FEICA VS FEICA

Feica vs Feica is a short documentary (27 min. 48 seconds) about Pakistan’s veteran political cartoonist, Feica. For the last 30 years, Feica has been taking on all shades of bigotry – political, religious and social – through his cartoons. For these ‘sins’, the Karachi-based artist has often found himself in trouble with state authorities and political parties. But even stints in jail haven’t curbed Feica’s outspokenness, his non-conformism. His critics call him stupid for openly criticizing Pakistan’s power centres; for flouting the ban on alcohol by taking his hipflask to public places. But while he courts the image of a troublemaker and an irresponsible alcoholic, Feica is also a notoriously disciplined cartoonist, a canny entrepreneur, a doting father and caring husband.

This film confronts Pakistan’s contemporary socio-political realities as reflected by the public and private faces of its best-known satirist. What do these two Feicas think of each other? Who is the real Feica and what does he think? Why is he hated as much as he is admired?

This short shows the best and the worst of Pakistan though the eyes of a liberal, progressive artist. Most importantly, this documentary speaks of what resistance looks like and its future in a country eviscerated by its contradictions, its bigots and zealots.

Director’s Statement:

I grew up in Karachi at a time when art, culture and music were fading. Under Ziaul Haq, Pakistan’s omnipotent dictator, religion was used to purge society of its liberal and progressive elements. So effective was Zia’s revisionist account of history that the fabric of an entire nation was transformed. A secular, modern city such as Karachi that was once called the ‘Paris of the East’ became a loose grouping of shanties and towns driven by sectarian, ethnic and religious affiliations. And art, music and theatre were among the first casualties of this self-conscious false piety.

I’d long admired Feica as one of the few warriors who stood up against a dictator at the zenith of his power and continued fighting against the fanaticism sown by the tyrant and his cronies. When we finally met in 2009, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d hit it off and equally predictable that I’d want to memorialize his story.

But the idea for this film materialized in 2012, when I realised that the drunk Feica and the sober Feica are two distinct people. And while both have lived different lives, each has very strong ideas about the other’s journey. Hence, the idea of getting the two to confront each other, using the medium of film.

Feica’s message: “You can live without art but how wonderful a life with art” (that was the tipsy one).

Festivals

So far, Feica Vs Feica has been officially selected for:

  1. 5th Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival (2016), in Mumbai, India. Screening: December 21, 2016. The film also got ‘Special Festival Mention’

http://miniboxoffice.com/mumbaishortsinternationalfilmfestival/

  1. SHORT to the Point, Bucharest, Romania. The short has been screened on October 31, 2016.

http://spunepescurt.ro/2016/11/05/october-2016-official-selections-short-to-the-point/

  1. FreeNetWorld, Nis, Serbia. Screened between December 15-18, 2016

http://freenetworld.org/4.

4. 5th Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Kathmandu, Nepal. Will be screened between March 17-19, 2017

http://nhriff.hrfilms.org/

Faisal Sayani is an independent filmmaker and freelance journalist who teaches television production and the history of cinema at public and private universities in Karachi. Between 2002 and 2015, he headed current affairs departments at Geo News, DawnNews and Express News. He has also produced several documentaries on various subjects, including the 2006 ‘Zinda Tau Rehna Hai’ (Life Goes On) about life in the northern areas of Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. He’s also a passionate photographer.

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 4) – Bhutto and the NSF

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TFT Issue: 27 Jan 2017

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls Bhutto’s emergence as a populist ‘saviour’: in his own words, interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

Fatima versus Ayub

In Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies elections, almost all of our candidates won, badly beating not only Ayub’s candidates but also Ms. Fatima Jinnah’ candidates. That was NSF’s experiment [National Students’ Federation] of contesting some constituencies in order to expose the ‘Basic Democracies’ scam. That was followed by the presidential election of 1965 which was contested between Fatima Jinnah and Ayub Khan.

Obviously, we sided with Ms. Jinnah. NSF boys roamed around with lanterns (Ms Jinnah’s election symbol) in the city [Karachi] and campaigned for her more than the opposition political parties that supported her. To begin with, Ayub’s self-serving 1962 constitution was under fire. Secondly, we were strictly against his Sharif Commission (National Education Commission).

