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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Jam Saqi — A Communist of Rare Strain

Saturday 14 April 2018


by Sankar Ray

The death of Jam Saqi, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan, on March 5, 2018 in Hyderabad, Sindh province, revived pensive as well as nostalgic memories especially among his comrades and admirers in Pakistan and the fast-depleting generation of veterans who worked with him or were abreast of the intrepid resistance against military-bureaucratic-feudal ruling class of Pakistan. For the younger generation of Pakistanis who have a libertarian passion, he remains a legend. Imdad Qazi, the CPP General Secretary, described him as one who dedicated his life to the struggle for the rights of the working class, poor and marginalised people. “For us, he was an ideological mentor,” he said.

“A long chapter of struggle for the rights of the working class and poor people has closed with his death. I remember the days he spent in hunger or when tea and biscuits were the only meal he would have the entire day,” said former Sindh Advocate-General and eminent lawyer Muhammad Yousuf Laghari, who was a contemporary of Saqi in the political and student movements of the 1960s. He was recollecting Saqi’s brave resistance in imprisonment. Laghari marched hand in hand in protest against General Ayub Khan’s One Unit System in Hyderabad on March 4, 1967. The Martial Law regime responded with brutality to stop the protest on its way to Hyderabad, injuring 17 students and arresting over 200. That episode catapulted Saqi to instantaneous recognition among thousands of Pakistanis who looked forward to the return of democracy. He was the founder of the Sindh Students Federation that was in the forefront of the protest.

Saqi was born on October 31, 1944 at Janjhi village in Chachro taluka of Tharparkar district. His mother-tongue was Thari and his father, Sachal Baba, was a teacher in the primary school of the village. There was severe water crisis as the village had a single well which used to yield only muddy water unless there were sufficient rains. Potable water from natural source was unavailable. He grew up among subalterns in their grim struggle. Which was why he never dissociated himself from the path of struggle, braving imprisonment and torture. He matriculated in 1963 from the Local Board High School, Chachro. His real name was Muhammad Jam. He was among the sparingly few people whose names are synonymous with resistance against the Martial Law regimes of Ayub Khan and General Zia-ul Haq. He plunged into student politics immediately after joining the undergraduate classes at the Sachal Sarmast Arts College, Hyderabad. Later he obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Sindh.

He became the chief of the CPP in the early 1970s. During his leadership, the CPP joined hands with the Pakistan People’s Party in organising resistance against the Martial Law reimposed by General Zia-ul Haq. Small wonder, during one of his hearings in the famous Saqi case in a military court, former Prime Minister and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, Awami National Party’s Wali Khan and Baloch leader Ghaus Bux Bizenjo appeared in his support.

In a long interview he exposed the fascistic repression unleashed by Zia-ul Haq’s brutal dictatorship “When Bhutto was overthrown and Martial Law was introduced in 1977 the Communist Party went underground. The Zia-al Huq dictatorship was far more vicious than anything that had gone before. We produced two papers, The Red Flag (in Urdu) and Halchan (the Movement) in Sindhi. We had a circulation of about 7000. It was a terrible period, when thousands of political workers were arrested and flogged and were accused of spreading hatred towards Pakistan and the army..” Saqi recalled how he confronted a Military Commission during the Zia regime. “There was absolutely no chance of winning. I realised that I would inevitably go to prison, so I decided to turn the trial into a political trial. Among those who spoke on my behalf was Benazir Bhutto. Benazir said I had not violated the Pakistan Constitution. It was being violated by Zia-ul Haq. Other witnesses included Wali Khan and other progressives. I told the trial: ’Sindh has existed for over 6000 years, Islam for 1400 years, and Pakistan for only 28. And I’ve been a worker from time immemorial. Why am I a traitor?’ My speeches during the trial were published and I got a lot of support from the masses in Pakistan.” His words spread like wildfire among the democracy-loving masses and human rights activists in Pakistan who instantaneously demanded that no penal action be taken against him.

But all this had been in vain as medieval repression against dissent was a main feature of fascistic rule. He and two of his friends were each awarded a ten-year imprisonment. He penned the darkened years: “The methods used in the interrogation centres included sleep deprivation, where we were kept constantly awake for days on end. We were beaten regularly with a leather thong, usually behind the knees or on the thigh and buttocks. They also used the Chinese water torture. The victim is tied to a chair above which a leather bag full of water is hung. Water drops slowly on your head. It seems such a little thing. But believe me, it causes unimaginable agony. The beatings with leather lashes continued all day, every day.”

His first wife, Sukhan, belonged to the same village as Saqi. She committed suicide by jumping into a well in her village after she was falsely informed about her husband’s death during imprisonment.

He was released in 1987. But by then he was physically diminished. His legs were practically crippled after being kept in a standing position for interrogations lasting hours on end. Sukhan’s death brought grief to his entire existence. He led the delegation of the CPP at the 12th Congress of the Communist Party of India (Calcutta, 1989) and appeared before the newspersons. He looked frail although retaining his grit as a firm revolutionary. He left the CPP after the collapse of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, but said with conviction: “There is no way for the world except socialism.” He looked sympathetically towards the jawans whom he called the ‘proletariat in uniform’.

Eminent Pak journalist Hamid Mir poignantly twitted. “History in chains. Jam Saqi and Benazir Bhutto sahiba facing a military court established by Gen Zia. U can see chains on the shoulders of Jam Saqi these chains became necklace of our political history. We will always remember the chain holder.”

The author is a veteran journalist and commentator.

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