IN the passing of Shafiuddin Ashraf, the media community has lost a committed and outspoken trade unionist who played a major role in journalists’ struggle for their economic and professional rights. In the 1970s, Ashraf, who witnessed brutality in his formative years in East Pakistan, migrated to Karachi where he pursued a law degree. He joined the media industry, which he deemed as the perfect alternative career for bolstering the cause of the oppressed. In his early days at Dawn, where Ashraf was mentored by seasoned trade unionist Abdul Qudoos Sheikh, general secretary of the Pakistan Herald Workers Union, Ashraf’s lucidity in interpreting the country’s labour laws and his determination to improve the working conditions of media workers endeared him to one and all. In the years to come, he would prove himself a worthy successor to Abdul Qudoos, all the time upholding the strong traditions of trade unionism set by iconic individuals such as the founder of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Minhaj Burna, and the fearless Nisar Osmani.
Assuming charge as chairman of the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation in the latter half of his distinguished career, Ashraf’s efforts to reduce the economic exploitation of employees by media owners and his fearless criticism of successive governments for curbing the freedom of expression earned him countrywide acclaim and recognition. Tributes have been pouring in from all quarters for Ashraf as people from all walks of life, be it his colleagues, politicians, labour leaders, social workers or artists, term his demise a huge loss for the struggle of the media community. Ashraf’s achievements and integrity will be a source of inspiration for all those associated with trade unions or who wish to tread that thorny path. He set new benchmarks with his unflinching commitment to his cause and his solidarity with the people even towards the end. In essence, Shafiuddin Ashraf was the people’s representative in his lifetime and remains so after his death.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018