Defense Road which is on the outskirts of Lahore is a massive industrial area where thousands of workers are employed. Since it is a long way from the city, it is a lawless area where the police and local administration is often in collusion with local gangsters, capitalists and landlords. Poor people have little or no rights in the area. The working class in this area is almost completely non-unionized (in fact most don’t know what a union is). Most workers in the area are first generation workers that have arrived from various villages all over the Punjab and live together in small cramped quarters. They send money back to their families in villages and try to eke out a meagre existence in the cities.
The CMKP has been working in this area for the last 12 years. We have seen the area change slowly. We have seen the roads develop. Farm land change into estates for the wealthy. Massive schemes that have robbed people of land in order to feed the land mafia. A flyover is now being constructed over the area. When we started work in the area more than a decade ago, it was nearly impossible to form any sort of collective action. Workers were illiterate and most believed that there was no possibility of standing up to the ruling class, police, or local badmash.
We continued our work patiently and with great persistence. Gradually our organization began to expand from a handful of individuals to a group of workers. We endlessly leafleted the area. Hundreds of thousands of left-wing leaflets have been distributed in the area on workers problems. We performed plays in the area. We performed musical programs in the area. We organized left-wing mushairas (poetry recitals) in the area. We lobbied the labour courts on specific issues. We distributed left-wing photocopied books in the area. We have had an endless number of study circles, corner meetings, hotel meetings, quarter meetings, house to house visits, and so on in the area. We participated in election campaigns in the area. Gradually we became strong enough to even build a worker financed party office. Today we are proud to say that we have members and sympathizers in the entire area. Our supporters run in thousands and we have built a left-wing working class
The comrades of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, Working Women’s Organization, and Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, who enjoy a very close working relationship under the banner of the Mazdoor Action Committee, decided to launch a concerted campaign on the issue of the provision of minimum wages. The minimum wage of Rs. 6000 is rarely paid in the area.
Workers at Naveena textiles (a very large company that exports shirts) were being laid off without proper notification. Moreover, minimum wages were not being paid to workers at this factory. The workers demanded that all their dues, including both wages and gratuity, be cleared on the basis of the recently announced minimum wages (i.e. Rs. 6000).
As a result on the 28th of July we helped to organize a strike. The response by the mill administration was that the local police was called out and workers were beaten black and blue. Warning shots were fired at the feet of the workers. It was more than obvious that the police was totally partial to the mill owners.
We helped organize a second strike on the 31st of July. However, this time the police had been called at 6 am in the morning and had completely occupied the entire building. The buses of workers were moved into the gates and under police supervision inside the factory they were made to work. Workers that had been illegally laid off assembled outside the premises and were beaten brutally. Four workers were taken into custody.
CMKP comrades called the press. My wife and I arrived minutes before the press and we were greeted some distance from the factory by workers with a roar of approval, handshakes, hugs, smiles, tears, followed by militant slogans. After the arrival of the press, we decided to go back to the factory gate. The police did not dare attack in the presence of the press. We stood at the gate raising slogans, clapping, and chanting in rhythm. We could see from the factory gate that police men with guns were stationed on the roof top of the factory. Police also cordoned the smaller gate (the larger gate was shut tight). And police also stood behind us and to our sides. But we were not afraid.
Then a new sight gripped our attention. Workers from inside the factory, having heard the commotion outside, left work and all came to the roof. We shouted out to them, if you are with us raise your hands, raise slogans with us. To our utter delight every single one of them raised their hands. The entire roof was now full of hundreds of workers and hundreds were outside with us. Waving to each other. But they could not come down because a heavy police presence was inside the factory.
The managers of the factory came out and said “this is all a giant misunderstanding” . But workers would have none of their sweet talk. Workers demanded that their comrades beaten and arrested that morning be released before any negotiations. Management tried to talk but they were drowned out by slogans. After some time management relented and released the workers to the roaring crowd. Management then invited the press inside the building. Some CMKP members and later the main labour leaders accompanied them to the office. Inside, the press grilled them with questions. One manager said that this was all the work of sharpasand elements (subversives) . Another began to accuse the press of being biased (interestingly he is the father of a colleague of mine from the university where I am a faculty member (LUMS) — it was Moin Cheema’s father). The press demanded a tour of the premises. They argued that workers had signed a contract but they had to relent when
we pointed out that their contract violated the labour laws of the country that guaranteed a minimum wage of Rs. 6000. They could not concede in front of all those cameras that they were willing to violate labour laws. Finally, they stated that they accepted the demands of the workers and informed us that they would speak to the owners and announce the date of the clearance. We were suspicious but decided to allow them time to talk to the owner.
