Sudhanva Deshpande of Jana Natya Manch recites Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s famous poem “Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hai Tere” (Speak, for your lips are free) at the JNU Azadi Chowk


Safdar Hashmi, charismatic playwright, theatre activist and founding member of Jana Natya Manch, was killed on 1 January 1989 during the performance of the play ‘Halla Bol’ (Raise Your Voice). One of the slogans in the massive marches following his martyrdom was “Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hai Tere, Halla Bol, Halla Bol” (Speak, for your lips are free, Raise your voice, Raise your voice). If “Halla Bol” was a rallying cry of that time, “JNU” has today become synonymous with “Raise your voice”, says Sudhanva.

In this performance, as the poem is recited, one half of the audience chants in chorus, “Halla Bol”, while the others say, “JNU”.

The translation of the poem is as follows:

“Speak, for your lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still yours,
Your upright body is yours –
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flames are hot, the iron is red,
Mouths of locks have begun to open,
Each chain’s skirt has spread wide.

Speak, this little time is plenty
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, for truth is still alive –
Speak, say whatever is to be said.”

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