Marxist Influence on All-India Progressive Writers’ Movement
Jamal Ali Bashir
In contemporary times, Urdu literature has lost its significance in the eyes of the common Pakistani. The situation is such that the new generation is alien to the progressive writers movement and hence, literature. Those acquainted with Marxism have, at times, failed to relate the progressive writers’ movement in Urdu literature with Marxist ideology. This paper will elaborate upon the influence Marxist ideology commanded over the progressive writers’ movement. The first part will be on the history of this movement before partition, the second part will elaborate on the contributions of several progressive writers’ for this movement and last part will shed light on how this movement declined after partition.
Modernism in Urdu literature emerged after the film “Gadar” in 1857. The War of Independence was a mutiny in which Muslims and Hindus united to gain freedom from British rule and failed badly in June 1858. In this event, there was a brutal massacre of Muslims and Hindus as they failed to gain control over the British army (Marshall). This tragic event had a significant impact on the minds of the writers of that time. One of them, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was severely shaken by this event. Later, Sir Syed would come to be known as the pioneer of modernism in Urdu literature. After Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Maulana Shibli Nomani and Maulana Hali were torch bearers of modernism. Sir Syed Ahmed tried to mobilize Muslims through his writings and is credited with having added an entirely new vocabulary to the Urdu language. Allama Iqbal wrote about the terrible conditions the Muslims of the subcontinent offered solutions to their problem. The book, “Musaddas” by Hali completely changed Urdu poetry by introducing new form of parody and imitation which was unknown in Urdu poetry as he spread the message of patriotism and social progress. Shibli also contributed to mobilize people, he started writing poetry that had an was aimed to agitate minds and confront them with the problems of people. He also introduced the art of criticism and biographies in Urdu. These were the people who deliberately related literature with society. However, there was no organized or collective effort to change the passage of Urdu literature until the 1930’s. Often, in the existence of a vacuum in any society due to the inefficiency of old values to meet new demands, there is the possibility for modernism to emerge. Its birth is inevitable as old values start becoming meaningless and new possibilities start to emerge (Kiran).
This was exactly the situation faced by four young writers, Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Muhamuduzzafar and Rashid Jehan. Jehan wrote the book Angare, which comprised ten short stories, and published it in December 1932. This marked a major change in the history of Urdu Literature. This book was one of its kind because its form and content was completely different from the prevalent Urdu literature of the time. The book helped to build the foundation of All-India Progressive writers Association later on which is considered to be the most significant movement in the history of Urdu literature in twentieth century. Angare drew its inspirations from Marxism by attacking ferociously on existing political, religious and economical institutions. By writing this book, young writers tried to convey the message that man is the creator of his own destiny and he is capable of utilizing nature for his own benefit. A prevalent theme in the entire book is the individual self-respect of every man. Moreover, it also talks about the class antagonisms present in the then Indian society. Also, this book seems to be inspired by social realism because it tries to present a real picture of society. These ideas lie at the root of the progressive movement which started formally in 1936 (Mehmud).
The central committee of the soviet communist party passed a resolution on April 23, 1932 and created a single union of soviet writers which was organized later in 1934. This union invited other writers to join it but their membership was conditional; the condition was adherence to the doctrine of socialist realism in literature. Meanwhile, many Western critics maintained that Soviet literature has become a mere “instrument of propaganda”. At the same time, in India, Marxist intellectuals under the leadership of Sajjad Zaheer were uniting and called for the first conference of All-India Progressive Writers’ Conference in Lucknow on April 10, 1936. Pandit Jawaher Lal Nehru was invited to preside over the sessions of the conference. It must be kept in mind that within the Congress, Nehru was one of the left wing leaders. Moreover, this was a period of posing a united front for Soviet Union Diplomacy and it encouraged foreign communist parties to enter into anti-fascist alliances throughout the world. Nehru in his speech during this conference showed his support for All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA). Other leftist leaders like Jai Parkash Narain, Yusuf Mahraly, Indulal Yajnik, Kamla Devi Chatopaddhaya and Mian Ifthikhar-ud-Din also participated in this conference and showed their support (Malik).
