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[News] 'Poetry is the antidote': in fight against Hindu nationalism, India turns to verse.

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Buoyed by social media, Urdu poetry is enjoying new popularity in the face of divisive sectarian politics.
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Boys and men watch Urdu shayars recite at a chai shop in Old Delhi. Photograph: Thomas Lewton
▼ In a Delhi hockey stadium in December, about 100,000 people of various ages, genders, and classes flooded in for two days of poetry, debates, food and calligraphy sessions. It was Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu cultural festival, and its popularity reflects a wider appreciation for Urdu poetry. Shayari, historically associated with the politics of resistance, is experiencing a revival in the face of rising Hindu nationalism in Delhi.
At the festival, as people take selfies in front of an “I love Urdu” cutout, Shweta, a 20-year-old college student, says she believes shayari poetry could unite people.
“We as millennials are attracted a lot towards Urdu, both from the romantic side of it and the activism side of it,” she says. “We look for books of shayari, watch YouTube videos and listen to songs with Urdu prominence. We want to express ourselves, and this is a beautiful form of expression.”
Poetryin India has long served a purpose beyond art or entertainment. It has been used throughout history to unify communities and fight oppression; nationalist and patriotic poetry was an important rallying point during India’s fight against British rule. But now Urdu poetry has become a form of dissent against Hindu nationalism, which has risen under prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a rightwing party known historically for defining “Indianness” in terms of Hindu values. Under Modi, there has been a surge of violence against religious minorities including Muslims, as well as lower-caste Hindus such as Dalits, in some northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
But where the Hindu nationalist narrative excludes, poetry has the ability to unite. And while there is a misconception in India that Urdu, spoken by more than  50 millionIndians, is a language of outsiders, associated with Muslims and Pakistan, in reality, most people in north India have been speaking Hindustani – a combination of Hindi and Urdu – for centuries. Shayari enthusiasts view the language’s symbolic importance as an obvious way to bring the country together, says Abhinandita Mathur, cultural adviser to the Delhi government. “Urdu is the language of Delhi. It is a symbol of Delhi’s composite culture that we strongly believe in, representative of harmony, representative of beauty, representative of dissent.”If you are feeling oppressed by the government, you need a medium
Abu Sufian, poetry event organiser
Across India, Urdu poets, or shayars, gather everywhere from stadium-sized venues for mushaira (poetry symposiums) to more informal sessions, or nashist, in the tiny chai shops of Old Delhi, the historic and religiously diverse quarter of India’s capital.
At the back of one such chai shop, two young boys listen in as a man recites: (▪ ▪ ▪)

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