IF you are an unemployed journalist and no newspaper accepts your contribution and your own publication folds for want of resources, what do you do? Most such journalists might become clerks somewhere or start selling chholey. But a Baloch journalist found a different answer more than 40 years ago. He became an early incarnation of the blogger.
Since the day does not seem to be far away when the government will have rendered all Pakistani journalists jobless, except for some who will be clinging desperately to their unrewarding drudgery, there is something to be learnt from this extraordinary Baloch journalist.
Babu Abdul Karim Shorish was born in a settlement near Mastung and completed his studies up to middle school as there was no high school in the Kalat state in the 1920s. He found a job as a patwari that he gave up in the 1930s when a number of state employees, including Abdullah Jan Jamaldini, the doyen of Baloch literary figures, who was a tehsildar, resigned to work for their people’s uplift. (Balochistan earned the distinction of recording resignations by a whole group of state employees to take up public causes.)
Abdul Karim learnt his nationalist politics from his uncle, Malik Abdur Rahim Khwaja Khel, who served as president of the Kalat National State Party for many years and became the top leader in Kalat during its stormy days in 1947. And he became a labour leader under the guidance of the outstanding Baloch trade unionist, Qazi Dad Muhammad. One of the earliest socialists, he joined the world peace committee headed by Saifuddin Kitchlew.
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There is something to be learned from the life of Babu Abdul Karim Shorish.
By 1945, Abdul Karim had decided to bring out an Urdu weekly, Taamir-i-Nau (Reconstruction) but the government of India denied him permission.
In the early 1950s, Babu Abdul Karim was instrumental in organising a Balochistan peace committee and was arrested, along with several other leaders, for organising a signature campaign. After release from prison, he started devoting more attention to journalism. From 1953 onwards, he contributed to different publications and finally joined weekly Zamana as editor of its Balochi page.
A few years later, he was promised a Balochi language weekly’s declaration but he didn’t have the Rs5,000 he was required to deposit in his bank account. Once this problem was solved by a large-hearted man, the first ever weekly in Balochi language, Naukin Daur (New Age) started publication on June 6,1962. The paper had a chequered existence and its publication was affected by lack of resources.
Abdul Karim enthusiastically hailed the grant of provincial status to Balochistan on Jan 1, 1970, as the first step towards the recognition of his homeland. He celebrated the victory of his favourite party in the 1970 elections and the formation of the NAP government but his expectations of government support for his journalistic endeavours were not realised.
By then, commitment to peace in the world had become his overriding passion. He changed the last part of his name from Shorish (commotion) to Aman (peace). In his will, written quite early, he called upon his children to uphold the banner of peace in the world.
The Naukin Daur had to be closed down for want of financial resources but on friends’ urging, Abdul Karim decided to launch it again in 1972. When the paper was sent to the printer he declined to accept it on the ground that the authorities had forbidden its printing.
Finally, when there was no way to keep the paper alive, Abdul Karim Aman used his last tactic to survive as a journalist; he started printing cards, 500 at a time, and priced each card at Rs5, that he personally delivered to his readers. Occasionally, a reader got so annoyed with him that he tore up the card. Abdul Karim would pick up the torn parts and glue them together and inscribe a note explaining who had torn it up.
These cards carried information about events involving important people, and exhorting the people to work for peace. Essentially, Abdul Karim Aman wanted to remain in touch with his readers and to keep the campaign for peace alive.
Abdul Karim Aman was buried at Hazarganj, a place on the Quetta-Mastung road, and he had wanted a peace tower to be built by the side of his grave. Surprisingly, the response to his wishes improved after his death. The owner of the land where Aman was buried was requested to donate a tract. He offered five acres. He was persuaded to donate only one acre. But the memorial committee was unable to collect money to build a tomb. The Dr Malik Baloch government took the matter into its own hands and Abdul Karim Aman’s tomb and peace tower were built.
The lessons from the life and struggles of Abdul Karim Aman for today’s beleaguered journalists are quite significant. The Baloch journalist did not consider his vocation limited to stringing words to make a statement this way or that. This journalist had something to tell the rulers and the ruled and the whole world. He had to use whatever medium was available to him to remain in touch with his readers and through them with the people at large. As a matter of fact, he was a forerunner of the present day blogger. Had Aman been alive today, he might have enjoyed the facility of sending messages to millions of people at the touch of a button.
Today’s sidelined and frustrated journalists have the wonderful facility of creating and sustaining huge audiences. The spoilsports are afraid of journalists’ ability to harness IT power. They have already raised barriers and laid traps and will invent ever new methods to control cyberspace. To challenge them will not only be heroic, it will also demand the development of an art of having one’s say without inviting trouble. In any case it will be great to join the contest. (Information about Abdul Karim Aman’s life taken from his biography written by Shah Muhammad Marri.)
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2020