Bradford Declaration
Mahasara (The Siege)
Progressive Writers Conference UK
Opening Speach - Prof N Tabassum
1st Manifesto of PWA 1936
Bradford Decleration (Urdu)
Is it true pic of women in Pakistan?
PWA conference Southampton UK
Coverage - Bradford Conference
e-mail me

Opening Speach of Prof. Nazir Tabassum


In the very outset I must express my gratitude to all of you, more especially to our chief guest Mr Tony Benn, who have spared some time out of their pressing engagements to participate in today’s Progressive Writers Conference.

I must also apprise you that the holding of this Conference is a joint venture of Progressive Writers Association UK, the Indian Workers Association UK and the South Asian Peoples Forum UK. This Conference is the 3rd of a series of conferences, the first one of its kind was at Southampton in the month of June, the second one was at Slough on 24th of July, the 4th one will be at Leicester on 7th of August, the fifth and finally the 6th ones would be at Nottingham and London respectively.

South Asian Peoples Forum UK is a non partisan entity which is open to everybody with progressive view of life more especially to the British of the Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri, Bangla Deshi, Nepali and Sri Lankan origins. It was founded by a circle of progressive friends in January 2008. It aims at creating a group of seriously thinking people who could disseminate ideas within the group about the issues concerning local communities as well as those of national and international magnitude. It also aims at organising meetings or get-togethers where scholarly persons, experts in specific fields of learning are invited to address the audience on specific issues. And it is an organization without any office bearers. In order to run day to day business it has a coordinating committee.

In meetings like the one we are holding here today, it is customary to introduce the chief speaker. Rt. Honourable Anthony Neil Wedgewood Benn, who in October 1973 announced on BBC Radio that he wished to be known as Mr Tony Benn, is our Chief Guest today. He has been very systematic in his life to declass himself. Thus he struggled hard to get rid of his inherited title of 2nd Viscount Stan gate and in the process succeeded in the creation of the Peerage Act of 1963. He worked with both Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in their cabinets holding various portfolios like Post Master General, Secretary of State for energy, Secretary of State for Industry and Minister of State for Technology. Second only to John Parker, Tony Benn has been Labour’s longest serving MP, who came top to several polls as one of the most popular politicians in the UK.

According to the historian Alwyn Turner, Benn had “emerged as the most persuasive and charismatic leader of the left for two decades. He has been described as “one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office”.  After leaving Parliament, Ben has also become more interested in the grass-roots politics of demonstrations and meetings and less in parliamentary activities.

Shortly after his retirement he was approached by Stop the War Coalition, and he was asked to become its President, an offer he accepted.

Benn married Caroline DeCamp and they had four children – Stephen, Hilary, Melisa, and Joshua. Unfortunately Caroline died of cancer on 22nd November 2000 aged 74, after a career as a prominent educationalist. In general elections 2010, Benn’s  granddaughter Emily contested and ultimately lost the seat of East Worthing and Shoreham – the Labour’s youngest ever candidate.

By the end of 1970 Benn had moved to the left-wing of the Labour Party. He attributed this political shift to his experiences as Cabinet Minister in the 1964-70’s Labour Government. Ben wrote:

“As a minister, I experienced the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government. Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes is miniscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the IMF secured cuts in our public expenditure. These lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum”.

My question is that who would provide leadership to any such prospective agitation? None but  a united front of the objectively thinking left wingers supported by the progressive academics, intellectuals, writers and workers organised in trade unions. So once again we are standing at the same place in the history of our struggle where once stood a bunch of Indian writers in the UK who felt the need of founding a movement of the men of letters who could awake the Indian masses from the deep slumber to which they were subjected by their colonial masters.

Thus the writers of Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujrati such as Mulk Raj Anand, Sajjad Zaheer, Haron Mukerji, Harti Singh and one more gentleman met in a hotel in London in 1935 and laid the foundations of Progressive Writers Movement. It was established in Lucknow on 10th April 1936, in July 1936 in Kolkata and after 1947 in Pakistan.