Nevertheless, the number of literary delegates was not particularly encouraging or promising. Only thirty eight writers participated in the conference, twenty five of whom were from Uttar Pradesh and it is significant to note that none of them was a Hindi writer. Actually, many other Hindi writers recognized the existence of this literary movement but were hesitant to participate in this conference due to the presence of large number of Muslim writers and they were confused about the nature of the movement. As Sajjad Zaheer points out,“a good many of them were reluctant to enter into any cooperative endeavour with Urdu writers”. However, Munshi Prem Chand, a renowned Urdu and Hindi writer presided the conference which compensated partially for the absence of other Hindi writers. Moreover, Munshi Prem Chand’s selection as a president of the Progressive writers’ movement was tactically wise because he had command over both the central languages, Urdu and Hindi, and he was at that time at the pinnacle of fame due to his writings. He had by then published dozens of novels. All-India Progressive Writers’ Association at its best was a semi political literary organization; this is demonstrated by the resolutions adopted in its Manifesto. Moreover, its manifesto categorically condemned Mussolini’s aggression against Ethiopia, the Japanese attack on China and the British government for repressing civil liberties and the press in India. The constitution of the association was drafted by three young graduates from different universities: Sajjad Zaheer, Muhammad al-Zafar and Abdul Alim (Malik).
Furthermore, it was tacitly stated in the Manifesto of Progressive Writers Association that their aim was to introduce new literature in India which would address basic problems existent in the Indian society. Some of these key problems were hunger, poverty, social backwardness and political subjection. These problems appear to be very important in the Marxist analysis of social conditions, which tries to offer solutions to eliminate these problems from society. However, it must be noted that the conditions in British India were quite different from those of other countries mainly because India was less industrialized. So, its main problem was the subjugation of farmers, women and particularly of the lower strata of society, including labourers. But it was not focused on only labourers, as was the case in Soviet Union and other countries (Kiran).
When we consider responses to the movement, it must be considered that the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) faced severe hostility from the British Government from its inception. In addition, statesmen of Calcutta wrote and published two articles which claimed that this association was being controlled by communists and that the association posed a threat to the harmony of India. Moreover, the articles went as far as proclaiming that the association has been designed to create anarchy and lawlessness in the country. These worries were clearly exaggerated but as far as the connection with communism was concerned, their message was true. This is because this association was, to some extent, a diffused belt of Communist party of India (CPI) because Sajjad zaheer was its main stake holder and he was one of the well-known communist leaders, but it was utterly wrong to say that this association was dominated by only Marxists. This is evinced strongly by the fact that non-communist writers like Munshi Prem Chand, Maulana Hasrat Muhani, Maulvi Abdul Haqq, Sarojini Naidu, Doctor Abid Hussain, were also among the prominent patrons of this association. So, it was practically impossible for Sajjad Zaheer who was Secretary General to dictate these people, who were all strong writers with individual agency and personality. However, for AIPWA there were two main problems; firstly, how to infuse Marxist content in the current Urdu Literature and secondly, how to win the confidence of Hindi writers (Malik).
Let us review the situation in its historical context. The Hindi-Urdu controversy was at its peak in the 1930’s. Hindu’s insisted that Hindi should be the national language of India while Muslims, on the other hand, were of the view that Urdu should be the national language of India. Since AIPWA was dominated by Muslim Writers, Hindi writers felt insecure and suspicious regarding its ambitions. However, later on, their suspicion was reduced due to continuous persuasion by Communist Party of India (CPI). The movement evolved in many ways over time, as it gained popularity amongst different people. From 1936 to 1947 this movement seriously influenced young Muslim writers. However, after partition the movement became popular amongst many Hindi writers as well. It flourished in Punjab due to devoted Marxist writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Zahid Kashmiri, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishan Chander and Rajhnadra Singh Bhedi. The contribution of these writers was that they successfully blended Marxist form and content with the traditional style of Urdu poetry. Moreover, these writers tested newer techniques of short story writing and novels. They therefore contributed to the corpus of Urdu literature at that time by articulating their ideas in a mode more accessible to many people traditional forms of political advocacy: the mode of literature (Malik).
Sajjad Zaheer was one of the conspicuous figures of the movement. He proved to be a political and literary guide for other members of the movement. Zaheer belonged to an upper-class, bourgeoisie family of Uttar Pradesh. He was sent to Britain for his education where he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Oxford University and then three years later he received his barrister-at- law degree from London University. He was greatly influenced by communism and he never practiced law later on. Progressive writers were committed to the cause of peasants and proletariat but they had no proper idea about how these two classes actually lived. These writers debated this issue passionately in late nineteen thirties and they proposed that their place in this social ladder is determined by the capitalist social order and they urged everyone to defy their social order (Malik).
