About Dr M. Sarwar

This blog is about the late Karachi-based physician and former student leader Dr M. Sarwar (1929-2009), containing articles and memoranda about him and his life which reflects the struggle for progessive politics in Pakistan. Dr Sarwar formed Pakistan’s first student union, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). He got his final medical exam results while still in prison in 1954. (After DSF was banned many of its activists later formed the National Students Federation, NSF).

He was also the driving force behind the Inter-Collegiate Body (ICB) comprising student unions in different colleges and the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), established in 1953, which became an influential political force until the crackdown on progessive forces. He was also one of the pioneers of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and the Medical Gazette, both of which played a vital role in progressive politics, particularly during the oppressive Zia years.

May 26, 2009, note sent to friends and family:

We’ve had a good week, with Babba relatively calm and peaceful, and in some discomfort but not suffering too much. The last couple of days he was having trouble breathing. Overall, he put up a heroic fight – no one had expected him to be around till now. But I think he had had enough. Early this morning left us peacefully, in his sleep.

We are so grateful that he did not suffer more than he did, and for all the love he received and gave.

– Beena Sarwar, Karachi

(The articles and letters he wrote are being uploaded gradually to the relevant pages. Feedback is welcome)

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> KARACHI: One of Karachi’s oldest general practitioners, well known physician and former student leader Dr Mohammad Sarwar passed away peacefully in his sleep at home early Tuesday morning in Karachi, after a prolonged bout with cancer. He was 79.Born in Allahabad, he came to Karachi for ‘sightseeing’ in 1948 and stayed on when he got admission in Dow Medical College. He was instrumental in forming Pakistan’s first student union, 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 and the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), established in 1953.

Sarwar spearheaded the January 8, 1953 ‘Demands Day’ that spelled out the needs of students, including the establishment of a full-fledged university campus (now Karachi University). He tried to prevent the students from surging forward in the face of the police threat when the procession reached Saddar. Sarwar was injured in the police firing that killed seven students that day, commemorated for years as a ‘Black Day.’

APSO brought together college students from all over the country to demand students’ rights regardless of their politics or ideology. The organisation’s influence was visible in the 1954 elections in former East Pakistan when a student leader defeated seasoned politician Noor-ul-Amin.

DSF also published the fortnightly award-winning journal Students’ Herald, edited by the well-known economist S.M. Naseem, then a student activist.

Dr Sarwar received his final medical college results in 1954 while he was in prison for a year — the McCarthy era in the United States impacted Pakistan as well and progressive elements here were rounded up and incarcerated. His elder brother, journalist Mohammad Akhtar (1926-58) was arrested shortly afterwards. Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, then an upcoming lawyer, defended many of these political prisoners, including their friend Hasan Nasir who was later tortured to death.

After graduation, Dr Sarwar worked as a general physician with various health services until setting up his own clinic in Gulbahar (New Golimar) where he practiced for over forty years. He was also one of the pioneers of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) where he was twice elected general secretary. PMA played a vital role in progressive politics during the 1980s. During the Zia years, the PMA was one of the important ‘civil society’ organisations that consistently stood for democratic politics.

Dr Sarwar will be remembered for his inspirational leadership, generosity of spirit, warmth of character and clear-headed political vision.

He is survived by his wife, well known educationist and teacher trainer Zakia Sarwar, and three children, Beena Sarwar, Sehba Sarwar, and Salman Sarwar and three granddaughters, Maha, Myah and Minal.

A memorial meeting is scheduled at PMA House on Sunday, May 31 at 6.30 pm.

The funeral will proceed from his residence (F-25/D, Block 9, Clifton, Karachi) after Asar prayers at Masjid-e-Bab-e-Rehmat (main Gizri Road near Kausar Medicos/Submarine Chowk) on May 26.

