Setting the record straight on DSF (2008 article by Dr Haroon & Saleem Asmi)

A slightly abridged version of this article was published in Dawn as Student movement revisited, April 5, 2008

Scan from front page of Student Herald 'Martyrs Number', Vol. 1, No. 5, Jan 19, 1953

Scan from front page of Student Herald 'Martyrs Number', Vol. 1, No. 5, Jan 19, 1953

Setting the record straight

Democratic Students Federation: The first all-Pakistan student body

By S. Haroon Ahmed and Saleem Asmi

The welcome move by newly elected Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gillani to revive student unions takes us back the first all-Pakistan students’ body, the Democratic Students Federation, which laid the foundations not only for the progressive outlook of the National Students Federation (NSF) but also the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA). The DSF is often either ignored or misrepresented in most accounts of the history of the students’ movement in Pakistan, like the article ‘Students politics: a brief history’ (Dawn Magazine, February 10, 2008) which otherwise included excellent thumb-nail sketches of student unions. At this critical juncture of Pakistan’s history, there is a need to set the record straight regarding the DSF.

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Remembrances – by Hilda Saeed, July 27, 2009

Hilda SaeedHilda Saeed works in the area of population and development, reproductive health and gender. She is a long-time women’s rights activist, among the founder members of Women Action Forum (WAF), and was among the 1000 global nominees for the “1000 Nobel Peacewomen Award” 2005

Father and sonIt’s taken me a long time, just to sit and write these thoughts… Memories can be difficult things to deal with at times, nor are tears enough to express the grief you feel.

As we sat together at the PMA hall in Karachi on May 31 this year, remembering Sarwar, and friends recalled their particular memories, I felt Sarwar is still with us, large as life. So many recollections…. incidents, shared laughter, political discussions, recalling the years of student activism, happy times together.

I entered this group of friends, doctors, political and human rights activists, poets and artists after meeting Mazhar Saeed in the early ‘60s,  much later than their time of student activism: by that time,  we were all already involved in our different careers: I hadn’t been with them in my student days.

Coming from the cloistered surroundings of a women’s college into the stimulating activity of the DJ (Science College), and its student union, was an elating experience, even though, as I learnt subsequently, college student unions in those days, in 1957-1958, were on their last legs.

That was when we learnt of the earlier activism of the DSF (Democratic Student’s Federation), their media link with the public, the “Students Herald”, a fortnightly magazine published by the DSF and edited by S.M. Naseem, which noticeably impacted the student movement, and in that brief period, also gained international repute. We learnt of the struggles of this student group with the politicians of that time, the formation of the Inter Collegiate Body, and the involvement of Sarwar, Adib Rizvi, Haroon Ahmed, Zain Alavi and his brother Hamza Alavi, Mazhar Saeed, Salieem Asmi, S.M. Naseem  and other student activists.

Those were wonderful learning years, when we gained so much awareness about rights, democracy, the fast changing political scenario – yet, paradoxically, as we entered university in 1958, and Ayub Khan became the first military dictator, they were also the years when we realized how much our rights as students and as human beings were being eroded.

Mazhar Saeed, Dr Sarwar, Dr Badar, Karachi 2008

Mazhar Saeed, Dr Sarwar, Dr Badar, Karachi 2008

Later  after Mazhar and I were married in 1962, Sarwar and Zakia (she’ll always be Zakko to me) became close friends. For a long time, we were neighbours, with our children growing up together….I’d often walk across at tea time, with my own special mug of tea, for a chat…. He loved some of my cooking, especially the rice and chops. Many were the impromptu evenings when we’d get together with friends at each other’s homes (Come on over, Zakko or I would say, I’ve made paya, or khichri, or besan ki roti, or whatever)… In the 70s, and early 80s, Sibte Bhai, Suroor Bhai (scholar, writer Sibte Hassan, poet Suroor Barabankvi), with Anis and Haroon, Dr Badar and Shaheena Siddiqi, Mazhar, and so many more were often part of this lively, enriching group of friends. Sarwar, in his own quiet way, contributed so much, to such a variety of issues.

He was, for me, also the sympathetic doctor who saw us worried young mothers, and our children, through childhood illnesses, laughed and joked to make us feel better — I really valued his diagnostic skills.

But he was for me, above all, friend and confidante, someone to turn to. I can never forget the time when Mazhar was seriously ill. Sarwar sat up, virtually all night, and only retired when he was repeatedly assured that his patient and friend was fine.

A rare trip abroad: Mazhar and Sarwar, Paris 1978

A rare trip abroad: Mazhar and Sarwar, Paris 1978

How much he valued his friends—and how often he recalled their memorable trip together to London and Paris in 1978 —Haroon, Sarwar and Mazhar, one of the few times Sarwar ever traveled abroad (on a subsequent trip that the friends had planned he actually returned home along with his packed suitcase before even reaching the airport, already nostalgic for his own bed and armchair).

Sleep well, my friend…I can’t help recalling these words from a Christina Rossetti poem “Better by far that you should forget and smile, rather than remember and be sad”.

Yes, Sarwar, we’ll try to smile, and look forward, and continue the struggle for rights in our own separate ways. Maybe someday our future generations will succeed in making Pakistan what we want it to be — a world where religion doesn’t hold sway in this bigoted fashion, as it does now, a country that is secular, that values each human life, where each individual has human rights, equality, healthcare and education, and a chance to grow to her or his full human potential……yes, we’ll smile, but we cannot forget you, or the joy and learning and wonderful friendship that you brought to so many of us

Karachi, July 27, 2009

‘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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