Ms. Jinnah invited me over while my arrest warrant was in effect. I’d go there in disguise using a cap, etc. And, the intelligence people, being intelligence people, never suspected [a thing]. She cried, “Bacha log (boys)¸ what are you up to? Do you want another martial law to be imposed here?”  I replied, “No, no, we have resisted martial law all our lives. Even today, we are standing there in your support and chanting slogans against Ayub Khan. Who says we are trying to bring about martial law?” She said, “Okay, but don’t cause too much of a commotion!”

There might be some differences amongst the leaders [of opposition political parties] but students unanimously supported Ms. Jinnah. We told them (the party leaders) that the public were generally against Ayub. I’d give speeches against the regime in different areas and places like Laloo Khet and an imambargah. And when the police arrived I’d escape from the alternate routes, sometimes entering and exiting a series of houses in areas like Martin Quarters (Karachi). People helped and supported us.

Seen here with Pakistan's first military strongman Ayub Khan, Ms. Fatima Jinnah ran a courageous - if eventually unsuccessful - campaign against him

Seen here with Pakistan’s first military strongman Ayub Khan, Ms. Fatima Jinnah ran a courageous – if eventually unsuccessful – campaign against him

“Bhutto agreed with me on a lot of issues – land reforms, foreign policy, military agreements and a movement to put the bureaucracy right” (Mairaj Muhammad Khan)

Ayub khan created the Electoral College which consisted of 80,000 Basic Democrats through the Basic Democracies election for his presidential election in 1965. During the election campaign, Muhammad Shoaib, then finance minister, was being sent to us in order to quieten down the students’ movement. A temporary moratorium was established that I would not be arrested for the next 12 hours. My arrest warrants were out and they had been looking for me everywhere and houses were being raided. After consulting my fellow NSF activists, I agreed to meet him. He asked if I had the list of our demands with me. I gave him the pamphlet. He assured me that the government will accept almost all of our demands: “We will make the announcement on radio. You can hear it yourself.” I was pleasantly surprised. I said, “I am glad that you are taking an interest in resolving students’ issues. Please go ahead.” That’s when he revealed his real motive: “But you’ll have to do us a little favour too. Just declare that you will stay neutral in the upcoming presidential election (1965).” I turned the offer down: “We will not abandon Fatima Jinnah. And staying neutral is out of question whether you do or do not accept our demands.” That proved to be a deal-breaker.

The movement began. And so did the clashes. People were persecuted and jailed. The good thing that came out of it was that the whole student community stood up against the hooligans hired by the Muslim League. Ms. Jinnah secured more votes than Ayub in Karachi.

Ayub Khan put me in jail for 9 months. I was still in jail during 1965 war when the superintendent of the jail told me that the government wanted me to address the youth through the radio, asking them to unite against India’s aggression. I knew how to give speeches. Not only did I do so, I also organised a procession against India’s invasion, which consisted of no less than 100,000 people.

Fatima Jinnah won the support of all stripes of pro-democracy opinion in Pakistan, including progressives and leftists such as the National Students' Federation (NSF)

Fatima Jinnah won the support of all stripes of pro-democracy opinion in Pakistan, including progressives and leftists such as the National Students’ Federation (NSF)

***

Bhutto rises

When Ayub Khan defeated Fatima Jinnah through bogus votes and his electoral college, people turned against him in West Pakistan. People of East Pakistan hated him anyway. Consequently, when in 1966 after the Tashkent declaration (Jan 05, 1966) Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto parted ways with Ayub (some people say Ayub chucked him out but Bhutto insisted that he refused to compromise on his principles and he quit) people looked up to him. He emerged as a popular leader after his speech at the Security Council (September 22, 1965) as foreign minister during the war. It felt as if a young man from the Third World stood up for his country’s freedom. His heated words: “We will wage a war for a thousand years, a war of self-defense… irrespective of our size, of our resources, we will fight till the end” appealed to the youth and he became a hero of sorts.

After quitting the government in June 1966, Bhutto boarded a train in Rawalpindi that headed to Lahore. Many MNAs and MPAs, including Ghulam Mustafa Khar, saw him off at the station. He was given a warm welcome by the swarms of youngsters that included NSF boys at every station that the train stopped at. Anti-Ayub slogans were being chanted. More than 50,000 people gave him a hero’s welcome at the railway station in Lahore. People would throw flower petals at him. One would kiss his hands, another would run around carrying the handkerchief with which he wiped his tears. Emotions ran high and you could feel the love for Bhutto in the air.

