Why Indians Use Pakistani Poet Habib Jalib’s Words to ‘Rebel’

Researcher Aamir Raza sheds light on Pakistani revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s poetry of resistance. 

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of Pakistani poet Habib Jalib and India & Pakistan’s flags used for representation.
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No poet since Wali Dakkani has been able to capture greater audience than Habib Jalib. He is truly the poet of the masses...” – Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Poetry, like politics, has a long tradition of building solidarity among the participants of social movements who are fighting the prevailing heavy cloud of social and political fatigue. In June 1962, when General Ayub Khan fostered a new constitution in Pakistan and the dictatorship was tightening its grip on civil society, a young dissident poet decided to vigorously oppose military rule through his defiant poetry, and chose to sing about the common man and his life. The new constitution abolished parliamentary democratic practices and established a dictatorial and autocratic ‘presidential rule’ of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Calling out the farce, Habib Jalib wrote Dastoor.

Deep jis ka mehllaat hi Mein jaley,
Chand logon ki khushiyon ko le kar chaley,
Wo jo saaye Mein har maslehat ke paley,
Aisey dastoor ko,
Sub-he-be-Noor ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein Janata.

Due to its mass appeal, Jalib was requested to recite it wherever he went. As a result, Ayub Khan sent Jalib to prison but even this could not prevent him from expressing dissent in his poetry.

How Habib Jalib Stood Against the Establishment

Dastoor doesn’t only capture the political frustration and anger of ordinary Pakistanis but also celebrates the voice of the oppressed living under tyrannical rule anywhere in South Asia. It thus became the anthem of resistance against ‘dictatorial’ regimes in Pakistan.

More recently, the poem was recited repeatedly by protestors across India during the agitation against the polarising Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). His poetry rejected authoritarian inclinations and dispensations.

He was never a Darbari poet and during his lifetime, never reconciled with the ruling establishment. He continued speaking his mind and never shied away from taking on the powerful.

Habib Jalib & His ‘Friendship’ With Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

In 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power. Jalib had been a good friend of Bhutto’s, and Zulfiqar was keen to recruit Habib Jalib for his newly-formed Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). According to sources close to Bhutto, one day Habib Jalib went to meet him. Bhutto, on seeing him, asked ‘when are you going to come?’ (referring to his joining the PPP). Jalib said: ‘Have the oceans ever fallen into rivers?’

This was at a time when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at the peak of power, but that didn’t prevent Jalib from protesting against PPP’s policies when he felt Bhutto was going off the straight and narrow.

On Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution, he wrote:

His magic has not been broken His blood has become a slogan.”

The disastrous 1965 war with India, forced Ayub Khan out of power and the baton was passed onto another dictator- General Yahya Khan but Jalib did not feel any fear while criticising the next dictator either. He famously recited a poem titled, Taḳht Nashin tha (The Enthroned), while looking at a picture of Yahya Khan.

Tum se pehle jo aik shahs yahan takht nasheen tha

Uss ko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yaqeen tha"

Habib Jalib’s Reaction to General Zia’s Policies

He was one of the handful of intellectuals in Pakistan who strongly reacted to Yahya Khan’s operation in East Pakistan. “Mohabbat golion se bo rae ho,” was the immediate reaction of the poet.

Arguably, Zia ul-Haq’s regime constituted the darkest era in the history of Pakistan. Habib Jalib was jailed multiple times by General Zia for writing poems against his rule. He once wrote: “Virsay mein humay yeh gham hai mila, iss gham ko naya kya likhna? (We’ve inherited this sad state of affairs, why write this sadness as something new?).”

In 1984, General Zia decided to hold a referendum in a bid to give legitimacy to his rule that asked if people want Islamic laws in Pakistan. Nobody come out to vote and Jalib mocked him through his ‘nazm’ ‘Referendum’.

He wrote:

Shahar me hu ka aalam tha jinn tha ya referendum tha qaid the divaron men log bahar shor bohot kam tha .... marhumin shareek hue sachchai ka chahlam tha (the city was deserted were it djinns or a referendum?(people were trapped in walls there was barely a sound in the streets .... the dead participated in the exercise to mark the demise of truth).

How Habib Jalib Continued to Dream Of Democracy

He rebelled against conservative politics and values and refused to be stifled. His poetry captures the essence of the working class’s true feelings. In spite of the brutalities of successive military governments in Pakistan, he never abandoned the idea of democratic optimism in his poetry, which eulogised the struggles of all the voiceless in an authoritarian regime.

As ‘resistance’ increasingly becomes the operative word in the Indian subcontinent’s socio-political landscape, Jalib has been reborn for another generation — a generation that is infuriated with the oppressive state of affairs.

Another stalwart of Pakistani literature, poet Qateel Shifai, expressed his sorrow on the death of Habib Jalib:

Apne saarey dard bhula kar auron ke dukh sehta tha
Hum jub ghazlain kehtey thay wo aksar jail main rehta tha
Aakhir chala hee gya wo rooth kar hum farzanoun se
Wo deewana jisko zamana Jalib Jalib kehta tha

(Aamir Raza, an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia, is a New Delhi-based independent researcher. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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