“Bol ki lab azaad hain tere, bol zaba ab tak teri hain. Tera sutvaan jism hain tera, bol ki jaan ab tak teri hain” (Speak, for your lips are free; speak, for your tongue is still yours. Your upright body belongs to you; speak, for your soul, still is yours.)
These lines of famous Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was written in 1979 against the dictatorial regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. It became a universal anthem of protest after it was sung by Ghazal singer Iqbal Bano at Lahore’s Alhamra Arts Council in 1986.
Pakistani poet and author Faiz Ahmad Faiz is one of the most celebrated Urdu writers and is recognised as one of the most powerful poetic voices in South Asia.
Born on February 13, 1911, in Punjab province in British India, he was an influential left-wing intellectual who was also a human rights and civil liberties activist. He grew up in a privileged family that was well known in literary circles. He often witnessed local poets and writers gathering at his home who met to promote the literacy movement in the province.
Faiz took up his primary education in Sialkot and learned Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. He later studied philosophy and English literature in Lahore and finished an M.A. in Arabic.
Regarded as the “greatest poet” of Pakistan, Faiz’s early poems were conventional and were based on simple concepts of love and beauty. While in Lahore, he developed an interest in politics and tools that brought forward change for the betterment of the society. He would often say, “Purify your hearts, so you can save your country.”
Among other accolades, he was the first Asian poet to have been awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962. Prior to his death, he was also nominated for the Nobel Prize.
In 1976, he was awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature. Posthumously, Faiz was honoured by the Pakistan Government with the highest civilian award Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1990. Later in the year 2011, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government declared the year 2011 “as the year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.”
With numerous highs and lows in his life, Faiz successfully managed to shine bright and was equally revered in both Pakistan and Northern India.
Former vice-chancellor of Government College University (GCU), Lahore, Professor Dr Khaleequr Rehman had said, “Faiz was a poet of humanity, love, and resistance against oppression.”
What Is The Controversy With Faiz’s Poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’?
During a peaceful march in IIT Kanpur on 17 December 2019, few students started reciting Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem ‘hum dekhenge’. The students were protesting against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act and in solidarity with the Jamia Millia Islamia students.
A faculty at IIT Kanpur has submitted this video and a complaint to director, alleging anti-India & communal statements made at a recent event held in 'solidarity with Jamia' & that event held without permission.
"When All Idols Will Be Removed…
Only Allah’s Name Will Remain" pic.twitter.com/fbmNFwVBiw
— Swati Goel Sharma (@swati_gs) December 21, 2019
This move led to a series of controversies when some people found it anti-Hindu. Post the event, Dr Vashi Sharma filed an FIR along with other faculty members and students. He also came forward to write a blog on the same explaining why he did it.
Sharma said, “I knew the poem. So I objected instantly. Few others joined me too. Based on our complaint, the institute set up an inquiry committee and requested all members of the institute family not to post anything on this matter so that harmony is restored.”
He presented an elaborate explanation and justification of his action, concluding that Faiz’s poem indeed is anti-Hindu and flames communal interests. However, the poem “hum dekhenge” was written in 1979 as a form of protest against Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.
On the contrary, a great number of people came out in support of the revolutionary poem refusing to regard it as anti-Hindu.
#WATCH Javed Akhtar:Calling Faiz Ahmed Faiz 'anti-Hindu' is so absurd&funny that its difficult to seriously talk about it.He lived half his life outside Pakistan,he was called anti-Pakistan there.'Hum Dekhenge' he wrote against Zia ul Haq's communal,regressive&fundamentalist Govt pic.twitter.com/nOtFwtfjQ9
— ANI (@ANI) January 2, 2020
Extremely shameful that an institution like IIT can’t comprehend the intent and context of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s revolutionary nazm ‘hum dekhenge’. Worst is that a panel will decide if it’s anti-Hindu or not. Remember it’s about Faiz. SHAME https://t.co/sia2F8Wh9T
— S lrfan Habib (@irfhabib) January 1, 2020
It's not "sad" but "funny" to call Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Hum Dekhenge" anti-Hindu, says the famous Urdu poet's daughter Saleema Hashmi; asserts her father's words will always speak to those who need to express themselves
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) January 2, 2020
Sharma’s complaint demanded the identification and expulsion of the organisers and ‘masterminds’ who took part in the protest.
Meanwhile, media reports on January 1, 2020, had claimed that IIT-Kanpur had set up a panel to decide if the poem is offensive to Hindu sentiments. However, the University later clarified that the panel was set up to analyse if proper permissions were taken, if the organisers or the participants broke any rules or if some indiscipline took place, and if at all some action needs to be taken, etc.
On January 2, the head of the panel said “Of course, we are not going to determine whether sentiments were hurt or not,” he clarified when asked what exactly the panel was investigating.
The institution will reportedly take action on the basis of the findings and suggestions of the panel.