27 May, 2009

Student politics pioneer Dr. M. Sarwar passes on

Sehba Sarwar
27 May, 2009

[LINK] Tuesday, 26 May, 2009 | 06:10 PM PST | KARACHI: One of Karachi’s oldest general practitioners, well known physician and former student leader Dr Mohammad Sarwar passed away peacefully in his sleep at home early Tuesday morning in Karachi, after a prolonged bout with cancer. He was 79.

Born in Allahabad, he came to Karachi for ‘sightseeing’ in 1948 and stayed on when he got admission in Dow Medical College. He was instrumental in forming Pakistan’s first student union, the Democratic Students Federation (DSF). He served as DSF’s President and Secretary General before the Mohammad Ali Bogra government banned it in 1954. He was also the driving force behind the Inter-Collegiate Body (ICB) comprising student unions in different colleges and the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO), established in 1953.

Sarwar spearheaded the January 8, 1953 ‘Demands Day’ that spelled out the needs of students, including the establishment of a full-fledged university campus (now Karachi University). He tried to prevent the students from surging forward in the face of the police threat when the procession reached Saddar. Sarwar was injured in the police firing that killed seven students that day, commemorated for years as a ‘Black Day.’

APSO brought together college students from all over the country to demand students’ rights regardless of their politics or ideology. The organisation’s influence was visible in the 1954 elections in former East Pakistan when a student leader defeated seasoned politician Noor-ul-Amin.

DSF also published the fortnightly award-winning journal Students’ Herald, edited by the well-known economist S.M. Naseem, then a student activist.

Dr Sarwar received his final medical college results in 1954 while he was in prison for a year — the McCarthy era in the United States impacted Pakistan as well and progressive elements here were rounded up and incarcerated. His elder brother, journalist Mohammad Akhtar (1926-58) was arrested shortly afterwards. Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, then an upcoming lawyer, defended many of these political prisoners, including their friend Hasan Nasir who was later tortured to death.

After graduation, Dr Sarwar worked as a general physician with various health services until setting up his own clinic in Gulbahar (New Golimar) where he practiced for over forty years. He was also one of the pioneers of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) where he was twice elected general secretary. PMA played a vital role in progressive politics during the 1980s. During the Zia years, the PMA was one of the important ‘civil society’ organisations that consistently stood for democratic politics. Dr Sarwar will be remembered for his inspirational leadership, generosity of spirit, warmth of character and clear-headed political vision.

He is survived by his wife, well known educationist and teacher trainer Zakia Sarwar, and three children, Beena Sarwar, Sehba Sarwar, and Salman Sarwar and three granddaughters, Maha, Myah and Minal.

A memorial meeting is scheduled at PMA House on Sunday, May 31 at 6.30 pm.

The funeral will proceed from his residence (F-25/D, Block 9, Clifton, Karachi) after Asar prayers at Masjid-e-Bab-e-Rehmat (main Gizri Road near Kausar Medicos/Submarine Chowk) on May 26.

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