KARACHI, Jan 10 Tinged with nostalgic moments, moving speeches and poetic renditions, the programme to commemorate a nationwide student movement of the 1950s entitled 'Celebrating the 1953 student movement, looking back to look forward' held at the Arts Council Karachi on Saturday evening turned out to be a memorable event.

A couple of years after partition, the Democratic Students Federation came into being at the Dow Medical College. M. Sarwar was elected its convener. Soon the DSF and the Inter-Collegiate Body , with the High School Students Federation came up with a charter of demands that included matters related to better educational facilities. The students, led by M. Sarwar, decided to hold a demands day on Jan 7, 1953 and meet the then education minister. As a result their peaceful procession was treated roughly by the administration for more than two days, and 27 people, including students and passersby, were killed and many more were wounded when the police opened fire on them. Jan 8, 1953 is commemorated as martyrs' day.

The programme began with a slide show that gave a brief introduction to the iconic students' movement, its leader Dr M. Sarwar (who passed away in May 2009) and his fellow students. It was followed by a documentary, Aur niklein gay ushshaq kay qaflay, directed by Sharjil Baloch and produced by Beena Sawar. Beginning with the old Karachi locales, the documentary touched upon the genesis of the DSF, issues of migration and what stirred the events of 1953. The content was interspersed with illustrations, pictures and interviews of those who took part in the historic struggle.

Some of the respected activists of the 1953 movement also spoke at the gathering. Despite their ages they spoke with passion and fervor while recalling their student life, and were received with a standing ovation. Dr Haroon Ahmed was the first one to speak. He told the audience how he joined the movement, and praised M. Sarwar.

Sibghatullah Qadri spoke about the pangs of migration and what led him to stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellow students for a greater cause.

Mirza Mohammad Kazim talked about the importance of education and how it should be imparted on a classless basis.

Mazhar Jamil thanked the organisers of the event for making him nostalgic. He discussed Sindh's contribution to the countrywide endeavour.

Moizullah Farooqi showered praise on Dr Sarwar, saying that he was a true and courageous leader.

Ghazi Salahuddin cleared the air by suggesting that he was not that old and when the 1953 events took place, he was in high school; and high schools also took part in the movement.

Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi was also among the distinguished group.

After the brief trips down memory lane, poetess Fahmida Riaz recited a very fine poem Palvashey muskurao.

However, it was Alia Amirali's speech that took the programme to another level. The young student activist from Quaid-i-Azam University delivered a fiery, extempore and motivational speech. She said that while the students of the older generation had to suffer physical pain, the students in contemporary times underwent mental torture. She said the process of depoliticisation was causing hopelessness, and the decline of the leftist forces had had a major effect. She said the difference between the mullahs and the left-wing forces was that the former had ittehad. She lamented the disconnect that exists between generations and said today's generation was not familiar with names like Nazir Abbasi who sacrificed their lives for a noble cause. She said we should learn from the 1953 movement to forge a better future. Alia Amirali rounded off her comments chanting poetic slogans joined by the audience.

Verda Nisar, a student of Karachi University, echoed her predecessor's views. She said when she was young when she used to hear about the DSF and the NSF at home, but getting to the KU proved to be a disappointing experience. Students at the KU did not know much about things like student unions, political bodies, or what 'taking to the street' meant. She raised a very pertinent point that mostly top students got admission to the KU but they were unable to come up with new ideas and concepts, because the atmosphere was not conducive to bringing about change.

Ali Cheema, an associate professor of economics at LUMS, spoke on the class divide that exists in the education system in Pakistan. He said the distance between students in rural and urban areas had increased a lot, which was why depoliticisation had taken root. The state was fast disintegrating and this posed new challenges to progressive forces. He said a debate forum, like Students Herald that used to come out in the old days, was essential for the student community.

Amar Sindhu, an assistant professor at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, read out a paper highlighting the past, present and future of student politics in Sindh, that is, with respect to the '60s, '70s and '80s. She said what once was a political issue had now turned into a state crisis.

The concluding speech was delivered by HRCP director and renowned political analyst I. A. Rehman.

He began by praising Alia Amirali's impassioned comments and then talked about the 1950s which caused the general decline in society, when matters like killing in the name of religion and martial law reared their heads. Keeping that in mind, he said, the 1953 events were not just a students' struggle, but a movement of the people. He substantiated the argument by saying that the social capital of that movement was rich, since it contained matters like democracy and social justice. He said “we have to think how such a valued social capital is made”.

Mr Rehman suggested that the existing unjust education system in the country needed to be changed, and implored the living members of the 1953 resistance not to retire and keep guiding the younger generation.

Inimitable singer Tina Sani's arrival on stage was met with a thunderous applause, and she did not disappoint her fans.

She sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poem Hum ke majboor-i-wafa hain without the help of musicians and enthralled the audience.

The last item of the day was pop band Lal's performance.

In the end Beena Sarwar thanked the audience and those who helped her put up the programme.

The event was conducted by actor and theatre person Rahat Kazmi.

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