About Project

It would not be easy today for a student in Pakistan to imagine a kind of campus where students have a collective, consolidated and legal political space. This was how the public-sector universities were before the 1980s. At that time, students were not a disassociated group having no political imagination of any sort. They were rather a unionized and organized collective having a profound influence on politics in and outside the campus. Their political engagement ranged from having a legal right to have a say in university policies to being a potential political partner of the organized labor. Students comprised the foundation of the movement against the dictatorship of Ayub Khan. Unions like Democratic Students Federation (DSF), National Students Federation (NSF), Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba (IJT), All Pakistan Mutahhida Students Organization (APMSO), etc. were a constant presence on campus. Interestingly in educational institutions today, students cannot even imagine a campus where their consent is necessary for any policy to be implemented by the university.

In the 1980s, however, student unions were banned in Pakistan by the Zia regime. Perhaps it was expected by the government that such a legislation would put an end to all sorts of political unionization among students, as it claimed that by the removal of student unions would eradicate the violence in and outside the campus. The progressive element of the society saw the legislation as an attack on fundamental human freedom and many believed it to be Zia’s attempt at silencing a politically charged student base to speak or act against his rule.

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Mirza Muhammad Ibrahim Mazdoor Tulba Mela

It was in April that I attended an event by these students for the first time. I was let known by an old friend, who was one of these students, that they were organizing an event with a collaboration of the Railway Workers’ Union. The Railway Workers’ Union is said to be the mother of unions in Pakistan, he told me. The students wanted to explore the possibilities of reviving the age-old alliance between workers and the students, a political tradition that yielded historical results in several progressive movement around the globe. The event was called the Mirza Muhammad Ibrahim Mazdoor-Tulba Mela.

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Reading Fanon Under a Tree

The first academic activity I attended was a study circle at Nasir Bagh. This is also one of those activities which are not one-time events. The study circles are meant to be held on a regular basis to let the intellectual capacity of the group keep up with the practical. The circle I attended was a part of a weekly radical seminar series which was aimed at arranging lectures to understand some monumental texts of the core radical philosophy. Hegel, Fanon, Deleuze, Foucault, Marx, Badiou, all of them were discussed under the shade of a tree.

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Interviews

Yusuf Baloch

It was after this that I met one of the most senior activists working in the left these days. Mr. Yousf Baloch, an 80 years old activist, who has been a part of the network for nearly 55 years. I first saw him at an event on the issue of Khaadi workers’ plight. I approached him for exchanging a few words and he invited me to his place in Misri Shah. I crossed the Do Moriya Pul on my bike and went all the way to Misri Shah to his home.
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Farooq Tariq

I first met the Spokesperson of the Awami Workers’ Party, Mr. Farooq Tariq. I never got to know about Farooq Sahab as much as others. From what I perceived, he was a man who spearheaded in conducting meetings, engaging with people and organizing events. I interviewed him at the desk where he sits usually.
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Mahmood Butt

The last “baba” I met was Mahmood Butt Sahab. He is known for his deadly work in his circle. He does all the field work and has a lot of experience in it. I found him more like a practical guy rather than intellectual. When I interviewed him, he talked to me in very detailed manner.
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Ubaid Afzal

My first appointment was Ubaid. I was very excited of photographing my first character. I had to climb up five floors since the elevator was out of order. It was an apartment on top of a high building in the heart of Icchra. We knocked at the front door and I saw Ubaid coming out, smiling, welcome us in. To make space for us to sit, he had to wake up his friends who were sleeping in front of the main door.

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Mudabbir Ali

Next, I had to go to a boys’ hostel in front of Karbala Gaam-e-Shah to meet Mudabbir Ali. The hostel had an apartment with multiple rooms. All boys living there belonged to Gilgit Baltistan. They have come all the way to Lahore to study at various institutions. They spend the day at campus but after the evening you could see them doing everything together. All of them knew how to cook and at dinner, everyone was there.

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Hamza Abbas

Hamza was the first person I was introduced to when I started this project. He is a prominent member of the group and one I found to be very vocal during the meetings that I attended. I also saw him engaging with different groups of students at the series of study circles that happened in Nasir Bagh. I also decided to hang out with him afterwards, which went great. He accompanied me on my bike almost daily when I went to photograph different students at their hostels. I photographed Hamza in the office of his father’s book shop at Temple Road, Lahore
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Haider Butt

I saw Haider Butt first at the Mirza Ibrahim Mazdoor-Tulba Mela. He had a wireless microphone in his hand and was chanting slogans at the top of his voice. I found him to be the most enthusiastic guy of the group. I also noticed his quality of getting noticed in almost every meeting he is a part of, and he seldom missed one. Although he spends more time in Lahore, he told me that he belongs to Muridke. Something funny also happened in my encounters with him. Almost whenever I met him, I met him at the stairs. I saw him at his flat, at the hostel of another comrade of his, and in the university he studies in. We met at the stairs, every single time. This is the reason why I photographed him at the stairs too.
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Zahid Ali

I then met Zahid Bhai, a senior member of the organization at Umair, another comrade’s place. He was very engaging and always ended up making good points related to the way the party should work. I thought of him as basically a bridge of the old and new left in this party. He also hosts meetings and events. Afterwards, I went to his place for an interview and it went quite normal and to the point. Nothing excited or exceptional happened.

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Bakhtiar Ahmed

The next student I met was Mr. Bakhtiar Ahmed, an intermediate student in GC University Lahore. He is a boarder who originally hails from Sargodha. I saw this young lad in a study circle and found him a bit distant from the activity, always silent in whatever he was doing. I was supposed to interview some women and he was sitting on the stairs 6 yards away from everybody. He had a handsfree in his ears.

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