Sunday September 26, 2021

From Kerala to Karachi: the travails of B M Kutty (Part-I)

September 01, 2019

My father knew B M Kutty – who died in Karachi on August 25, 2019 – since the early 1950s. They were not close friends but shared a common streak of left-wing and progressive politics in Pakistan.

Kutty sahib, as we usually called him, was one year older to my father who is 88 now. They were political activists in their 20s when the National Awami Party was formed in 1957, and witnessed the efforts of democratic forces to survive, and the unfolding of the nascent democracy in Pakistan before and after the imposition of the first country-wide martial law in 1958.

Biyyathil Moiuddin Kutty has described his life history in his autobiography ‘60 years in Self-Exile: No Regrets’, published by Dr Jaffar Ahmed who was the director of Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi. The book was later translated into Urdu by Rana Sharif and published by Jumhoori Publications Lahore. Kutty’s autobiography is a treasure trove of information about the history of left politics in Pakistan and is comparatively much better than some other autobiographies of this genre such as written by Barrister Ali Amjad and Professor Jamal Naqvi (beautifully translated by Arshad Mahmood).

Kutty remained active for over six decades and associated himself with political parties such as the Azad Pakistan Party, Pakistan Awami League, National Awami Party, National Democratic Party, Pakistan National Party, and National Workers Party. He also took an active part in the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq. Kutty himself was not a political leader, but supported the senior leadership in decision-making and in drafting documents such as manifestos and resolutions. His proximity with senior leaders helped him gain an in-depth knowledge of the challenges and issues democratic parties faced in Pakistan.

B M Kutty was not only an observer, he was also a voracious reader which helped him acquire a higher level of wisdom gleaned from history and international affairs. But his knowledge did not prevent him from associating with the general public; he had a complete grip of the ideas prevalent in society and this enhanced his ability to influence the decision-making processes in the parties he was working with. His credentials as a democrat were unquestionable and he fought for parliamentary democracy, rule of law, provincial autonomy, and the people’s right for self-determination.

Perhaps the longest period of his life – 25 years – he spent with that indomitable fighter for democracy, Mir Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo. And this camaraderie ended only with the death of Bizenjo in 1989, at the age of 72. After that, he remained associated with Karamat Ali’s Pakistan Institute of Labour Education And Research (PILER) for over 25 years. Both Bizenjo and Karamat Ali were Kutty’s two closest associates and friends – of course, in different capacities – in his life-long struggle for democracy, human rights and peace in South Asia.

Kutty also compiled Bizenjo’s biography ‘In Search of Solutions’, which itself is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Pakistan. The two books – ‘60 years in Self-Exile’ and ‘In Search of Solutions’ – form a compendium of people’s real history in Pakistan as opposed to the Pakistan Studies textbooks or the books written by civil and military bureaucrats who mostly present half-truths or outright lies to justify a narrative in which the state of Pakistan comes out as an innocent victim of conspiracies hatched by not only its immediate neighbours but also by those who seldom think about Pakistan.

Kutty was repeatedly arrested and put behind bars, mostly on charges that were never established or proved. Though he migrated from Kerala when he was still a teenager, his love for the people of Pakistan, Balochistan in particular, was appreciated by almost all democratic, nationalist and political leaders – from Z A Bhutto and Bizenjo to Benazir and Bugti. Kutty was born in a Mopla farmer family in Kerala (now a state in India) in July 1930. Moplas were the local farmers who had revolted against the British but were crushed by the colonial power.

B M Kutty’s name was interesting, as B stood for Biyyathil which was their family name; M stood for Moiuddin which in Pakistan became Mohiuddin; and finally Kutty is simply a common nickname for anyone of short height. As an aside, senior journalist I A Rehman once remarked that if GB Bizenjo was a senior Baba (a sage), Kutty was a Chhota (short or young) Baba. Though Kutty was less than 10 years old when WWII started, thanks to his politically conscious family he remembered distinctly how the Indian National Congress launched the Quit India Movement rather than cooperate with the British forces in the war efforts.

The All India Muslim League was against the Congress and the Communist Party of India also started supporting the British in 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In his book, Kutty informs us that after the Lahore Resolution (later Pakistan Resolution) was passed in March 1940, the Muslim League garnered wide support from the Muslims of Kerala too, though southern India was in no way going to be a part of the proposed Pakistan. Most Muslim students including Kutty had a photo of Jinnah pasted on the covers of their notebooks.

Kutty specifically narrates the story of two Muslim leaders: one was Abdur Rahman, a local Keralite who promoted religious harmony and requested Muslims not to alienate local Christians and Hindus as they had lived together for centuries and would rather live in harmony. The other was Haji Abdus Sattar Saith who was a Gujarati Memon settled in Kerala and advocated the Muslim League cause. Interestingly, in the elections of 1937 and 1946, Sattar Memon defeated Abdur Rahman and won a seat in the central legislative assembly. Another example was K M Banat Wala, a Muslim League leader from Bombay (now Mumbai) who repeatedly won from a constituency in Kerala.

Kutty narrates how Sattar Memon Saith migrated from Kerala to Karachi with his family, leaving everything behind, and lived a very simple life till a couple of years later when some robbers entered his house and killed his wife and sister-in-law. Sattar Saith survived and died in penury. Kutty passed his matriculation in 1945 and for further studies moved to Madras (now Chennai) where he stayed for four years; during this time the partition of India, the assassination of Gandhi, and the death of Jinnah took place. In 1949, rather than going back to Kerala to his family, Kutty decided to move to Pakistan.

Before concluding the first part of this column, an important event that Kutty witnessed in India deserves a mention. A Muslim Khan Bahadur who owned a large rubber and tea state in Kerala decided to convert to Hinduism and was encouraged by the local pundits. He and his family became Hindus and his sons married Hindu girls. It was a bombshell for the local Muslim population which was very angry. The Khan Bahadur and his family were careful to arrange security measures but within a few days some people killed the converted family.

When the police started looking for the culprits, thousands of Muslims from that region emerged on the streets and confessed to be the killers. The police could not arrest all of them so after some time the case was closed as unresolved.

In the next part of this column tomorrow, we will discuss Kutty’s ‘self-exile’ in Pakistan.

To be continued

The writer holds a PhD from theUniversity of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]