ISLAMABAD: A meaningful change in the world to end oppression and social injustice cannot be brought about without changing the way people think. Left-leaning intellectuals and activists must overcome petty differences to unite and protect the masses from the exploitation of corporations and extremist forces.
These views were expressed by Noor Zaheer, an Indian writer and activist, at the launch of her short- stories book “Rait per Khoon” (Blood on the Sand) at the Pakistan Academy of Letters on Monday.
Noor is the daughter of the late Sajjad Zaheer, a writer and revolutionary who was a founding member of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) and movement in pre-partition India. She lives and works in Himachal Pardesh in India and is visiting Pakistan at the invitation of PWA in Pakistan.
Speaking to a jam-packed conference hall, Noor said it is only when views change that meaningful change in the world becomes a possibility.
“Let’s try that we change our ideas so that when the past passes through the present to transform into the future, its face be bright and pleasant,” she said. “Let’s try so that in the future we may have the freedom to ask questions, the right to demand answers and the courage to point out answers that are insufficient.”
Noor, who is also a member of the Communist Party of India, said the political and intellectual left should not squabble about ideological differences. She said they should unite to pre-empt the challenges society faces from the extremist elements.
“We need to be united and we need to make a programme — a minimum programme with maximum unity,” Noor said. “We can form secular forums, where people do not talk about which of them follows Marx or Lenin or Trotsky or Mao, but they all agree in saying that humans will not hurt humans.”
She said writers were once considered the “torchbearers” of the movement for social justice and equality, but now writers in South Asia have stopped writing for the oppressed. Writers must take the lead in challenging the corporations and power centres, Noor said.
She said there should be more translations from regional Pakistani languages and also floated the idea of a “people’s literature festival”, which would be free from the control of corporate sponsors.
Professor Yusuf Hassan, who chaired the launch, said Noor’s book is a wonderful example of social realism. Hassan said the stories in the book suggest they were written by someone who is able to look inside human beings and understand the relationships that hold society together.
He suggested that society is not a collection of individuals as most people think it is, rather it is a collection of the relationships among humans.
“It is these social relationships, which complete human existence and which humans internalise,” he said.
Hassan said humans are not just “being” but they are in the process of “becoming,” which means that the class struggle is a struggle in time, not space.
Arshad Mehmood, the president of the PWA Islamabad, said there should be more interactions between writers from both sides of the border. Mehmood said the Indian establishment should also realise that “hatred between the countries is fake and baseless” and it should relax visa restrictions for writers and liberal intellectuals.
Veteran broadcaster Agha Nasir, famous poet Kishwar Naheed and writers Ahmed Saleem, Ravish Nadeem and Salahuddin Darwesh also spoke.
Speakers highlighted that Noor’s short stories reflect the true spirit of the progressive literature, which usually focuses on social problems. They said Noor’s book touches upon themes of class struggle and women rights, with a focus on the plight of the oppressed.