In my school days among the many journalists who frequented our house was Syed Sibte Hassan. His flowing white locks added to his measured flawless Urdu. The image still sticks in the mind. He often dropped in with the painter Shakir Ali or the great poet Faiz.
This column is not about Sibte Hassan or Shakir Ali or Faiz Ahmed Faiz, but about a subject, a person, a philosophy that interested them and their friends. The murder by torture of Hassan Nasir by the State in the Lahore Fort’s notorious ‘torture cells’ on the 13th of November, 1960, under orders of General Ayub Khan, the military dictator then, sent a wave of mourning among all those interested in a liberal democratic dispensation. Sibte Hassan was to write about him in his famous book ‘Shair-e-Nigaran’. Shakir Ali used his abstract paintings to express his agony in a series of painting titled ‘No Title’. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was to write an amazingly painful poem ‘Naagahaan aaj merey taar-e-nazar se kat kar’.
In all three forms of expression, the revolutionary Pakistani, called by many as Pakistan’s ‘first martyr’, was to live on forever in the minds of all those who care to study their own people’s history. Who was Hassan Nasir? Most readers will confuse him with a current media analyst. Both are light years apart in every respect. The next time you visit the Lahore Fort and see the ‘Royal Kitchen’, just next to it is the now closed ‘torture chamber’ which British colonial and then the Pakistani authorities used with abandon, torturing and often killing hundreds in the process. Before them the Mughals and the Sikhs used the hidden dungeon of the fort for this purpose. Many a journalist fighting for press freedom, and scores of student leaders fighting for an end to military dictatorship in our life time landed there. The stories of their torture need to be compiled to remind ourselves of the sickening depths to which the ‘Deep State’ can fall.
But first about Hassan Nasir. He was the grandson of Nawab Mohsinul Mulk of Hyderabad, Deccan. Born in 1928 to aristocracy, he did exceptionally well in his studies and was sent to Cambridge University for higher education. In Cambridge he joined a group of British and Indian progressives and extensively debated the progressive concepts of their time. Soon he reached the conclusion that it was ‘practice and not theory’ alone that changes society.
On graduating he returned to British India and immediately joined the ‘Telangana Bonded Labour Movement’, which was an anti-British peasant armed movement. In a way he had rebelled against his own Hyderabad family’s wishes. Barely had this movement started to dent the establishment that the Partition of 1947 came about. Hassan Nasir migrated to Pakistan to, as he was to say “continue the struggle”.
Very soon the news media started dubbing him as the ‘most feared communist’ of Pakistan. The young firebrand was soon a much sought after student, labour and peasant leader and a keen intellectual. All over the country he addressed the poor and the dispossessed, urging them to organise to fight for their rights. In 1954 the government imprisoned him and tortured him in Lahore Fort’s infamous torture chambers. In a battered condition he was quietly flown to India to his family home in Hyderabad.
Once he had recouped his health the young revolutionary returned to Pakistan in 1955 and helped to set up the Communist Party of Pakistan. He also joined the National Awami Party of Bacha Khan, who was a great believer in non-violence in furthering political objectives. For his beliefs Bacha Khan was known as the ‘Frontier Gandhi’. Many experts feel that because Bacha Khan made Hassan Nasir the party’s office secretary, the ‘threatened’ establishment wanted to ‘silence’ the young revolutionary.
From then onwards it was a hide-and-seek game. Hassan Nasir strongly believed that through ‘non-violence’ change could be brought about in a Pakistan fast moving towards the American and anti-Russian direction. In one speech he predicted: “Very soon we will become American lackeys. They will buy up religious extremists, arm them to eventually threaten the State itself. They will convert the entire idea of Pakistan into a non-viable entity. This is slow poisoning. Only by following a non-violent democratic route can Pakistan survive”. His words today seem almost prophetic.
So effective were his fiery speeches that whenever he was to address a meeting, the crowds would gather in large numbers. His effect was stunning. The government of Gen. Ayub Khan declared him a threat to “the established order” and hence a “threat to the State”. In 1960 he was arrested in Karachi and brought to Lahore, where he was lodged in isolation in a torture cell – Number 13 - that did not have any windows or light. Then came the fatal order from the then IG Police, Khan Qurban Ali Khan, to “teach him a lesson” as the order went.
For three days and nights he was starved and beaten first on a block of ice, only to be laid bare on a hot iron plate. It was an exact and amazing repeat of how the Mughal emperor Jahangir got the fifth Sikh guru Arjan arrested in 1606 and tortured with freedom promised only if he became a Muslim. The guru refused and was killed at the very same place inside the Lahore Fort. Hassan Nasir was meted out the very same treatment to get him to change his views. He refused. Both the guru and the young revolutionary ended their lives for their beliefs.
But the similarity between the two - only 354 years apart – does not end there. Guru Arjan disappeared in the River Ravi that flowed outside the fort, with the famous ‘Arjan da Khoo’ being the tentative place where he disappeared.
But in 1960 the body of Hassan Nasir was so badly reduced to a bundle of broken bones that burying him became a problem. The only remaining clue today of Cell 13 in the fort is a wall of the torture chamber. The Punjab Police, known for its ruthless ways, quietly at night buried his body, claiming that it was buried in the Miani Sahib graveyard. His mother in Hyderabad in India came over and demanded that his body be exhumed and shown to them. The police said that he had committed suicide. After considerable pressure the government agreed to exhume the body. His mother immediately declared that this was not the body of her son.
The police stuck to their version. Just where is Hassan Nasir buried in Miani Sahib will, probably, always remain a mystery. Maybe some retired official of the Anarkali police station can point to just where the remains ended of Pakistan’s ‘first martyr’.
A lot has been written about this aristocratic Cambridge-educated revolutionary, but none as poignant as the poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 1961, which is reproduced here in the Latin script:
Naagahaan aaj merey taar-e-nazar se kat kar
tukrey-tukrey huey aafaaq pe khursheed-o-qamar
ab kisee samt andheraa na ujaalaa hogaa
bujh gayee dil ki tarah raah-e-wafaa mere baad
dosto! qaafla-e-dard ka ab kyaa hogaa
ab koi aur karey parwarish-e-gulshan-e-gham
dosto khatm hui deeda-e-tar ki shabnam
tham gayaa shor-e-junoon khatm hui baarish-e-sang
khaak-e-rah aaj liye hai lab-e-dildaar ka rang
koo-e-jaanaan men khulaa mere lahoo ka parcham
dekhiye detey hain kis-kis ko sadaa merey baad
kaun hota hai hareef-e-mai mard afgan-e-ishq
hai mukarrar lab-e-saaqee pe jilaa merey baad
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2018
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