Sajjad Zaheer

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Sajjad Zaheer
Born (1905-11-05)5 November 1905
Lucknow, United Provinces, India
Died 11 September 1973(1973-09-11) (aged 67)
Alma Ata, Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (then in USSR, now Kazakhstan)
Occupation Marxist ideologue, writer and poet in Urdu
Nationality Indian, Pakistani (briefly)
Citizenship Indian, Pakistani (briefly)
Genre Ghazal, Drama
Literary movement Progressive Writers' Movement
Notable works Angaaray
Spouse Razia Sajjad Zaheer
Children 4, including Nadira Babbar

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.

Background and family

Zaheer was born in Lucknow, India, into an affluent Muslim family of Syeds, claiming descent from prophet Muhammad. His forebears, who had come to India as from Afghanistan, had received a large estate in Avadh (Oudh). Zaheer's father, Sir Syed Wazir Hasan, had received an English education and become a Barrister. He later became a judge and retired as Chief Justice of Oudh, receiving a knighthood. Zaheer's mother, Sakina-tul-Fatima, was a 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, was the India's Ambassador to Iran. Zaheer was the uncle of Nurul Hasan, a Congress Minister in the Union Government and later a Governor.


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 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

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."[1] 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.

Emigration to Pakistan and jail

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.

Zaheer and his comrade, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, were convicted 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.

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.

Personal life

Marriage and children

Sajjad's wife Razia Sajjad Zaheer wrote some short stories in Urdu. These were published first in a women's magazine. 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, holds a PhD in History (ancient history) from a Russian university.[2] She became vice-chancellor of Jai Narain Vyas University. Her husband, Prof. Vinod Bhatia, is a Hindu who taught history at the Academy of Third World Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia.
  3. Nadira Babbar, a theatre artist. Married to Bollywood star-turned-politician Raj Babbar, she has two children, Arya Babbar and Juhi Babbar, both film & TV actors.
  4. 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. 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,") is a communist activist at JNU where she is a research scholar. She was the organizer of the Kiss of Love event held outside the RSS office in Old Delhi in November 2014.


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.

Published writings

  • London Ki Ek Raat- a novel.
  • Roshnai, a collection of essays on the progressive writers movement and its objectives.
  • Zikr-e-Hafiz, his research based book on the 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. ^ "Angaaray". Penguin Books India. 
  2. ^ [1]

Further reading

  • 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
  • Mughanni-I-Aatish Nafas: Sajjad Zaheer
  • [2] 6 jan-1953- New York Times Sajjad Zaheer is secretary of the Communist party in Pakistan
  • [3] 29 Apr 1951-New York Times, Pakistani Red Chief Seized
  • Urdu & secularism by A.G. Noorani Frontline Volume 23 – Issue 17 :: 26 Aug. – 8 Sep 2006

External links

  • Madhu Singh's article about Sajjad Zaheer's novel London ki ek raat
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