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Friday, May 17, 2024

Taking a Stand: The Legacy of Courageous Individuals in the Land of the Pure

In a time when conformity seemed to be the norm, these remarkable individuals pedaled against the tide, both metaphorically and literally, on their 'Sarkari Bicycles.' This is a story of their unwavering commitment to honesty, integrity, and the pursuit of excellence, as they stood up for what was right, often at great personal cost.

There was a time in the land of the pure when bicycles were widely used. Recently, I read a story about a ‘Sarkari Bicycle.’ An officer was allocated a bicycle for transport, which did not have a carrier. So, it was sent back with a request to provide one. When the bicycle returned, it was without a ‘Stand.’ In the protest of the officer, he was told that he had to choose between ‘Career or Stand,’ and could not have both. Most career officers thus operate without the much-needed stand.

Dissent is looked down upon, as such it is to be avoided if professional advancement is desired. Only crimes of commission are punishable while omission has become acceptable. In other words, just show up for work, move up the ranks with time-based promotions, retire, and go home with no laurels or legacy, and then perish to be forgotten. In Punjabi, the term used is ‘Dung Tappu’ (Passing time). When I returned from the USA after my higher education, my colleagues always commented; “Why are you always in a hurry?” My answer never impressed them; “To save time.” It seems time has very little value in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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Understanding the matter better

Growing up on the Mall very close to the Punjab University, I was exposed to outstanding individuals who bicycled to work with carriers and stands and then stood up to the pressures of their times. Dr. Nazir Ahmed, the legendary Principal of Government College Lahore, stands out. Every morning he pedaled to the College. In extreme winters, he wore a long overcoat which, at times, he would bundle up and secure on the carrier of his bicycle. He was like a father to his students, always there for them, and allowed no one to come between him and his children. Whenever the authorities tried to remove him, the students came out for him. By the time I entered the College, he had left, but there was a culture of using bicycles.

There were two cycle stands, one behind the Bokhari Auditorium and the other outside the Psychology Department. Dr. Imdad Hussain, Principal of MAO College, also pedaled to work. He had an interesting habit; if he cited one of his students on the road, he would hold their arms to piggyback a free ride. Both were exceptional educationists who served their institutions to the best of their abilities and withstood all external pressures to ensure the well-being of their students.

Professor U. Kramat was the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Punjab University when demonstrations started against the first usurper. In pursuit of the protestors, Police entered the Old Campus without the permission of the VC. In the evening, he resigned in protest. Professor Hamid Ahmed Khan as VC did not allow the President to use the University Ground for his Jalsa. When his ‘Sarkari League’ sought permission to use the facility, the VC asked for a ‘Security Deposit’ of Rs 400,000/=, the amount spent on preparing the Cricket pitch. It did not sit well with the President. Prof. Khan was denied an extension when his term ended. Prof. Shakir Ali as Principal of the National College of Arts (NCA) built the institution with his life and blood.

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Mrs. Anna Molka Ahmed in the Fine Arts Department, Prof. Khawaja Salahuddin in the Chemical Technology, and Dr. M.I.D. Chaughtai in Chemistry ran their departments with dedication and grit with no outside interference. When Nawaz Sharif, as Chief Minister (CM), tried to force the admission of his daughter to the historic Kinnaird College for Women, Mrs. Mira Phailbus, the Principal, refused. She was removed from her position but she stood her ground. Fearing student protests, she was restored, and the first daughter had to seek admission elsewhere according to her merit.

During my stint as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, when I went through the files for final approval, I was impressed by the checks and balances of the system. Every case had to go through several reviews before reaching the Chairman’s office. Out of curiosity, I asked my PS about the reasons behind mismanagement and corruption, and his reply was, “When all signatories connive.” Without connivance, there can be no corruption. A small dissenting note by the internal or external auditor can set the course right, but instead, most officers decide to sign with a note; “Approved as proposed.” A perfect way to go with the tide and build careers at the cost of the institutions.

In the formative years of Pakistan, most officers were able and honest, providing relief to the public. I came across an upright civil servant. He was posted as Chairman of a Tribunal based in Lahore. As there was no activity, he wrote to the Chief Secretary to shut down the Tribunal, which meant his posting out, but he was unwilling to be paid without work. Such outstanding individuals laid the foundations of the new land, which is now being weakened by those who lack the courage to take a stand even when it is essentially required to set the course right.

As a family, we were taught to speak our minds. Most discussions were open and often heated. While my father was more blunt, my mother used diplomacy, often conveying her point of view through poetry or proverbs, both in Urdu and Persian. During my stay in the USA, I attended a course titled; ‘Effective Confrontation,’ which exposed me to various methods of dissent or taking a stand when required. Despite all such modern techniques, it has not been easy to disagree with the flow. In Punjabi, a unique approach is employed; ‘Sannu Ki’ (Not Affected).

People sit through meetings, and legislators pass legislation without uttering a word or understanding the contents and implications, thereby defeating the basic purpose of getting together called; ‘Group Power,’ without which no meaningful outcome is possible. Careers are important, but without a stand, they cannot stand up and be counted. Dr. Nazir’s bicycle had the carrier that carried his overcoat and the stand to safely park his transport while in the office, enabling him to pursue his career with honesty and integrity to become a role model and legend for all times to come.


The writer is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.