Jan 9-10, 2010: Event to honour and take forward the legacy of the 1950s student movement

3-Student mtg 1951 or 52

Sarwar addressing a meeting; M.R.A. Hashmi seated, Karachi, 1950's

Event to honour and take forward the legacy of Dr Sarwar and the 1950’s student movement ie. nationwide student unity based on issues concerning students, independent position (non-alignment to any political party or ideology), and organisation. Re-visiting and claiming this forgotten part of our past may help us find the way forward

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A Missed Wake-up Call on Education 50 years Ago – S.M. Naseem, Jan 2004

Note: This article was originally published in daily ‘Dawn’, Jan 2004

The vigorous student movement of almost five decades ago, with its epicentre in Karachi, in the first decade of Pakistan’s independence has received little attention in the writing of Pakistan’s history. The movement climaxed by the firing and police violence on the peaceful students of Karachi on 7, 8 and 9 January, 1953 – events which radicalised the political and economic discourse in the country and had far-reaching, if not easily discernible, effects on the shape of things that followed in the next 50 years. The purpose of writing this article is not merely to commemorate  the fiftieth anniversary of those events, with which the author was also associated in a humble capacity in his student years, but also to examine the characteristics of the student movement that gave rise to it, as well as to provide a perspective on later economic and political events and its relevance to the current debates raging in the country, especially on education and human development.

To refresh the memory of those who were not yet born or were too young to have witnessed the events first hand or through contemporaneous news reports and may have learnt about them only through casual references to them in occasional reports on that fateful day, it is useful to give a brief account of the events that unfolded and led to a major confrontation between the students and the authorities of that time. Recall that the event occurred just six years after the independence and in the politically unstable environment after the death of Pakistan’s founder and the assassination of its first Prime Minister, which occurred in quick succession. The Government’s reins were in the hands of a bunch of self-righteous bureaucrats, who though not as corrupt and self-serving as their current ilk, did not have the vision of an enlightened elite, but were deeply steeped in the colonial mode inherited from their British masters. For them, as for their successors today, the main aim of the Government was the maintenance of law and order, rather than social and economic progress.

Soon after Karachi was declared the country’s Federal capital, it became host to an unending mass of people both from across the Indian border as well as from the less developed regions in Pakistan in search of newly created opportunities for jobs and investment, An unedifying aspect of the phenomenal growth of Karachi was the forced exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Karachi and other urban centres which created a vacuum far larger than the absolute numbers of those who left. Land and house grabbing gave rise to large slums in the midst of posh localities.  The population of Karachi increased almost five-folds from 3 lacks in 1947 to 1.5 million in 1953. As a result, public services were becoming increasingly inadequate to the needs of the population. In particular, the educational infrastructure was in a shambles.

On the other hand, the demand for education and educational facilities was rising. Karachi’s new urban middle class, drawn from all parts of the subcontinent, relied on education as its main human resource and instrument for advancement in life. The frustration among the youth about their inability to get adequate education and access to proper educational facilities was growing. The Government was too busy in the power struggle among the various factions vying to hold their grip on the state apparatus and in coping with the internal political intrigues, to have much time for the growing social and economic needs of the people. Despite continuing criticism in the national press on the educational policies (or lack thereof), the Government continued its indifference and insouciance to education.

At the time of partition, Karachi’s colleges were affiliated with the Bombay University.  After the partition they were taken over by the newly-created Sindh University and in 1950 by the University of Karachi. Professor A.B.A. Haleem, formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University served as the first Vice-Chancellor, partly in consideration of his services to the Muslim League. But he did not give up his political ambitions and aspirations on becoming a full-time educationist. Indeed, much of his time was devoted to building his political profile through his office-bearer ship in a number of cultural and quasi-political organisations. The Vice-Chancellor also cultivated a group of loyal supporters among students and teachers who were favoured with scholarships and trips abroad. This Godfather role earned him the title “ABA Haleem” among the students.

As a result of the Vice-Chancellor’s extracurricular activities, the plans for the development of higher education in Karachi suffered and stagnated. Many of the colleges affiliated to his University were not recognised by professional bodies. In particular, the Dow Medical College degree was recognised in 1951, after considerable efforts by the students and staff. That fact also explains why Dow Medical College students became so active in the student movement of Karachi.

It was in this social and economic ferment that the students realized the need for an organised effort to press for their demands. Students from different colleges of Karachi met together to form the Democratic Students Federation whose principal focus was to expand and improve the facilities for education and opportunities for employment after education. Among the demands made by DSF were the reduction in tuition fees, increase in the number of scholarships to poor students, the construction of new hostels and the improvement in the living conditions of the existing hostels, especially Mitharam Hostel and the Jinnah Courts. (Ironically, the latter two hostels have now been renovated and handed over to the Rangers; so much for the priority the Government attaches to education!). There were a number of specific demands, such as the provision of textbooks, the holding of supplementary examinations, the stoppage of “mass failures” as a means to reduce the pressure on the job market, recognition of degrees, concession in cinema tickets, provision of better sports and recreational facilities, as well as provision of more science and technical colleges and better amenities for teachers.

