Saturday, December 31, 2011
LEGACY, JOURNEY AND STORY OF A COMMUNITY LEADER: RAI GHULAM UD DIN KHAN (1944-2011)
The Year 2011 took away many renowned social and community activists and leaders of Upper Hunza, Gojal from Ayeenabad Shishkat to Gulmit, Ghulkin to Sisoni-Passu-Shimshal, Khyber, Morkhoon, Sost to Khudabad, Misgar and Chipurson. Everyone contributed a lot to the development of their communities and dreamed of a better future and quality of life for its people on their own homeland. Our tributes go to each and everyone. Infact the story and journey of these community leaders continue to inspire and guide us all in making a difference in our own lives and in the lives of the have-nots.
Known within the family and among relatives as Pik or Pupik, meaning in Wakhi, carrying the name of a grandfather, and popularly know as Chairman sahib in Gojal and wider Hunza, late Rai Ghulam uddin, breathed his last on 3rd November 2011 at 10:30 a.m. at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, and was led to rest on 5th November, in his home town, Gulmit in Gojal Hunza, by thousands of mourners. He left behind a widow and a daughter and three sisters.
Born in 1944 in Passu, he was from the Ayasho family of Hunza, a grand-grandson of Bopo Abdullah Khan s/o Mir Silum Khan, the first Ismaili ruler of Hunza. Mir Silum Khan was brought up in Gulmit, and Abdullah Khan’s elder brother Shah Ghazanfar became the ruler of Hunza after Mir Silum Khan’s death. Abdullah Khan lived at Ghulkin, was young and bold, trusted by his elder brother, who entrusted him the Chief commander of the forces, as well as appointed heading and receiving all state delegations to and from China and Central Asia. All taxes from Gojal, which was over 80% of the total state income, were collected and presented to him, therefore was known as Mir or Khan. He was also development minded, and sponsored many development projects and a champion of friendly relations with neighbors mainly China and Badakhshan. Fearing left out, the crown prince Ghazan Khan, son of Shah Ghazanfar, conspired and sent a team of killers from Hunza who killed him at Ghulkin. His father, the Shah Ghazanfar, put his son, the crown prince in jail, and was only released after his death, who became the new ruler.
Rai Ghulam uddin’s grand-grand father Ali Parast was son of Mir Abdullah Khan. After the killing of Abdullah Khan, Mir Ghazanfar gave jagir (land and property) to Ali Parast in Hyderabad Hunza. However, when Ghazan Khan became king, he shifted him to Passu, and provided him Jagir there, to keep him away from the center of power.
Arbab Muhammad Adab was son of Ali Parast. Arbab Adab and his son Muhammad Siyab Khan (Rai Ghulam uddin’s father) led the masses in the first popular civil disobedience movement in 1941 and refused to pay heavy taxes and forced labour imposed on the farmers by the feudal state of Hunza during Mir Ghazan Khan-IIs rule. At the beginning of the movement, Muhammad Siyab Khan, who was only 34 years old, made a popular speech in the court of the Mir of Hunza in Gulmit, often quoted by elders; “You rule over the people, not over the mountains and glaciers. The people are fed up of your rule and state repression; you should leave power, as you no more enjoy the support of the people.” This infuriated his administration. He was arrested, tortured and jailed for voicing and representing the sentiments of the people. However, people revolted, broke into the solitary confinement, released him and other prisoners and led a march towards China in protest. Village by village people joined them and they reached Qalandarchi post in Misgar. From that post, they sent telegram message to the British Political Agent in Gilgit and informed him of the repressions and the decision of the people to enter China as refugees and the readiness of the Chinese in taking them as political refugees. The Political Agent advised them not to enter China and offered reconciliation. The crown prince Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan, Prince Ayash Khan and elders from Hunza entered into dialogue with the protest leaders, and as a result, the people returned back and the undue taxes and forced labour laws were repealed.
When Ghulam uddin was only six months old, his father, Muhammad Siyab Khan died in 1944. He and his two sisters and mother were shifted to Gulmit to live with Arbab Gohar Hayat, his maternal grand-father. He was brought up by her mother, Shahfa’at Begum and maternal grand mother, Zawara Begum, daughter of Arbab Diwan Shah and Prince Ayash Khan, son of Mir Ghazan Khan, who was a foster son of Arbab Gohar Hayat. After the death of his father, her mother was married to Arbab Muqeem Khan, cousin of Zawara Begum, and got a daughter. It is interesting to note that both Zawara Begum and Shafa'at Begum remained Arbabs during their lifetime. In fact they were the only women arbabs in the history of Hunza, who used to provide administrative leadership to the Mirs administration as well as deciding legal, social and political conflicts wisely and aptly.
Rai Ghulam ud Din was educated in Gulmit; his first teacher was Momin-I and Momin-II Ustads for some time and later it was Ustad Sanaullah of Baltit, all three were posted at Gulmit. He went to School in Baltit, where Ustad Samarkand was his English and Maths teacher in grade 8. He passed his 10th grade in Science from Gilgit in 1966 and 12th grade in Science from Karachi in 1968. He was commissioned in the army and asked to report Dhaka, but because he was the only son in the family, her mother approached the Mir of Hunza and Prince Ayash Khan, who was Secretary of State of Hunza, and he returned to Hunza state in the late 1968.
