Is the IIT-Kanpur administration going back on a probe into whether Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz's iconic poem "Hum Dekhenge" - sung as a protest anthem for decades - provoke anti-Hindu sentiments? After first making the alleged "anti-Hindu" nature of the poem a focus of its investigation, the premier institute now claims the probe is much wider in its scope and relates to many allegations around a protest march last month by students at the campus, and that the poem and its contents are just one aspect of it.
The 'climb-down' from the institute's management seems to have come after immense outrage over the proposed investigation. A probe committee was set up by IIT-Kanpur after a complaint over students reciting the poem before a solidarity march in the institute on December 17, for their counterparts at Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university. It was part of the countrywide student protests triggered by the police crackdown on Jamia students on December 15.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the Urdu poet from Pakistan's Sialkot - a communist and atheist - was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963. He used religious metaphors in his poetry to attack the establishment.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was jailed several times for his revolutionary writings. He wrote "Hum Dekhenge... (We will see)" - one of his best remembered compositions - in New York in 1979 . It was a mark of protest against Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who declared himself the President of the country after overthrowing the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government. In 1986, the song assumed an iconic status after Pakistani singer Iqbal Bano sung the poem of defiance against the martial law in Lahore in front of a 50,000-plus crowd.
"Some media has been reporting that IIT-Kanpur has set up a committee to decide if a poem by the poet Faiz is anti-Hindu or not. This is very misleading. The reality is that the institute has received a complaint from multiple sections of the community saying that during a protest march taken out by students on the 17th (December), a certain poem was read and then some social media posts were made that were inflammatory. We received complaints from other sections that during the march, a group has tried to block the march. So the institute has set up a committee to see if the complaints are genuine and what action should be taken," said Professor Manindra Agarwal, Deputy Director of the IIT-Kanpur in a statement released on Thursday.
On Tuesday though, Professor Agarwal had said this when asked specifically about why a peaceful protest by students was being probed: "This is because we received a complaint a few days later, where a few videos and social media posts were attached. It can be said that improper language was used. In the video it was shown that one of the students had read a poem, before the march, of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. One of its interpretations could be anti-Hindu. The complaint was in this regard and that's why an inquiry committee was formed."
Among those who voiced their anger over the move by the IIT-Kanpur administration was senior lyricist Javed Akhtar, who termed the incident absurd and funny.
Speaking to ANI about Faiz and the controversy, the writer told news agency ANI, "Calling Faiz Ahmed Faiz 'anti-Hindu' is so absurd and funny that it's difficult to seriously talk about it."
The writer further said that Faiz wrote the poem "Hum Dekhenge" against then Pakistan government run by Zia-ul-Haq. "He lived half his life outside Pakistan. He was called anti-Pakistan there. 'Hum Dekhenge', he wrote against Zia ul Haq's government, which was a communal, regressive and fundamentalist government," Mr Akhtar told ANI.
The complaint against the students was filed by Dr Vashi Mant Sharma, who is part of the 'INSPIRE' faculty at the IIT-Kanpur . A government document says the 'INSPIRE' scheme has been designed to provide "contractual research positions to young achievers for independent research and emerge as a leader in future science & technology".
Dr Sharma is also the "mentor" for a web portal called Agniveer that lists work against "conversions" on its website very prominently. On his personal website, Dr Sharma describes the December 17 incident, saying he confronted the students taking out the protest march inside IIT-Kanpur on the day.
"I knew the poem. So I objected instantly. A few others joined me too. We outshouted the mob of 300. Since then, everybody is teaching us the context of these revolutionary lines," Dr Sharma said before going ahead with what he claims to be a take-down of the poet.
Pranam all@Twitter has apologised to me and has unsuspended my account after 10 months. Indebted to all friends who ran #BringBackVashiSharma campaign. @SanjeevSanskrit Bhai, Charan Sparsh.— Vashi Sharma (@VashiMant) January 2, 2020
Haters gang, hello! Let's play again
Vashi Sharma pic.twitter.com/V0XXoviIxR
In a tweet on Thursday, Dr Sharma claimed his Twitter account had been "unsuspended" after 10 months and that Twitter had issued an apology to him.