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Student Movement of Pakistan-2

Syed Ehtisham

January 7th, 2017



At the end of 1948, responding to this atmosphere of gloom, a few progressive students founded a small group in Lahore called Democratic Students Federation (DSF). DSF did not have a written or formal platform or agenda. It only aimed at amelioration of the educational and academic problems of students. It participated in Union elections in different colleges and obtained a measure of success.

For the next two to three years its activities remained confined to Lahore and Rawalpindi. Prominent among its leaders were Abid Manto in Rawalpindi and Naqvi (A nephew of A.T.Naqvi, the chief commissioner of Karachi) in Lahore. MSF maintained its simultaneous existence, but was not popular and remained ineffective. In Karachi DSF was formed first in Dow Medical College in 1950.

Post establishment of Pakistan feudal lords had obtained control of the government, which became total after Liaquat, Jinnah's designated heir apparent was assassinated in October 1951. Jinnah himself and Liaquat had discouraged students participation in political life. They felt that student would better spend time in acquiring education and become good citizens. Their feudal successors had another agenda. They wanted students to behave like good children and train themselves as good servants of the ruling class. Whenever students agitated for their rights and demanded amenities, they were exhorted to refrain form politics. Pakistan had come into existence; there was no more reason to participate in public life. Those who did not toe the line were subjected to discrimination and torture at the hands of state security apparatus. A few sold themselves for a piece of gold.

MSF had disintegrated. Islami Jamiat e Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat e Islami formed in 1948, confined itself to proselytization and convened small gatherings in mosques. They were later to publish a few pamphlets.
In order to get a clear idea of student movement in Pakistan, we have to look at the religious make up of the educational institutions in the regions, which became East and West Pakistan.

On the Western side, student activism sustained a grievous setback at the time of partition. An overwhelming majority of students were non-Muslim. Dow Medical College, Karachi was started in 1945. Only two out of the class of fifty were Muslims. A Muslim Students Federation was formed at the N.E.D Engineering College Karachi in 1947. Ahmad Khan Barakzai was the first President. I interviewed an activist of the time, Mr. Nooruddin Sarki, a leading attorney of Karachi. After a brief mention of the Federation, he went on to enumerate the names of Karachi medical students of the time-M. Haroon, M Sarwar, and Rahman Hashmi-all immigrants, as the pioneers of the students movement.

Roughly the same proportion of Hindu-Muslim students obtained in the educational institutions in all provinces of West Pakistan- Sind, Baluchistan, NWFP and Punjab. Students in the region, like elsewhere in India had participated in Independence movement and constituted the youth wing of INC (Indian National Congress). They left for India in 1947, leaving a vacuum among student activist ranks identical to that in all other socio-political fields.

Muslim refugees moved from East Punjab and elsewhere to the new country. Punjabis on both sides of the divide had borne the brunt of the worst excesses of partition. They had been robbed of all assets, dignity and honor and had barely escaped with life. Most had lost family members. They lived in refugee camps and other shelters, gradually settling down and occupying houses left by fleeing non-Muslims. The traumatic experience they had passed through was unprecedented in the annals of human history. All they wanted was to be left alone to pick up the pieces and live as normal a life as they could. They did not have the time, inclination or even the desire to indulge in movements, progressive or otherwise. It, therefore, took a long time for the young immigrants in the Punjab and the few among the locals to get together and plan for the future

In NWFP (now KPK), the student wing of Khudai Khitmatgars (Servants of God) of Ghaffar Khan, a populist ascetic movement, popularly called Red-Shirts, because of the color of clothes they sported, had been discredited as they had sided with the losing side in the referendum held to decide if NWFP will join India or Pakistan. Khudai Khitmatgars had been for many years openly aligned with of INC. Ghaffar Khan echoed Gandhi in preaching non-violence and richly deserved the sobriquet; Frontier Gandhi. As the date of independence drew close, pro-Pakistan sentiments took hold of people's imagination there too.

Baluchistan was the most feudal-tribal and least developed of the provinces in West Pakistan. Its only city Quetta, was totally dominated by non-Muslims in pre-independence days. In no walk of life- trade, business education, and government service, could one find any Muslims. Except for a few Sardars who had houses in the city, Muslims lived in out of town mud houses. One such area was called Islamabad! In nineteen fifty-one there was only one indigenous teacher in the whole province. He was promoted to the ranks of Head Master, Inspector of Schools, Principal of the only college in the province and Director of Education with in a few years. All my teachers were immigrants.

Sind had had a vibrant body of student activists; its traditions went back to early twentieth century. The province was known for the cordial relations between its ethnic groups. It did not have any communal riots till nineteen forty-eight. In fact the Government is widely believed to have abetted disturbances in Karachi a year after partition to drive non-Muslims out, well after the early insanity had subsided. The conflict was between the immigrants and non-Muslims. Indigenous Sindhis did not take part in it. They in fact protected their non-Muslim compatriots when they could. A substantial percentage of Hindus actually stayed back in the interior of the province. The communist party of India, for some reason known only to them, had advised the Hindu members to leave for India. To their credit, many including the best known Sobho Ramchndrani, and Pahumal Gianchandrani flouted the advice.

Compared to their Punjabi counterparts, Muslim refugees from India descending on Sindh had arrived relatively unscathed. They had walked into a land of opportunity. Clerks were promoted to managers, supervisors into high officials.
Given the relatively intact, though depleted cadre of activists into which the new arrivals easily merged, student movement in the Western Wing in early years was, for all practical purposes, confined to Karachi to which city refugees from India had gravitated in their millions. Students, mostly left wing in their leanings-because of family connections, indoctrination or chaotic conditions-launched a movement for better educational facilities such as decent classrooms, libraries, laboratories and reduction in fees and provision of textbooks free or at subsidized rates, and above all the right to organize.


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