DSF founding member Asif Hameedi passes on

Hameedi1DSF founding member, cardiologist Dr Asif Ali Hameedi passed away recently, aged 85 (see his remembrances of DSF and Dr Sarwar at: ‘In good spirits’ – from Dr. Asif Ali Hameedi, Chigaco) 

His first posting as a doctor after graduating from Dow Medical College was in Tharparkar. (Updated info: see his son’s detailed note below)

Dr Hameedi had been living in the US for many years, most recently in Grand Rapids, MI. He had diagnosed with throat cancer and had complications with diabetes. His wife passed away three years ago. They are survived by their three children, Samia Hameedi-Brown, Ashraf Hameedi and Jamal Hameedi. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: “LOOKING BACK TO LOOK FORWARD”

KARACHI, Jan 6: Students traditionally observed January 8th as ‘Martyrs’ Day’ in memory of the students and passers-by killed by police firing on Jan 7, 1953, during the peaceful ‘Demands Day’ procession organised by Inter Collegiate Body (ICB) and Democratic Students Federation (DSF). The High School Students Federation (HSSF) also actively participated in this movement and some of those killed were high school students.

Their demands were education-related, including: revise the fee structure (make fees payable monthly instead of six-monthly), improve laboratory, library, and hostel facilities, build a proper University in Karachi (where none existed) and provide security of employment to graduates. The High School Students Federation also actively participated.
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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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Jan 8, 2010 – ‘Students’ Day’; Nov 13, Hasan Nasir Day

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A rare photo of Hassan Nasir

Note: Photo of Hasan Nasir courtesy People’s Democratic Front (PDF) and National Students’ Federation (NSF)

Oct 12, 2009: Email sent to several old friends and family members of Dr Sarwar, as well as some younger activists and others.

Over the past month, following the references at Karachi and Lahore, a small informal group has come together in order to take forward the legacy of Dr M. Sarwar. Updates following our last discussion followed by notes from the meeting:

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Taking forward Dr Sarwar’s legacy (meeting note)

1-200701-Sarwar-Banner image1. Please see Facebook group created for Dr Sarwar – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=167411502891 – we hope this will be useful for interactions and discussions

2. On Sept 16 , a meeting was held at Dr Sarwar’s residence. The agenda included commemorating Jan 8, 2010; a book that SM Naseem has proposed; and the think tank idea floated by F.G Ebrahim at the May 31st meeting at PMA house.

Participants: S. M. Naseem, Iqbal Alavi, Zain Alavi, Mazhar Saeed, Saleem Asmi, Dr Haroon Ahmed, Aisha Gazdar, Asif Saad, Zakia Sarwar, Beena Sarwar

Summary:

– Need to work towards holding an event on Jan 8, 2010 in Karachi (doesn’t have to be limited to Karachi of course) to highlight the importance of the student movement and its impact. Involve like-minded progressive institutions and youth groups

–  A proposed book in English and Urdu on the ‘Life and times of Dr Sarwar’ outlined by SM Naseem.

Strengthen and support Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences, which was inaugurated on Jan 8 1994 and has held  events on Jan 8th for several years. Participants of the meeting agreed that this would make more sense rather than start a new progressive think tank as suggested at the May 31st memorial in Karachi.

Comments, feedback and suggestions welcome.

thanks
beena

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)

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

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