Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited a few verses from his work appropriate for the gathering at Toba Tek Singh in 1970 and got a lot of appreciation from the attendees. He also recited a few lines from his long poem ‘Phir barq farozaan hai sar-e-vaadi-e-seena’ (The lightning again becomes luminous atop the Sinai valley):
Har aik oolil amar ko sadaa do
Ke apni fard-e-amaal sambhale
Utthe ga jab jamm-e-sarfaroshaan
Parenge daar-o-rasan ke laale
Koi na ho ga ke jo bachaa le
Jazaa sazaa sab yaheen pe ho gi
Yaheen azaab-o-savaab ho ga
Yaheen se utthe ga shor-e-mehshar
Yaheen pe roz-e-hisaab ho ga
(Call out to every man of authority
To handle his sheet of deeds
When the diehard multitudes will rise
When the gallows will be held dear
No one will be saved from there
Here will be decided the reward and punishment
As well as recompense and chastisement
From here will rise Doomsday’s tumult
As well as the Day of Judgement.)
After the Kisan Conference, when newspapers and journals reviewed its proceedings and resolutions from their own points of view, the Jamaat-e-Islami hurled a torrent of objections upon the lines read from the aforementioned poem by Faiz, to which the latter responded briefly.
Pakistan’s leading English newspaper Dawn reported the event on April 2 in the following manner:
‘A bit out of date’
Lenin Peace Prize winner, Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz, yesterday [April 1] said that the recent appeal by Mr Sadiq Husain, Amir Jamaat-i-Islami, Karachi, to President Yahya, asking him to ban a poem written by him “appears to be a bit out of date”.
Mr Faiz said that the poem in question, an extract of which was recited by him at the recent Kissan conference at Toba Tek Singh, entitled “Phir barq farozan hai sare wadi-e-sina”, was inspired by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and written and published about four years ago. Mr Faiz said that the poem had since then been recited “a score of times in a score of places”
Mr Faiz said: “I feel puzzled why the Amirs of the Karachi Jamaat — for all their interest in my doings — are so curiously ill-informed.” He recalled that recently another Jamaat-i-Islami member had demanded that he be prevented from making a film for the Pakistan Government, but the Government had not entrusted him with any film whatsoever.
“I know that the language of poetry is not intelligible to the likes of Mr Sadiq Husain and their objections do not deserve to be taken seriously, but since this particular statement appeared on all fools’ day, I felt it may be advisable to caution readers against what may be a seasonal joke.”
When this magnificent ‘Kisan Conference’ took place on 23 March 1970, a few weeks before it, the weekly Lail-o-Nahar had been launched from Karachi. Its editorial board consisted of Faiz, Hasan Abidi and Ahmad Bashir. So after the inauguration of the conference on March 23, the issue of Lail-o-Nahar Karachi which was published on March 29, had an editorial written by Faiz himself titled Kisan Conference, which is an excellent example of his editorial writing:
Peasants and hari committees have been working here for a long time. Sessions and conferences of these organizations on a small or big scale are also held now and then but neither our newspapers ever deemed them worthy of attention nor our politicians considered them deserving of regard and now since the last few days, there is mention of the Toba Tek Singh Kisan Conference in almost every newspaper. Certainly the summary of the speeches of most political leaders is recorded in these newspapers and one does not find a mention of the real nature or importance of the conference. In this respect the most interesting reaction is that of those journals of Lahore which deem every attempt at public interest to be anti-national or anti-Islam. So some gentleman mentioned the attendance of the conference to be 10,000, someone else said that well the crowd was definitely big but the stupid peasants were moved by greed for film stars and song and music, what did they know that this is a political gathering; in the absence of witness and evidence a lie of this sort does work too. But an attempt to falsify more than a 100,000 eyewitnesses is merely proof of the confusion and embarrassment which would definitely be accompanying this school of thought owing to the Toba Tek Singh conference.
The thing is that such a great gathering of peasants happened for the first time at any place in West Pakistan. For the first time, the organization, arrangement and hosting of such a great gathering was done by local peasant workers and their sympathizers instead of some rich political party; for the first time the peasants organized a party of volunteers in thousands for this purpose.
After the Kisan Conference, when newspapers and journals reviewed its proceedings and resolutions from their own points of view, the Jamaat-e-Islami hurled a torrent of objections upon the lines read by Faiz
For the first time peasants, workers, intellectuals, students, writers, journalists, artists and the eminent spokesmen of political parties gathered on one platform.
After a long time these political parties, at the invitation of a peasant organization gave evidence of joint action and cooperation, which are striving for the rights and prosperity of deprived classes despite mutual disagreements. So both wings of the National Awami Party, Peoples Party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Labour Party, Islam League and various parties of students participated in this gathering, and delegates had come from every party of the country from Khyber to Chittagong.
