“Bol ki lab aazaad hain tere”

Anthems of Resistance:
A celebration of progressive Urdu poetry
by Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir
India Ink, 2006

Rs. 295

There is one kind of lament about Indian politics that has become commonplace: politics has become characterized only by corruption, self-indulgence, and venality.  In fact, as this review is being written, India seems racked with some of the worst scandals at the highest levels of government since the infamous Bofors scandal of the 1980s.  Against the backdrop of an overly-rehearsed drama of political criminality, we hear an equally poignant appeal for the traditions of justice and social change that have also been a long part of Indian history.  Only these voices are smaller, when they are not, like Binayak Sen, unjustly prosecuted and thrown in prison.

There is another kind of hope that has been resurrected with the rising of the Arab peoples against American-backed dictators all across North Africa and the Middle East: that power cannot indefinitely project itself without a challenge.  The toppling of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt has raised the hopes of people throughout the world that revolutionary politics are now returning to the agenda.  They are also, incidentally, returning to the world of poetry.  Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi’s poem “To the Tyrants of the World” was on the lips of protesters in Tunisia and then in Egypt.

You, the unfair tyrants…

You the lovers of the darkness…

You the enemies of life…

You’ve made fun of innocent people’s wounds; and your palm covered with their blood

You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence and growing seeds of sadness in their land

Wait, don’t let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you…

Because the darkness, the thunder rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you from the horizon

Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash

Who grows thorns will reap wounds

You’ve taken off heads of people and the flowers of hope; and watered the cure of the sand with blood and tears until it was drunk

The blood’s river will sweep you away and you will be burned by the fiery storm.

This is a poem that could have easily been in the Mir brothers’ Anthem of Resistance: a celebration of Progressive Urdu Poetry, alongside Faiz, Sahir, Naheed, and Majrooh.  Not only does al-Shabi’s poem ring out with the same power as the poetry of the early Progressive Writers Association, but its images would have found easy homes with South Asian cousins.  This may have been the dawn that Faiz awaited.

In part, what gives the Mir brothers’ book its power is their profound sense that the mission of the Progressive Writers Association – “to fight cultural reaction” and “to further the cause of Indian freedom and social regeneration” – is still incomplete.  If the first reaction to Indian politics (as thoroughly corrupt) gives rise to a furious indignation, the second reaction to recent events has stirred hope, and both of these emotional worlds are not only the product of the incomplete revolution in India and Pakistan, but they are also the bread-and-butter of progressive poetry.  Perhaps it is because both of these emotions exist simultaneously in our understanding of contemporary south Asia that the Mir brothers’ book fits so well into the current moment and manages to resonate still.

Describing the book is no easy task: it is part anthology and part history; part translation and part criticism; part panegyric and part paean.  The multipurpose nature of the book lends it a great deal of elasticity to elaborate a range of issues that relate to the long legacy of progressive writing: its influence on and reaction to the political struggles of post-independence south Asia; the enduring presence of progressive themes in filmi music; and the confident message of social change that progressive poetry embodied despite substantial obstacles.

One of the most important contributions of the book is its examination of poetic internationalism (done through the auspices of linkages made by the Third International).  Langston Hughes’ poem about Gandhi sits next to Sardar Ali Jaffri’s poem about Paul Robeson.  Makhdoom Moheeudin penned a poem on the death of Dr. Martin Luther King; Faiz lamented Israel’s colonization of Palestinian lands; Sahir eulogized Lenin.  The poets of national independence were also deeply committed to global justice and their lines expanded the scope of Urdu poetry beyond national boundaries.

Also unique to this account of the Progressive Writers Movement is its frank discussion of sexism within the ranks of the taraqqi pasandis.  The reliance on ghazals and other kinds of romantic poetic conventions meant that for the most part, the poetic production of the progressives treated men as the agents and women as the objects in the narrative of desire (even when that desire was an allegory for justice, independence, revolution, etc.).  The rise of a new kind of progressive feminist poetry in response to Zia ul-Haq’s campaign of Islamization, which included the anti-woman “Zina Ordinance” and “Hudood Ordinance,” produced the likes of Kishwar Naheed and Fehmida Riaz.

But there is a problem in both of these contributions that the authors hint at but never really address.  Internationalism was always on the pattern of Soviet internationalism, so while certain causes could easily find progressive solidarity, others were markedly absent, and in the case of Pakistan, perhaps most obviously was any poetic objection to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The strong hold that the Communist Party asserted on the meaning and content of progressivism also left a number of literary casualties, the most famous of whom (perhaps because they worked in fiction rather than poetry) were left out of the book all together: Ahmed Ali and Saadat Hasan Manto.