The DSF recognised the importance of College Unions and successfully contested elections in most Colleges. Its victory in Dow Medical College, DJ College, SM College and Islamia College, proved its representative character. The only other student organisation, the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT),affiliated to the Jamaat-i-Islami, fared poorly in most colleges. To carry on the struggle more effectively, the DSF decided to form an Inter-Collegiate Body (ICB) consisting of the principal office-bearers of college unions in Karachi. In addition, it decided to bring out a fortnightly journal, the Students’Herald, which started publication in November 1952 and ceased publication in July 1953 after being banned as part of the repressive measures adopted by the Government in the wake of US-Pakistan Military Alliance.

After pressing the University authorities for a dialogue on the students’ demands which led no where, the ICB decided to approach the Education Minister for talks with him, failing which it was decided to hold a protest day. The Education Minister, who had promised to meet the students towards the end of December, left for a Commonwealth meeting in London. In the meantime, the Vice-Chancellor met a phoney student delegation in order to pre-empt the meeting arranged between the ICB delegation and the Education Minister, who was told by the Vice-Chancellor that he had met the student delegation and there was no need for him to see them. This naturally infuriated the ICB leadership who decided to give a call for staging a “Demands Day” on 7 January 1953 and taking out a procession to the Education Minister’s House on Kutcherry Road. The students’ response was overwhelmingly positive and strikes were observed in almost educational institutions, including the schools. The students, estimated at about 5,000 in number assembled in the DJ Science College and listened to the speeches of their leaders, Mohammad Sarwar, President of the ICB and Mirza Kazim, Vice-President of the DJ College Union, among others. They appealed to the students to remain calm and disciplined during the procession and not to give the authorities any ground for provocation. The students were asked to disperse after the ICB delegation had met the Education Minister and presented their demands.

However, the police was bent on disrupting the procession from the start and wanted it to disperse much before reaching the Education Minister’s residence. The first lathi-charge by the police was made on Frere Road in which many students were injured, but it miserably failed to stop the procession. When the procession reached Elephantine Street, the police panicked and resorted to teargas bombing on Karachi’s fashionable street. The students had to run helter-skelter to seek shelter in shops and bungalows. They regrouped again and continued their march towards the Education Minister’s House. They were tear-gassed again near the Karachi Club, near the Minister’s House. In the meanwhile, the police arrested the leadership of students in the hope that the rest of the students will then disperse. But despite the lathi-charge a large number of students refused to budge and continued to shout slogans and demanded the release of their leaders, who were ultimately released and granted an interview with Education Minister. The Minister, in the presence of the V-C and Director of Education, agreed to most of the demands presented to him.

The events of 7 January shocked the entire nation and messages of sympathy and solidarity poured in from all sides. On 8th January the students assembled again in DJ College to celebrate their victory. They decided to take out another procession through the streets of Karachi to protest against the police brutalities and to thank the general public for their support and solidarity. However, it seemed that the police was intent on taking its revenge for its inability to stop the student procession from reaching the Minister’ house the day before. They became even more provocative and intense in their brutalities. They trapped a small group of students who had strayed from the main procession, which had changed its route. The public tried to help the students and became engaged in pitched battle with the police. The police resorted to lathi-charge, tear-gas and ultimately police firing resulting in loss of precious lives, including a ten-year-old boy shot near Paradise Cinema and an old man, a bystander.

On the 9th of January, the public outraged by the police brutalities of the last two days, decided to observe a hartal . However, the hartal was disrupted by the police with the help of goondas and agent provocateurs who resorted to looting liquor and arms and ammunition shops. A Mercedes car of the Interior Minister was also burnt down by miscreants. The students themselves remained peaceful, although a large posse of police force was posted at Pakistan Chowk to prevent the students of DJ College and Dow Medical College from taking out a procession. The whole episode ended with the intervention of Prime Miinister Khwaja Nazimuddin who assured the students of a much fairer deal in the future. Unfortunately, he did not stay much longer in office to fulfil his promise.

The student  protests of 1953 were blamed by their detractors as the work of the communists. While many of the students were no doubt inspired and influence by the socialist ideology, none of the active participants were politically disposed. Many of the leading figures and active participants distinguished themselves in the professions they chose for themselves. To name a few Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, Dr Rahman Hashmi, who passed away recently, Dr M. Haroon, Dr Ayub Mirza and Dr M. Sarwar, distinguished themselves in the medical profession. Others became prominent journalists (Salim Asmi), diplomats (Abul Fazl) and members of the bar and bench (Haziqul Khairi) and education (Prof. Jamal Naqvi). They were drawn from wide strata of society and with different ethnic and social backgrounds. Moreover, the student movement of 1953 was widely supported by civil society, including the political parties and private businessmen who contributed liberally to its activities.

The events of 7, 8 and 9 January 1953 reverberated throughout the country and was taken notice of both by the national and international press. They also helped to create national unity among the students and soon after these events an all-Pakistan student organisation (APSO) was born with wide participation from all parts of the country, in particular East Pakistan. It raised the level of consciousness about education and social issues in the country and the leading role that students can play in the transformation of the country.  One can legitimately characterise the events a wake-up call to the nation for paying greater attention to education, the students and the educators. Unfortunately, that call was missed by succeeding generations and has been partly responsible for the social and educational morass the country finds itself in.

‘Ah, Dr Sarwar’ – Badalti Dunya editorial (Urdu)

'Badalti Duniya', June 2009
"Ah, Dr Mohammad Sarwar' - monthly 'Badalti Duniya' editorial, June 2009

"Ah, Dr Mohammad Sarwar' - monthly 'Badalti Duniya' editorial, June 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.


‘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.

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


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