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Pakistan: Tahira Mazhar Ali, Veteran leader of the left passes away - Tributes and reports

25 March 2015

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[Posted here are messages from PILER, Pakistan Peace Coalition and from the Awami Workers Party; These are followed by reports from DAWN, Pakistan Today and an editorial in The News]

We mourn the passing away of Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan

Karachi, 24th March 2015

Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, the undaunted champion of the rights of the poor and permanently marginalized sections of the society – workers, peasants, women and minorities –is no more. She fought for their rights for more than sixty years, not only in the streets of Lahore but across the country, defying lathis and tear gas.. While celebrating her eventful life and outstanding contribution to the emancipation of women and the working class in particular, and also to the peace movement, we express our profound sorrow at the irreparable loss the people of Pakistan have suffered on the passing away of this great woman activist of South Asia.

Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan’s role as a leader of the working class and peace movement stands out as unique, considering that she hailed from a wealthy and powerful feudal family of Punjab and was the daughter of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, pre-partition Prime Minister of united Punjab for five years, but that did not stop her from raising the banner of revolt against all reactionary and oppressive forces in the country and their anti-people policies. Backed by her late husband, the legendary progressive journalist Mazhar Ali Khan, Tahira Baji as she used to be called fondly by her friends, lived a life worthy of emulating by all peace and rights activists everywhere.

We condole with Tariq Ali, Mahir Ali, Kamila Hayat and all members of the bereaved family and the countless friends and admirers Tahira Baji has left behind to mourn her death.

Karamat Ali,
Executive Director, PILER

Secretary General, Pakistan Peace Coalition

released by:
Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
Gulshan-e-Maymar, Karachi-75340

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Tahira Mazhar Ali no more

Today, funeral of Tahira MaHar Ali was performed at Shadman Lahore. She died last night at her home peacefully.

One of main icon of the Left movement for over 6 decades, Tahira Mazhar Ali was a shine example to follow. She was active among workers, peasants and also among ordinary citizens to build a left movement.

When few dared to challenge the West Pakistan military atrocities in Bangladesh, she was among few in Lahore who dared to come out in streets saying no to military operation.

She built successful one of great women organisation called "Women Democratic Association". She was never an independent Left. Always was part of the process of party building. She was senior Vice President of Workers Party before it merged to form Awami Workers Party.

Today after funeral, Baji Nasim Shahmim Malik cried again and again as she was one of trusted comrade along Tahira Mazhar. Najma Sethi narrated several incident about his association with her. So was Imtiaz Alam expressing his deep sorrow over sad demise of Tahira, "a chapter of left activism is closed".

Tahira Mazhar, a daughter of former chief minister of Punjab rebelled against family tradition and married a revolutionary Mazhar Ali Khan of View Point. Mother of three including Tariq Ali and Mahir Ali, she was always in the forefront of struggle.

I would normally receive an early morning call from her till 2009, until she fell ill. She would urge me to take ip issues relating to working class, although she was not from our party, However, her respect was beyond party boundaries. I always found her a great comrade and some one who is there to help Left. She donated bundle of books to out liberate when established it in 1998. She donated her cloths for flood effectors and gave money for the donation.

We lost one of the best women activist.

Rest in peace Auntie Tahira, as I use to call her.

Farooq Tariq
General Secretary
Awami Workers Party

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Dawn - March 24th , 2015

Tahira Mazhar Ali’s death a profound loss to many
Xari Jalil — Updated Mar 24, 2015 08:18am

LAHORE: Veteran leader of the left movement, Tahira Mazhar Ali, passed away on Monday. Though she had been unwell for some time, her death has been met with a profound sense of loss by those who knew her.

Born in Lahore in a prominent family, Tahira’s father was Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, the prime minister of united Punjab from 1937 to 1942, while her maternal grandfather was Nawab Muzaffar Ali Khan, a prominent landlord of Punjab. She studied at Queen Mary School in Lahore and later married Mazhar Ali Khan at the age of 16. Marrying a student leader may have been a turning point in her life and her political life began after marriage.

Being born in an affluent family did not deter her from struggling for the rights of the marginalised. She carried on her activism for labour and women’s rights for over 60 years.

It was Tahira who for the first time in Pakistan observed the International Women’s Day publicly, where it was openly demanded that women be given their equal status and their rights be established. When it came to fighting for human rights, Tahira was unbending and her marked resistance made her a threat to the establishment.

In 1950, the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) was formed and led by Tahira. It is considered the country’s first women’s rights organisation that ran with the support of the Communist Party, something that Tahira was proud of, often comparing it to internationally run organisations today. Other members of the DWA included Hajra Masood, Khadija Omar, Amatul Rehman and Alys Faiz. Its work was based in the grassroots in small neighbourhoods and involved mobilisation of women and workers.

It is because of her work in this regard that Tahira is seen as one of the greatest women of the subcontinent. Those who knew her well recall her active role in protests and rallies.

Amid tears, her long-time colleague and close friend ‘Baji’ Naseem Ashraf Malik recalled Tahira and said she was “history personified”.

“I cannot even begin to explain her greatness,” she said. “All that I have learnt about activism has been taught by her. Inspired by her, we used to follow her through the streets of Lahore holding brooms and sweeping neighbourhoods. When the women who lived there used to see us, Tahira used to explain to them about cleanliness and made them aware of so many other things too.”