The discussion on feminism also raises important questions that the Mir brothers don’t address openly.  For instance, did the criticism that Ismat Chughtai and Quratullain Hyder received at the hands of Progressive stalwarts have any role to play in the slowness with which feminist themes found themselves included in progressive poetry?  It’s also highly suspect whether or not Fehmida Riaz and Kishwar Naheed would consider themselves part of the Progressive Writers Movement without substantial qualification.

In fact, the incredibly generous reading of the Progressive Writers Movement – historically so that it stretches almost into the 21st century and biographically so that it includes people who never joined the PWA – means that while the book can produce a very moving account of protest literature (at times Progressive poetry seems simply to mean all protest poetry in the book), it is at pains to describe why the movement languished and why the best poets of today no longer consider themselves progressives.  It is telling that the rage of most subcontinental progressive poetry produces nostalgia, both in the translations the Mir brothers offer and in the tone of the book throughout.

But the book is serendipitous.  On the heels of massive protests internationally and facing the corrupt bureaucracies of the Pakistani and Indian states, progressive poetry is slated for a renaissance.  Perhaps then, the book can best serve as a reminder of the power of revolutionary protest and the costs of leaving it unfinished.

Worth reading

From India Together: a news piece on slum residents in Golibar fighting back against forcible displacement by developers from Mumbai.

The ongoing battle between these Golibar residents, who have refused to move out of the ruins of their homes, and the builder – Shivalik Ventures – epitomises the struggle of the urban poor to be recognised, with dignity, as a vital cog in the city’s economy. It is a demand for Mumbai’s elite to acknowledge the poor’s need for spaces in a city where, according to the Human Development Report compiled by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the UNDP, one in every two residents of the city lives in a slum.

Ashish Khetan at Tehelka has an interesting expose of the Godhra verdict and how the Hindutva forces have tried to push their anti-Muslim campaign under the rug:

What happened to the Sabarmati Express on 27 February 2002 will always be a blot on the nation’s conscience. It deserves fair but harsh retribution. There can be no arguing that. What is being argued is whether this was a horrific upsurge of mob anger or a premeditated conspiracy. That there was a conspiracy afoot in Gujarat those years is undoubtable. But as this story shows, it was a conspiracy of a different kind. It was a conspiracy designed to rent the fabric of this country: a conspiracy by State machinery to blacken one community’s name. And declare them the enemy.

The spirit of resistance spreads to Pakistan!

Labour Party Pakistan demonstrations rallies, Dharnas and strikes on 1st March 2011

Labour Party Pakistan announces the following actions for Tuesday 1st March across Pakistan.

There are three main demands that LPP is putting forward for the day.


Release the four arrested labour leaders of power looms Labour Qaumi Movement arrested on 21st July during a workers strike for wage increase. They are Rana Mohammed Riaz, Fazal Ilahi, Akbar Kamboh and Babar Randhawa.


Reinstate the suspended and terminated workers leaders of Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) immediately. There is a reign of terror for the workers in PTCL after it is been privatized in 2005. When, last year workers protested for wage increase, 600 were suspended from jobs and there are still 100 workers leaders who are not back to their job. This is unacceptable.


Increase the minimum wages to Rupees 15000 from the present 7000 a month. This is because of the unprecedented price hike during the last three years by PPP and its alliance government. All the main parties including PMLN are united in implementing the neo liberal agenda and all the anti workers conditionality’s of the IMF and World Bank.


Tuesday 1st March 2011

Complete strike by power looms and textile workers in Faisalabad, Jhang, Gojra and Toba Tek Singh. Workers rallies from different parts of Faisalabad will gather at district council Chouck for a Dharana on the day starting 11am, there will gatherings in front opf press clubs in Gojra, Toba Tek Singh and Jhang.

Please Contact for more information and participation:

