Remembering the historic January 7 student movement

DSF poster Jan 2016Message from DSF: In memory of the great struggle and demands day led by the then Democratic Students Federation of 1950’s, the present cadre of Democratic Students Federation Sindh is holding a program to highlight the achievements of that struggle and movement. Please join us on 9th January 2016 5.00pm at Railway High School, Kotri, Hyderabad. The program will be marked with speeches from student activists, trade unionists and Political activists – DSF secretary.

Remembering the historic January 7 student movement – by Shahid Husain in The News, Jan 6, 2016. Text below:

Pakistan’s student movement that produced luminaries such as Dr Mohammad Sarwar, Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed, Dr Adib-ul-Hasan Rizvi, Dr Jaffar Naqvi, Mohammad Kazim, Abid Hasan Manto, Sher Afzal Malik, Husain Naqi, Johar Husain, Fatehyab Ali Khan and Meiraj Mohammad Khan, to name a few, has a glorious history.

In its long journey it faced extreme hardship and can be characterised by at least two milestones: the January 7, 1953, movement that enabled the students of Karachi to have a university and better educational facilities; and the 1968-69 student movement that forced military dictator Gen Ayub Khan to announce he would not take part in the next elections.

The population of Karachi in 1941 was merely 386,655, according to Rustomji and Katrak, authors of ‘Karachi During The British Raj’. Among them 180,199 were Hindus and 162,447 Muslims. The Hindu majority was diluted with the influx of immigrants from India after the creation of Pakistan, and the migration of Hindus to India drastically changed the demography of Karachi.

Eminent architect and town planner Arif Hasan notes in his book ‘The Unplanned Revolution’ that major changes took place in Karachi between 1947 and 1951 with the addition of over 600,000 inhabitants to the city’s population.

“The Hindu population decreased from 51 percent to two percent, while the Muslim population increased to 96 percent. Similarly, the Sindhi-speaking population decreased from 61.2 percent to 8.6 percent, while the Urdu- and Hindi-speaking population increased from 6.3 percent to 50 percent,” writes Hasan.

It was in this perspective that the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), a progressive student organisation, was established in 1950 with Dr Sarwar as its convener.

The DSF drew up a Charter of Demands including issues like tuition fees and library facilities. The organisation decided to observe Demands Day on January 7, 1953, and met the then education minister, Fazl-ur-Rehman. The administration blocked the protest, resorted to baton-charge and tear-gas shelling, and arrested the leaders.

Another student group, the World University Service, led by Qamar-uz-Zaman and supported by the then Karachi University vice chancellor, ABA Haleem, met Rehman and announced that all the demands of the students had been met.

The DSF that was then functional on a national plane sharply reacted to the gimmicks of the establishment and decided observing Demands Day on January 8, 1953. However, the peaceful rally was fired on near the Paradise Cinema in Saddar, killing six students and a passer-by. The ugly incident resulted in a sharp reaction from the student community and infuriated the common man in the city as everywhere else. But the government banned the DSF in 1954 along with the fragile Communist Party of Pakistan and the Progressive Writers Association.

The ban was followed by mass arrests, including the arrest of Dr Sarwar. He received his MBBS final-year results while in prison.

The ban did not deter the students and they converged under the umbrella of the National Students Federation (NSF) that happened to be a small, right-wing organisation but underwent a metamorphosis after progressive students joined it en masse.

Since then, students under the leadership of the NSF have celebrated January 8 as Martyrs Day year after year until it withered away in the 1980s due to a host of reasons: state repression, infiltration of intelligence agencies in its rank and file, a myopic policy pursued by underground communist factions, division in the international communist movement, etc. However, the momentum of the January 7, 1953, movement under the dynamic leadership of Dr Sarwar gave impetus to student upsurges in 1962, 1964, and 1968-69.

In the 1964 elections held under the notorious Basic Democracy system, in which only 80,000 voters were allowed to vote, the NSF played a vital role in mobilising the masses for Fatima Jinnah, who had challenged Gen Ayub. She lost the elections, but her dynamic leadership did play a role in the weakening of despotic rule. Weakened further by the 1965 Indo-Pak war and acute economic problems prompted the students of Karachi under the leadership of the NSF to observe Demands Week in 1968. Within no time it was joined by industrial workers, teachers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals.

The strength of the NSF at that time could be gauged by the fact that Karachi was completely shut down when teachers staged a hunger strike in front of the Sir Syed Girls College in the city. Even the cricket match at the National Stadium was disrupted.

The students had graduated. They were struggling not only for better education facilities but for political demands as well. And it was a global phenomenon. Winds of change were blowing across the world and the heroic struggle of Vietnamese people against US imperialism was a source of inspiration for everybody.

The democratic upsurge of 1968-69 forced Gen Ayub to announce that he would not take part in the next elections. Undoubtedly, it was a big victory. It was a time of revolution in Pakistan, but the establishment was not ready to succumb so easily.

Hence, Gen Yahya Khan usurped power to safeguard the interests of the elite forces. No wonder the elitist forces also rejected the outcome of the 1970 elections and, instead, initiated genocide in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), culminating in the dismemberment of Pakistan. There was euphoria when Pakistan People’s Party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the reins of power in 1972. But it soon evaporated in thin air when a reign of terror was let loose against progressive students and industrial workers.

Today, when we are poised to celebrate the January 7, 1953, movement, the legacy of Dr Sarwar is very much alive and veterans have come out of hibernation. It is hoped that the grand event at the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House in Karachi on Thursday (today) would pave the way for the reincarnation of the country’s glorious student movement that made headlines in 1953 and 1968-69.

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One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Journeys to democracy and commented:

    Sharing a blogpost that’s so relevant today, about the 1950s student movement led by the Democratic Students Federation

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