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Raja Sarfraz Khan — an unusual feudal

February 22, 2015


Students along with their teachers pose in front of Government Postgraduate College Chakwal.
Students along with their teachers pose in front of Government Postgraduate College Chakwal.

Shortly after partition, the then Punjab government led by Iftikhar Hussain Khan planned to establish a new college in the province.

But it did not even have funds to buy land for a new college. To find a solution to the issue it called a meeting in Lahore which was attended by all members of the Punjab legislative assembly (MLAs) and put the matter before the participants.

One of them not only offered land but also funds for the establishment of the college but with a condition: the college would be built in his city.

The idea was immediately approved by the then provincial education minister who was presiding over the meeting.

The offer came from Raja Sarfraz Khan who was an MLA from Jhelum’s rural constituency which also consisted of the area of tehsil Chakwal. Chakwal was part of Jhelum district at that time.

Raja Sarfraz Khan donated Rs100,000 and also arranged a vast chunk of land adjacent to the building of the then Government High School, Chakwal.

The land was jointly owned by the Chauhdris of Chakwal including Raja Sarfraz Khan. Some of them donated land while others gave it at meagre price.

Thus on April 14, 1949, the first ever college was established in Punjab after partition, giving the Government High School Chakwal the status of a degree college.

“I was a student of eighth grade at that time when we were told that our school was being turned into a college. On hearing this news we went wild with joy and excitement,” recalls 81-year-old senior advocate Chauhdry Mohammad Azad.

“We were shifted to the nearby building of S. S. Khalsa High School which remained closed for two years in the wake of partition and was renamed Government High School,” he adds.

Chaudhry Mohammad Azad who later graduated from the newly-established Government Degree College Chakwal holds Raja Sarfraz Khan in high esteem.

“The college was built solely due to the efforts of Raja Sarfraz Khan who not only donated a hefty amount of Rs100,000 but also arranged the land,” Chaudhry Azad said, and hastens to add that at that time Rs100,000 was a very heavy amount.

Today the college is as important for Chakwal as Gordon College is for Rawalpindi.

The colonial bungalow built by Raja Aurangzeb Khan in 1873. — Photos by the writer
The colonial bungalow built by Raja Aurangzeb Khan in 1873. — Photos by the writer

The college which was given the status of a postgraduate college in the early 1990s is now all set to become a full-fledged university.

“Chakwal is indebted to Raja Sarfraz Khan who paved the way for the establishment of this college,” says Professor Aziz Ahmed

Minhas the head of the history department at the college who is also president of Punjab Professors and Lecturers Association Chakwal chapter.

“He dedicated all his energies for establishment of this college and I being a student and teacher of this institution pay tribute to him for such a great service for the people of Chakwal and for its next generations,” he adds.

Currently there is only one portrait of Raja Sarfraz Khan fixed on the college library wall which is the only tribute to a great man for his services to education.

Born in 1905 in the house of Raja Aurangzeb Khan, Raja Sarfraz Khan was brought up in an enlightened atmosphere. His father Raja Aurangzeb Khan served on top civil positions during the British rule.

His father also served as first colonisation officer during the establishment of Lyalpur city.

Raja Sarfraz Khan got his primary education from Chakwal and then moved to Faisalabad for further studies.

He entered politics at the age of 24 when he was first elected unopposed as member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1929.

When elections were held in 1937 under Government of India Act 1937 he returned to the legislative assembly unopposed under the banner of Unionist Party of India.

He remained MLA for 29 consecutive years. Although he was defeated in 1951 by Chauhdry Amir Khan, the father of columnist Ayaz Amir, his victory was nullified by the election tribunal when Raja Sarfraz Khan challenged his election.

The first general of Pakistan Army Gen Akbar Khan and the first Army Chief Gen Iftikhar Khan were the cousins of Raja Sarfraz Khan.

The family has produced four generals and two brigadiers besides other military officers.

Raja Sarfraz Khan was also a member of Allama Mashriqi’s Khaksar Tehreek.

He joined Pakistan Muslim League in 1942 during a grand ceremony held at the residence of Agha Kamran Khan in Odherwal village which was attended by top PML leaders including Mumtaz Doltana and Ghazanfar Ali Khan.

When his party gave ticket to Chauhdry Noor Khan Gandhi in 1946 elections, he left the PML and contested elections as an independent candidate.

However this rivalry remained limited to politics.

“Even on the day of election Raja Sarfraz Khan and Chauhdry Noor Khan Gandhi met each other and exchanged pleasantries,” says Chauhdry Ameer Akbar, one of the grandsons of Chauhdry Noor Khan Gandhi.

Raja Sarfraz Khan quit politics when Ayub Khan imposed martial law in 1958.

Apart from his upright politics Raja Sarfraz Khan defied the typical behaviour associated with the feudal lords.

He was one of those few individuals in the district who owned agriculture land but unlike most feudal lords his area of priorities was quite different.

All his life, he patronised Islamia High School Chakwal which was founded by his father Raja Aurangzeb Khan and Government Girls High School, which was established at his house.

He gave land to the homeless gypsies and got them settled there. The locality is now known as Basti Malangan Wali.

He also established Sarfraz Khan Stipend Fund at Government Postgraduate College for the needy and intelligent students.

“Unlike the feudal lords’ mentality, Raja Sarfraz Khan focused was on people’s education. The establishment of the college and his interest in financing many other educational institutions is a testimony to this fact,” says Professor Sada Hussain, the head of the English department at the college.

“Raja Sarfraz Khan was an unusual feudal lord,” he adds.

In his will which is still preserved by his grandsons, Raja Sarfraz Khan urges his descendents to serve humanity instead of working for their vested interests.

Currently the grand bungalow built by his father, Raja Auranzeb Khan, is the oldest preserved building in the city.

The bungalow which has 52 rooms and a spacious lawn used to serve as the court of Raja Auranzeb Khan who was also appointed the honorary magistrate.

After Raja Sarfraz Khan, his two grandsons entered politics. Raja Shahjehan Sarfraz is the district president of Pakistan People’s Party while his cousin Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfraz is the district president of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

“I’m greatly impressed by my grandfather’s thinking about humanity and education. I am also trying my best to follow in his footsteps,” says Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfraz.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2015

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