When we (NSF) found out about Bhutto’s arrival in Karachi, we organised a huge procession at Cantonment Railway Station to welcome him. I remember Mumtaz Mehkri barging into Bhutto’s compartment and asking him over and over: “Say something against imperialism. Say something against the Army, or Ayub Khan”. And he’d say, “Yes, yes, I will!”

That orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Ali Shah who lives in Nazimabad, Karachi, tried creating confusion by claiming in his book and in a television interview that he arranged that welcome gathering at the station – which is an absolute lie. He was not even present there.

Thousands of NSF boys, after receiving Bhutto at the station followed him to his home. In the evening that day Bhutto invited us over and we presented him a document containing suggestions on foreign policy which he seemed to like. Besides myself, Rasheed Hassan Khan, Jauhar Hussain and many others whose names I can’t recall were also present.

Mairaj Muhammad Khan (1938-2016) - lifelong opponent of authoritarian and military regimes in Pakistan

Mairaj Muhammad Khan (1938-2016) – lifelong opponent of authoritarian and military regimes in Pakistan

***

Bhutto and the NSF – a love story?

A week or so later while I was busy in my routine chores, I heard some noise coming from outside the house that I used to stay in. Boys in the neighborhood were screaming “Jeay Bhutto!” When I peeked through a jafri (lattice) I saw Z.A. Bhutto standing there in the street. After greeting him I said, “You should have sent for me. Why did you bother?” He went, “I came here because you guys told me that you were against Ayub Khan, but it seems you have compromised with him”. I asked, “Who says so?” “You would have been out there in the field had you been willing to fight the regime!” he challenged. I said, “We are fighting it, not because of you. We’ve been fighting since you were Ayub’s minister. We fought against his martial law and brought it to an end. We were jailed, tortured and ‘externed’. Who told you that we have compromised with him? We are against him because he turned my country into the seat of international conspiracies. He sold our freedom to America. You may want to drive bargains with him but I will never do that.” He said, “No, I am willing to fight him. Come over, let’s talk.”

Thanks to the NSF, I was constantly obsessed with politics and would yearn for doing something for society. Our meetings began. I told Bhutto that there’d be no compromise with the imperialists. All such agreements will be terminated at once. Secondly, feudalism needs to be eliminated. Western parliamentary democracy cannot go hand in hand with feudalism. Such so-called democracy will be useless for us. “Give us your word that you will change this outdated system, be it through reforms, if not a revolution.” He agreed with me on a lot of issues, like land reforms, foreign policy, military agreements and initiating a movement to put the bureaucracy right. That is why we stood with him. He was a very intelligent man. He could tell what went on in a person’s mind. Also, he was very brave and energetic. For such a person in Persian they say: “Aatish Zer-e-Pa” – If there’s fire under a person’s feet, he won’t stay still. He’d just go romping around. There was hardly a place in (West) Pakistan where he hadn’t paid a visit. Be it a small village or a city or a district, he went everywhere. It didn’t matter to him if it was a crowd of 5 or 50 or 5,000 people that he was speaking to. He’d set off a dialogue of sorts with people in his speeches:

“Will you fight Ayub Khan?”

They’d respond, “Yes, we will!”

“Will you struggle with me?”

“Yes, we will!”

“Will you come out on streets with me?”

“Yes, we will come out!”

“Will you die with me?”

“Yes, we will die with you!”

This is how he connected with common people. He’d motivate them, evoke enthusiasm in them. He’d shake hands with them, mingle with them, he would call people over to his house. He’d talk to them for hours. These qualities would inspire a common man.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, flanked by Hafeez Pirzada and Mairaj Muhammad Khan

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, flanked by Hafeez Pirzada and Mairaj Muhammad Khan

“Senior members of the leftist organisations told us to join his party and take control of him. I told them we cannot have any power over Bhutto”

Bhutto had a fascinating personality. Later, I myself went through a lot of struggle to get out of his charisma. It was very difficult to say goodbye to him.

