Free speech: ‘benchmark for press, writers poles apart’
KARACHI: Freedom of speech in our society is only associated with the press and the embargos on writers and poets are seldom part of the discussions on human rights. This was the generic opinion of the speakers at Sindh Writers/Artists Convention, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to discuss the right to freedom of expression for writers, artists and other civil society members.
“[But] journalists and writers are not isolated in their struggle,” said prominent journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, who writes for The News. “When writers talk about freedom of speech, they talk about the society as a whole,” he said. “It is true that creative language is not present anymore in our literature.”
Discourse in the first session revolved around the writers of the 21st century. Noted poet Prof. Dr Sehar Ansari, reading a paper on the subject, summed up the literary scenario from western renaissance classics to the writings of Karl Marx in 10 minutes. The gist of his paper was that this century’s writers had not kept pace with the times. “This century has seen a lot of ups and downs, but the literature produced did not justify the consequences,” he said.
Zafar Iqbal, the dean of University of Karachi (KU) arts faculty, believed that the sub-continental literature between 1914 and 1945 could not justify the destruction caused by the two world wars.
Nazir Leghari, the Daily Awaam editor, was the most vocal speaker on the subject. “The literature of the subcontinent, especially Urdu, has not even reached the stage where the western literature was between the 13th and 14th century,” he said. “Fiction was doing well until Manto. After his death, the genre began to crumble but kept on being dragged to its utter decline today.”
Leghari pointed out an interesting fact that even though urban literature was struggling, literature in rural areas continued to thrive. “[But] it did not reach the urban readers, putting a stop to social and literary evolution,” he said.
Prof. Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, the vice chancellor of Federal Urdu University of Arts Science and Technology, opined that literature cannot be isolated to time periods. “Effects of a certain event will still be able to influence those coming in the future,” he said.
Summing up the role of writers in a society, he said: “The police register FIRs for crimes [against people], and the writers register the crimes against the society.”