Sarwar, DSF and the ‘Students’ Herald’ – S.M. Naseem

S.M. Naseem

SMNaseemThoughts shared at the Reference ‘Celebrating Sarwar: Student Movement Re-Visited’, Dorab Patel Auditorium, HRCP Lahore, Aug 8, 2009

Students Herald, April 3, 1953

Students Herald, April 3, 1953

Looking back at the events of more than fifty years ago, which brought Sarwar into lime light, from the vantage point of today, is neither easy nor entirely relevant, but it does provide a useful perspective on the life and times of a person who helped transform Pakistan’s political discourse and left a legacy worthy of celebration – a  legacy much more valuable than the millions others bequeath to their families. It is significant that we are gathered here today not to pay a tribute to some one who had held a high public office or achieved a monumental task that has received public attention, but to some one who challenged the status quo and the patronage system in our educational institutions in the formative stage of our politics and forced the ruling coterie of the time to pay attention– if only transiently – to the real problems of the people, especially in education.

At a time when the bogey of lack of  patriotism and anti-communism could easily be invoked at the slightest expression of criticism of government policies, Sarwar was able to galvanize a mass movement of students in Karachi and later extend its reach to other parts of the country – an effort which was unfortunately aborted by the authorities through their joining the crusade against communism and signing a defence treaty with the US in 1954 and carrying out mass arrests of activists and alleged communists between May and July 1954.

S.M. Naseem reading out his paper at the Reference at HRCP Lahore

S.M. Naseem reading out his paper at the Reference at HRCP Lahore

After serving a period of almost a year, on  a habeas corpus petition in Sind High Court, Sarwar, along with other students and activists, was released in 1955 and faced severe restrictions in resuming normal life, including finding employment. While there was some let-up in the wave of repression that followed immediately after the US-Pakistan Military Pact of 1954, life continued to be hard for those released. Sarwar’s elder brother, Akhtar, who was also arrested, lost his job in Dawn and had to move to other lesser-known papers. A more serious calamity fell on Sarwar in the shape of Akhtar’s death soon after Ayub Khan’s coup and martial law. All this ruled out Sarwar’s involvement in active politics or picking up the threads where he left off before going to prison. But neither did it mean his giving up the ideals that he lived for and that were inherent in the student movement he led. Lord Robbins, a famous British economist, used to tell his graduate students at LSE that a person would be a fool if he was not a revolutionary in his twenties but did not become a worldly-wise conservative by the time he was forty. Sarwar, steadfastly defied that received wisdom and remained consistently loyal to the ideals he embraced in his youth.

My association with Sarwar mainly relates to the core period of his activism in the early 1950s, although I kept in touch with him for the rest of his life and was aware of his social and political activities on a regular basis. Others more conversant with his post-1950s life are better placed to bring them out, I will, therefore,  talk more about how I see the Karachi movement developed and the pivotal role Sarwar played in it. Historically, perhaps, it is true, as some have argued, that DSF was born in Lahore and that the nascent Pakistan Communist Party played a leading role in its formation and in  directing its activities. However, its operational dynamics in Karachi in the 1950s student movement was largely spontaneous – as most student movements inevitably are—and a product of the rather unusual circumstances of Karachi in those days which were much more propitious for making it successful than in Lahore. (I do not wish to drive an invidious wedge not only because the event is being hosted in Lahore, but also because many who played a prominent role in the Karachi movement were from Lahore or Punjab, such as Ayub Mirza and Ghalib Lodhi and some of the leading DSF lights of Lahore – such as Raza Kazim and Zuhair Naqvi – were not originally from Lahore).

Karachi was a truly cosmopolitan city in those days and there was hardly a trace of the ethnic tensions that emerged in 1960s and beyond. Karachi, in contrast to Lahore, had hardly an educational infrastructure commensurate to the needs of a rapidly growing urban city which was also the capital of the country. Its colleges were affiliated for a considerable time with Bombay University. The class composition of the capital was far less heterogeneous than Lahore’s, which was the bastion of the feudal elite. The co-mingling of such a diverse population in Karachi’s educational institutions – a high proportion of which were public funded and catered to the middle and lower middle-class population produced a synergy which propelled the demand for democratic reforms in the educational system which was at the core of the DSF’s agenda.

The Dow Medical College, which was still struggling to get its degree recognized was seriously deficient in staff and equipment, became the nerve centre of DSF’s activities and with Sarwar’s election as the Vice-President of the College Union (the ex-officio President was the College head, with veto power which Sarwar wanted to be abolished). But Sarwar knew that one swallow does not make a summer and realized the need for similar pro-active role of Students’ Unions in Karachi’s other dozen or so colleges. Most such unions until then were either defunct or  in the pockets of College Principals and the Vice-Chancellor (Prof. A. B. A. Haleem who was busy politicking), and who resisted change.

