South Asia

Decades After Pakistan Govt 'Disappeared' Hassan Nasir, His Legacy Still Shines Bright

The Communist Party of Pakistan leader was disappeared on November 13, 1960. For conscious youngsters of the country, his message is still alive.

Aavaaz, aazaad ho to naara-e- Mansoor
Aur ghut jaaye to Hassan Nasir ban jaati hai

(The voice becomes the shout of Mansoor, if it is free
And if throttled, becomes Hassan Nasir’s plea)

Kishwar Naheed

People with such power have held sway in Pakistan that their feet used to be kissed and they were surrounded by crowds of devotees and lovers. Their narratives and photographs adorned the first page of newspapers and every word uttered by them had the status of law. After their death, nobody remembers their birthday nor the day of their death. Their memories have left the hearts of people.

But in this country, there have also been such people who were neither fated to have the seat of power nor wished for wealth and influence and were never bothered by the desire for name and fame. They were not garlanded with flowers in gatherings and processions. They left their homeland for the service of ordinary citizens. Their participation in struggles came with great humility; and when the executioners took their life, their relatives and friends did not even get to see them for one last time. Nor could anyone find a trace of their grave.

But due to such an obscure life and an even more obscure martyrdom, Hassan Nasir – who was ‘disappeared’ in Pakistani dictator Ayub Khan’s infamous dungeon at the Lahore Fort 60 years ago today – is the immortal revolutionary whose popularity and fame increase every year. Traces of his life are illuminated every year and he inspires many people even today.

Others like Nazeer Abbasi, Hameed Baloch, Nasir Baloch, Ayaz Sammu and Mashal Khan also walked the same path as Hassan Nasir and flew the flag of honesty, peace, freedom, democracy and social justice.

The death of Hassan Nasir was perhaps the most brazen incident of the Ayub period. Had such a killing taken place in a democratic country, it would have caused outrage. There would be questions in the assembly, protesting narratives would be published in newspapers, there would be court inquiries and the criminals would receive definitive punishment for their evil deeds.

But in Pakistan, things go against the law of nature. So the murderers were granted promotions instead of reprehensions. It is a separate matter that these promotions proved to be the prelude to humiliations. And the person at whose behest these outrages were committed rose from the seat of power greatly dishonoured. The same fate met all those whose hands were stained with the blood of Hassan Nasir.

But Hassan Nasir is still alive. The tales of his asceticism and sympathy, his spirit and determination, his love, sincerity and sacrifice still create passion and fervour in our hearts.

Poster for Hassan Nasir Day event in Lahore.

His path to Pakistan

Hassan Nasir was the second son of Syed Alamdar Hussein, who had come to Hyderabad from Etawah for work and became the private secretary of Yamin-us-Saltanat (‘right hand of the realm’) Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad Bahadur. He also remained the private secretary of the 4 prime ministers of the gate of government, namely Sir Mirza Ismail Hyderi, Nawab Chhatari and Mir Laiq Ali. Alamdar was married to the younger sister of Jafar Hasan, Zohra Begum and she gave birth to Nasir on August 2, 1928.

In those days, they lived near Sagar Talkies in Abid Manzil, Turap Bazar. Nasir was born into wealth and was brought up in ease and affluence. His family was highly educated and cultured. In those days, boys studying in grammar school came from well-off families and considered themselves higher and superior to others. They had bourgeois mentality ingrained into them, the standard of culture in home and family was very high, and any flippant act would not be tolerated. Nasir was educated in this milieu at home and the madrassa. He was an intelligent student.

During his student days, he was a very good speaker and had great expertise over the English language. He wanted to go to Oxford for higher education. But his father did not deem it suitable to send him to Oxford at this young age; and advised him to go after passing his BA. In a state of disappointment, he departed for Aligarh to do his intermediate. In those days, someone with Senior Cambridge could get admission into the second year. He thus saved one year.