This movement was anti-imperialist in character, left-oriented, advocated equality and attacked social injustice and backwardness. It was the strongest one since Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s education movement. The Progressive Writers produced finest fiction and poetry. They proved to be the trend setters for the coming generations.

Many progressive poets actually participated in the freedom struggle with their poetry on their lips. The best of the poetry has been written in prison cells by the progressive writers. They were the poets of a country where great patriots had mounted the gallows reciting poetry with proud defiance, like Ram Prasad Bismal who immortalised these lines of a poet of Bihar of the same name, i.e. Bismal Azeemabadi:

Sirfaroshi ki tamanna ub humaray dil mein hei

Dekhna hei zore kitna bazoo-e-qatl mein hei

Rah row-e-rah-e-mohabat reh na jana rah mein

Luzat-e-sahra naverdi doori-emanzil mein hei


We were prepared to sacrifice our head

Let us see the power of the executioner’s arm

Do not linger behind, O’ traveller of the path of love

The taste of desert –tracking lies in the distance of the destination.

Bhagat Singh was another martyr who used to quote poetry freely in his letters that he wrote from the death cell. Their slogan was “Inqlab – Zinda bad” i.e. “Long Live – Revolution”. The same slogan was used by Gandhi ji and Pandat Nehru, by  Prem Chand who was a confirmed believer in Gandhiism , and also by Sajjad Zaheer, a confirmed Marxist and non-conformist and also by many others.

Let us pause here and think for a moment “What is poetry?”

Poetry is a song as well as declaration, whispering of breeze in a rose garden, and a rage of the storm that uproots the trees; the soft fell of dew on green grass and the torrential rain with thunder and lightning; a sweet smile of a pair of lips and the shriek of a martyr tortured in prison; the slogan of a nation breaking the chains of slavery and the symphony of the maker of history.

It is wrong to presume that poetry is only this and not that.  Yet a categorical statement can be made: Poetry is not absurd.

The theme of poetry is neither religion nor politics nor recording of events. It embraces all aspects of human life, because the basic and the only theme of poetry, as that of all literature and art, is Man. But the emphasis changes from age to age and the flavour of language and the beauty and style of images according to the country and its people. The people is Man and Man is people in all its aspects, colours, races, manners, professions, running into millions.

Thus Faiz Ahmed Faiz says:

Hum nay jo terz-e-fughan ki hei qufus mein ejaad

Aaj gulshan mein wohee terz-e-bian their hei.


The style of wailing that we’ve created in the cage

Has been accepted as the style of song in the garden today.

Mujjaz Lucknavi says:

Is mehfil-e-Kaif o masti mein, is anjuman-e-irfani mein

Sub jam bekaf behthay he rahay, hum pee bhi gayey, chhalka bhi gayey.


In this assembly of ecstacy and intoxication, in this gathering of intellectual understanding

The revellers kept sitting with full cups in their hands, we spilled a little and drank to the last drop.

Majroo Sultanpuri says:

Satoon-e-daar pe raktay chalo saroon kay chiragh

Jehan talak ye sitam ki sia raat chalay


Go on putting on top of the gallows the lamps of martyred heads

As long as this night of injustice and tyranny lasts.

Again Faiz Ahmed Faiz says:

Dast-e-siad be aajiz hei, kuf-e-gulcheen be

Boo-e-gul their na bulbul ki zuban their hei.


Powerless is the hand of the hunter,

Helpless the hand of the plunderer of flowers

The fragrance of rose cannot remain imprisoned

The sweet song of the nightingale cannot be stopped.

And lastly I’ll quote Makhdoom:

Koh-ghum aur giran, aur giran, aur giran

Ghumzadoo teshay ko chumkao kay kuchh raat katey.


The mountain of sorrows becomes heavier and heavier

O’ comrades in sorrow, take up your shining axes to cut the rock of the night.


Friends and Comrades! I’m very sorry for taking much time but I think it was essential in order to set the context of today’s conference. Thank you.

(The End)