Learning from history in an age of bombs

Title of documentary ‘Aur NikleiN Ge Ushhaq ke Qafley’ (Design by K.B. Abro)

NOTE: Much of the research for this article was done for a documentary on the 1953 student movement directed by Sharjil Baloch, that I produced, for the event we held at the Arts Council Karachi on Jan 9, 2010, ‘Looking back to look forward’. The 30-min documentary title ‘Aur NikleiN Ge Usshaq ke Qafley’ (And there shall be more caravans of passion) derives from a poem by Faiz. This article was published in the website Pkonweb on Jan 8, 2010 (a revised and updated version of an earlier piece in the ‘The News on Sunday’, Dec 27 2009. A shorter version was published by the academic journal iWrite in its Jan-Feb 2010 issue).

Looking back to look forward

Commemorating Pakistan’s first nation-wide student movement that embodied student unity, cutting across political, class and ethnic divisions for a common cause: students’ rights … Continue reading

‘Youth to celebrate student movement of 1953’

The News, Saturday, January 09, 2010

By Shahid Husain


In the death of Dr Mohammad Sarwar on May 26, 2009 the progressive and democratic movement in Pakistan lost one of its best sons. He was equally loved by veterans such as Sobho Gianchandani, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sibte Hasan and youngsters who frequented his residence in Clifton.

Born in Allahabad, UP, India, in 1930 Dr Sarwar was studying for a BSc in his hometown when he, along with a group of fellow students, came to Pakistan in 1948 “to see what the new country was like,” and decided to stay for good.

Dr Sarwar graduated in 1954, a year later than he was initially supposed to graduate, because fellow students asked him to stay for one more year so that the All-Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), which was established in 1953, could be set up properly.

I remember we would visit his clinic in Firdous Colony in Nazimabad in late 1960s to collect funds when National Students Federation (NSF) launched a protest movement against military dictator Gen. Ayub Khan and he was always generous. In fact he handed over his entire day’s earnings to us and we made it a point to visit his clinic late so that we may get more fund.
Continue reading

‘Time to create a left-oriented think tank’, News, Jun 1, 2009


‘Time to create a left-oriented think tank’

Monday, June 01, 2009
By Shahid Husain


Eminent jurist and former governor of Sindh, Justice (Retired) Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim said on Sunday it was high time a “left-oriented” think tank was established in Pakistan.

Speaking at a memorial meeting for the late Dr Mohammad Sarwar at the PMA House Sunday evening, he said people said that Pakistan was a failed state but one should remember that it was the establishment and not the people of Pakistan who had failed. “Things are changing for the better,” he said.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with us. Religion has become a cause of killing,” he remarked. He said people were ready to listen today and this was evident from the fact that there were few people around when the Judges’ movement kicked off but it culminated in a huge success.

He said it was time to live up to the ideals of Dr Sarwar since “it’s our time to say.” He said the people of Pakistan needed a new leadership since the old leadership had failed totally. He said Dr Sarwar fought for a just society, a society free from exploitation and it was time to create a just society.

Dr Badar Siddiqi, former General Secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) said death was more universal than life because every body dies but there are people who live on even after they’re gone through their noble deeds and universal love. Dr Sarwar, he said, was one such person who strove for the establishment of a just society.

He said Dr Sarwar established the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) that happened to be the first students’ organisation in Pakistan. Thereafter, he also established the All- Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO) and the Inter-Collegiate Body that comprised students unions from across the country.

Dr Siddiqi pointed out that Dr Sarwar led the historic 1953 student movement that forced the authorities to accept many demands of the students, including the establishment of the University of Karachi.

He said Dr Sarwar was injured when police resorted to firing on a student’s procession on January 8, 1953 in which seven students and a child were killed, and he also was arrested.

He said after he was released from jail, he along with his colleagues, including Dr Adib-ul-Hasan Rizvi, Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed, Dr Moinuddin Ahmed, and Dr Jaffer Naqvi played a vital role in the affairs of the Pakistan Medical Association and transformed it into a strong and dynamic force.

He said Dr Sarwar struggled for provision of health cover to the people and was never overwhelmed even by ferocious dictators such as Gen. Ziaul Haq while negotiating on behalf of PMA.