We came back outside and saw that comrades of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation had also arrived. They gave us very sound advice. They said that we must immediately register the union and that we must request a labour court officer to come immediately to the factory. They called the labour court people and we announced this news to the workers.
By now we were standing around in small dispersed groups in front of the factory gate (no one was even close to the road). Speeches and slogans had all come to an end. We were waiting for the factory management to announce the date of clearance. The press had gone away. We saw the police filing out of the gate. I thought that they were going back to the station since the matter had been settled. As a precaution I asked our main labour leader Azam Naqvi to come stand next to me and to not be alone at any moment. Suddenly and without warning the police charged at Azam. I instinctively jumped between him and the police and he grabbed onto me from behind for protection. Workers had formed a right group behind us to protect Azam and we were not letting go of each other. I protested vehemently. A rain of lathis, kicks, and slaps came towards me. Since I was in the front and was extremely vocal, I was getting the vast majority of them. The SHO Farooq Awam (a
huge fat but strong man) let down a lathi squarely on my head. I don’t exaggerate when I say that it only felt like I had been brushed with a straw. I was so angry and incensed at that point that I couldn’t feel anything. I let out a few explicative and started fighting his subsequent strokes. Ali Jan, Rafaqat, and others jumped into the lathis to try and protect us. From behind I released that plain clothes police men were inside our group trying to separate our group. I grabbed one of them, he punched me in the face. Didn’t hurt. Just made me even more angry. At one point I grabbed a lathi from one end but couldn’t hold on to it as I need my arms to ward off the other lathis. From behind me I heard a sharp loud explosion. It was shots being fired into the ground. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw some smoke and workers running helter skelter. It took me a few minutes to realize that shots had been fired to disperse the crowds. By now our out
numbered (but unbroken) group was being pushed towards the police car (we were still being hit from all sides but it didn’t hurt). By the time we reached the police car, both the police and our group were gasping for air. I thought to myself, I need to pace my stamina, and exhaust these people (funny how one thinks these strange things in the middle of such situations). By now we were at back of the police van. I looked inside to see Ali Jan had already been arrested. I grabbed the railing of the van and resolved to not let go. The police pushed and pushed but could not budge us. Then one police officer cracked down on my left hand with his lathi. I got so angry I held out my hand and said “x,y,z phir mar, ley mera haath phir mar”. He did not hit me again (in fact later he became quite sympathetic to us). Several policemen grabbed my arms and tried to lift us again. They forgot my feet. I hooked my feet at the bottom of the van and they failed to lift
us yet again. Finally, they grabbed my legs and arms and lifted me clear off the ground. This time we were overpowered (as I think back, it must have been that our small linked group must have been broken from the back in order for them to be able to do that. My shoe came off. As they threw me into the van, I said “give me back my shoe” (as I think back I laugh at my own funny reactions and thoughts).
Five of us had now been hauled into the van (Ali Jan, Rafaqat, Azam, Bilal, myself). Bilal was bleed from the ear. Azam’s jeans were totally torn from the back. Ali Jan and myself held their hands and said “don’t be afraid, we are with you”. The van was moving and Rafaqat started raising slogans, we all joined him. The super cool Ali Jan started an entire speech in the van. He berated the police for their class biases. He started an entire CMKP study circle in the dam van. An argument broke out between the police and ourselves. We appealed to their working class roots and for them to realize that they were doing the wrong thing. On the one hand I was participating in the debate and on the other I was looking at and massaging my swollen left hand index finger thinking “I better get my guitar playing hand fixed for Laal, otherwise I won’t be able to finish the recording” (incredibly stupid I know but such are the joys of being arrested, it takes a while to
come to put things in perspective) .