The proceeding of the conference was in Urdu and the series of speeches went on continuously for 8 hours. Despite this, more than a lac peasants kept listening to the proceeding of the conference with great attention, peace and encouragement; if the lovers of song and music had come merely for touring the fair then for which joy did they keep getting killed.
The reality is that there is neither room for disputing the peerless success of this conference, nor of the beauty of its organizers, the sincerity of the speakers or the enthusiasm of the audience.
It also became obvious from this gathering that political consciousness and awakening is now not the monopoly of merely the white-collar classes of the cities. Now the voiceless beings of the village too have begun to feel that we too have a tongue in the mouth. Another important thing also came to the front that those political parties which despite being partially like-minded are not willing to join on a political platform, can gather on the platform of a class-based organization; on this basis, this conference created a new path for the unity and cooperation among parties sympathetic to deprived and excluded classes, in which a slight firmness can change the direction of our political life. If the heads and representatives of various parties have gone away with this very feeling about the success of this conference then that itself is a very great success. With all this we want to respectfully present some requests about this conference.
The first thing is that mostly the general, political and ideological problems of the country e.g. elections, constitution, economic system, civic rights, etc. were mentioned more often at the conference. In addition to the resolutions, enough light was not thrown on the particular issues of the peasants. One did not get to hear more about the everyday difficulties of the local peasant attendees. The many agonies which beset the life of our ordinary small cultivator, peasant or farm-worker are not hidden from anybody. For example, one agony is very much that a hundred more lords are riding upon the neck of the king of the earth in addition to the big landowners and waderas. Patwaris, kanungos, policemen, sub-collectors, superintendents of jungles, officials of agriculture, agents of the court, deadly labour are additional to it. There should also have been some strategy or suggestion to escape this in the conference. It is true that the total reform of these defects is not possible without a change in this system which we have inherited from the time of servitude. But practical action against it cannot just be postponed till the Day of Judgement.
Secondly, about the program of such gatherings, normally the topic for our speakers is not decided, as a result of which a few points are repeated again and again. And many topics are left totally insatiable. In addition, mostly gentlemen express their thoughts extempore and the imagination and deliberation that is necessary for the mental training of the people is often lost in the taste of speech.
Lastly, any one conference or gathering however magnificent and successful it may be, cannot be a substitute for a permanent movement or organization. If some movement does not organize or compile as a result of this gathering, then its importance is no more than talk and departure. The standard of success of a political gathering is not its colour but its practical results.
The waves that have awakened in the still waters of our national politics should increase in noise owing to the conference of Toba Tek Singh, but on the condition that this gathering prove to be a current instead of being merely a response.
The Labour Party mentioned in this fascinating editorial by Faiz is not the Labour Party which was set up in 1986 and dissolved in 2012; rather the earlier Labour Pary was set up almost 60 years ago by the labour leader Bashir Bakhtiar. Likewise the Islam League was the result of the efforts of a leader of the Khaksar Movement Amir Habibullah Khan Saadi. The Communist Party of Pakistan also participated in this conference, and was underground at that time.
In the lines written so far, the importance, the enthusiasm of the participants and the objectives of the Kisan Conference of Toba Tek Singh have been mentioned. But apart from being a gathering of workers, peasants, left-wing citizens and students, it also proved to be a scourge for those who associated themselves with right-wing politics and non-secular and backward elements.
A week to ten days after the conference, the weekly Zindagi – which was once edited by the eminent conservative journalist and analyst of today Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami – published a truly detailed 8-page article about the conference. It was published in the Zindagi issue dated 6 April 1970. The writer was Mr Abdul Ghani Farooq.
The learned writer wrote a report of the conference with a lot of details and from his point of view, overlooking its importance and objectives made it a target of sarcasm and ridicule. Vide a corroborating headline of his article below:
The darkness of socialist thought in Toba Tek Singh (This statement is given below the photo of a bookstall)
The hell of the red books of Marx and Lenin is burning within this stall.
This bookstall belonged to the renowned progressive publishers of South Asia, the People’s Publishing House.
At the end of the article, instead of presenting some alternative point of view to the conversation occurring at the conference, an attempt has been made to seek the support of the Martial Law regulations. The learned writer has written:
The Toba Tek Singh conference ended. But left many unanswered questions. Such unanswered questions to answer which is the duty of the various Martial Law regulations and upon which depends our present and future.
So the reader can see how the opponents of Faiz and his comrades preferred the Martial Law regulations, i.e. military rule, as being more suitable for their own worldview and politics.
The 1970 Kissan Conference was a historic event in which 200,000 peasants and progressive people from the whole country gathered in Toba Tek Singh. The conference left a great impact on the political history of Pakistan and helped pave the way for land reforms taking place in the subsequent post-1970 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto era.
All translations are by the author. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at email@example.com