By Babar Ayaz
“It is the duty of … writers to give expression to the changes taking place in … life and to assist the spirit of progress in the country by scientific rationalism. We believe that the new literature of … must deal with the basic problem of hunger and poverty, social backwardness and political subjection. All that drags us down to passivity, inaction and unreason we reject as reactionary. All that arouses in us a critical spirit, which examines institutions and customs in the light of reason, which helps to act, to organise ourselves, to transform, we accept as progressive.”
Now fill ‘Pakistan’ in the blanks left by me on this day of 27th December 2011 and you have the resolution of the Progressive Writer Association at its Platinum Jubilee celebration in the South Asian sub-continent. In spite of the fact that this quote has been picked up by me from the PWA manifesto written 75 years ago when the Association was formed in April 1936 at Luckhnow. The manifesto was signed by great writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chatterjee, Munshi Prem Chand, P.C.Roy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Pramatath Chowdhary and many others. The words I removed from the quote are ‘Indian and Indian.’ (Source: Marxist Cultural Movement in India Chronicles and Documents 1936-47 compiled & Edited by Sudhi Pardhan)
Seventy-five years back the major concern of the progressive writers, artists of various genres was the rising fascist forces hence they came out strongly against it from Paris– London — to Luckhnow. Of course the Indian writers led by the founders of the PWA Sajjad Zahir, Mulak Raj Anand and Sardar Jaffari, M.D Taseer and Kaifi Azami, Rashida Jehan were also concerned about the colonial Raj over India and the issues raised by them in the manifesto as stated in the quote above.
But moving forward with the partition of the sub-continent while many concerns of the progressive writers regarding issues like hunger, poverty, communalism and sectarianism remain same on both sides of the border; in Pakistan writers faced additional issues like curbs on freedom of expressions, military dictatorship and now rising religious fascism. To begin with PWA got the major setback when Sajjad Zahir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were arrested in 1951 on charges of hatching conspiracy for communist takeover in collaboration with a small section of armed forces. Then around the same time when Pakistan was getting cosier with the US and signing Mutual Defence Pact, PWA was banned along with the Communist Party of Pakistan and Democratic Students Federation.
Ban on ideologies does not wish them away. From Socrates to this day we have seen that restrictions on freedom of expression do slow down the operations of the movements attached to the banned ideology, but cannot stop the people from what they are thinking and expressing in creative ways and mediums. The gap created from the banning of the PWA was filled in when Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Dr. Rukunuddin Has’an initiated the formation of Awami Adabi Anjuman in 1967. The manifesto was signed by the writers of all the major languages of Pakistan – Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ajmal Khattak, Gul Khan Naseer, Sheikh Ayaz, Ibrahim Joyo, Hassan Hameedi, Dr. Has’an and many other progressive writers.
This manifesto was translated in Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi Pushto and Bengali. It was welcomed by the progressive writers across the country. Point three of the manifesto declared: “We think that the progress of nationalities is included in this democratic freedom. (Reference was to an earlier point on democracy and freedom of expression). We want that in Pakistan, which is the country of different nationalities, such conditions should be created that all nationalities’ languages and culture progress equally without the influence and domination of any one nationality. Therefore, we the writers believe that all nationalities should have right of self-determination, education in their respective languages, which should have the right to be an official language… English should be replaced in the offices and education institutions and Urdu should be used as the link language between all the regions.” (The latter demand I think should now be rewritten as English has to be a compulsory language in our schools in today’s globalised world).
Reincarnation of the PWA as Awami Adabi Anjuman (AAA) was strongly criticised by the writers embedded with the government particularly organised under Writers’ Guild. AAA continued to be rightful heir of the PWA till its revival, but that does not mean I am criticising my friends who still hold literary sittings under its banner occasionally. It is not that ban on the PWA and Communist Party of Pakistan has been lifted officially, but it seems the ruling classes have learnt to live with the left politicians and the progressive writers. May be because they think we are too weak to challenge their hold over power. Why? That is a debate which has never been held by the progressive intellectuals.
Now fast forward to the Golden Jubilee of the PWA in 1986. All the progressive writers joined hand to make this three-day event a success. The event was attended by the writers of all the national languages of Pakistan. But the issues were the same as enunciated in the first manifesto in 1936. Two new issues were widely discussed in the organising committee and in the working sessions: one, that should the people who share the stage with the military dictator General Ziaul Haque be invited as main speakers at the conference or they should be ignored; and two, all national languages should be made official languages and should be the medium of instruction. One view was that General Zia was working to promote obscurantism in the country and fighting a war against a progressive government in Afghanistan hence those who share the stage with him in literary meetings would not be invited prevailed. I was vocal supporter of this view. Similarly, AAA’s point of view on the languages issues was adopted. The conference was the first voice of the progressive against the nuclear programme of Pakistan and for peaceful relations with neighbours.
Interestingly when I attended the PWA Golden Jubilee Conference in Luckhnow, the city of its birth, I was amazed the link language issue was as emotive in India as it was in Pakistan. The Southern India wanted English to be the link language status in place of Hindi. A leading Indian writer Dr. Ali Javed says this issue is still unresolved although 25 years have passed by.
But the last 25 years between the Golden and Platinum Jubilee have been tormenting for Pakistan. We are being ripped apart by growing religious extremism, we are being blasted by suicide bombers, we are still struggling to fight growing poverty, inequality and unemployment, we are waking up to face the tortured dead bodies of a our Balochi brethrens, we are being killed for supporting reason over obscurantism Salman Taseer’s murder and aftermath are tragic examples, we are still living in the world where peace in the region is a distant dream and there is a long list I can go on and on.
Thus the progressive writers of today have to continue to play their role which the founders of the movement had expounded. Tragedy is that 75 years have gone bye and we are still gripped with same issues. Why? Let’s share our thoughts when we celebrate PWA Platinum Jubilee in Pakistan and India! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tormenting 25 years
“my country is the world and my religion is to do good” Thomas paine.
“I am no longer an Athenian or Greek, but a citizen of the world” Socretes after he was exiled from Athens
“The world is our country, — people of the whole world is our countrymen.” William Lloyd Garrison