When we got to the station the SHO (the man with whom I was in direct confrontation at the factory gate) turned to me and said “tera tay main hunain hi chitrol karan ga”. My instinctive reaction was to say “x,y,z hunay kar” but I realized that would be pretty stupid. So I blurted “kis bunyad par konsa qanoon torra hai hum nay”. He turned to one of the bulky police men and said “chitrol kar ida”. He replied “nahin sir”. “Ki matlab”. He didn’t explain just repeated “nahin sar” again (I assume the implication was that ‘these are influential people it would not be a wise move’). He turned to Azam and said “jagga nahin lain diyan ga main tenu”. Ali Jan said “Jagga kon sa ji, qanooni haqooq mangay hain”. After a short argument they marched us to a small room. As I was walking I got a text from my wife “I love you, please don’t fight them”. It made me realize that she was safe and it gave me strength.
Very soon comrade Ilyas of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation also joined us. He had been kidnapped by the security guards of the factory. Taken inside. Beaten up, slapped around. And then they had dropped him to the police in their private car. When he came into the cell he said in his characteristically calm tone “at least I came in an AC car”. We burst out laughing. Other prisoners were amazed that we were joking around.
They came to take down our names. I was still so angry that when they asked me for my quom (caste) I replied I had none and that I did not believe in such things. When they asked me again Ali Jan responded “likh dain insaaniyat”. Then they came to take our mobile phones. At first I resisted but then I realized that it was pointless (I didn’t have any credit in it anyway and our comrades knew where we were and must be working for our release). So I gave in when they came back a second time for it.
To boost our morale we started singing songs and reciting poetry. It is difficult to remember the words to songs when one is in such situations. Even tunes get jumbled up. But they immediately brought a calm to our nerves and lifted our spirit. From our small window we heard a policemen remark “aye qaidi bathain nay?”. We laughed and said “aye labour leader bathain nay”.
I looked out the window and saw a black car. I said “its ’s car” (although I wasn’t 100% sure). We called out from the window. Maana radical saw us. The other prisoners said don’t let them know that you have communicated, stay quiet. In a little while we saw Farooq Tariq walk in. This lifted our spirits even more. We knew that news was out and it would be impossible now for them to beat us. M. managed to get some GEO and other media people into the cell. By now we were fully relaxed. I jokingly remarked “I hope they haven’t told my mother, unho nain police ko bhi tun daina hai aur humain bhi”. We all laughed.
A young policeman came and sat with us and we had a long discussion with him on politics and the police. He was defending his actions against workers and abusing the rich, defending torture in police custody and speaking about his own misfortunes at the hands of stronger men, defending the Taliban and the attack on Laal Masjid, defending the Saudi monarchy and Musharraf, waving the nationalist flag and cursing the country. All contradictory positions that he kept in stead to pick and choose from depending on what his superiors decided. All these positions were, nonetheless, supporting one or another form of authoritarianism. He pointed to one of the four people that was in the cell and told us proudly that he had tortured one person to confess his crime. Their crimes were having stolen some goats two years ago. One boy from Multan had come from work. The hotel he worked at said that he had to give Rs 500 security to work. So he made an attempt to steal
something from a factory but failed. The tortured boy submissively responded to the policeman’s humiliating questions in a self-effacing manner that was difficult for me to absorb. But as soon as the policeman turned he murmured a punjabi gali under his breadth. His spirit was not broken and I could feel his hatred exuding from his eyes. We offered them drinks that our comrades had brought for us, Ali Jan sat on the floor with them (the rest of us were sitting on a bed and some broken chairs). Rafaqat said “agli dafa factory tu chori na karo, munazam ho jao, factory hi tuwadi ho jai gi”.
Then the door opened and in stepped my mother looking like she could eat up any policeman that so much as looked at her. She came and sat down and said in a loud voice “han ji kiya tamasha banaya hua hai yehan”. The policeman responded “madam mujhay tu kuch maloom nahin”. She said “tu phir mera waqt kyun zaya kar rahay ho, jao us khotay ko lay kar aao jis ko maloom hai”. They went running and produced the second in command Ghumman. He said “ji baji aap kyun ayeen hain yehan”. She said “yeh main aap ko batao, aap mujhay batai keh main kyun aye hun yehan. Kidhar hay SHO?” “Vo ji baji round par gaye hain” he very meekly responded. One of the workers said “Naveena factory wapis gaye hai”. My mother forcefully said “Paisay khain hain tum sab logon nay malikon say, ghareeb logon ko haqooq nahin daitay ho, hum sab jantay hain, daikhna tum logon ko mun ke khani parrhay gi, hum kais karray gay, tum daikhtay raho”.
