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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Notes From My Memory, Part IV, by Mir Thebo: My Alma Mater, University of Sindh

I’ll try to recollect some memories from my days at University of Sindh at Jamshoro. I was at the University from 1967 to 1972. I have great love and regard for my alma mater. I also have so many happy and some not so happy memories attached to the university life. Whenever I get time, I still love to visit Sindh University.

In the early years, especially up to early 1960s, Urdu-speaking students dominated Sindh University. At that time, classes were held at the old campus opposite SP office in the city of Hyderabad. Sindhi-speaking students were influenced by the urban culture and style. Some Sindhi middle class students even used to speak in Urdu with each other.

In 60s, Sindhi-speaking students from rural areas, small towns and cities of Sindh from different classes started to come to Sindh University in sizeable numbers. They were simple in their behavior. They were very friendly and had a flavor of Sindhi culture. They were children of teachers, clerks, shopkeepers, bureaucrats, landlords and rich peasants and some were self-earning students. This demographic change also changed the color of the university.
Sindh University, Old Campus in Hyderabad, Sindh
It was during that time that authorities started shifting the university campus from the city to the hills in Jamshoro area on the other side of Indus River.  It was very deserted place like an arid zone. The area has changed greatly now.
Institute of Sindhiology, University of Sindh
Nationalist feelings were rising high in SU in mid and late 60s so much so that we leftists had to follow the nationalists. Once G. M. Syed was in prison. A joint meeting was called at Besant Hall, Hyderabad, Sindh. One Urdu-speaking comrade came to me and whispered into my ear: "Mir, go on the stage and announce that you are going on hunger strike till death if Syed is not released". I frowned, "are you mad? What happens if they didn't release Syed? And we don't believe in self destruction.” But he insisted, “go Mir, win the crowd". So, I went to the stage and announced hunger strike till death, though unwillingly. I got a big roaring applause.

It was as Gladiator trainer asked the hero Maximus what is Rome? Rome is mob, Rome is crowd, win the crowd, Rome is yours. After 2000 years, we are still the same: win the crowd, Sindh is yours. It is same everywhere, win the crowd Obama, America is yours, win the crowd Sarkozy, France is yours and win the crowd Putin, Russia is yours!

I was lucky in that as after 3 days of my hunger strike, G. M. Syed was released not only because of my hunger strike but the government wanted to ease the situation and I was saved from painful hunger strike.

Day by day, nationalists were getting stronger. “Jodha” (gallant) culture was introduced in SU. Slowly dress code was changed. Instead of paint shirt, students started to wear long shirts down to the knees and baggy trousers (Salwar, qamees). Students strolled the corridors like Sindhi traditional “Malh” (wrestlers) when they walk triumphantly after winning a contest.

As I remember, I contested SU students union elections in 1970. During the campaign a Sindhi-speaking student slapped one of my supporters, an Urdu-speaking student and told him: "this is the voice of Sindh"! I was contesting for the post of general secretary. At that time Iqbal Tareen was the student leader of Jeay Sindh Students Federation. He was a fiery speaker and extremist in his views. Some times, he would quote Hitler’s words from Mein Kampf. He now lives in US and has become a soft intellectual.

Most of Urdu-speaking students didn’t vote in the election. Even my Sindhi-speaking supporters were harassed. Ultimately, I lost the election. Even though nationalist students' panel was in a winning position, they still rigged the election. On the Election Day, VC, Ghulam Mustafa Shah visited the campus. I complained to him about it and threatened that if he didn’t do anything about the nationalists' bullying, ‘we will go to the press’. He rebuffed me and said "go ahead, hold hundreds of press conferences. I damn care". He always patronized the nationalist students but ultimately they didn’t spare him either. Jam Saqi, myself and Mehar Hussain Shah lost student union elections three times.

He called a general body meeting next day after the elections and declared in categorical words: "I’ll not allow this university to become communist campus". He didn’t like leftist students. As a VC, he was a good administrator and excellent educationist. He built the SU. Students used to call him Sher Shah Suri. He built roads in the campus, made the university green and built several good hostels for the accommodation of the students. He also built the central canteen with modern style self service with best wash rooms but our “Jodha” culture destroyed the whole system. They (our “Jodhas”) were ill-mannered, they always shouted loudly at the waiters with bad words like mother f***** etc. Some time they even beat them up if they asked them to pay the bill.

Sindh University had brilliant teachers and knowledgeable professors at that time. There was a good academic atmosphere. Senior teachers were brave and intelligent. They handled every kind of situation very nicely with ‘dadas’ or "jodhas" (the bullies). Up to that time no murder occurred in the university. But as criminal element grew stronger, some murders occurred and sometimes university was closed for as long as 6 months because of violence. That made the academic years longer in Sindh University – from one year to one and a half years. So our students were behind other universities of the country.

Winners Take All Politics: Those were also the years (late 60s) of the emergence of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as I have mentioned in my previous note. Except for ‘Sarhad’ (now Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa) and Balochistan, Bhutto had defeated most of his opponents including G. M. Syed in his own constituency in Sindh. Along with NAP in ‘Sarhad’, Baloch had defied Bhutto. They fought bravely with Pakistani establishment many times including Bhutto's period. They are still fighting. We will discuss it later how dramatic events occurred and Baloch were denied their right to rule and their elected government was dissolved.

As Bhutto became beloved leader of Sindhis, where was the place for G. M. Syed’s politics of Sindhi nationalism? There was only one place left for Syed and it was the highest learning institute of Sindh, the University of Sindh! Syed was very depressed in the aftermath of the elections but he again played his politics from SU. It is strange when whole Sindh was in Bhutto’s pocket, why not S.U.? Syed virtually ruled SU for a longer time with his unruly student leaders. Some of them committed crimes and it harmed the politics of nationalism.

Syed himself was a highly moral man; no smoking, no drinking and no women. He was well educated and cultured, loved philosophy, literature and music. He was a man of peace and always liked to have good gathering of writers and intellectuals. While listening to music, sometimes tears would roll down from his eyes.

But his followers were ruthless and uncultured. They hated reading books. They would be roaming around in university corridors disturbing the education atmosphere with loud talking and laughter. They would be eating meals free; always ready to beat left-wing students and harassing them, threatening them to kick them out of the SU. They thought it was their domain.

As their power grew, outside criminals were given shelter in the hostels. On some occasions few of them raped the male students, robbed them and forcibly occupied hostel rooms. So much so that even teachers and wardens were afraid of them. They hated leftist students and got furious at the slogan "workers of the world unite". They blamed the leftists that they were dividing Sindhis on the basis of classes. They would laugh at Marxist analysis of the world and hoot to say 'comrade, come to the Sindh, we don’t need foreign ideology’. How did it become possible for them to get a strong grip over the highest seat of learning in Sindh? A question that needs to be answered.

In the next note, I’ll share with you my memories of one big event that occurred on 4th March 1967. It opened the eyes of Sindhi students as if it was calling upon them to ‘wake up you sons of the soil from your long slumber and do something for your motherland’! It was a big uprising of Sindhi students, which had a great impact on Sindhi society. 

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