I used to raise this question at NSF forums: what do we do after years of student activism? Become a journalist? Find a job? Or run a trade union? We must do something beyond that. We should take active part in politics to fix things in this country. I’d suggest that we form a political party. I made a lot of noise among my fellow activists.

The senior members of the leftist organisations saw in Bhutto an opportunity to release some pressure from themselves and they told us to join his party and take control of him. I told them we cannot have any power over Bhutto. He was a popular leader. Though he agreed with most of the matters we advised him on, he also differed with us on some issues and would conveniently dodge us. And he’d turn hostile towards us someday. Still, if we manage to get him to agree with us on some affairs, I’d consider that a victory.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on January 27, 2017

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 3) – Arson and coin tosses – the riotous ’60s

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By Faisal Sayani  TFT Issue: 18 Nov 2016

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls taking on the Ayub regime: in his own words, interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

While I along with others was banished from Karachi and other major cities, the female students of DJ College Karachi went on a hunger strike. A procession was held by the students and general public in their support which was then attacked by police on horseback. That ill-advised action by the government did not just enrage the students but it also enabled people from all walks of life to take sides. Teachers, workers, trade unions and even the business community of Karachi began to support us. There were protests everywhere and it looked as if the whole city was set to revolt against the Establishment. The major demands of the 1963 movement included: reduction in the duration of three-year degree and law courses, abolition of the wicked University Ordinance and annulment of the externment orders of the students.

When the 1963 movement was at its peak and country-wide strikes were being observed by the students, forcing closure of colleges and universities, it was Nur Khan (then PIA chairman) with his liberal mindset, who helped by arranging a meeting between the students, trade unionists and the Governor of West Pakistan, Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh. The meeting was held in Lahore and the delegates from Karachi were flown in on a PIA chartered plane. The Nawab of Kalabagh accepted all of the demands (including withdrawal of my exile) except the demand for doing away with the university ordinance. He said it was beyond his jurisdiction and only the ‘centre’ (Ayub Khan) could reverse it.

Nawab Amir Khan of Kalabagh

Nawab Amir Khan of Kalabagh

We were breathing in the century of revolutions

Differences with CPP and the ideological training

The Communist Party of Pakistan, after being banned in 1954 (on charges of conspiring to overthrow Liaquat Ali Khan), went underground and remained there for a very long time. They grew very circumspect after losing Hassan Nasir and feared a crackdown more often than not. I was believed to be a rebel and far too adventurous to controlled. Hence, they were quite upset with me.

When I was little, I would lie down under a neem tree and enjoy the breeze while listened to my mother’s advice. She’d say, “Stand by the weak and stand up to the oppressor.” I couldn’t stand repression and tyranny since I was a child. Later, when I was given Karl Marx’ books to read, I felt ill at ease at first but as I read on, it occurred to me that this man is, pretty much, giving me the same advice as my mother with a copy of Quran in her hands did. He speaks for the downtrodden and the exploited, tells them to unite against their tormentors and says, “you have nothing to lose but your chains.” That clicked with me and thus it became my ideological tutoring. I found myself drawn towards Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong because they fought imperialists for freedom and wanted to evolve a social system where every person gets work according to his ability and is rewarded according to his services. Such ideas would attract any young person, and they did excite me. We were breathing in the century of revolutions. Russia, China, Vietnam, Korea and Algeria went through revolutions in that very century. I began to romanticise a revolution in Pakistan too.

In the early NSF years, Sher Afzal was a leader I would put on a very high pedestal. So much so that had he asked me to jump off a building, I would do that right away. I’d even kill my own brother if he would demand so in the name of the revolution. Such was my love and respect for him – which later turned into a dispute. He started to poison me against certain party members. I learnt only later that it was due to the split within the CPP between Karachi and the rest of the Sindh membership of the party.

Syed Mohammad Taqi

Syed Mohammad Taqi

The ‘Pro-Peking’ and ‘Pro-Moscow’ Divide

It made sense that Russia and China as different nations had a dispute over the different versions of the same ideology but for us to jump into that conflict was not justified. CPP activists tried to pull NSF into this clash and that’s when the cracks began to appear. I tried very hard to prevent it, but you know when the communists fight amongst themselves they tend to become ferocious, deprived of any reason.