Then she left to meet the investigating officer. We could hear the shouts in our cell. Investigating officer ki tu vo ke that even Farooq Tariq came to our cell (I assume because he couldn’t contain his smile). He expressed solidarity and said with a smile “aap ki walda bhi larr rahin hain”. We laughed and said “han ji, aasarat yehan tak puhanch rahay hain”. Farooq was on the phone constantly ringing up the DSP, the SP and all his contacts (including AMP contacts). Brigadier Rao Abid of the HRCP called and took the whole report.
By now they released us from the little room and allowed us roam around in the courtyard. Ali and I were limping from a knee and ankle sprain but we were happy to be sitting with our comrades U., Maana, M.. The other four needed to go to the toilet. The toilet was in the hawalat (jail). When they went inside the policemen shut them inside (they forced Ilyas into the hawalat). Ali and I discovered after a few minutes what had happened and it made us very tense. We knew then that the plan of the police was to separate us from the workers and to later beat the workers.
In a little while my father, Gulzar Chaudhry of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, more media people, and the SHO all arrived. Gulzar sahib said to me “chalo acha hua Taimur tum pakrray gaiy, is tarrha mulakat tu ho gaye. Fiqr na karo, if they don’t release you by tonight hum pooray union ka zor lagain gay.”
Negotiations began. The police said “take one person you consider most important, take Taimur, but we cannot go of the rest.” My father said “you mean you think my son is a bhagorra? Do you think he will go or we will ask him to do that? We support him 100%. He has raised the voice of the oppressed.” When the DSP said the same thing to my mother she responded “aap ka khiyal hai main nay chuya pala hai, vo principles ki larray larr raha hai, aur yeh na samjhain kay hum us kay saath nahin hain, hum bhi us kay saath hain.” The SHO said “daikhain ji main tu kuch nahin kar sakta main tu aik SHO hun, officer kahin tu SHO phook say urrh jata hai”. My father responded very calmly (Al Pachino style) “phoonk say hi tu bachanay aye hain hum”. I swear I have never been more proud of my parents in my entire life.
I had another altercation with the SHO when we discussing the conditions of the release. He said “Taimur sahib yeh criminal elements aap ko shield bana kar use kar rahay hain. Aap putli banay huay hain”. I responded “SHO sahib, aik baat main aap ko bata dun, chahay aap ko achi lagay ya burri, putli main nahin, aap banay huay hain” and I walked out of his office. (Qasam say I should sell my dialogue to a hindu movie).
Finally, after many phone calls from various government offices (including the CM), they decided that they will let us go for the night but only on the condition that we come back to the police station in the morning and surrender to the magistrate.
They had cut an FIR against us for four charges (one of which it turns out has been repealed anyway). These included blocking the road, beating up a police officer in a pathrao, burning tyres on the road (all lies). They led us to believe that they will drop the case. But they were tricking us yet again. They were trying to negotiate the pressure from both sides. Obviously they had been taking a lot of money from Naveena textiles. Nonetheless, they released us at night and we came home to sleep.
In the morning we went back to the station. However, when it came time to go to the court they placed us in handcuffs. They said “oh this is a formality, we have to follow court procedures”. We didn’t know that the crimes we had been charged with were minor crimes that did not require handcuffs. They did this to humiliate us. But at that moment, we unaware of their intention and were joking around. Taking pictures and in high spirits. In the van, we sang revolutionary songs (we sang them completely out of tune but it didn’t matter at all, the louder the better). At this time the sangli of the handcuff was in our own hands. We were buffed in pairs (Ali and myself, Rafakat and Billal, Azam and Ilyas).
