‘Youth to celebrate student movement of 1953’

The News, Saturday, January 09, 2010

By Shahid Husain


In the death of Dr Mohammad Sarwar on May 26, 2009 the progressive and democratic movement in Pakistan lost one of its best sons. He was equally loved by veterans such as Sobho Gianchandani, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sibte Hasan and youngsters who frequented his residence in Clifton.

Born in Allahabad, UP, India, in 1930 Dr Sarwar was studying for a BSc in his hometown when he, along with a group of fellow students, came to Pakistan in 1948 “to see what the new country was like,” and decided to stay for good.

Dr Sarwar graduated in 1954, a year later than he was initially supposed to graduate, because fellow students asked him to stay for one more year so that the All-Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), which was established in 1953, could be set up properly.

I remember we would visit his clinic in Firdous Colony in Nazimabad in late 1960s to collect funds when National Students Federation (NSF) launched a protest movement against military dictator Gen. Ayub Khan and he was always generous. In fact he handed over his entire day’s earnings to us and we made it a point to visit his clinic late so that we may get more fund.

Often we would visit his house in Jamshed Road in the 1970s where ‘Mushairas’ were often held and we would enjoy recitation from Suroor Barabankvi, Habib Jalib and other progressive and enlightened poets. Dr Sarwar was also instrumental in reviving weekly “Lail-o-Nahar” in late 1960s that was edited by eminent poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, anthropologist and historian Syed Sibte Hasan and senior journalist Hasan Abidi and it was probably the best Urdu magazine ever produced in Pakistan.

It was equally popular among intellectuals, academics, journalists, students but unfortunately could not survive and had to be closed down voluntarily in 1971 when dictator Gen. Agha Yahya Khan unleashed a military operation in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the media was put under chains.

Lail-o-Nahar has the distinction of bringing out a special “Fatwa Number” that exposed the “mullahs” right from the era of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The special issue was also translated in Bengali language.

I remember a very interesting incident. Prominent Urdu poet Mustafa Zaidi (Tegh Allahabadi) wrote a poem condemning the massacre in East Pakistan and sent it to Syed Sibte Hasan, the editor of “Lail-o-Nahar” for publication. Syed Sibte Hasan fearing backlash did not used it. The infuriated Mustafa Zaidi wrote a poem against Sibte Hasan and sent it to him and he published it.

“A majority of our family members were inclined towards the Congress but we were pro-Muslim League. While visiting Karachi, I saw an advertisement in newspapers regarding admissions at the Dow Medical College. I applied and got admission,” he had told The News during an interview that was published on July 26, 2007.

He was instrumental in forming Pakistan’s first student organisation, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). He served as DSF’s president and secretary-general before the Mohammad Ali Bogra government banned it in 1954. He was also the driving force behind the Inter-Collegiate Body (ICB), comprising student unions in different colleges.

Greatly influenced by his elder brother and well-known journalist, Mohammad Akhtar, Dr Sarwar got involved in progressive politics and spearheaded the famous January 7 movement under the banner of the DSF. The students organised a procession from DJ Science College in favour of their demands and were shot at by the police near Paradise Cinema in the heart of the city Saddar on that fateful day. Seven students and a child were killed.

This show of brute force from the State infuriated not only a vast majority of the students but the citizens of Karachi as well, and the administration had to impose a curfew for a few days. The government, however, was forced to accept the demands of the students, including the establishment of a full fledged University of Karachi.

The January 7 movement influenced the entire country. Dr Sarwar and other DSF leaders toured Interior Sindh, Punjab and former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), leading to the establishment of the APSO. The influence of the newly-formed body could be gauged from the fact that in the 1954 elections in former East Pakistan, a student leader from the APSO defeated seasoned politician Noor-ul-Amin.

The DSF also published the fortnightly award-winning journal ‘Students’ Herald’, edited by well-known economist S.M Naseem, then a student activist. After graduation, Dr Sarwar worked as a general physician with various health services until he set up his own clinic in Firdous Colony where he practiced medicine for over 40 years. He was also one of the pioneers of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), where he was twice elected as the general secretary.

The intellectual depth of DSF activists could be gauged from the fact that it produced luminaries such as Dr Adib-ul-Hasan Rizvi, Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed, Dr. Jaffar Naqvi, Dr Khawaja Moin, Dr Ayub Mirza, Dr Sher Afzal Malick and Husain Naqi, to name a few.

As the residents of Karachi celebrate the legacy of Dr Sarwar and gather at the Arts Council of Pakistan on January 9 it would not only be an occasion to learn about the glorious student movement of Pakistan but might also act as a catalyst for the younger generation that has been in wilderness since military dictator banned students unions in 1984 and divided them on the basis of ethnicity, religion and parochialism.

2 Responses

  1. Last year I read sad news about Dr. Sarwar. I met him few times for consultation. I am the resident of Firdous Colony. Now I have been living in California.
    My condolence to his family. May Allahtala bless him in Janna.( Ameen).
    I may be stranger to his family but I was a great fan to Dr. Sarwar.


    Muttaqi Rizvi

    • Thank you for your kind words. It is nice to keep coming across his old patients from Firdaus Colony. He would be pleased.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: