In the times when journalists, reporters and writers have taken biased positions with one ideology or the other it has become imperative that we move through space-time to draw parallels with our neighbour. During the 1980s General Zia-ul-Haq led Pakistan into a state of chaos through Islamization of the government. Many scholars have argued that his language of Islamization has striking similarities with the present Indian Hindutva brigade.
Under the military rule media personnel and authors, out of terror or in hope of rewards, turned into sycophants. Nevertheless, as we are witnessing our own Ravish Kumars, Rohini Singhs etc, Pakistan of eighties saw a brigade of left leaning authors and journalists who fearlessly took on the dictatorship. Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem ‘Hum dekhenge’, which has etched its place in the eternity as an anthem of resistance, was written during those times. While most of us in India have listened to this poem and the poems of Habib Jalib, people are not aware of the many more famous literary works that challenged the military regime.
Presently when people fear to speak/write truth we need to revisit a famous Urdu poem from Jaun Elia. In a poem titled ‘Ae shehar! Tere ahl-e-qalam be-zamir hain’ (O city! Your people of pen are without conscience) Elia laments the fact that writers/authors of the society have forgotten their duty of writing the truth. In the opening couplet of the poem he writes;
Ae shehar! Tere ahl-e-qalam be-zamir hain
Hum jo azim log hain, hum be-zamir hain
(O city! Your people of pen are without conscience
We dignified people are without conscience)
Elia consciously uses the word ‘we’, hence including himself into the tribe which has failed the society. For him it is a collective responsibility for all the authors/writers to speak against the injustice and hence failure is also collective.
Hum Kazibo ki baat ka kya khaak aetbar
(We are liars don’t trust us)
Taking a dig at the people who claim to write against religious orthodoxy Elia writes;
Yuu.n dekhiye to dair-o-haram se hume hai aar
Dar-purdah hum hain dair-o-haram ke vazifa-khvar
(At first glance, we are against the religious orthodoxy
Behind the curtain, we receive pensions from religious orthodoxy)
According to Elia, while many of us claim that we look at the society as a manifestation of class struggle and hence economy as central force to human lives our focus remains on religions. He stresses on the need to talk about issues different from the religions.
He further asks his tribe of authors if they have forgotten their responsibility towards the society. Reminding them of the need for standing for the social justice, Elia writes;
Ruh-e-awam, zakhm sahe, hum ghazal kahe.n
Ek shehar sogwar rahe, hum ghazal kahe.n
Ek khalq apna dard kahe, hum ghazal kahe.n
Mehnat kasho.n ka khun bahe hum ghazal kahe.n
(Life of the masses is wounded, and we write odes
A city mourns, and we write odes
Humankind is telling its pain, and we write odes
Proletariat is being killed, and we write odes)
For Elia, authors do not live in a bubble but in a society and have responsibilities. It cannot be expected from the people of pen that they write of ‘beauty’, ‘romance’ etc in a society where the majority is living a life full of misery. Literature has its own politics and people who write have to take sides; we cannot just ignore the injustice being carried out around us.
Elia also questions the so-called intellectuals of considering themselves morally highbrow.
Hum ek ajab gharur se le kar adab ka naam
Ae saam’in tum pe musallat hain subh-o-sham
Ho bolne ka waqt to gunge bane rahe.n
Ahl-e-sukhan hain aur sukhan ke namak haram
(In weird manner, we take pride in intellect
O audience! We prevail over you all the times
We remain mute when needed to speak
We people of speech are traitors of speech)
It is not enough to not side with the tyrant. To speak or write when needed is as important. Elia considers that to remain mute when injustice takes place is like siding with the tyrant.
At another place in the same poem Elia terms writers as ‘mahiran-e-pesha-e-gham’ (specialists in selling pain) and asks if all we want is to earn by writing about the sorrows in the society.
At the end of the poem he laments;
Thi jinko fart-e-shauq me.n qatl ki justju
Main un ke sath sath raha hu gali gali
Gayab the unke naqsh-e-qadam, be-zamir hain
(The people who wanted to lay their lives for the justice
I travelled with them to every nook and corner
Their footprints disappeared. We are without conscience)
All the people whom he thought will stand with the justice fearlessly and decided to walk with changed their ways in between.
Today in India when the independent voices in media and literature are under a constant attack and many have surrendered their conscience these words of Jaun Elia need to be retold. Writers and media persons need to recall their responsibility and duty towards the society. We cannot detach ourselves from the politics of the day and the tyranny that we witness.
(Author is a well known historian)