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Progressive Literature Today

Sohail Hashmi

The Progressive Writers Association (PWA) was formed in 1936 and the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1942. The motivation for the formation of both organizations came from the ever-expanding struggle for freedom from colonial rule. The growing popularity of the idea of socialism coinciding with the establishment of the USSR and opposition to the looming threat of fascism combined with the anti-imperialist struggle was to emerge as the major influences that shaped the contours of prog-ressive literature, popular culture, cinema, music and the plastic arts in the subcontinent in the early decades of the 20th century. The PWA and the IPTA, the defining movements of creative expression from the thirties to the sixties brought within their fold people from diverse fields, people who defined our music, our cinema, our theatre, our arts and much else besides for over six decades and many continue to do so even today. The creative imagination of the 30s and 40s, in its engagement with the epoch making, transfor-matory even revolutionary tasks at hand, at least as far as its written expression went, did not, by and large, engage with issues like casteism, communalism and gender injustice. These were seen to be related not to the basic structure of society but to the superstructure. This understanding was born out of the conviction that once the forces of oppression are swept away by the rising tide of revolution, the superstructure of caste, communal and gender discrimination would cease to exist. Progressive Urdu Poetry of the times with its phenomenal reach and appeal, did not engage itself in any meaningful or sustained manner with the issue of communalism, this despite the bloody aftermath of partition and despite the phenomenal anti-communal outpouring in Urdu prose and some of the IPTA plays that dealt with these questions. The situation that emerged in newly independent India was, by the 60s and most certainly by the mid 70s, to throw up a range of other issues in the public domain, issues of atrocities against dalits, gender discrimination, communalism, denial of rights to tribals etc., the foregrounding of these issues gradually also led to the rise of a new literature, a literature of protest, a literature seeking the democrati-zation of society, in ways that had not been thought of before. The movements that grew along these issues have generated their own body of progressive literature and in the process also broadened the horizons ...

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