The F.E. Choudhry Gallery: Na unki rasm nai hai, na apni reet nai

Posted on June 14, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, >Nadeem Omar, History, Law & Justice
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Nadeem Omar and Adil Najam

The scenes we are seeing in the current lawyers movement for democracy, including the ones seen most recently at the Long March to Islamabad, reminds one that our memories are short but are struggles for democracy are not.

Protests outside Lahore High Court where Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was being tried, 1978

Police barricades outside Lahore High Court, 1978These two news photographs from the F.E. Chaudhry of protests outside the Lahore High Court where Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was being tried in 1978 are from about another set of protest for democracy by the intelligentia, outside another court, against another military dictator, and for democracy.

These pictures are from an era when the suppression of information was stronger and technologies of liberation (like the electronic media, including blogs) were not widespread. One is not sure, therefore, if these pictures were ever actually published. But, looking at them today one is reminded of how little has changed either in the desire of ordinary Pakistanis for justice and democracy or in the response of the state to this desire. The barricades today are more sophisticated (containers have replaced barbed wire) but as the police danda is pretty much the same.

The first of the pictures above shows the chaotic scene of riot police quelling the protests on the Shahrahe-Quaid Azam, (or popularly the Mall Road) Lahore, by PPP loyalist who were trying to get to Lahore High Court, where Mr Bhutto was being tried for murder. It is strongly reminiscent of current lawyers struggle for the restoration of superior judiciary.

Presumably taken from a roof top of a building on the Mall, the long aerial shot establishes the scale of everlasting contest between oppressive organs of the state and the democratic forces of civil society, unsettling the democratic future of Pakistan. A testimony of resilience to democratic intelligentsia of the country, which has always struggled against military tyranny, but was rarely acknowledged.

A closer view of the photograph reveals the pockets of struggle within a wider frame. Brutal beating taken by the protestors at the hands of police, a cycle and a scooter abandoned in the middle of road, bare handed individuals failing to protect themselves from baton charged, while a civil officer calmly looks away as the havoc was a mundane state affair.

The second picture from FE Chaudhry shows a lone figure of a policeman on the Mall Road who stands calmly few blocks away, guarding the pillars of state. In the background are barbed wires, laid all around the Lahore High Court, with a posse of policemen trailing along the walls of the Court and their superiors blocking the entrance gate. The photograph captures the heavily guarded surroundings of the Lahore High Court, where Mr Bhutto was being tried for a murder.

These two pictures challenge the impression that Bhutto’s judicial murder was condoned by people in Pakistan. Or, the more recent argument that the current lawyers movement is something “new and unusual”, something “unnatural”, something “abnormal.”

Indeed, these two pictures validate Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s memorable lines (and also the poetic inspirations of Faraz and Jalib):

Yuhin hamesha ulajhati rahi hai zulm se khalq
Na unki rasm nai hai, na apni reet nai
Yuhin hamesha khilaye hain humne aag mein phool
Na unki haar nai hai na apni jeet nai

Click here for the evolving F.E. Choudhry Gallery at ATP.

12 responses to “The F.E. Choudhry Gallery: Na unki rasm nai hai, na apni reet nai

  1. Humayun says:

    The murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by Zia was certainly one of the saddest event in Pakistans political history. Despite all his faults, Bhutto was a great leader and truly loved by many (also hated by a few). If he had not been murdered the history of this country would have been very different.

  2. Remember those days of 1946 to 1965,inspite of bluffed us/MUSLIMS by CONTRADICT their promise that pakistan achieved not as a piece of land but it is achieved on the Ideology and to impliment Islamic principals that is shariah conveyed to us by our creater almighty Allah contained in Q,uran Ahadis and Seerat ,reached to us by our prophet S.A.W.,WE MUSLIMS WHO SAW SACRIFICES GIVEN FOR PAKISTAN were still hoping and praying for promised pakistan,although in his first speech QUID already said that there is no muslim,hindu,christian etc but all are pakistani .Religion is not the concern of state.Jogendranath mandal a hindu schedulecast from West Bengal was apponted Law Minister and he has chaired first session of our Constitution Assembly ans Zafrullah Khan a qadiani who is was not believing in our prophet S.A.W. But Ghulam Ahmed as prophet.Any how struggle is still to continue to establish real pakistan on the Ideology of Islam in accordence with the contents of preamble of our constiyution of 1973,

  3. Naveed Siraj says:

    While reading the “A case of exploding mangoes” by M. Hanif it struck me that i belong to the generation that saw the 70’s culminate into Zia’s autocratic rule. And purely a question of demographics; there is a distinct possibility that younger readers would have no point of reference to events related to, in the book, due to the complete blackout of news during the 80’s.

    This is why the book is funny; in that though it is fiction but it draws from characters that developed a reputation in terms of activities associated with them; ie., trailing of pressmen by ISI, torture of activists at the hands of the agencies; Gen Chisti and Zia handpicking & choosing material that was, in this sick minds, kosher for the public to read etc.

    Having one family member contribute to the pre-1977 print media who suffered the aftermath & the turmoil at the hands of Gen Chisti and other ruling the PID & Ministry of Information; it is sad that our memory is so short and that we continue to make the same mistakes & we have learned nothing. Or perhaps due to an open media, present & future generations will remember the current events with a lot more clarity and have a balance opinion due to the transparent & instant availability of information

  4. yasser latif hamdani says:


    Sorry to disrupt this discussion but please be informed that the great M P Bhindara, brother to Bapsi Sidhwa, great businessman, owner of Pakistan’s world famous Murree brewery, long time legislator and a prolific campaigner for minorities’ rights has passed away.

    He was a great admirer of the Quaid and was not allowed to come back to assembly because of his attempt to make the 11th August speech part of the constitution through Article 2B.

    Hope you will do a complete obituary for him in your distinctive style because a great proponent of Pakistaniat has passed on.

  5. Kareem says:

    Impressive pictures and very thoughtful commentary. This is yet another era of our history that has been lost. The image created by Zia’s propaganda was that there were no protests and no public reaction and people like Abdullah seem to believe that. But the reality was very different.

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