1.       Faisalabad:                         Rana Mohammed Tahir 03007252295

2.       Toba Tek Singh:                2.30pm in front of Press Club Tariq Mehmood 03449557182

3.       Gojra: 11am in front of Press Club ( Shabir Ahmad

4.       Jhang: 12pm in front of Press Club (Shafiq Rehman  03038025515)

5.       Lahore: Protest Dharana at GPO Chouck Mall Road Lahore at 4pm  contact  Rana Mohammed Aslam  03004210024

6.       Karachi: in front of Karachi Press Club at 2pm (Nasir Mansoor 03003587211)

7.       Qasur: in front of Railway Station Qasur 4pm      (Choudry Imtiaz Ahmad advocate 03006594622)

8.       Gojranwala: 3pm Sheranawala Gate (Haroon Ahmad 03216423608)

9.       Kot Radha Krishan: Malik Abdul Rashid 03454623473

10.   Ali Pur Chatha: 2pm in front of Press Club (A R Adil 03007431150)

11.   Okara: 11 am in front press club  (Mehr Abdul Sattar 03006961545)

12.   Chishtian: 2pm Yadgar Chouck (Rana Mohammed Tahir 03027546426)

13.   Hafiz Abad: 2pm in front of Press Club (Ghulam Abbas 03456960672)

14.   Depal Pur: 2pm in front of Press Club (Shabir Ahmad Sajid 03216979341)

15.   Peshawar: 2pm Peshawar Press Club (Farooq Ahmad 03469329518)

16.   Matta , Swat: 11 am Main Bazar (Jalal Ahmad 03078535198)

17.   Islamabad : 2pm in front of National Press Club (Talat Rubab 03219402319)

18.   Multan: 12pm in front Multan Press Club (Suhail Javed 03336101885)

19.   Hyderabad: 2pm in front of Hyderabad Press Club  (Nisar Lighari 03342618651)

20.   Mandi Bahuldin: 4pm in front of Press Club (Sher Mohammed Gondal advocate 03328005237)

21.   Layya: 12pm in front of Layya Press Club (Anayt Kashif advocate 03017848013)

22.   Nankana Sahib: 11 am in front of Press Club Maqsood Bhatti 0300 4620250

23.   Moro: 2pm in front of Moro Press Club (Younas Rahu 03003073179)

24.   Dera Ghazi Khan: 3pm in front of Press Club (Faiz Rasul advocate 03326788715)

25.   Tando Adam: 2pm in front of Press Club (Anwar Chakrani 03068299959)

26.   Mir Pur Khas: 2pm in front of Press Club (Ghulam Qadir Mirani advocate 03322807141)

27.   Sanghar: 2 pm in front of Press Club (Behram Shah 03332911530)

28.   Muzafar Ghar: 3pm In front Press Club (Kamran Bhatti 03037234663)

29.   Lodharan: 3pm in front of Press Club (Rao Rafiq

30.   Narowal: 11am Kethechery Chouck ( Asif Bhatti 03007150303)

31.   Pindi Bhattian:                  2pm Press Club (Ghulam Abbas 03456960672)

32.   Gujrat: 2pm Gujrat Press Club (Haroon Ahmad 03008725963)

33.   Sheikhupura: 2pm in front of Press Club

34.   Jatoi: 12 pm in front of Press Club (Baba Latif 03236606306)


If you want to organize a rally on the day or want to help in this process, please call Maqsood Mujahid (03214298094)

Here is what we sent earlier to you in more details of the day,


Top judges anti workers attitude:  Now face the music of workers anger on 1st March

Labour Party Pakistan to organize a day of protest

By: Farooq Tariq

There are growing trends among the higher courts of Pakistan to show their anti workers anger whenever there is a case being heard on the issue of strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other means of peaceful protests. There is a different attitude of the higher courts about the protests of lawyers and other sections of the middle classes. There is a very clear discriminatory attitude towards working class struggle in Pakistan by the top judges.

Top judges are happy to take individual cases of violation of human rights and we are happy with that, however, whenever there is a collective action by a section for the working class in Pakistan, the attitude seems always to favour of the bosses. It has been shown in declaring the workers strikes as illegal, rejecting the bail application of the arrested workers during strikes, not taking notices of gross violations of labour laws, no implementation of minimum wages, no remedies for those workers losing jobs in violation of labour laws and so on.

Labour Party Pakistan has decided to organize a day of action for workers right to protest and against the top judges’ discriminatory attitude towards the struggle of the working class. On Tuesday 1st March, thousands of workers across Pakistan will organize rallies, demonstrations and strikes to assert their rights of organizing peaceful means of struggle.

There will be complete strike of power looms and textile workers in Faisalabad, Jhang, Gojra, Toba Tek Singh and Kamalia. Hundreds of textile factories and power looms factories will be shut down during this strike. In Faisalabad, thousands of workers will come to Ghanta Ghar, the center of Faisalabad and will organize a sit in. Over 250,000 workers will take part in strikes and rallies on the day in Fiaslabad division.

Four workers leaders of Faisalabad power looms,  Fazal Ilahi, Akbar Kamboh, Rana Riaz and Babar Randhawa are behind bar since 21st July 2010. They were arrested during a power looms workers strike for wage increase and were framed under anti terrorist laws. Despite all the assurances by the police and local administrations during several protest rallies to remove the anti terrorist charges against them, they are still facing the terrorist charges and are behind bar. Their bail application was rejected last week by the reactionary chief justice of Lahore High Court without looking at the file of the case.

We have decided enough is enough; now face the music of Pakistani working class on 1st March across Pakistan.

Over 600 Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) workers have been suspended or removed from their jobs by the administration of the privatized PTCL. Their crime: to organize protest for wage increase. Most of the 600 workers of PTCL are the leaders of different unions of PTCL and there is a whole sale attack on the unions in PTCL. The top judges are quite on the issue and no action taken by the courts or even by the PPP government about the fate of these very senior leaders of the trade union movement.

