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