Iconic fighter for press freedom dies

Published: January 15, 2011
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Legend of the Pakistani print media, Minhaj Barna passed away on Friday morning.

Legend of the Pakistani print media, Minhaj Barna passed away on Friday morning.

ISLAMABAD: 

The current vibrancy and defiance of Pakistan’s media owes a lot to the past struggles of a few leaders of the journalist community. Prominent among these iconic leaders was the name of Minhaj Barna.

Journalism suffered a great loss when Barna, 85, a veteran journalist, trade union leader and poet, passed away at a private hospital of the federal capital in the small hours of Friday. A patient of duodenum ulcer for long, he had undergone surgery last Friday and was since struggling for his life. He is survived by a daughter, Afshan Sardar, and his youngest brother, politician Meraj Mohammed Khan besides hundreds of friends and admirers.

He was laid to rest at the Racecourse Graveyard in Rawalpindi. A large number of journalists, trade union leaders and political workers attended the funeral to pay their last homage to their iconic leader.

Born in 1925 to a conservative Rohilkhand Pathan family in Ahmadabad, Gujrat, Barna’s family originally belonged to Qaimganj in the Farrukhabad District of Uttar Pradesh.

After his early education in Ahmadabad, Barna moved to Bombay where he worked as a teacher. He then went to Delhi where he worked at the Jamia Millia, and did his graduation from there. He then joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) to fight against British rule.

His youngest brother, Meraj Mohammed Khan came from Karachi on Friday to attend his brother’s burial despite his own failing health. The family settled first in Quetta and then moved to Karachi.

Barna started his career as a journalist after a master’s degree from Karachi University. He worked for Urdu daily Azad, moved to Lahore to work for daily Imroze and later as a correspondent for the Pakistan Times. He had several stints abroad – including as the London correspondent for Associated Press of Pakistan. His last assignment was as a Press Counsellor in New York during Benazir Bhutto’s first stint as prime minister. He also worked for Islamabad-based English language daily, The Muslim, as its bureau chief in Karachi

Barna was elected secretary-general and President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in 1969. He was also the founding chairman of the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC).

He also played key role in the historic 10-day nationwide strike spearheaded by his senior comrades, such as Israr Ahmed and K.G. Mustafa, which culminated in the Newspapers Employees Services Condition Act, one of the acts of the 1973 Constitution safeguarding the rights of journalists.

His progressive leaning kept the PFUJ in constant conflict with the establishment, in particular when he was its general secretary and later president. It was around that period when he went on the longest hunger strike that any leader of any party or group had ever observed. It caused his health grievous harm.

Barna was a man of commitment and action who remained true to his cause to the very end of his life. “Years of struggle and protracted illness had not blurred his vision. It was a moving experience when I last heard him at a function of SAFMA not so many months ago,” said columnist Mushir Anwar.

“Quite a few Rohilkhand Pathans of Qaimganj achieved distinction as accomplished wielders of both the sword and the pen. Some of them may have abandoned soldiery for academics but they never gave up fighting. Foremost among them in the modern period stands Dr Zakir Hussain, the builder of the Jamia Millia, Delhi, one of the greatest Muslim achievements in the subcontinent, where Minhaj Barna spent some of his formative years. Nobody should therefore be surprised to see a book of verse by a man who for long years was identified as the battleship of Pakistan’s journalist community.” This is how eminent journalist I.A Rehman put it while reviewing his poetic collection in Books & Authors magazine of Dawn.

“The level of respect PFUJ and APNEC earned in late seventies till early nineties was because of the sheer dedication, commitment and remarkable leadership of Barna sahib and Nisar Usmani sahib, which would never be regained,” remarked senior journalist M. Ziauddin.

During General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, remembered for its oppression and flogging of journalists, Barna led a historic resistance by the media.

He also contributed poetry as a chronicle of the various phases of democratic struggle.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Naheed Afridi
    Jan 14, 2011 - 5:22PM

    He dedicated is life for journalism…..
    Former Press Minister, Pakistan Permanent Mission at the United Nations
    Former President of PFUJ and APNEC, Rawalpindi, Pakistan
    Writer of “A Movement Called PFUJ”- by Minhaj Barna
    Brother of Mairaj Mohd. Khan
    A reformer, A thinker, A great human being in the corrupted world!
    A great uncle who was always admired for being so perfect and true!

