In the death of Jam Muhammad the political left in Pakistan lost another of its irrepressible warriors for the cause of working people’s rights.
Popularly known as Jam Saqi, Jam Muhammad was born before partition in a remote village of Tharparkar in a middle class desert family. His father was a primary school teacher before quality education got converted into a commodity with a hefty price tag.
After passing his matriculation examination from Chahchro he entered Government College Kalimori, Hyderabad. It was 1962, when under the leadership of National Students Federation (NSF), the student community had started its struggle against the imposition of the 3-year degree course. It was also the time when Indus Student Federation (ISF) was struggling against the ban on teaching in Sindhi language in the educational institutions of Sindh, imposed under the martial law of Tikka Khan. In this struggle the Urdu-speaking ISF chief Yunus Sharar was also amongst the hunger strikers.
During his college days, Jam Saqi who had excelled as a public speaker in his school days started wielding his pen. The first pamphlet that he wrote for recognition of Sindhi as a national language was confiscated and banned. These were also the days when he was introduced to comrade Aziz Salam Bukhari, the underground Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) leader who had been organising the country’s most exploited peasantry, the haris of Sindh.
Jam Saqi became the co-founding General Secretary while Yusuf Leghari became the President of Hyderabad Students Federation (HSF) that led the March 4, 1967 Movement against the bureaucratic interference in Sindh University’s affairs, including an army major’s harassment of noted Sindhi academic Prof. Qazi. The HSF-led procession of protesting students was mercilessly lathi-charged on Jam Shoro Bridge and a couple of hundred students including Jam Saqi were arrested. This was his first foray into prison. Of his 74 years Jam Saqi had to spend as many as 15 years of his life in the country’s most notorious prisons and detention centres including the now abandoned torture centre at Lahore’s historic Shahi Qila.
In the aftermath of the March 4, 1967 incident which had roused the people in Sindh, Jam Saqi tagged the demand for the dissolution of the One Unit scheme to the Movement for the Restoration of Sindhi language. In 1968 CPP’s pro-Moscow faction decided to form students’ organisations named after the provinces. Jam Saqi who was now a leading communist youth was elected as the founding president of Sindh National Students’ Federation (SNSF). From its founding day the SNSF became part of the anti-Ayub political movement. Simultaneously the NSF had launched its countrywide movement for students’ demands of which SNSF was a part.
The Ayub regime tried to subvert the struggle and started a massive crackdown, arresting students, political leaders and activists. Jam Saqi was amongst those detained and remained imprisoned for 90 days. The political struggle for the fall of the Ayub regime got crowned with success. However, Ayub violated his own Constitution and instead of handing over power to the Speaker of the National Assembly, he transferred it to his deputy, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan who promised the holding of General Elections for the formation of the Constituent Assembly and accepted the demand for abolition of One Unit scheme with restoration of provinces, adding Balochistan as a province. Thus one of the demands initiated, amongst others by Jam Saqi and his colleagues, was met, while the restoration of Sindhi language’s status was to wait till the end of military rule and the establishment of the elected government headed by Mr. Bhutto in the left over Pakistan after the emergence of Bangladesh.
Jam Saqi who had been actively engaged in organising the haris in Sindh along with launching the progressive political movement as an underground communist movement became a target of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led government. He was included as a wanted person in the so-called Hyderabad Conspiracy case that was initiated against National Awami Party leaders and others after the removal of NWP’s provincial governments in the then NWFP and Balochistan. Jam Saqi succeeded in evading arrest till after the end of the Bhutto regime.
Jam Saqi was arrested during General Zia-ul Haq’s military dictorship when he was charged for treason along with others. It was during this regime that he spent some eight years in prison and was also lodged and tortured in the now abolished, notorious dungeon of the Lahore Fort. The Thari warrior however resisted becoming another martyr from Sindh like Comrades Hasan Nasir and Nazeer Abbasi.
His trial under the charge of treason took place inside Karachi central jail. Those who testified for his innocence included political leaders like Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Benazir Bhutto, Fatehyab Ali Khan and Mairaj Muhammad Khan. Despite that he was convicted, but was released under internal and international pressure a couple of years before the completion of his sentence in 1986.
Jam Saqi revived his activities for the rights of the downtrodden.
A tragedy that took place during his detention under the Zia regime was the suicide committed by his first wife based on his rumoured death. He married again and his second wife Akhtar Sultana has survived him.
Jam Saqi who remained an active member of the underground CPP since 1963 and was elected its secretary general in 1990 left it a year later as he was opposed to blindly toeing the line of the Russian or Chinese communist parties. He stood for democratic functioning of the CPP. Later he joined Pakistan People’s Party and even served as Advisor to Sindh Government under the chief ministership of his friend and feudal nationalist politician Syed Abdullah Shah.
Jam Saqi who had contested for the Sindh Assembly seat twice from his home district Tharparkar in 1970 and 1986 failed to get elected. However, he was elected to the Council of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and participated in its fact finding missions. His writings include his book on Sindhi students’ movement and his writing in Sindhi on the Jam Saqi case under the title: History Shall not Forget Me.