The Peking-Moscow conflict began in 1964 (in NSF), it blossomed in 1965, and in 1966 when I was about to assume the responsibility of leading NSF, the split took place. I went through polemic studies on the Sino-Soviet split and deduced that China’s side carried much more weight for me than that of the Soviet Union. I found Mao’s tireless determination and passion to be very inspiring. Then, China’s supportive attitude towards Pakistan at the time of 1965 war was cherished by a common man here, but resented by the pro-Moscow faction. There must have been about a hundred thousand people in the procession we organized after the 1965 war. Bunder Road (now M.A.Jinnah Road, Karachi) was swarmed with people from one end to another, with men holding life-sized portraits of international leaders like Sukarno, Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Ben Bella and Zhou Enlai.

At the time of the 1965 election, there was a divide in NSF over the action plan. I was the Secretary-General and Baqar Askary was the President. I was of the opinion that we ought to initiate a movement against Ayub and that movement will eventually transform into an election campaign for Ms. Jinnah because the regime will come down hard on us – and then public sentiment will turn hostile towards Ayub. However, this suggestion was opposed by some (including Sher Afzal and Baqar Askary) in the meeting, who proposed campaigning for Ms. Jinnah only. Speeches were given on both points of view. I sensed what the majority of the members were leaning towards and couldn’t help playing a little mind game there. I asked Baqar to not to get a vote on this as there was going to be a split. Baqar, being from the opposite group, at once demanded a vote (something I desired) and about 90 percent supported my proposal. Although the divide in the NSF was noticeable by then, nevertheless the 1964 movement began with a bang.

Pakistan's Ayub Khan with President Kennedy - the former soon found his pro-Western military regime challenged by a mass movement

Pakistan’s Ayub Khan with President Kennedy – the former soon found his pro-Western military regime challenged by a mass movement

Seeing that they were on the losing side, Jamaat-e-Islami eagerly agreed. A coin was tossed

The 1964 Movement – Crackdown at Islamia College

The 1964 movement had a 12-point agenda which included fee reduction, a policy of college admissions for all, the establishment of more educational, technical, and engineering institutions, etc. in addition to the demand for termination of the University Ordinance. Students managed to shut down almost every educational institution in the city. Islamia College (Karachi) became the NSF’s power base of sorts. The institution was comprised of various types of colleges – it was an arts college in morning, science in afternoon and commerce in evening. Thousands of students were enrolled there. When we went on general strike, the college founder and owner Abdul Rehman Mohammad Qureshi (who had also served as Jinnah’s driver) called in the Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary to crack down on us. Islamia College campus looked like a battlefield as the result. The paramilitary personnel, not being able to distinguish one from another, started beating students and teachers alike. We refused to give up and vowed that the strike will not be called off, unless the demands are met and after that brutal act by the administration, the education minister of West Pakistan, Mohammad Yasin Khan Wattoo, will have to meet the students in person.

While that onslaught was proceeding at Islamia College, I along with a few other boys went to the nearby busy square, Guru Mandir, and set a few double-decker buses on fire. Consequently, as expected, the paramilitary force had to be moved from the college to Guru Mandir, hence saving the protesting students from further thrashing.

We set off to Syed Mohammad Taqi’s house, which was located in the vicinity (somewhere in the Garden area) to take refuge. He treated us warmheartedly. After listening to our story, he shared his concern with his brother, Rais Amrohvi, “Do you see this. Where they are headed to? What’s going to come out of all this?” Then he made us wash, got us changed into clean clothes and fed us generously. He knew about my arrest warrant and was aware of the consequences of us getting arrested at his place but that did not bother him at all.

