A daring leader
Saturday, 15 January 2011 11:05
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ARTICLE : The firm feet on which we see the fourth state standing today owe the strength to the long, brave, untiring and selfless struggle of journalists which was led by Minhaj Barna who through most difficult years of Pakistan s history worked relentlessly for its freedom at the cost of his health and continued it as a mission throughout his life.
Quite a few Rohailkhand Pathans of Qaimganj (in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh in India) achieved distinction as accomplished wielders of both the sword and the pen, some of them may have abandoned soldiery for academics but they never gave up fighting. Foremost among them in the modern period stands Dr Zakir Hussain, the builder of the Jamia Millia, Delhi, one of the greatest Muslim achievements in the subcontinent, where Minhaj Barna spent some of his formative years.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF HIS LIFE AND CAREER He was born in 1925 at Qaimganj, Farrukhabad, going to Bombay where he started as a teacher, then joining an Urdu newspaper as a translator, moving to Delhi where he worked at the Jamia Millia, got his graduation from there and joined the Communist Party.
He moved to Quetta in 1949 and then to Lahore working at Imroze and later as a correspondent for the Pakistan Times. He had several stints abroad as correspondent and even as a press counsellor in New York when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister. Throughout in his life, he possessed the years of a rich life and had lived according to his ideals. He was among founders of the PFUJ when he was elected General-Secretary of the union of Journalists Dhaka.
It was a very unique period of time when only very committed people would join the profession. Since Barna had been associated with the Communist Party, his efforts were to wean the journalists struggle towards the larger frame of the labour movement. This progressive leaning kept the PFUJ in constant conflict with the establishment, in particular when he was its general secretary and later became its president.
It was around that period when he went on the longest hunger strike that any leader of any party or group had ever observed. It caused his health grievous and irreparable harm. One of the most worst period in which the media was suffered in known General Zia-ul-Haq legitimised under a Supreme Court judgement in the name of the so-called Law of Necessity, and this period remembered for its oppressive measures, including long spell of censorship, banning of independent and dissenting newspapers, arrest of editors and journalists, sentencing them to rigorous imprisonment under Martial Law regulations and even whipping them, it was also marked by memorable resistance put by the journalists and press workers, led by the PFUJ and Apnec under the leadership of late Minhaj Barna.
This great struggle, unprecedented in the annals of the Fourth Estate the world over, began towards the end of November 1977 in Karachi only about five months following the advent of General Zia s Martial Law.
The PFUJ s struggle launched by deceased Barna was triggered by the government s ban on publication of Daily Musawaat , Karachi. After the failure of efforts to convince the Martial Law authorities to lift the ban, the PFUJ and Apnec launched a campaign of hunger strike in Karachi from first of December 1977 and within eight days of the struggle in which journalists and press workers from all over the country participated the government surrendered and lifted the ban.
Egged on by its oppressive nature, the government again took recourse coercive methods against the dissenting press and banned the daily Musawat , Lahore , and weeklies like Al-Fatah and Meyar and others, critical of the Martial Law regime. After the failure of protracted negotiations with the Government the national executives of PFUJ and APNEC again launched countrywide hunger strike movement from Lahore commencing from 30th April, 1978, under the direct supervision of Minhaj Barna.
This historic movement was spread over two stages: one beginning in Lahore from April 30 and ending on May 30 and, the second beginning in Karachi from July 18 and ending on October 10, 1978. The two had their own distinct and memorable features marked by common inspiring spirit and enthusiasm. In the first phase in Lahore, the journalists and press workers who joined the hunger strike were arrested and sentenced under Martial Law Regulations from six months to one year rigorous imprisonment, including three who were ordered to be flogged (Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Iqbal Jaferi were in fact flogged. The fourth, Masoodullah Khan was spared on the intervention of the doctor in view of Mr Masood s disability.
The resumed struggle which started in Karachi with the arrest of PFUJ and APNEC President Barna continued until 10th of October (almost two months and 25 days) had its own memorable features. For besides the journalists and press workers who came from all over the country to court arrest, scores of trade union workers, students and militant haris from interior of Sindh joined the movement and filled almost all the jails of Sindh. (During the Lahore struggle, the arrested journalists and press workers were disbursed to almost all the jails of the province of Punjab).
The Sindh phase of movement would also be remembered for the mass hunger strike unto death inside the jails. The hunger strike culminated in the acceptance of most of the APNEC-PFUJ demands by the Government. As a result Musawaat Karachi resumed its publication, arrested persons were released, and most of the 30 dismissed journalists of the NPT papers (Pakistan Times and Imroze) were reinstated (only four including the President of the PFUJ and APNEC were not taken back).
The Pakistani media should always be beholden to the audacious and daring leadership provided to the community by its first generation leadership. The late Nisar Osmani and Minhaj Barna and the likes of them had dedicated their lifetime to the struggle for press freedom. These pioneers had built the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) into a formidable platform from which to wage the war for press freedom.
He also contributed poetry as a chronicle of the various phases of peoples struggle for their democratic rights. In this small book, he expressed himself boldly in words as in actions throughout his life as a journalist and a progressive fighter of human rights. It was hard for ordinary people to be honest and truthful like Barna. Because of his pivotal role on driving seat for the struggle and just rights of the media persons and freedom of press he had become the movement itself. The media persons used to always raise slogans in their meetings, rallies, demonstrations tairay sath jeena tairay sath marana; Minhaj Barna, Minhaj Barna .
The PFUJ President Pervaiz Shoukat and Secretary General Shamsul Islam Naz paid tributes to the valuable and remarkable service and struggle of Great hero of journalists Manaj Barana adding that his services would always be the torch bearer for journalists for all times to come. -Shamsul Islam Naz, Secretary General, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.
Courtesy: Business Recorder