They are now organized in a united front of all the PTCL unions and will start their mass campaign for the reinstatement from 23th February by erecting a protest camp in Islamabad and then from 1st of March will join the national campaign for workers rights.

Despite the stay order of the National Industrial Relation Commission (NIRC), 17 union leaders have been kicked out of their jobs when they formed a union.  Nishat textile Mills is owned by the richest man of Pakistan Mian Mansha, thanks to the privatization of MCB Bank under Nawaz government that Mian Mansha has become the richest man and has become a very anti worker boss. The union in MCB was thrown out and now all the textile factories of Mian Mansha are without any union.

Most of the union members of The Inter Wood furniture factory lost their job after they formed the first ever union in Lahore factory of Inter Wood. It is known to labour deprtment of Punjab that Mian Nawaz Sharif family took special interest in this case to favor the boss who is a close friend of the family. No action was taken by any court of Pakistan for this gross violation of human rights of the labour for their constitutional right of forming associations.

New Khan Metro Bus Service is owned by A leader of Muslim League ( the boss changes the Muslim League frequently, now a leader of PMLN and earlier was in PMLQ). The first ever union in the company was suppressed by the boss by terminating the jobs of the union leaders. The case in in labour courts for over two years and no grievances of the union is been addressed by the courts.

No labour department officer can enter any industrial units in Punjab. This was the order of Pervaiz Ilahi in 2003 (the Punjab chief minister under Musharaf), a complete unity is shown by Mian Shahbaz Sharif on this issue with him, this ban is still intact despite a very clear order of Lahore High Court and courts seems impotents after they have decided in  favour of workers to implement their order.

There are at least 14 other cases of top judges discriminatory attitude towards the workers effort to form new trade unions.

There will be demonstration in at least 50 cities of Pakistan on 1st March 2011, we will issue the list of the cities and place and timing of these demonstrations and rallies.


Our demands,

  • Release the four textile workers facing terrorist charges immediately
  • Reinstate all PTCL suspended workers with immediate effect
  • The courts must take action against those bosses violating labour laws
  • Lift labour inspection from the factories
  • A guarantee of implementation of Rupees 7000 wages for all unskilled workers according to the notification of the government all over Pakistan and just in Islamabad , (Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudry issued an order of implementing this in Islamabad while taking a sue moto notice of a security guard)
  • Respect workers right to strike, organize unions and demand a respectable working condition, environment and wages for all workers
  • Increase the minimum wages to Rupees 15000 monthly for all workers

We expect all friends and supporters of workers to participate in these rallies. We also call on other political parties and trade unions to endorse this call of action.

We need your support, moral, financial and physical

1.       Please participate in the rallies

2.       Please endorse the call of the action day, (Individual and organizational, both welcome)

3.       Please send a donation for this day of action

4.       Please send a message of solidarity to be printed and read at the rallies in major cities of Pakistan


Please send your donation to

Account holder: Labour Party Pakistan

Account number:  0949-01010026793

Swift code:  MUCBPKKAA

MCB Bank, Beadon Road Lahore, Pakistan


Sometimes it takes a journalist to remind you why you like literature …

There are parts of Basharat Peer‘s Curfewed Night which are sentimental, but it’s a very good account of life under Indian occupation in Kashmir.  A few sections got to me, and I repost them here in the hopes that others will take a look at the book:

When I came across an old copy of George Orwell‘s Homage to Catalonia, I developed an obsession with his merging of the personal and the political, the small details and the bid ideas, his sparse, powerful prose.  Homage to Catalonia brought back many memories of Kashmir and made me believe that writing similarly about my own war might be possible someday. I saw the walls of Kashmiri towns when I read Orwell’s writing about Barcelona during the 1936 uprising against the Fascists …

I saw similar windows of understanding opening up in the Red Cavalry stories of Isaac Babel.  And when I read Babel’s own disappearance and murder, I thought again of the arrests and custodial murders of thousands of young men in Kashmir.  In John Steinbeck‘s chronicle of displaced farmers, The Grapes of Wrath, I saw Indian military camps taking over orchards and paddy fields around my village in Kashmir.  A little later, the essays of James Baldwin reminded me of the ghettos of Indian Muslims and lower castes. (64)

One forgives him for only reading the left, because there are other heart-breaking moments in the book:

“Thirty seven words is all you need to know to be a reporter here [Kashmir].”  He laughed the weary laugh of a man who had witnessed a lot.  It was a grim list: fear, arrest, prison, torture, death, Indian security forces, separatists, guerrillas/militants/terrorists, grenades, assault rifles, sandbag bunkers, army installations, hideouts, crackdowns, search-and-destroy operations, frustration, tension, anxiety, trauma, democracy, betrayal, self-determination, freedom, peace talks, international community, mediation, breakdown, despair, and rage.