Nisar Usmani – A Journalist of Courage and Commitment

By Hussain Naqi

September 4, 1994, was a cruel day for Pakistan’s democratic fraternity, especially the journalist community, which lost its precious jewel, Nisar Osmani, on this day. He breathed his last in Lahore, the city he made his home for over 40 of his 63 years. He completed his education in the country’s political metropolis, lectured at a college (for less than a rupee per period!) and pursued his distinguished journalistic career here.

A man of indomitable courage, impeccable integrity, infectious humility and intellectual honesty, he proved to be a fearless fighter for democratic rights and led the journalist community in its struggle for economic and professional rights. From the early 1950s to his last days, Osmani sahib remained an outstanding practitioner of ethical journalism. It was not an easy task because for more than half of those years, the country remained under the jackboots of three military dictators. The last of the military usurpers during his lifetime was General Ziaul Haq with whom Osmani sahib had many encounters — as a journalist, a practising Muslim, a votary of democratic rights of the people and as a trade unionist who led journalists and news industry workers from the front. At the same time, he did not falter in testing his mettle as an upholder of press freedom before civilian chief executives either.

It is an interesting coincidence that Osmani sahib’s year of birth coincided with the year in which the Press Act of 1931 was enacted to subdue the press. Osmani sahib got involved in his struggle against oppressive press laws right from his early days as a journalist when he started working for Dawn as a stringer in 1953. That was also the time when Lahore tasted its first martial law in the wake of the sectarian riots, which were engineered by the then provincial government. These developments were disturbing for an inspired youth who had travelled all the way from Allahabad to be an eyewitness to the Quaid-e-Azam-led Independence Day procession in Karachi on August 14, 1947.

Osmani sahib worked for sometime as a school teacher in Bahawalpur before permanently settling on Nisbet Road, Lahore. Many other migrant writers and journalists had acquired accommodation on the same thoroughfare. The Dyal Singh College where he was a lecturer was also a walking distance from his one-room habitat. Those were difficult times but he was not deterred from pursuing his mission.

The Osmani- Minhaj Barna duo and their colleagues at the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists struggled for the withdrawal of the ban on newspapers and demanded the announcement of the wage board award for almost a quarter century under the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments. The worst response came from the Zia regime, which ordered a crackdown on the protesting newspaper industry employees. Dozens of newspapers and journals were banned, while journalists including Osmani sahib and others who joined the agitation were arrested and tried by military courts, with four of them being sentenced to the barbaric punishment of receiving lashes.

Osmani sahib was a follower of the noted freedom fighter and journalist, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the outspoken dissenter in the All India Muslim League hierarchy who commanded respect from one and all, including the Quaid-e-Azam. Like Hasrat, Osmani sahib was a devout faithful but never wore religion on his sleeve and remained an ardent secular in his political views.

The writer is a senior journalist and the national coordinator for district core groups at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

 This tribute piece first appeared in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012.



Categories: Journalists & Writers

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