[The talks between the All-Parties Students’ Action Committee (led by Mairaj Muhammad Khan) and Yasin Wattoo generally failed as most of the demands were not met]Basic Democracies election, 1965

In 1965 I was asked (by CPP and NSF) to contest the Basic Democracies election. Knowing Ayub Khan had engineered the system to provide legitimacy to his rule, I resisted. But they insisted that it was necessary to take part in the election. I agreed finally and ran for it. My opponent in the constituency (of Karachi) belonged to Jamat-e-Islami. A very senior JI member asked me to refrain from the election, upon which I confronted him as how could he ask me for such a thing while they themselves were going for it! After some discussion it was agreed that we would do it in a fair manner, and only the listed voters will cast their vote, and that the result will be acceptable for both the parties. The polling began and by looking at the kind of turnout it was obvious that I was going to bag more votes. That’s when they called in Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) activists – who came in hordes and began to cast votes illegally. We objected and warned them that they couldn’t beat us in this (student power) game. They told us off. At that point I sent for NSF boys at Islamia College. Our activists got hold of a public transport bus, filled it with our supporters, dropped them off at polling booths, and sped away to fetch more. Within a few such rounds the place was thronged with my supporters, who like IJT workers, began to fill the boxes. Now it was JI’s turn to accuse us of rigging. I said, “When you yourselves were doing it, you sanctified the act as Islamic.” Just then, Fatehyab Ali Khan arrived at the scene. The senior JI man asked him for justice. To my surprise, Fatehyab said, “Let’s flip a coin. Heads is a winner and tails a loser.” Seeing that they were on the losing side, JI eagerly agreed. A coin was tossed and it was tails, i.e. I lost. But clearly, Fatehyab was up to something different. He picked up the coin and announced to JI bunch, “I am sorry, you have lost. Mairaj has won.” Obviously, they protested. Even I whispered in his ear, “What are you doing? It was tails. What do we even achieve by winning this election?” He was adamant, “No, no, you have won. That’s how the coin was.”

That was the manner in which my friend Fatehyab took care of the Basic Democracies election.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on November 18, 2016

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 2) – A song of batons and jails

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TFT Issue: 29 Sep 2016

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan on his years as a firebrand student leader, in his own words – interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

 

A song of batons and jails

Internationalism – Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls Pakistani students organising protests over the murder of Congo’s leader and pan-African icon, Patrice Lumumba

 


After the Democratic Students Federation’s victorious 1953 movement against (mainly) the fee hike in colleges and universities, the government found a way to persecute and punish DSF members. They started to use the label of ‘communism’ in order to crush such protests. As (Indian ex-communist M.N. Roy) said, “Communism in Asia is nothing but nationalism painted red”. Anyone who spoke of any rights – be it of students or workers, anyone who talked about land reforms or criticised capitalism and emphasised the welfare of the people would be marked dangerous, godless, an enemy of God and hence worthy of jail and persecution. Eventually, in 1954, the DSF was banned on the grounds of its connections with the Communist Party of Pakistan, which was also banned around the same time.

A new student organisation called ‘All Pakistan Students Federation’ was formed and banned in a very short time. Subsequently, all attempts made by the former DSF activists to establish an independent organisation met a similar fate. Finally, in 1956, these unsettled activists managed to infiltrate an organisation called ‘National Students Federation’, which was originally formed with the support of the government. NSF used to be a social welfare organisation which would organise events for students, invite ministers as chief guests, distribute books, receive grants (embezzling some of them). Many of the less prominent former senior DSF members like Dr. Abdul Wadood were sent to join NSF. He, along with others, changed the whole direction of the organisation. That was particularly revealed to the government in 1956 when at the time of the Suez Canal crisis, thousands of students and NSF activists rallied on the streets and chanted slogans against imperialist regimes (‘Down with England, Israel, France…’).

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Fateyab Ali Khan - Photo Credits - MM Khan Collection

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Fateyab Ali Khan – Photo Credits – MM Khan Collection

“In jail, we were kept near the gallows on death row”

The first time I was sent to jail was in 1959. I was campaigning in colleges to organise a demo against US president Eisenhower’s visit to Pakistan, so that the people of the world could see that there is a significant presence of anti-imperialists throughout this country. But before it could materialise, the intelligence agencies got the information and they arrested me and put me in jail for three months. They also picked up several trade union leaders. Prominent Communist Party activist Hassan Nasir was also detained at that time.

Ayub Khan imposed martial law in 1958 after convincing the USA of the sheer incompetence of the civilians and of their incapability to run a parliamentary system of government. It was not just about political parties: the NSF – which was just a student organization – was also banned. Ayub knew that NSF had become stronger than the political parties of the time, just as the DSF used to be much more powerful than the mainstream political entities. The students’ rage was increased two-fold when in 1959 (most newspapers and websites claim the year to be 1960) Hassan Nasir was murdered in police custody.