When we were herded in to the magistrate office, one of the HRCP lawyers Asad was outraged. He said “how dare you handcuff these people. None of the crimes registered against them are serious offenses. This is totally ridiculous. Remove the handcuffs.” The police refused. It was then that we realized that this was not a formality but a deliberate intent to humiliate us (little did they know that we wore those handcuffs with pride). DAWN news was present. We went to the camera and said “We asked for minimum wage, and this is what we got” (we raised our handcuffs). Then we burst out into revolutionary slogans, songs, and poetry. The courtyard rang out with socialist slogans.
Meanwhile six lawyers argued our case voluntarily. Asad, Azeem Daniyal, Rabea Bajwa (and two others whose names I cannot remember). Interestingly, the case against us was cut by the police (i.e. the police was the complainant) . Yet the lawyers that appeared in court against us were from Naveena textile. In fact, they were accompanied by the factory manager (hence the need for handcuffs on us, to humiliate us and show that their money was getting its worth). This demonstrates who was behind the entire police violence. It demonstrates that the local police has completely sold out to the mill owners. Naveena’s lawyers argued that we had a lethal weapon in our possession during the strike and hence we should not be given bail but should be put in jail. The magistrate (Aasha Tariq) did not agree and the bail was set at Rs. 40,000 per person. The lawyers said “take our high court bar license as zamanat”. They got us our bail without any difficulty. The court
had now adjourned for the day. When our lawyers asked the police to open the cuffs. They at first delayed. There was a sharp altercation. Finally, they opened my cuffs but they would not open Azam’s cuff. They said that there was yet another FIR against Azam hence he had to remain in custody. We were about to lose our cool when Azeem Dainyal saved the day. He said “produce the FIR, we will get the bail right now”. He went inside the chamber and asked the magistrate to come out again (Magistrate Aasha Tariq). She immediately issued another bail and said to the police “release him at once”. We were much relieved. The intention of the police was to get rid of the five of us but take Azam back to the station in order to beat up. But they failed and we are free once again.
The case will go on and the struggle will also go on. Please do not think that the worst is over. Support our struggle for minimum wages.
I also want to thank a number of people that had been working day and night to get us out. I want to thank as many people as possible by name for helping us get out of police custody. I want to thank
The workers of Naveena who went back to the factory gate and continued to protest after the police arrested us. And are still struggling.
Our ja nasheen comrades of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation and Working Women’s Organization that were not only working for our release but were in jail with us every step of the way.
Asma Jehangir, Brig. Rao Abid and the HRCP that kicked into high gear and sent a team of lawyers for our defense.
Our superb legal team, including Azeem Daniyal, Asad Jamal, Rabea Bajwa, Chaudhry Nawaz and one other whose name has slipped my mind. They were as amazing as we were clueless. Were it not for them, Azam would have been back in police custody recovering from torture. For them and others we raised the slogan “mazdoor wukla ittehad, zindabad”.
Afzal Khamosh of the Mazdoor Kissan Party, with whom we split in 2003 and have been at loggerheads since then, held a press conference the very next day for our release. This act means a huge thing to us.
Farooq Tariq who was present in the thana as soon as he heard about the incident and was with us for nearly the whole day. Furthermore, LPP that mobilized for our support in Karachi and other areas.
Dr. Riaz and International Socialists, whom we have berated endlessly on our email list, demonstrated the very next day in Karachi.
Somia Sadiq, who is no longer with our party, but was in constant contact with us, offering us help, support and solidarity.
Nusrat Jamil, Jeelo Jamil, and Tehmina Durrani who moved the CM and the governors office to put pressure on the police from above. Ahmed Rashid, Samina Rahman, Zaki Rahman, Women’s Action Forum, PILER, Anjuman Muzareen Punjab all issued statements or called us in solidarity.
Last but not least, my parents who fought with us like Bolshevik agitators. Their fearlessness gave me even more courage and I have never been more proud of them in my entire life. My wife Mahvash who saw the entire episode of violence but refused to be intimidated.
Finally my party comrades (too many to name) from all over Pakistan and internationally that rose up to defend us against state oppression. Although they would consider it somewhat of an offense if we thanked them “leh shuriya kis cheez ka, aren’t we party members, this is our duty” they have all said to me. Nonetheless, thank you comrades. Without your support we could not have fought this struggle.