The DSF fought elections in most colleges and won a majority of them. Sarwar then devised the master-stroke of forming  an Inter-Collegiate Body of all the College Unions and decided to get elected the non-DSF Vice-President of a College Union, instead of himself,  as its Chairman in the interest of the broad-based unity of the student community. The ICB after prolonged deliberations and the failure of negotiations with authorities on its demands  decided to observe a Demands Day on 7 January 1953. The rest, as they say, became history, demonstrating Sarwar’s skills as a consummate strategist.

Students’ Herald

I would also like to talk a little about Students’ Herald of which I became, largely by accident and default, its editor, printer and publisher. The DSF felt the need for having a journal to mobilize students in favour of its objectives. A more immediate need was to counter the propaganda against the DSF by the Government in the national press and through the Jama’at–i-Islami’s student organ, Students’ Voice, edited by Khurshid Ahmad, who is now a Senator.

It was relatively easy to get a declaration for the paper as I applied for it in my individual  capacity and the CID official who cleared my application was unsuspecting about my intentions. But publishing it regularly and uninterruptedly from January 1953 to July 1954, was no easy task. It required a core group of dedicated and competent writers, proof-readers, advertisement seekers and donation collectors. Producing a paper was a much more labour-intensive and cumbersome job than in the electronic world of today. Fortunately, the movement generated enough talent to prove us equal to the task of producing a quality paper, with which I still feel proud to have  been  associated and from which I have derived far greater fulfillment than from the newspaper columns I have penned during the last 15 years.

Our resources were extremely limited – the paper sold for two annas per copy slightly more than the cost of a cup of tea in those days. Our editorial office moved from one Irani tea shop to another between Burns Road and Bunder Road where most of the colleges were clustered and we were constantly shadowed by the CID inspector who was assigned to find out what we were bringing out in the next issue. He would often sit in the printing press and pressurize the owner to give him the proofs. But the owner, who was very helpful and allowed us to print the paper on credit and treated us to tea, refused to oblige. But our most valuable support came from our seniors in the journalistic community, who helped in editing (often ghost writing) some of the manuscripts and in teaching us about the lay-out and presentation of the reports. Among these were M. A. Shakoor, Eric Rahim, Ahmad Hasan and Sarwar’s elder brother, Mohammad Akhtar, all of whom worked for the Dawn and were later arrested and dismissed from that newspaper. Among the members of the teaching community who helped and inspired us were Prof. Samsamul Hai, Dr. A. H. Hamdani and Prof. M. Kareem. Sadly, most of them are no more among us.

In passing, I may mention that Saleem Asmi, who culminated his journalistic career as Editor of the Dawn, began his career as a proof-reader in Students’ Herald. Among my other colleagues and collaborators were Wasi Ahmad Hai, who left for Burma after his release from jail in 1954 and has never been heard from since; he shared most of the editorial burden with me. I must also mention our very talented photographer, the late Sartaj Alam, who took some of the most telling pictures of the demonstrations, firing and other events that appeared in its pages. A leading cartoonist of that time, Aziz, contributed original cartoons to the paper. Among others who helped the publication in its struggle for survival, were Mazhar Saeed, Zain Alavi and Ghalib Lodhi. Sarwar himself often  contributed articles to the paper and provided guidance on major issues.

S. M. Naseem established the DSF Unit in S. M. College and was editor of Student’s Herald launched in 1952, published fortnightly until he was arrested along with others in July 1954 (released in March 1955)

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‘Dr Sarwar and the 1950s student movement’ – 2004 posting

I just found this on my group email list posted Feb 26, 2004 reproduced below.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/beena-issues/message/434

‘Dr Sarwar and the 1950s student movement’

A good background to the fledgling 1950s student movement in Pakistan and how it was crushed. On Black Day – Jan 8, 1953 – police opened fire on a peaceful student demonstration in Saddar, Karachi. Seven students were killed and several more were arrested, including my father, Dr Mohammad Sarwar. Personal circumstances including the death of his elder brother, the journalist Mohammad Akhtar, led to his giving up the activism, but I still come across people who still remember his dynamic leadership. Personally, he’s my most exacting critic, best analytical source, and most reliable babysitter for my daughter.
beena

—–
Daily Times, Pakistan, Jan 8, 2004

Students for whom the bell tolls

By Shahid Husain

KARACHI: January 8, 1953 is a milestone in the students’ movement of Pakistan when peaceful students of the then capital city of Karachi were fired upon by police. Seven people were killed and 59 were injured. But the student movement led by Democratic Students Federation (DSF) succeeded in getting most of their demands accepted including the establishment of the University of Karachi at its new campus. The movement influenced the people across the country and its echo was also heard in the relatively more politically conscious elements in the then East Bengal.