This was the period when the educated youth and literati were very much influenced by the political waves that National Students Federation (NSF) was making in colleges and campuses in Pakistan. He also remained affiliated with NSF and converted to the left, joining regular study circles with mentoring from Dr. Shamim Zain ul Abideen and Miraj Muhammad Khan. “Since childhood I was fortunate to live a comfortable life. But when I used to see poor people in the village, I sometimes hated my lifestyle” he said. “My mother would always tell me to be caring and always share your food with the poor, which I used to do, but was not aware of the reasons for why some were poor and others not”. “The discussions with Dr Shamim and Miraj Muhammad Khan and the study circles made me aware of the larger picture, and how Marx and Chairman Mao diagnosed it” he wrote. When Z.A. Bhutto resigned from Ayub Khan’s cabinet, Dr. Shamim and Miraj Khan took him to a meeting in Karachi and introduced to Z.A. Bhutto, who later announced his new party, the PPP.
However when he returned to Hunza, due to his family background and seeing the enormous respect of the people and elders for the Hunza state, he started working for the State. But he also proactively joined a group of reformers under the leadership of G.M Beg of Hyderabad who wanted to implement the new community constitutional system in Hunza state and reforming the educational system.
“Before 1969, the educational activities were directly handled by Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan, Mir of Hunza, Haji Qudratullah Baig assisting the Mir, as Head of Education and Ustad Sultan Ali, as Inspector of D.J. Schools. However after 1969 introduction of constitution and council system in the Ismaili community, the transition in educational governance and management was stimulated when late Ghulam Muhammad Beg self-initiated an educational board and demanded role for educated people in management affairs in Hunza”, Chairman sahib wrote in a handwritten note. It was during this transition late Rai Ghulam uddin become active member of the transition team and engaged in dialogues with the “Mir and Haji sahib, which the Mir finally accepted, after rounds of heated meetings as a legitimate board and we were entrusted the work of salary distribution”, he recalled.
This was the start of Ghulam uddin’s involvement in social work and education in Hunza. During much of the 70s and mid 80s the focus of Aga Khan Education Board was on girls’ primary enrolments and mass education, the targets of which were more or less achieved.
Later when the system was formally extended to Hunza, Rai Ghulam uddin was nominated by His Highness the Aga Khan, to serve as Secretary, Ustad Samarkand as Chairman and later in the 80s Rai Ghulam ud Din became the Chairman, Aga Khan Education Board for Hunza consecutively for two terms. He also served as member of the Regional Council and Chairman of regional Arbitration and Reconciliation Board for Hunza. He received title of ‘Rai’ from His Highness for his dedicated services to the community.
There are many self-help schools, which the communities constructed themselves from Khizerabad Shinaki to Zoudkhun in Chipurson, and later the prestigious Aga Khan Girls Academy in Karimabad Hunza, during his tenures between 1976 and 1986. However he credited the enormous work to, “the vision and guidance of the Imam, and the hundreds of selfless volunteers and activists, both elders and young men and women, who stood up and said ‘Labeek-yes’. We just took the words and guidance of the imam and appealed to the communities to act upon it. It was they who actually did the incredible work”, he said once.
The key motivation for him going village to village, on foot and on horseback, door to door motivating communities and parents to send their daughters and sisters to school, and spreading the words and messages of the imam was, what he said, the first board meeting with His Highness the Aga Khan, in March 1976, where he outlined the policy and defined the focus as girls education, and said he remarked that he had a lot of expectations from this board.
As the number of schools reached over 60 during 10 years, issues of school buildings, teacher training, and quality education emerged. Together with other volunteers and leaders he always led the teams in discussions with the government and with Central Education Board to help make policies that were relevant to the needs of the people and area.
When the Aga Khan Health team came from Karachi to conduct surveys in the early 70s and later polio eradication campaign, he volunteered and joined the team, visiting villages and houses to assist the team in mobilizing the people and in providing logistic support.
In the mid 1980s, when His Highness advised the AKESP to focus on English language and quality education, the communities became desperate with the apathy and slow planning processes of the boards, and started their own community-based School systems, like Dawn Public in Hyderabad and Al Azhar in Gilgit and such initiatives in Jamalabad Morkhoon and Aliabad. The community in Gulmit asked Rai Ghulam ud Din to lead opening a model school. He was elected as founder President of Gulmit Educational and Social Welfare Society, which operates a community-based English medium School, called Al Amyn Model School. He provided a good administrative leadership and transformed Al Amyn School into a model school system in a very short period. He was elected as the first President of the Educational and Social Welfare Societies of Hunza in the 90s focusing on sharing resources and learning in community-based education services, and helped establishing the Hunza Education Resource Project (HERP).
