Sajjad Zaheer

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Sajjad Zaheer
Born (1905-11-05)5 November 1905
Lucknow, India
Died 11 September 1973(1973-09-11) (aged 67)
Alma Ata, Kazakhstan (then in USSR)
Occupation Marxist ideologue, writer and poet in Urdu
Nationality Indian, Pakistani (briefly)
Citizenship Indian, Pakistani (briefly)
Genre Political activist, writer
Literary movement Progressive Writers' Movement
Notable works Angaaray(1932)
Spouse Razia Sajjad Zaheer
Children Four daughters-
(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 and an activist for social equality. 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.[1] Upon being released, he moved back to India. He died in 1973, during the high point 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, a Congress politician. Zaheer was also the grandfather of Pankhuri Zaheer, the communist activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi who organised the "Kiss of Love" event outside the RSS office in Delhi and is an active supporter of Kanhaiya Kumar, who was accused of sedition in February 2016.

Background and family[edit]

Zaheer was born in Lucknow, India, into an affluent Muslim family. Zaheer's father, Sir Syed Wazir Hasan, had received his education in England and had become a barrister. He had been appointed a judge by the British and had retired as the Chief Justice of Oudh, receiving a knighthood for services to the British Raj.[2] Zaheer's mother was Sakina-tul-Fatima. 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 Indian National Congress politician.


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. Sajjad Zaheer was born into nobility of British India but he had renounced the advantages of this nobility to work for the cause of the poor.[3] It was his astonishing good fortune that the 1950s, which was the time when landlordism was abolished in India, coincided with the era of worldwide 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.

Revolutionary writer[edit]

A collection of short stories, Angaaray (embers) a book, 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."[4] 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.

Activities in Pakistan[edit]

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 vocal 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. In fact, Sajjad Zaheer had initially formed the Communist Party of Pakistan in Kolkata, India and then later shifted the party to Pakistan once he himself had briefly stayed in Pakistan from 1948 to 1954. This party began organizing both in East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Communist Party of Pakistan wanted to bring about a communist uprising in Pakistan. Although unwittingly, it tried to speed up the revolutionary process in Pakistan by getting involved in the ambitious plan of a military coup by Pakistan Army's Major General Akbar Khan in 1951. By that time, Akbar had led and fought in Pakistan's first war with India over the disputed Kashmir (the Kashmir conflict).[1] However, some military officers of the Pakistan Army (the so-called co-conspirators in the planned coup) informed the government of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan about the plan. Pakistani government and the military took action and the coup failed. This became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in Pakistan. As a result of this, the Communist Party of Pakistan was banned.[1]

Jail in Rawalpindi Conspiracy case[edit]

Sajjad Zaheer and his comrade, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, were convicted in court and jailed in Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case along with Mohammad Husain Ata, Zafarullah Poshni and others. Major General Akbar Khan was allegedly the main conspirator. The Rawalpindi conspiracy was a Soviet-backed plot, hatched by the recently founded Communist Party of Pakistan (co-founded by Zaheer), to seize power in Pakistan, kill Liaquat Ali Khan (first Prime Minister of Pakistan), and establish a communist state.[5][1]

Return to India[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Marriage and children[edit]

Sajjad's wife Razia Sajjad Zaheer wrote some very second-rate short stories in Urdu. These were published first in a women's magazine, and later in a compendium. Sajjad and his wife were the parents of four daughters, being:

  1. Najma Zaheer Baquer, eldest daughter, a Professor of Biochemistry at JNU and an expert on diabetes.
  2. Naseem Bhatia, second daughter.
  3. 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.
  4. Noor Zaheer, fourth and youngest daughter, is an activist especially committed to promoting rationalism and feminism. She is the author of the feminist tract My God is a Woman. She has four children. Their names are Sanjog Gupta, Pankhuri Zaheer, Anuran Dasgupta and Surdhani Dasgupta.
    • Pankhuri Dasgupta (who uses the name "Pankhuri Zaheer."


Sajjad Zaheer died aged 68 on 13 September 1973 while attending a conference of Afro Asian writers at Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, which at that time was one of the Soviet republics.

Literary contributions[edit]

  • 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)


  1. ^ a b c d, 'The rise and fall of the communist party of Pakistan', Dawn newspaper, Published 14 April 2014, Retrieved 7 October 2016
  2. ^ Profile of Sir Syed Wazir Hasan (Sajjad Zaheer's father), Retrieved 7 Oct 2016
  3. ^, Dawn newspaper, Published 1 October 2006, Retrieved 7 October 2016
  4. ^ "Angaaray". Penguin Books India. , Retrieved 7 Oct 2016
  5. ^, Archives of the New York Times newspaper, Published 29 April 1951, Retrieved 7 October 2016

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]