Celebrating a decade of goondaraj

January 17, 2021

Dr Ajaz Anwar writes about the Mozang and Achha gangs, and Arif Shah who dared to challenge the goons

— Image supplied

History does not repeat itself but it follows the pattern set by the preceding events. The first casualty of the 1958 regime change was taking over of Progressive Papers. All its papers, namely, The Pakistan Times, Imroze, Lail-o-Nahar and Sportimes, were put under strict censorship.

Its chief editor, Faiz, was still in Montgomery Jail. Editor Mazhar Ali Khan immediately resigned and turned down the offer to continue till a new editor could be appointed. My father, for his part, refused to contribute any political cartoons after the leaders were barred from taking part in politics under the EBDO for seven years, which actually meant two elections or 10 years (by which time most of the senior politicians were expected to die anyway).

Under the One-Unit scheme, the West Pakistan was ruled by a strict feudal governor. He brutally crushed any student movement at the university and college levels. An ordinance was proclaimed under which any ‘misbehaving’ student’s degree could be revoked. Even Dr Nazir was removed from the office of the principal of Government College, Lahore.

The students took out a protest march with banners that said: “Don’t snatch our father!” This was the only time the strict governor, realising the gravity of the situation, backed down. The principal was reinstated.

The chief justice of West Pakistan High Court, Malik Rustam Kiani, was a fiery crusader. He declared that human rights could not be revoked even under the martial law. Consequently, he was not promoted to the Supreme Court. He died during a trip to Dacca soon after his retirement.

In 1964, there were clashes with the police on The Mall. Activist Tariq Ali led the agitated students. The Mall was strewn with broken flowerpots and the air was filled with teargas. In one such demonstration, the police entered the High Court building. Incidentally, Tariq was the son of our landlord, Mazhar Ali Khan (the editor of The Pakistan Times). This building — Muzaffar Mansions — was next to the Nihalchand Building where the local goons operated. It was then that Tariq Ali was obliged to leave the country for his safety.

Next, Saadatullah Khan, the then president of Ravians, was afforded traditional dressing. Hence, an entire generation of students did not get any political awakening.

I saw him only once when he came along with Ayub to inaugurate the auditorium of the Punjab University where a life-size portrait of Jinnah, painted by Prof Anna Molka Ahmed, was unveiled. There were more security men over the rooftops than the guests.

The other time I saw only his lookalikes when we, the students of Alhamra, were allowed to paint landscape along the lake in the Governor’s House. The Nawab of Kalabagh increasingly relied on engaging local goons to suppress any dissenting voices. Maulana Abdul Sattar Khan Niazi, then residing in Lakshmi Building, too, was roughed up. The Qila Gujjar Singh group enjoyed special favours at his disposal, and amassed considerable wealth through gambling dens, narcotics and by usurping property.

As was the trend among the newly rich, they decided to invest in the film industry. Their first venture, Wah Bhai Wah, was a total disaster. But their second production, Malangi, proved to be a roaring success. It shattered all box-office records and the talented artist Firdaus won many laurels.

Din nu raj firangi da/Raat nu raj malangi da” was a popular dialogue (or message?) in this talkie.

The movie brought much wealth to the gang. Yet, they continued with their anti-social and illegal businesses. The locals obeyed them out of fear.

It was not exactly a repeat of the Godfather (the movie), but new cars and silk dhotis became this group’s hallmarks. Many leading artists could be seen visiting their gambling dens and dera. Achha Gang’s Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam Shukurwala had been given a medal as a respectable civilian by the governor, as hinted by Bapsi Sidwa in her novel, The Bride.

He proceeded to make another film, titled Imam Deen Gohavia, based on his own life, and also directed parts of it. He chose the rooftops of the Nihalchand Building as a backdrop and location. During the night shoots under high watts tungsten lights, some angry and disturbed youth stealthily hurled stones and bricks on the filming team.

*******

Kalabagh resigned over the Tashkent Agreement. Mohammad Khan Daku, too, surrendered in the uniform of a DSP and was never heard of again. Gen Musa Khan, a hero of the 1965 war, and a Hazara, was appointed the governor of West Pakistan. But he could not contain public resentment against the regime and the much trumpeted Decade of Progress.

There was another character in the making: Arif Shah, who was from the original inhabitants of Qila Gujjar Singh. His family owned considerable immovable property in the periphery. While some leading members of the Achha Gang enjoyed their late-evening gossip perched on charpoys on the roundabout over the tubewell, at the junction of the McLeod Road and Nicholson Road, Shah took them to be sitting ducks. From the comfort of the high roof of his house he frequently fired at them. The evening meetings thus became scary for the gang.

It had become necessary for the mafia to eliminate all the challengers. Actually, Arif Shah, like many other youngsters, had developed a taste for criminal activities. One afternoon, as he was going in a taxi along with Naeem alias Baby, the brother of the slain Saboohi, he was given a long chase by Akka, a brother of Achha. As the manned railway gate near Mian Mir closed to facilitate the train to pass, his taxi had to stop. He was shot at by the goons. His friend Naeem was only slightly injured in the hand and another friend escaped unhurt. Shah died two days after he had given his statement to the police.

During the ensuing court proceedings a steadfast eyewitness who had refused to cow down was brutally murdered in the court. A furious Musa Khan ordered strict action against all the goons in the city who had previously enjoyed the backing of the regime. Most were killed in ‘encounters.’

The Mozang Gang that had killed Saboohi in a crossfire, was also eliminated.

In the meantime, the Nawab of Kalabagh was slain by his own son in a familial dispute. The Achha Gang suddenly surrendered in full view of the public and thus escaped a staged encounter. They were given various long sentences. However, many of them spent their nights in the comfort of their homes. As for the original murderer, Akka, he was given capital punishment. After Ayub Khan was replaced by Yahya Khan, he filed clemency appeal on mental health grounds. To this end, as advised, he had to eat his own shit in front of many.

The grisly act had a real bad effect on his mind and he turned a real lunatic after his release, and spent years wandering. In other words, he suffered till his death.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Arif Shah)


The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

Celebrating a decade of goondaraj