In the early 1990s, he was elected as the first President of the Wakhy-Tajik Cultural Association Pakistan, and remained, the Country Representative of Tajik Compatriots International in Pakistan. He participated in the international Tajik conference in Dushanbe in the first year of independence. He and the cultural activists and literati and artists of Gojal revived a new cultural spirit, confidence and love for the good traditions and values and helped stimulating a new wave of revitalization of mountain heritage among youth. In 1999 WTCA received award from Lok Virsa, for cultural revival and best cultural performance at the Silk Route Festival, which Ghulam uddin received from General Musharraf in Gilgit.
In 1995 he was the only person from Gilgit-Baltistan who participated in the International Women conference in Beijing sponsored by UNICEF for his meritorious work he did for women and girls education. Earlier he travelled many times to China, especially the Xinjiang province visiting his extended family members who either migrated there or were married before 1947 in Yarkand and Sirikol.
Chairman Sahib was a bold, soft-spoken, sincere, loving and caring person. He always enjoyed life. He never lost hope, and always believed in bravely fighting against all odds.
The last time I had the opportunity to meet him was in September, I spent about 10 days with him at the hospital and at home, when he was first operated. During the nights at the hospital we used to discuss many things, ranging from his health conditions, to future of community-based model schools in Hunza, the need for next generation leap forward in education, to the sufferings of the people of Hunza and Gojal due to the Attabad landslide and the leadership crises and apathy of the political elites of Hunza, to the prospects of inching towards self-governance and empowerment in Gilgit-Baltistan to democracy, peace and security in Pakistan to regional stability and Afghanistan, to the revival of cultural and historical ties with China and Badakhshan and importance of research and knowledge sharing and economic and cultural exchanges across border.
He was very conscious of the narratives shaping our lives today, shared glorious stories of the past and also lamented on the failures, and identified the reasons for setbacks in the social, political and economic development in Hunza. But he always eyed at the future and always saw light at the end of the tunnel. He would always curiously like to know for example what new and innovative ideas and projects and programs are being launched by AKDN in GBC, who are the innovators, what is the guidance from the Imam, how the communities are receiving the messages, how people are mobilized to rally around, and what the impacts were on the ground?
Despite his health conditions, it was amazing to see, he was full of joy and life. He sang Persian verses, and shared his wonderful moments of youthful days. He wanted to return to his home town, Gulmit, soon after recovery. He recalled the old Persian lines; ajab zeeb o ajab zeba ast Gulmit, ajoyib dilpasand rona ast Gulmit, roughly translated it means; what an elegance and what a splendour Gulmit is like, what a lovely bloom is Gulmit.
Chairman Sahib’s philosophy of life and worldview was shaped deeply by the spiritual person within him. He was staunchly faithful to and deeply loved the Imam of the Time. He was a tremendous example of a man with a true heart of a darvesh always thinking of how to make his Master happy. He would always reflect on his deeds, and seek help in prayers to keep him and his children and family following the path as interpreted by the Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. He was humbled by the fact that since the days of Shah Silum Khan, his family remained at the service of the imam one way or the other. Even during his travel to Gorno-Badakhshan and China, he interviewed Khalifas and Pirs, hereditary representatives of Ismaili communities, and village elders, and traced his family relations in those distant lands including Afghanistan, and found that in those places his close relatives remained at the service of Imam and of spreading knowledge. For example, he used to mention, the Shah Sikadar of Darvoz, who remained a ruler, a poet and literary person in the time of Pir Nasir Khusraw.
He was deeply spiritual and a social person participating in social events like weddings, funerals, and festivals and cultural events held in Karachi, even travelled to Hunza despite his health conditions to participate in key events, like opening of community centre in Gulmit. He was well connected to the people, and knew how to make distance and physical isolation irrelevant and amazingly adapted new technology and remained in touch with almost everyone known to him, children, young or elders through mobile phone, SMS, facebook and email communications.
When asked about the secret of his successes, he was quick to say without hesitation, "It was the guidance and vision of the Imam, the selfless volunteers and activists of the community and the support of the people, and the freedom and support provided by my wife and family to work for the community".
When asked about failures in life, he paused and counted many initiatives and projects that he was part of but could not succeed for many reasons; like the China trade and Umbrella Union, the Wakhan hotel Pvt. limited project and the Potato growers association. "I put all my efforts with honesty, loyalty and zeal. But sometimes petty politics and miscalculations and bad partnerships affect your sincere efforts" he cautioned.
When asked about his guidance to the youth, he said, “Concentrate on your education, on your career development, always be close to your people, respect your values and traditions, feel the problems the poor people face, don’t forget your roots and your family attachment with the Imam, serve your parents and take care of your family members, and enjoy life”.
Today in order to honour the memory and inspiring legacy of Chairman Ghulam ud Din, let’s follow his footsteps. He always believed that great work, recognition and positive change come through the sincere efforts of dedicated volunteers, activists, young professionals, and community leaders working together in a spirit of unity in diversity.
His dream, patience, energy, strong willpower and ability to approach problems with humility and honour will remain a source of inspiration for all of us. Although he is physically not with us, but emotionally he is still very much in our hearts and thoughts and his work, his ideas, his humor and his memory will always guide us.