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5 November 1905|
|Died||11 September 1973
Alma Ata, Kazakhstan (then in USSR)
|Occupation||Marxist ideologue, writer and poet in Urdu|
|Nationality||Indian, Pakistani (briefly)|
|Citizenship||Indian, Pakistani (briefly)|
|Literary movement||Progressive Writers' Movement|
|Spouse||Razia Sajjad Zaheer|
(Najma Baquer, Naseem Bhatia, Nadira Babbar, Noor Zaheer)
Syed Sajjad Zaheer (Urdu: سید سجاد ظہیر ) ( 5 November 1905 – 13 September 1973) was an Urdu writer, Marxist ideologue and radical revolutionary who worked in both India and Pakistan. In the pre-independence era, he was a leading member of the Communist Party of India. Upon independence and partition, he moved with his family to newly-created Pakistan and became a founding member of the Communist Party of Pakistan. In 1951, he was caught and jailed for his involvement in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, a soviet plot to overthrow the first prime minister of Pakistan. Upon being released, he moved back to India and resumed his activities, now aimed at the Indian state, under the aegis of various "progressive" cultural organizations that functioned as arms of the Communist Party. He died in 1973, during the high noon of soviet influence in India, on one of his frequent visits to the USSR.
Zaheer was the father of Nadira Babbar and uncle of Nurul Hasan, the Congress politician who instrumental in establishing the stranglehold of Marxist academicians and "intellectuals" in every major educational and research institution in India. Zaheer was also the grandfather of Pankhuri Zaheer, the communist activist at JNU who organised the "Kiss of Love" event outside the RSS office in Delhi and is an active supporter of Kanhaiya Kumar, who was jailed and charged with sedition in February 2016.
Background and family
Zaheer was born in Lucknow, India, into an affluent Muslim family. The family were not only rich landlords but also Syeds, claiming descent from prophet Muhammad. His forbears, who had come to India as part of invading armies from Afghanistan, had received a large estate in Avadh (Oudh) as a reward for their warlike services to the invader, and for over two centuries, the family had lived off landlordism. Zaheer's father, Sir Syed Wazir Hasan, had received an English education and become a Barrister. He had been made a judge by the British and retired as Chief Justice of Oudh, receiving a knighthood for services to the British Raj. Zaheer's mother, Sakina-tul-Fatima, was a decent traditional lady and the matriarch of a large family. Zaheer was one of their seven children (five sons and two daughters). One of his brothers, Syed Ali Zaheer, would become India's Ambassador to Iran. Zaheer was the uncle of Nurul Hasan, the Congress politician who, under Indira Gandhi, was instrumental in establishing the stranglehold of Marxist academicians and "intellectuals" in each and every major educational and research institution in India.
After initial education in India, Sajjad Zaheer went to England to study law and became a barrister. However, he never practiced law, and never earned a regular living, supporting his family instead on income from his share of the ancestral landed estate. He seems to have seen no contradiction between his communist and "progressive" public postures and the fact that for most of his life, he lived off the labour of farmers who toiled in his family estates and provided their absentee landlord with an ample income. It was his astonishing good fortune that the 1950s, which was the time when landlordism was abolished in India, coincided with the era of world-wide propagation of communist ideology by the USSR. Just at the time when his income from landlordism was dried up, the USSR and the Soviet-funded Progressive Movement in India provided him with both income and public prestige.
A collection of short stories, Angaaray (embers), which had stories by Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud-uz-Zafar was published in 1932 and banned in 1933 by the British Government of India "for hurting the religious susceptibilities of a section of the community." This gave rise to the All-India Progressive Writers' Movement & Association of which both Sajjad Zaheer and Ahmed Ali were co-founders. The first official conference of the Association was held in Lucknow in 1936, which was presided over by Munshi Premchand.
Jail in Pakistan
In 1947, the British departed from India after Partitioning the country and creating Pakistan. The landlords of Oudh, led by the Raja of Mahmudabad, had been the most vociferous and aggressive supporters and financial backers of the Muslim League. Zaheer, who was a leading member of the Communist Party of India, now became one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Pakistan, which he founded along with Faiz Ahmad Faiz in 1948. Both were later jailed in Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case along with Mohammad Husain Ata, Zafarullah Poshni and others. Major General Akbar Khan was allegedly the main conspirator.
Return to India
Sajjad Zaheer was extradited to India in 1954 by the Government of Pakistan, and revived his activities in India through Progressive Writers' Association, Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and Afro-Asian Writers' Association. Sajjad Zaheer was also a founder and leading figure of the three associations.
Marriage and children
Sajjad's wife Razia Sajjad Zaheer was essentially a housewife, who also wrote some short stories in Urdu. These were published first in a women's magazine, and later, after her family attained political clout, in a compendium. Sajjad and his wife were the parents of four daughters, being:
- Najma Zaheer Baquer, eldest daughter, a Professor of Biochemistry at JNU and an expert on diabetes.
- Naseem Bhatia, second daughter.
- Nadira Babbar, a theatre artist. Married to bollywood star-turned-politician Raj Babbar, she has two children, Arya Babbar and Juhi Babbar, both small-time film & TV actors.
- Noor Zaheer, fourth and youngest daughter, is a communist activist especially committed to promoting atheism, "rationalism" and feminism. She is the author of the feminist tract My God is a Woman. Although never married, she has four children by two different men. Their names are Sanjog Gupta, Pankhuri Dasgupta, Anuran Dasgupta and Surdhani Dasgupta.
- Pankhuri Dasgupta (who uses the name "Pankhuri Zaheer," being estranged from her father) is a communist activist at JNU. She was the organizer of the Kiss of Love event held outside the RSS office in Old Delhi in November 2014. She is also an active supporter of the communist student activist Kanhaiya Kumar, who was jailed for sedition in Feb-March 2016.
- London Ki Ek Raat- a novel.
- Roshnai, a collection of essays on the progressive writers movement and its objectives.
- Zikre Hafiz, his research based book on Persian poet Hafez.
- Pighla Nilam, his last book,a collection of his poetry.
- A translation of Shakespeare's Othello
- A translation of Candide
- A translation of Gora (novel written by Tagore)
- A translation of The Prophet (written by Khalil Gibran)
- Zaheer, Sajjad (2006). The Light: The History of the Movement for Progressive Literature in the Indo-Pakistan Sub Continent. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-547155-5.
- Naresh Nadeem, 'Sajjad Zaheer: A Life of Struggle & Creativity', People's Democracy 29:51 (18 December 2005)
- Bose, Hiren K. Sajjad Zahir: The Voice of the Common Man in Chowk
- http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2007-weekly/books&people-01-02-2007/ Mughanni-I-Aatish Nafas: Sajjad Zaheer
-  6 jan-1953- New york times Sajjad Zaheer is secretary of the Communist party in Pakistan
-  29 Apr 1951-New York Times, Pakistani Red Chief Seized
- Archived 15 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Urdu & secularism by A.G. Noorani Frontline Volume 23 – Issue 17 :: 26 Aug. – 8 Sep 2006
- Madhu Singh's article about Sajjad Zaheer's novel London ki ek raat