    Naheed Afridi
    NieceRecommend

  • asaf jilani
    Jan 14, 2011 - 10:28PM

    its really a very sad news. i had a long association with barna saheb starting with jamia millia delhi. we worked together in daily imroze karachi in late 50’s . later we were together in london where he was posted as pakistan times correspondent. he was a great trade union leader and fought many successful battles for the rights of journalists. not many people know that he was a good poet as well. barna saheb married mariam a very kind polish lady who taught art in begum majeed malik’s pechs school in karachi .apart from meraj he had another brother a film journalist, dukhi prem nagari. may allah bless his soul. asaf jilaniRecommend

  • AZMAT+KHAN
    Jan 15, 2011 - 1:25AM

    HE WAS BRAVE.HE IS A LEGEND.MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE.Recommend

  • Munir Saami
    Jan 15, 2011 - 3:40AM

    I followed Minhaj Barna since my childhood. He was one the leading people who inspired me to be an activist for freedom of expression. It is people like Minhaj Barna for whom Faiz wrote:
    Hamaray dum say hay koo e junooN mein ab bhi Khajil
    Abaa e shaikh, o qaba w ameer, o taaj e shahi
    HameeN say Sunnat e Mansoor o Qais Zinda Hay
    Hameen say baaqi hay gul daamni o Kaj Kulahi.Recommend

  • Jasim Murtaza
    Jan 15, 2011 - 9:56AM

    Salute to your journalistic achievments Sir! May your sole rest in Peace.Recommend

  • Momina
    Jan 15, 2011 - 1:36PM

    Minhaj Barna terey saath jeena tereh saath marna…
    may his soul rest in peace! Ameen.
    i wish i could render the services my grandfathers did for this country, for journalism, and human rights…
    I will truly miss him!!! Recommend

  • Naheed Afridi
    Jan 15, 2011 - 7:18PM

    I was with him when he was sick in New York working as a Press Minister, Pakistan Permanent Mission at the United Nations. During his sickness he would ask about his wife Mariam who was very sick at that time. Before he sat down with his own doctors he would call to check on her if she was doing ok. He was honest, and an extremely brave fighter for any just cause which came his way not only in the house with family but for his country and the world at large. He was very kind hearted and so was his wife, Mariam. A perfect soul mate, loving couple, an example for people. He loved his daughter, Afshan dearly and she was the one who bought a lot of smile on his face.
    He was the 6th sibling and the third son of Maulvi Taj Mohd Khan Afridi. He was extremely close to his mother our Nani Amma. He had two older brothers, Mr. Siraj Mohd. Khan, Wahaj Mohd Khan (aka Dukhi Prem Nagri) and younger brother Mairaj Mohd Khan and he was very fond of his family. For Mairaj who was the youngest in his family, he was like a father figure and had a great bond with him and his family, and loved him like a son. He had five sisters Asghari Khanum (aka Asghari Begum Sehar) Anwari Khanum, Akhtari Khanum, Taj Khanum and Qudsia Khanum. His brother in laws Mr. Mashkoor Ali Khan and Abdul Aleem Khan were very close to him. Abdul Aleem Khan was not only a brother in law but a friend and they both spent a lot of time together. His nieces and nephews loved and respected him dearly. We looked up to him and was always inspired by his honesty and great work. He was there with me on my wedding day on Jan 14th 1992 and 19 years later died on the same day. Inallaha Waina Allehe Rajeoon. I cannot express how deeply he would be missed not only by the family but by all the people who knew him. Our prayers are with him. May God Almighty take care of him. Ameen Recommend

  • Yasmin Javed
    Jan 15, 2011 - 9:04PM

    Great men do not ask permission to be born . Nor do they ask permission of democracies to lead them.They find their own way to the tasks they feel called to fulfill, unless crushed by a hostile environment. Democracies do not have to seek these heroes .For if they exit, they will make themselves heard . I thank Minhaj Burna today for making a difference in our lives and setting example for future generations to stand for Human Rights , hold strongly to our principals and refuse to follow the currents of convenience . Yasmin, Javed , Iman and Danyal.Recommend

  • Farhana Khan
    Jan 15, 2011 - 10:38PM

    I remember listening to Minhaj Barna’s conversations with his sister Asghari Khanum, my grandmother who raised us. She was inspired by him and loved him. May both of them rest in peace.Recommend

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