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Black Day in Karachi: Remembering the 7 Pakistani students shot dead in January 1953

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, While growing up in Pakistan in the 50s and 60s, students of the Left/Democratic movement always commemorated the events of January 8, 1953 when seven
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2004
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      While growing up in Pakistan in the 50s and 60s, students of the
      Left/Democratic movement always commemorated the events of January 8, 1953
      when seven students were shot dead by Police in the then Pakistani capital,

      Every year, right up to the early seventies, we would celebrate that day,
      march to the intersection where these students were killed and spoke about
      those very early sacrifices made to bring democracy to Pakistan. And every
      year we would clash with the Police and retreat into the alleys. Once we
      even burned down the British Council building in anger

      One of those who marched with me was Shahid Hussain, who now writes for the
      Pakistani Daily Times. In this article, forwarded to me by the daughter of
      one of the 1953 student leaders, Shahid brings to light the events that
      shaped the history of Pakistan's Left. As teenagers, I was inspired by
      people like Dr. Sarwar, leader of that student movement. Today as aging
      warriors, I feel we have failed, in that we extinguished the very torch we
      were supposed to pass on.

      Here is the introduction to the article by Beena Sarwar, followed by my
      friend Shahid Hussain's write-up.

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah

      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.

      Beena Sarawar

      Jan 8, 2004

      Students for whom the bell tolls

      By Shahid Husain
      The Times, Pakistan

      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

      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 any thing 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. Haleem established a bogus students group and conveyed to
      the education minister that he had already met the aggrieved students and
      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 Elphistine 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
      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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