Faiz, India, and protest


From Iqbal Bano singing it to a charged crowd in Lahore in 1986, to students reciting its verses on campus protests across India late last year, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has continued to inspire activists for decades. Why do the leftist poet’s words continue to resonate beyond their original context?

On December 17, 2019, a student protest at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT-K) was held in solidarity with students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia who had been brutally attacked by police on December 15. The protest included a recitation of an Urdu poem, commonly known as Hum Dekhenge (literally, ‘We Shall See’), by leftist poet and revolutionary Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984). In a video posted on Twitter, a student recites the poem, which he reads from his cell phone, to a crowd of listeners, some of whom mill about and some of whom listen attentively, with the crowd applauding at certain lines. This recitation of the poem soon became the centre of a controversy, when a post-doctoral faculty member at IIT lodged a complaint against the poem and its performance, claiming that its lines aroused communal sentiment. IIT-K responded by establishing a committee to investigate the complaint. A public debate in the media ensued, as prominent poets, a former Indian Supreme Court judge, and journalists and intellectuals discussed the poem and its meaning.

First composed in 1979, Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has become a rallying cry for protests both throughout India and around the world against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by India’s Parliament on December 19, 2019. The CAA proposes a religious basis for citizenship for refugees who have entered India from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Under the new amendment, refugees who are Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi, even if they do not possess identification papers, may receive Indian citizenship within six years. Notably missing from this list are Muslims, who, according to the 2011 Census of India, make up 14.2 percent of the population, for a total of 172 million people. According to a more recent estimate, India’s Muslims, at 195 million people in 2020, comprise the third-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

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