants and gives a call to close ranks against them. It is needless to re-emphasise that the third category of response is uncivilised in form and fascistic in content.

At this stage, let me emphasise that the great tradition of mushairas/kavi sammelans have, for centuries, followed an exceptionally popular practice of dedicating and re-dedicating poems and couplets to persons, present or absent, during the recital. Poets, invariably, refer to contemporary events while reciting love, humour and resistance poetry. For example, Faiz Ahmad Faiz referred to renegades who buckled under the oppression of military regime, when he recited an apparently ‘Ishqia Sher’.

Ab kisi laila ko bhi Iqrar-e-mehboobhi nahin/ In dinon badnaam hai har eik diwane ka naam

Habib Jalib referred to the two dictators of Pakistan when he recited in Karachi his famous poem:

Tum se pahle jo eik shakhs yahan takht nasheen tha/ Us ko bhi apne khuda hone ka itna hi yaqeen tha

Or a poet in India during the Emergency recited his couplet:

Chiraghon ko aankhon mein mehfooz rakhna/ Bahut door tak raat hi raat hogi

Coming back to the prestigious Shankar-Shad (Indo-Pak) Mushaira, which Zee News report turned into “Afzal premi gang ka mushaira”. I had dedicated the couplet, “Yeh mat bhoolo agli naslen raushan shola hoti hain/ aag kuredoge chingari daaman tak to ayegi”, to Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula. The channel report, while repeatedly showing Kanhaiya Kumar, did not include any image of Vemula. The omission was well thought out.

I had also rededicated the poem written on Safdar Hashmi’s murder to Vemula, whose death was a murder for me. The difference between the two murders is that, a few goons, who were backed by a political formation, attacked Safdar Hashmi. Vemula was killed by the caste system, which relentlessly insults every Dalit since he is born. Vemula called his life a “curse” and rebelled; the oppression intensified and we lost a bright young life.

As a poet, like thousands of sensitive ordinary citizens, I was very disturbed. I wrote a poem on him. However, in the mushaira, instead of reciting that poem, I decided to dedicate “Har parcham surkh lahoo hoga” to Vemula. I wanted to give out a clear message that we, even now, are killing our young and bright minds.

Much later, after the controversy was raked up by Zee News, during a discussion, a lawyer, on the other side of the fence, argued that, “Why did he dedicate an old poem to Vemula, he should have written a new poem, we would not have objected”, hinting that I deliberately tried to compare Safdar Hashmi to Vemula, which, in his opinion, was a crime. I was left dumbfounded by the absurdity of the argument. Then, one of the celebrated writers asked him, are you suggesting that Vedas or epics or poems of other great poets should not be recited, just because they were written in a different context. The question was simple — should there be a ban on referring to Heer-Ranjha while narrating a contemporary love story.

I believe Zee News caused a much bigger damage. I was just a scapegoat. The democratic tradition of mushaira/kavi sammelan, where poets exercise freedom of expression, unhindered, was the real target. The programme was intended to silence the poets, who are critical of those who practice violence, oppression and hate. It was also a warning to the organisers of such events that criticism of the ruling party or classes will not be tolerated.

Raza is a well-known Urdu poet

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  1. P
    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:53 am
    Oh, don't wail over what will happen to Kavisammelans. People like Zee TV cannot do or undo such things. Good poems make them happen. Instead of complaining that this person or body tried to abuse me and all those who penned like me, the real poems speak for themselves too.
    1. Mâññâyâdâv k%c3%bcshw%c3%a2h%c3%a2
      Sep 18, 2017 at 8:42 am
      तो अब देश द्रोही, अफ़ज़ल प्रेमी, शूकर 'victim card' चला रहा है! धन्यवाद zee इन पाकिस्तानी एजेंट औए ISI के स्लीपर सेल को एक्सपोज़ के किये। इसके पास भी कोई जूता चाटने के बाद अवार्ड मिला हो तो लौटा दे।h
      1. A
        Anthony D'Souza
        Sep 18, 2017 at 1:23 am
        Mr. Whoever, if you can call anyone anything, you can call a suicide a death due to something that is illogical, you use soft jihad built in your Islam via poetry to divide people, to hurt the sentiments of the majority population, but as a grown up man you cannot take criticism that you are anti-national? wow. Learn to be humble you muslims dividers of India. No more pampering of Islam. All Indians are same. Dont divide us in the name of Caste or this or that. Islam has already done enough harm to India and the world. Time to ban Islam
        1. Jai Kumar
          Sep 18, 2017 at 1:04 am
          Why only now why only for Muslims and dalits or minorities, does your heart not bleed for general Indians.Yes we should cry for each dead not just within minorities and the political spectrum.
          1. Seshubabu Kilambi
            Sep 17, 2017 at 9:49 pm
            Some mainstream media loose no time in spreading hate repirts. The true poets will not be cowed down. Many will express solidarity with the poet
            1. A
              Anthony D'Souza
              Sep 18, 2017 at 1:24 am
              Just like you can spread hate in the name of poetry be ready to accept the fact that your Islamic controlled media does not have the power it used to have to rewrite history and show Islam as the religion of peace contradicting with its practise of religion of jihad.
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