Baji Naseem adds that Tahira was not just an activist for the working class and women — she was someone who actually worked with the masses.

“Unlike many others, she never thought it was beneath her to sit next to workers in their homes and eat with them,” said Baji Naseem. “She had so much empathy within her. But at the same time, she was outspoken, confident and brave and nothing could deter her.”

She said no other woman had done as much as Tahira had for women’s rights in Pakistan. It is because of this that she has been recognised in the subcontinent as a great woman of Punjabi origin. Tahira also led fierce resistance against dictatorship, especially under the Ayub and Zia regimes.

In the 1960s, Ayub Khan banned the DWA for its stance on his rule. Later, during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime, though there was more freedom of movement and expression, the DWA was restrained from inviting Indian women activists to celebrate the International Women’s Day here. After further restrictions on the association during Gen Zia’s reign, these leading women’s rights activists formed the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) as a new resistance movement. Zia’s oppressive regime and controversies such as the Hudood laws compelled the formation of WAF in 1981.

“Tahira was indeed a true activist,” remembers I.A. Rehman. “She joined the Communist Party at a very young age and since then never once stepped back from the work she was doing. After the Partition too she worked on peace and was on the peace committee between India and Pakistan.”

He described her as a very active political person who even participated in rallies and protests in her old age. She remained a member of the Central Working Committee of the National Workers Party. But though she remained strong inside, outwardly Tahira Mazhar Ali’s health began to turn fragile, especially after she suffered a stroke.

On Monday, March 23, she passed away at her house in Shah Jamal, Lahore.

Tahira Mazhar leaves behind a daughter, Tauseef Hyat, and two sons, Tariq Ali, a renowned writer, and Mahir Ali, a journalist in Australia.

Her funeral will be held at 9.30am on Tuesday at House No 7, Street 3, Shah Jamal, Lahore.

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Editorial in The News International, 25 March 2015

Tahira Mazhar Ali

Known as the founder of the progressive women’s movement in Pakistan and a left-wing leader in her own right, Tahira Mazhar Ali passed away on Monday. In her the Pakistani left lost a great supporter; she will be remembered fondly by her comrades, all of whom learnt from her compassion and determination. Daughter of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, landlord and premier of pre-Partition Punjab, and wife of famous leftist journalist Mazhar Ali Khan, Tahira Mazhar Ali charted out her own path and, some would argue, surpassed the legacy of the two men. Tahira Mazhar Ali, once she had chosen the path at a very young age of fighting for the rights of the people, continued to do so till the very end – devoting her energies to the rights of the working class, especially women. Having married leftist student leader Mazhar Ali Khan at a young age, Tahira was amongst the founders of the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) in 1950, affiliated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The DWA is considered to be Pakistan’s first independent rights group for women. In 1971, Tahira was amongst the few who protested against the Pakistani state’s war in the former East Pakistan. In the Zia era, she joined other leading women rights activists to form the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in 1981 to resist the Islamisation agenda of the military dictator.

Tahira also put her income into Mazhar Ali Khan’s Viewpoint, which became the breeding ground for some of the best journalists today. Even in her last days, she was part of the central committee of the National Workers Party and Workers Party Pakistan before health issues took over and she could not continue. At the age of 85, and at a time when many leftists have given up and joined more lucrative interests, Tahira Mazhar Ali stayed true to the cause of socialism. And she was no arm-chair communist. More than anyone else, her positions and politics came out of years of struggling with the working people. In her own words, to her activism was not a ‘profession, it was life’. She walked shoulder to shoulder with the great leftist leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, including Sajjad Zaheer, Mirza Ibrahim, Sibte Hassan and Wali Khan. No one could have predicted that this daughter of the elite would live her life as an icon for working class men and women alike. Tahira Mazhar Ali’s legacy will continue to inspire all those struggling for the rights of women and the working class.

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Pakistan Today - 25 March 2015

Tahira Mazhar Ali – end of an era



After a prolonged illness, Tahira Mazhar Ali passed away in Lahore on Monday. Her death has dealt a great blow to the left, and her family and friends.

Tahira was daughter to Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, who served as united Punjab’s prime minster between 1937 and 1942. She was a student of the Queen Mary School in Lahore. Her political journey began when she married Mazhar Ali Khan at the age of 16; Khan was a student leader at the time.

She is best known as a champion of human rights and her work for women’s rights and labour spans six decades. She created the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) in 1950. This was Pakistan’s first organisation dedicated to women’s rights, and functioned under the umbrella of the Communist Part.

Tahira believed in grassroots level activism and mobilisation, and strived for change that was long lasting. She was one of the few women that stood tall against dictator regimes. It was no secret that she fiercely opposed both the Ayub and Zia rule. It was because of this that the DWA was banned under Ayub Khan during the 60s and functioned with several restrictions under Bhutto and Zia. It was because of these restrictions that the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was created in 1981 to serve as a voice against absurdities such as the Hudood Laws and Zia’s oppressive rule.

She continued to partake in postglacial processions and rallies even in her old age and failing health. She was a member of the Central Working Committee of the National Workers Party until her death.

She is survived by her daughter Tauseef Hyat, and sons Tariq Ali and Mahir Ali.

Her funeral was held today at her house in Shah Jamal, Lahore.

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Pakistan: Tahira Mazhar Ali - Torchbearer for a progressive politics
by Beena Sarwar


The above articles from Dawn, The News, Pakistan Today and The Indian Express are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use