Unlike today when students are divided on the basis of ethnicity and sectarianism, the January 1953 Movement encompassed all democratic students and its main demands were reduction in tuition fees, opportunities of scholarships to relatively poor students, improving the condition of hostels and establishment of Karachi University at a new campus to ensure that more students acquire higher education, according to Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, who was the president of DSF, the leading force behind the movement.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Times here at his residence, he recalled that a group of some 25-30 students convened a meeting at Karachi’s Dow Medical College (now university) in early 1950s and later assembled in a small hotel in Arambagh and decided to form a students’ organization, which was named as Democratic Students Federation. Mohammad Sarwar was made the convener of the newly formed organization. Amongst those who made the historic decision to form a democratic and secular students’ organization included some of the very bright students, many of them making a niche in their professional life in later years. These included Dr. Khawaja Moin Ahmed, Dr. Syed Haroon Ahmed, Dr. Adeeb-ul-Hasan Rizvi, Dr. Ghalib, Dr. Mohammad Yousuf, Dr. Safdar Ali, Dr. Ayub Mirza and Dr. Rahman Ali Hashmi.

“We then contacted fellow students in other colleges and started membership in DJ Science College, S. M. College, Urdu Law College, S M Law College, Islamia College, Government Women’s College and other educational institutions and got a very good response,” he said.

The students’ movement was brewing in Karachi in the backdrop of growing population of the city as a result of influx of refuges from India amid poor infrastructure and inadequate facilities in the domain of health, transport and education.

“In 1947, the Karachi became the capital of the new state of Pakistan. Bureaucrats, government employees, semi-government institutions all moved to the city and new organizations were established to meet the needs of the new state. In addition, over 600,000 refugees from India also moved into the city increasing its population by more than 161 percent in a period of 10 years. The refugees occupied all open spaces and the city center, the military cantonment and public buildings. This migration changed Karachi completely,” according to noted town planner and architect Arif Hasan. It was the growing problems of the capital city, which paved the way for a glorious students’ movement.

In 1951 a convention was held at Theosophical Hall and the manifesto of DSF was drafted and demands put forward for the betterment of the student community. It is absolutely wrong to say that the Communist Party of Pakistan had anything to do with the formation of DSF, Dr. Sarwar said. However, there were progressive students in the fold of the newly formed organization, he added. DSF also launched a fortnightly journal Students Herald, which started its publication in 1951 and was edited by S. M. Naseem, he said. He went on to say that the standard of Students Herald could be gauged from the fact that it bagged the best fortnightly award in Poland from the International Union of Students. The government in July 1954 banned Students Herald in the wake of growing relationship with the United States.

Referring to the popularity of DSF, he said it emerged victorious in the elections in almost all the important colleges of Karachi in 1952. Then it opted to form an Inter Collegiate Body (ICB) that along with DSF played a vital role in students’ politics.

After failing to pursue the university authorities to listen to their grievances, the ICB and DSF tried to meet the education minister Fazlur Rahman but that was thwarted by the right-wing vice chancellor of the university A.B.A. Haleem who established a bogus students group and conveyed to the education minister that he had already met the aggrieved students and there was no need for the minister meets them. This made the students angry who gave a call for a “Demands Day” on January 7.

Dr. Sarwar recalled that a big meeting was held at DJ Science College from where the students decided to go to the residence of the education minister Fazlur Rahman at Kutherey Road in the form of a procession but the authorities imposed Section 144 and made it clear that procession would not be allowed. The students, however, were firm to take out a procession and they did succeed. However, when the procession reached Frere Road from police resorted to lathi charge (baton charge). But the students were undaunted by this cowardly act. And continued their procession. They were tear-gassed when the procession reached Elphistone Street (Now Zaibun Nisa Street) and again near the Karachi Club. The police also arrested many student leaders who were ultimately released amid pressure from the agitating students.

On January 8 the students again gathered at DJ Science College and decided to take out a procession against the highhandedness of the police. As if the brutalities of the previous day were not enough, police resorted to firing near Paradise Cinema and a number of students were killed, including a minor. On January 9 Karachiites observed a strike against police brutalities. In fact, the government imposed curfew for a few days, Dr. Sarwar said. But the impact of January Movement was such that the government of Khawaja Nazimuddin had to accept most of the demands of the students.

“We toured the Punjab, NWFP and East Pakistan culminating in the formation of All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO) on December 25, 1953. The popularity of the new organization was such that one of its student leader defeated seasoned politician Nurul Amin in the elections,” he said.

In May 1954, the government in the wake of growing tilt towards the US banned DSF, APSO and the Communist Party of Pakistan. Many student leaders including Dr. Sarwar Dr Ghalib, Jamauluddin Naqvi, Ayub Mirza, and Students Herald editor, Syed Mohammad Naseem were arrested and sent to jail.

“The January students movement was the first major movement that focused on democratic issues, especially those concerning students and youth. Its impact on the people of Karachi indeed on the people of Pakistan was electrifying and soon the students of other cities and provinces joined the movement. The then Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin accepted all the major demands of the students after about a week. What I remember is that tuition fee was decreased, in some cases by 50 percent and in other cases even more than that,” said Prof. Jamaluddin Naqvi, one of the of leaders of January 1953 Movement

(ends)

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