The Progressive Writers Association in Pakistan

The Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Musanifeen or the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) is one of the most well-known organizations in Pakistani working to bring a revolutionary change in society through promoting the works of the masters as well as new writers and poets. It stands on tall shoulders and storied history, for the organization was established in colonial india in 1936 and among its pioneers were the towering figures of Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Sahibzada Mahmuduz Zafar and Dr Rashid Jahan, who will forever be known literary history as the Angaare group.

The maiden session of the PWA was held in Lucknow in 1936 and the Presidential Address was given by the renowned Urdu and Hindi writer Munshi Premchand. Later, some of the most renowned writers and poets in colonial India across the language divide became members of this organization. In colonial India their goals were to strive for a society which was free of British colonialism, religious obscurantism and feudalism. After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the PWA also divided into its Indian and Pakistani branches. Sajjad Zaheer becamse the organizer of the PWA in independent Pakistan. Unfortunately, the postcolonial ruling elite in Pakistan became petrified for its tenable hold on power through undemocratic means, especially after the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951, when the Communist Party of Pakistan, which was miniscule; as well as the PWA were banned on a trumped-up charge of attempting to overthrow the Liaquat Ali Khan government. The banning of the PWA meant that hundreds of writers – which included some of our best and brightest – were either thrown into jail, persecuted or forced into exile. Some others compromised by joining other non-ideological organizations like the PWA’s rival, the Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq. The repression on the PWA was especially strict during the years leading upto Pakistan’s first martial law in 1958; repression continued during the Ayub Khan regime, then subsequently during the Yahya Khan and Zia military regimes. During the latter, many progressive writers resorted to symbolism and writing in abstract in order to confuse the censor and avoid persecution. However some of the PWA’s wounds were also self-inflicted. For example, some of our best writers like Saadat Hasan Manto, Miraji and Noon Meem Rashid were expelled owing to a rather skewed and narrow definition of being progressive. After many years of hibernation, the PWA organized itself in 2015 all over Pakistan and now has 15 units across the country including in Gilgit-Baltistan. It has rewritten the classic Manifesto of the PWA and organized many national and international level conferences to remember our literary legends across the subcontinental divide. Its sittings in Lahore are held every Sunday at the PILAC Auditorium.