Student leaders in 1965 - Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Rasheed Hasan Khan

Student leaders in 1965 – Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Rasheed Hasan Khan

All ministers ran off except for Z.A. Bhutto. He refused to leave the stage and kept fighting us. I liked his determination

To add to the misery of the students, in 1959, the National Education Commission (commonly referred to as the Sharif Commission) was established. The most damaging thing it did was to scrap the University Act which enabled universities to be free and autonomous. The commission, through a newly drafted University Ordinance, gave absolute control over universities to the provincial Governors i.e. martial law. Governors and vice chancellors were given the powers of confiscating a degree, denying admission and even expelling a student. Because of such laws, I was illegally and unconstitutionally denied admission to the University of Karachi in 1963. As a result, I could never finish my M.A. The University Ordinance also extended the duration of degree courses from two years to three years. Many of the NSF activists were of the opinion that it was already hard for a poor man to send his kids to a university for two years – how could he afford to do so for three or more years? NSF wanted to oppose the ban and avenge Hassan Nasir’s death. We wanted to raise a voice against such laws.

In 1961, the first legally elected prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated. First, we organised a huge rally to protest Lumumba’s murder. Around the same time, the Jabalpur Riots took place in India and many Muslims were slain. Some people accused of us being Red (communist) and not Pink (a subscriber of more moderate communist and socialist ideas), alleging that we care about Lumumba (whose leanings were towards Soviet Union) while completely ignoring helpless Muslims of Jabalpur. So I decided to call a huge gathering and we rallied to protest the riots. Though I was told by Communist Party members to call off the protest as they feared the crackdown on the party, I flatly refused. Thousands came out, formed a procession and marched on the streets of Karachi rendering the martial law practically ineffective.

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

While sweets were being distributed at Burns Road (Karachi) and a common man was rejoicing the end of martial law, many of the NSF leaders including myself, Fatehyab Ali Khan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Johar Hussain, Sher Afzal Malik, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, Dr. Mehboob and Agha Jaffar were picked up, jailed and tortured dreadfully. Among us, Iqbal Memon was the one who was tortured most brutally. They probably thought that since his name contained ‘Memon’ in it, he’d be easier to break. They were clearly mistaken. They tried to force us into writing false confessions like ‘(NSF) received Rs.500,000 from Soviet Union’ or ‘…200,000 from India.’ For a month, they kept us in various police stations. They would drag us from one station to another. On February 27, 1961, a court (under martial law) sentenced me, Fatehyab, Johar Hussain and Sher Afzal Malik to one year of penal servitude. Ameer Haider Kazmi was given nine months, whereas Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, Iqbal Memon and Ali Mukhtar were given six months in prison. In order to prevent contact from the outside world, some of us, including myself, were sent to Bahawalpur and the rest to Multan jail. In Bahawalpur jail, the four of us (myself, Fatehyab, Johar and Sher) were kept near the gallows on death row. Constables wearing red caps would ask us “What have you done that they are hanging you?” We could tell that these were the tactics employed by our oppressors to scare us, which certainly didn’t work.

We were rigourously interrogated, too. The superintendent of the jail (I wouldd rather not put his name on record) was a very nice man and he opposed Ayub’s tyrannical ways. Therefore, he secretly helped us with those interrogations. He told us to stick to one – and just one – story.

During one of these interrogatory sessions I was brought to a smaller jail in Rahimyar Khan. They gave me filthy and tattered clothes which I refused to put on despite their threats. When they were taking me back to Bahawalpur jail from Rahimyar Khan, the cops were given money to hire a horse-drawn carriage for transport. They stole the money and we went on foot instead. On the way, a posse of children coming out of a school spotted me in handcuffs and being taken away by cops and started to yell ‘Chor! Chor!’ (Thief! Thief!). That was so soul- crushing that my eyes welled up and I wept. Moments later, a shopkeeper from around came running to us and hushed the boys, “He’s not a thief. He’s your leader.” I was reminded of Faiz’s poem, the one he wrote after his captors made him walk on the streets of Sialkot in shackles to humiliate him, “Aaj bazaar main pa ba-joulan chalo, Dast afhsaan chalo, Mast-o-raqsaan chalo, Khaak bar sar chalo, Khoon badamaan chalo, Raah taktaa hai sab shehr-e-jaanaan chalo”

(Today, you must walk the marketplace in chains

Walk, with palms open before you

Walk, with your head caked in dust

Walk, with shirtsleeves seeped in blood

Whirl, in frenzied throes of ecstasy

Walk on, the beloved city yearns for you)

(Translated by Mustansir Dalvi)

Although we were imprisoned, we were successful in achieving the goal of putting an end to the terrifying period when a common man was too scared of even saying anything against Ayub’s regime.