“I will not classify him as an individual; he was an institution,” he said. He said the number of people who visited Dr Sarwar’s residence was unbelievable and they included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Sibte Hasan, Habib Jalib, Zohra Nigah, Ali Imam, and Bashir Mirza, just to name a few.

Former student leader Mairaj Mohammad Khan said Dr Sarwar was an institution whose roots were very deep in society. He said 1953 movement led by Dr Sarwar was not confined to the students but impacted the entire society. “It was movement to change Pakistani society,” he said.

He said the DSF was banned in 1954 because it was against imperialist military pacts and was against a dependent economy. Prof. Dr Jaffer Naqvi said Dr Sarwar was a phenomenon and a staunch enemy of dictatorship. Prominent singer Tina Sani sang a poem of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Messages of Asif Hameedi, Eric Rahim, and Dr Mangi who are abroad were also read at the ceremony. A six-minute documentary on Dr Sarwar was also shown in the programme.

“An institution in himself” – Dr Badar Siddiqi

Sarwar & Badar, Karachi, 2008. Photo: B. Sarwar

Sarwar & Badar, Karachi, 2008. Photo: B. Sarwar

Dr Badar Siddiqi

Citation for Dr Sarwar at PMA House

May 31, 2009

“Death is more universal than life;

everyone dies but not everyone lives.”

–   A. Sachs

We have met today to remember Dr. Sarwar. This man lived –  and lived an amazing life.

I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me that above all he was a very kind person with a great sense of humor who would make people laugh.

We should all be thankful that we were given the chance to have known a man named Sarwer. So let us celebrate the amazing life he led. He will greatly missed.

When someone passes away one thinks if

“Did he/she live with passion

Did he/she contribute something to the world that was previously missing?”

Did He/She  touch other people’s lives in a positive way?

I for one have no doubt that his life was full of all three areas and more.

Sarwar was a leader and a extraordinary person. He was an institution in himself.

He added a new dimension to whatever he touched.

Most of us know this. It is all history now.

He formed Pakistan’s first student union DSF –  Democratic Student Federation – and was chosen its first President. He also developed the unique organization Inter-Collegiate Body bringing everyone under one banner…..ICB  1953

He was among the leaders of the historic student movement of 1953. He was injured and arrested and it was in jail that in 1954 he cleared his final medical examination. When they though he will now be OK for them they released him.

Going through all this would have been enough for any ordinary human being anyone but not Sarwar who was no ordinary man.

When a member of the medical profession he joined  the new leadership team of PMA where Sarwar, Hashmi, Khawja Moin, Haroon, Jaffer Naqvi – they traveled all over Pakistan organizing the medical profession and made PMA a strong and respected organization.

The new PMA launched a movement for just rights of the profession  and provision of healthcare for the population of our country.

In the early 1980s in the background of strikes an all Pakistan PMA delegation met the government. Sarwar then the General Secretary led the delegation. I remember both of us sitting in an Islamabad hotel the night before discussing the strategy to present the demands to the five Generals led by Gen. Ziaul Haq. That night he taught me so much about how to keep calm  and keep focused on the objectives and never to lose temper. He told me in the early hours of the morning that I will present the case for PMA as his personal background might weaken our case. This says a lot about the personality of this man.

He lived an amazing life. Sarwar  was one of those persons whom everybody liked immediately because of his simplicity, because of his naturalness, because of his comradeship, because of his personality, because of his originality, even before his other singular virtues were revealed.

These qualities which acted as magnet  to attract a galaxy of personalities to his house which was always a open and welcoming with his lovely wife Zakia at his side who we subjected to unfair demands. It is at Sarwar’s house that I had the rare privilege of meeting people from all walks of life in intimate and memorable gatherings which included all shades and of people. Poets, artists, writers, journalists. The atmosphere and the wealth which flowed from these meetings is impossible to put in words.

I will never forget evenings with great personalities like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ahmed Faraz, Zehra Nigah,Syed Sibte Hassan, Ali Imam, Bashir Mirza{B.M}, Saleem Asmi – one could go on with an unending list

I will forever be grateful for the privilege more then 30 years  friendship  with a friend like him. All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered I will forever be grateful to have known Sarwar.

Doston Ke Dermian Wajeh Dosti Hai Tu

(Loosely translated: “You are the reason for our friendship”)

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