After Aligarh, he enrolled at the Nizam College for a BA. At that time, he developed deep relations with his maternal cousin Kokab Durri. Kokab was a passionate youth with communist ideas and was regarded highly by his compatriots. Kokab introduced Nasir to the ideology of Karl Marx. Nasir negan reading communist literature and he adopted the communist philosophy. He decided to abandon his studies and devoted himself to the revolutionary struggle. When the government began searching for him, he went underground and eventually left Hyderabad to go to Bombay, where like a passionate communist he began to work against capitalism with great intensity and devotion.

Nasir continued publicising communist ideas for a long time in Bombay and when Sajjad Zaheer decided to leave India for Pakistan and work for the Communist Party there, a party of youth which included Nasir also moved.

In those days, the Communist Party in Pakistan was not illegal. But when the situation became difficult for the Communists and the government oppression crossed all limits, Sajjad Zaheer returned to India. Nasir was arrested in Pakistan. He was tormented in jail. He went on a hunger strike and wrote an article sketching the untold condition of jails in Pakistan. The Pakistani government increased his jail term. When his mother Zohra Begum found out about these conditions, she went to Pakistan and using her influence, was able to bring Nasir back from captivity on the condition that he would not set foot in Pakistan for a year.

Nasir’s mother was ill. She feared for her life and was about to go to Vellore for an operation. She wanted Nasir to be present in Vellore at the time of the operation. Nasir came to Hyderabad and accompanied his mother. The operation was successful and she returned to Hyderabad as a healthy person. Nasir’s one-year exile was ending and he wanted to return to Pakistan. Though Alamdar had suffered a paralytic stroke and was unable to move for many years and his mother tried hard to convince Nasir to stay, his sense of honour did not allow him to leave his comrades. He did not want to watch the scene of the storm from the safety of the coast.

He returned and became the youngest secretary of the Communist Party. Now, he risked his life and limb to propagate communist ideas. He began to work without caring for imprisonment or the gallows. His passion was immense and he did not mind risking his life.

The government of Pakistan laid a trap throughout the country for Nasir’s arrest. Nasir began working underground. He would wander from city to city in disguise to organise his party. At night, he took refuge at the homes of close relatives and friends and sometimes he spent the nights in jungles, wastelands and cemeteries.

He was eventually caught. People who admired him tried very hard to have him released on bail. But the government did not listen. He was tortured in captivity.

Nasir’s death greatly grieved all the members of his family. He was well-liked by everyone. The mourning mother tried to have Nasir’s corpse brought to Hyderabad for burial. After great efforts, the Pakistani government gave permission. When she reached Pakistan and the grave was dug in her presence, it did not have Nasir’s corpse but that of someone else. The Pakistani government did not want its oppression to be divulged; so such a means was contrived as to disappear even the corpse. To this day, nobody knows where Nasir’s grave is.

Wherever the grave may be, love for Nasir is present within every conscious youngster of Pakistan. They celebrate ‘Nasir Day’ annually; the Communist Party of India too is influenced by Nasir’s sacrifice.

The great Urdu resistance poet Himayat Ali Shair wrote about the death of Hassan Nasir, noting that he was born in the same year as Che Guevara and was executed, like Bhagat Singh, in the prime of youth in my native city of Lahore.

Aaj akhbaar ki surkhi pe nazar padte hi
Mere andar se koi mohr ba-lab cheekh pada
Mere jazbaat ki ghairat, mere honton ka sakoot
Mera fan cheekh pada, mera adab cheekh pada
Ye zameen haq ki parastaar hai, baatil baatil
Seena-e-haq se sadaa aati hai, qaatil qaatil

(Today while glancing at the headline of the newspaper ream
Some sealed lips from within me let out a scream
The silence of my lips, my passions’ honour
My art, my literature let out a clamour
This earth is the devotee of truth, lie lie
Assassin assassin, from the bosom of truth comes the cry)

Note: Translations from Urdu by the writer.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at [email protected].