In 1962, we were quietly released after nine months of incarceration once they brought us back to a jail in Karachi. However, only 10-15 days later came the orders of our externment. That was the first externment (of activist students), and Fatehyab, Johar Hussain, Iqbal Memon, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Anwar Ahsan and I were forced to leave the city.

Ayub versus the students – rise of the NSF

Although a noticeable industrial growth was witnessed in Ayub’s period, at the same time, the exploitation of workers was at its peak. Labourers were hired for a month and then were re-hired, hence benefits like pension or gratuity were totally denied. Trade union activities and strikes were dealt with using brute force. For that reason, the working class of the country took an active part in the struggle against Ayub’s rule.

Army dictators of the Third World were given this tool called ‘guided’ or ‘controlled’ or (in Pakistan’s case) ‘basic’ democracies by the imperialist powers of the world. After demolishing parliamentary democracy, Ayub Khan in late 1959 introduced Basic Democracies. Local government elections were held and an electoral college was manufactured, which in 1960, elected him President.

Ayub went on and enforced his expedient constitution in 1962, which we (NSF) rejected as vehemently as Habib Jalib did through his poem ‘Dastoor’ (Constitution).  Soon enough he felt the need for a political party to endorse his reign. The convention of Muslim Leaguers who supported him resulted in Convention Muslim League and Ayub Khan became its chairman. The first grand public meeting of the party was organised at Polo Ground, Karachi, in 1963. Delegates from East and West Pakistan came to attend it. Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was presiding and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was conducting the convention. That was the political party a military dictatorship was giving birth to, and it was being imposed on the public in the name of democracy. Poor workers and students were already battling against the dictator. The ban on the NSF was recently lifted owing to 1963’s Party Act and the students were all charged and angry enough for a new adventure.

Jinnah Courts, currently the home of Rangers personnel, used to house hundreds of students. It was at these hostels where the plan to disrupt the Convention League gathering was chalked out. A group of NSF activist girls went to Lyari to meet the well-known gangsters Sheru and Dadal who were hired by the government to ensure things go as planned. After much pleading and convincing – which included holding their feet – the duo agreed to give them a couple of hundred passes of the convention and warned them not to cause any commotion. The (NSF) boys, making use of those passes along with Ayub’s photographs and badges carrying pictures of rose (Ayub’s election symbol), were able to penetrate the convention. Just when the meeting began, we took out the banners with ‘Ayub Khan Murdabad’ (Down with Ayub) written on them and took over the convention. Flowerpots were thrown on the ministers. Chairs went flying off in the air. Considering his old age, we carefully placed Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman’s chair off the stage. Syed Saeed Hassan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Fatehyab and I took over the stage and delivered speeches and presented a resolution. All ministers ran off from the stage except for Z.A. Bhutto. He refused to leave the stage and kept fighting us throughout the 15-minute siege, despite being physically bashed up by our activists. I liked his determination. We left the scene after getting the signal from Sheru and Dadal.

Obviously, that incident infuriated Ayub so much that before the next morning all of us were arrested. Among the twelve whose externment orders were issued immediately were: Fatehyab Khan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Johar Hussain, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Agha Jaffar, Saeed Hassan, Wahid Bashir, Hussain Naqi, Nafees Siddiqui and I.

Unlike the last externment, we were quite prepared this time around. We had alerted our friends and comrades in every university and college about the likely exile and were assured that if that happened, they would have to support us. We were banished from metropolitan cities, so we went to smaller cities like Sukkur, Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan and Multan. It was there that we started campaigning for a bigger struggle against the regime which transformed into the famous 1963 movement.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on September 29, 2016

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