Dr M. Sarwar

14 Responses

  1. I salute Dr.Sarwar’s contribution to democratic movement in Pakistan and cherish his memory as a beacon light for present generation of youth

  2. Again just scanned the pages and felt quite attached.It is such rich material not only about Dr.Sarwar,but about left and democratic movement of Pakistan as such.It needs to be read like a serious reading of book.I wish to learn from Beena for updating my blog bhagatsinghstudy in this manner.I am just hit and trial learner of net or having some help from my net savvy students,but Beena is not just competent,she is so much dedicated,that I admire her commitment to the cause of human liberation from all kinds of bandages,which of course she acquired from his dear papa.Meanwhile what a beautiful couple -Dr. Sarwar and Zakia Sarwar.My regards and love to you all

  3. Dear Prof Chaman Lal,

    Thank you for your kind remarks. it’s an honour to have such comments from someone as learned and dedicated to progressive politics as yourself. You have taught yourself to read Persian – and I have taught myself to use this technology which I am still not terribly competent at.

    Sharing my experience: A few months ago, at the edges of a meeting in Kathmandu, the talented and committed Shahidul Alam (of http://www.drik.org) walked me through the initial stages and I took it from there. Slowly I have added material and pages to the blog – the pages contain links that bring together themed material. Sometimes I get on chat with technologically competent friends like Sabahat Ashraf (ifaqeer) and Azhar (webmaster for http://www.spelt.org.pk) and ask for help which they generously provide. I hope this helps.


  4. This site is a great tribute to the movement that my father loved so much and gave so much of his time and life towards this cause…

    My father Asif Mirza Baber, mainly known by his friends as Baber Mirza, was one of the co-founders of DSF and NSF. I heard him talk about Dr Sarwar while I was growing up and also several times took me to see Dr Haroon Ahmed, Dr Hashmi, and Professor AdeebulHasan Rizvi. These guys were langotiazz.

    My father also won 2 student union elections under the DSF/NSF umbrella and is still highly respected by his peers.

    I moved to the US in 1991 and my father passed away in 2001 while visiting me in Virginia.

    I have all his diaries from his past that I shipped to the US, it is 4 cartons and I often read about his life as a student. This site was referred to me by my bhabhee whose cousin Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy started the CAP website.

    I would like to see his name added to this list, after you can verify what I am saying is true. I would also like to know how someone like me can contribute to make sure this movement and the true humanists that ran this movement are always remembered and regarded highly by future generations.

    Shariq Mirza

  5. Can I get someone with whom to contact about Dr. Sarwar?




  7. One breezy evening in October 2001, Dr. Sarwar driving fast to get me first ever glimpse of sunset at the sea. Just in time, he hurriedly parked the car at a waterfront parking lot and yelled me shoot to the beach. Short of breath, he stepped out & eaned against the car. While he rested i walked on the beach with Zakia Apa. In loving memory of Dr. Sarwar: a week’s stay with you and Zakia Apa was one of the experience, i want to relive once more.


  8. Hi,

    My name is Umar Farooq and I did MA Mass Communication in 2011. I have great interest in Humanitarian, Gender Based and Conflict related issues. I want to work in these dimension but don’t have exact idea that how to start work.
    I need your assistance in this regard, rather I want to work under you.

    I belong to Karachi and these are my full details.

    Name: Umar Farooq

    Cell Number: 00923467947693 & 00923137342959

    E-Mail: umarfarooq93@gmail.com

    Qualification: MA Mass Communication with 3.52 CGPA

    Having great interest in above mentioned issues, also attended many workshops conducted by different organisations, Including United States Institute for Peace, in collaboration with Insan Foundation Trust.

    I hope you will help me in this regard.
    I would be very grateful to you for this kind action.
    I ensure you that you will find me worthy.


    With best regards,

    Umar Farooq

  9. […] uddin Ahmed). The first proper National Student Body was founded by yet another medical student, Dr. Sarwar from Dow Medical College, Karachi. Dr. Sarwar formed Pakistan’s first student union, the […]

  10. I just watched the documentary and learn’t of the tremendous contribution that Dr. Sarwar and his colleagues made to student’s rights and activism in Pakistan. Thank you Beena Sarwar, for bringing this information to us through the documentary.

  11. They were the Pioneers of the Progressive Movement though very few people know them but after all whatever light is there its because of Those Gumnam people

  12. […] and share stories about his leadership, humility, and sense of humor. His cohorts talked about the student movement that my father started in the early 1950s and for which my father served time in a Karachi jail. And S.M. Shahid played the harmonium and […]

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