Wednesday December 06, 2023

Urdu Press and the Pakistan Movement

January 25, 2023

Resilience, commitment and faithfulness, these words cannot do justice in defining the versatility of “Mir-e-Sahafat”, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman. His unrelenting efforts for free and fair journalism in Pakistan date back to the colonial period in the subcontinent.

The press in colonial India was significantly pro-Congress; when Hindu press condemned Allama Iqbal’s landmark address at Allahabad, only three Muslim periodicals “Inqilab”, “Muslim Outlook” of Lahore and “Hamdam” of Lucknow endorsed Iqbal’s proposal for the establishment of a Muslim state in the North-West India. Muslim political discourse for a separate state lacked mass appeal due to the absence of “Muslim” press. Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman was one of those people who laid foundations of a Muslim press. “Jang” was first published in 1939 under his stewardship in Delhi. He was the founder and the editor of a daily Urdu newspaper existing till today.

In the twentieth century, politics in the subcontinent took an interesting shape as the English and Hindi press challenged colonial atrocities through their journalistic writings. In these circumstances, the Urdu press also saw a surge in its publications; Zamindar by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Hamdard by Maulana Muhammed Ali Jauhar and Al-Hilal by Maulana Azad were few of the prominent Urdu newspapers. In the 1920s and 1930s increasing number of periodicals, some of these were daily, weekly and bi-weekly or monthly, espoused the cause of nationalism and raised various issues on the subject. Prominent among these were Inquilab, Musalman, Sarfaraz, Hamdam, Khadem, Jiddat, Khilafat, Siyasat, Haqiqat, Jang, Sadiq-ul-Akhbar, Sandesh, Asr-e-Jadeed, Nawa-e-Waqt, Ujala, Jumhuriat, and Quami Awaz. Inquilab was published from Lahore, Musalman from Calcutta, Sarfaraz, Hamdam, Jiddat, Haqiqat from Lucknow, and Qaumi Awaz was started by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1945 from Lucknow and later published from Patna and Delhi, Asr-e-Jadeed was published from Meerut. Most of these newspapers echoed the sentiments of the Muslim masses.

In his article, “Pakistan’s Press and Politics in the First Decade (1947-58): An Analysis in Structural-Functionalist Perspective” Dr Zafar Iqbal reveals, “in the aftermath of the 1857 Mutiny in Meerut, British colonial administration clamped down on the press, only twelve Urdu newspapers could survive out of a total of 35 before the war and only one newspaper was edited by a Muslim journalist. Although the Hindu press equally suffered the reign of terror by the British government; however, the Muslim newspapers were the main targets of the regime. The Muslim press sacrificed their freedom for the cause of larger freedom of the country from the despotic rule of the British government.”

“Muslim leaders and activists realised that it is necessary to strengthen the Muslim press to stimulate a national renaissance among Indian Muslims,” writes Abdussalam Khurshid in his book, Karwan-e-Sahafat. He was the author of several books and research papers on Urdu journalism.

In his another study, “Role of Muslim Press in Pre-Partition Era,” Khurshid noted - while admiring the genuine dedication of Urdu journalism to the cause of the Pakistan movement -”It can be gauged from the fact that daily Zamindar had to pay Rs 56,500.00 on eleven different occasions as security deposits.”

In the 1930s, Urdu press emerged as a strong antithesis to the anti-Muslim League political discourse. Urdu press emboldened young and educated Muslims to resist colonial oppression and question Congress’s dual policy of supporting secularism and opposing democratic autonomy to Muslim-majority areas. Nawa-i-Waqt and Jang were prominent Urdu newspapers which gave currency to the Muslim League’s narrative for the partition of India.

Dr Nazir Ahmed, Associate Professor of the Quaid-i-Azam University, in a journal article, ‘Role of Media in Pakistan Movement’ stated that most of the print media (in the colonial period) remained in the private hands but the government could control it through advertisement and regulations.

Urdu press kept local readers in the loop and functioned as a watchdog of colonial manipulations and fittingly executed its responsibilities which includes - as highlighted by Shuja Nawaz in “The Mass Media and Development in Pakistan” - motivation, information, education, and affecting the behaviour of the masses. Media also acts as a mirror of society in which it reflects on ground realities irrespective of biases and external pressures.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was aware of the significance of rational and unbiased journalism. He said to the Muslim journalists’ gathering in March 1947, “You have great power. You can guide or misguide people. You can make or mar the biggest personalities. The power of the press is really great, but you must remember that this power which you are wielding is a trust... At the same time, I expect you to be completely fearless, if I go wrong or for that matter, the League goes wrong in any direction of its policy or program, I want you to criticise it honestly as its friend, in fact, as one whose heart is beating with the Muslim nation”.

A sharp communal polarisation did not exist in the journalistic approach of newspapers until the 1930s when the demand for Pakistan became popular, newspapers also allied themselves ideologically either to the Indian National Congress or the Muslim League.

Urdu press defied the dominating discourse of composite nationalism through which Congress and right-wing Hindu leaders wanted to establish their hegemony in India. Due to its Urdu readership, Jang effectively disseminated the Muslim political narrative for the success of the Pakistan Movement in northern India. Jang’s pragmatic and brave journalism invited the wrath of the colonial government and authorities declared the newspaper fueling hatred and extremism.

Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman wrote in Jang, “Muslims should not enrol in the British army unless they acknowledge Pakistan; they will deceive us after the world war would be over.” He was arrested under Defense of India Rules and authorities detained him in Central Jail. His resistance against colonial rule was reflected in his writings in the newspaper in which he continued highlighting the failure of the British outside India and on several occasions he was arrested and sent to jail. When the Lahore Resolution was passed in 1940 in the Iqbal Park, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman was present in that historical congregation and it was he who informed us about the Lahore Resolution.

He was ambitious and determined to work for the Pakistan Movement and Muslims. According to the record of the Indian office library, the colonial administration of Delhi had imprisoned him and enlisted him as an agitator. He was a confidant and admirer of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

In 1941, during WWII, Congress agitators attacked the offices of two newspapers in Delhi, Al-Aman and Wahdat and assassinated the editor of the latter. This event sent a shockwave to the Muslim League leaders and supporters, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman was also aggrieved at the unfortunate incident and rather than concealing his loyalty to the Pakistan Movement. He decided to initiate the publication of daily Jang from Delhi despite unfavourable circumstances.

Kausar Rizvi reminisced about Mir Khalil-u-Rahman’s patriotic spirit in his article in these words:

On June 3, 1946, when the British conceded to the partition of India, he enthusiastically rejoiced the news. Syed Inkisar Ali mentioned in one of his articles that after partition, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman had no intention to publish newspaper from Karachi but when Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah announced Karachi as the capital of Pakistan and when Jang press faced harsh censorship imposed by the Indian government, under which it could barely survive; Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman left his home and his press in Delhi which was the fruit of his unrelenting and unwavering dedication for Urdu journalism. He moved to Karachi, took a loan from his father-in-law to revive Jang press and started from scratch, in crippled circumstances but never gave up on his determination for the development of Urdu journalism in Pakistan. The first issue of the Jang newspaper after the partition was published in Karachi on October 15, 1947. Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman served as an editor of the Daily Jang for half a century and the Jang is close to completing a centenary in two decades.