Likewise Faiz Ahmed Faiz tried to analyze the teachings of Marx, Hegel and Engels and he advocated amongst his colleagues the point that none of these three were themselves manual workers but they all understood the problems of workers wisely and urged everyone to be empathetic in understanding the problems faced by labourers. Moreover, he said that at least our message should reach to the middle class even if it fails to reach the labourers. In his poem “Bol”, Faiz tries to convey the same message in the following words:
Speak, for your two lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still your own;
This straight body is yours still-
Speak, before its breath is gone. (28)
Another writer who worked passionately and zealously for this movement was Sayyid Mutalabbi Faridabadi. Soon after the creation of this movement, a school for peasant poetry emerged and he made a serious contribution to it. He was a humorous writer who discussed serious things by presenting them in an unprecedented way. These verses from his poem, “Hayya Hayya” demonstrate this point better than any other words can:
Rise and shine hayya hayya, raise your head hayya hayya;
Eight months of hunger, Sher Bahadur, long months of hunger;
No tattering rags, no clothes to wear, hayya hayya;
Here you go, hayya hayya; hunger will hurt, hayya hayya;
What do you mean brother mine, hayya, hayya, Sher Bahadur, hayya hayya:
Yes my brother, hayya hayya, belly will fill, hayya hayya! (Malik)
One of the unique contributions of the Progressive Writers Movement to the Urdu literary tradition in the subcontinent was its evocation of social problems, an aspect of life that was rarely discussed otherwise in such a serious and grave manner in Urdu literature. The latter was mostly about imaginative and romantic themes detached from social realities of life. But the new stream of poetry that emerged shows how Urdu writers were now concerned with such social realities.
Another writer, Munshi Prem Chand was not considered a Marxist writer but a genteel reformer who lacked an understanding of the concept of dialectical materialism, a feature central to Marx’s teachings. Moreover, his works reflect a reluctance to demonstrate a refutation of religion. This is portrayed by how Munshi delivered an address while presiding All-India Progressive Writers’ Association in which he completely rejected the idea of religious revivalism. Moreover, he also rejected the idea of art for the sake of art. This was an influence derived from Russian social realism that emphasized that artists should rebel against the out dated modes of society and they should work for political and economic freedom (Malik). Similarly, he tried to expose British politics and he criticized industrialists for their inhumane treatment of labourers (Kiran). From this it could be said that he did have the tendencies of Marxist thought. However, it should be kept in mind that this declaration by Munshi did not come as a surprise to at least Muslim Urdu writers who had previously committed art to the awakening of Muslims under the leadership of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Muhammad Iqbal (Malik).
Karl Marx’s writings about social and economic problems can be considered a form of protest against existing problems of subjugation in society. In the same way, the writers of the Progressive Movement in their writings were often writing in the form of protesting about different problems that perceived. Literature is one way of individuals engaging with the reality they see around them and this is perhaps, why the process of literature took writers in different or unexpected directions. Saadat Hasan Manto can be seen as one example of this. Manto was a unique and renowned writer but also, to this day, a controversial figure in the world of literature, because of the content of his short stories. He wrote mainly about social problems and linked them with sexual deprivations. Mostly his stories revolved around prostitutes and attempted psychoanalysis of them by showing the real motives behind their actions. This was something unbearable to a large section of society because they regarded it as obscenity and as unethical. The slightest mention of sex appeared indecent to them and they did not allow even covert references to sex in literature. This led these progressive writers especially Manto to protest against this hypocrisy and this narrow mindedness of the middle class. Manto translated large number of texts from Russian literature in Urdu (Kiran). Ismat Chugtai like Manto was also a social realist. Both of them are said to share much in common, both in terms of style and content of their writing. Both of them were greatly influenced by Soviet socialist literature and they adopted the same style and represented the reality of human condition. Moreover, they were influenced by the works of Freud and it prompted them to write about human sexuality more openly than others of the time. Their writings were mostly about human sexuality and this made their relation with AIPWA ambiguous and even alienated, because in the early years of progressive writers’ movement these writers were involved in it. However, in later years when more dedication was required they were less interested in those issues (such as..) and they kept writing about human sexuality. In 1941 Manto was charged in Lahore high court for his short story named “Bu” (“Odor”). Similarly, Ismat Chugtai was charged for her story “Lihaaf” (”quilt”) in the same year. Sajaad Zaheer at this point in time started to disavow any connection between Progressive and “obscene” literature (McLain).
Progressive writers were in fact social realists as it is obvious from their work. This word has its origins in Russian-inspired beliefs. This belief is about the function of literature in revolutionary socialist society. This is the belief that words have the power to portray the structure of social reality. This belief is in many ways inspired by the Russian revolution, Soviet communism and international Marxism. It urges the need to respond critically to repression and the feeling of frustration. This frustration can be due to the collective or personal aspirations of people. Prior to the Mutiny of 1857, Urdu literature lacked an instructive function. However, led by this event many reform movements materialised which believed in socio-religious reforms that were targeted at some level, at reclaiming people’s ancient heritages. After 1857, literature was perceived as a medium of writing that began to provide both a social and an aesthetic purpose. This is because Urdu writers were greatly influenced by late nineteenth-century Russian writers whose writings had a strong social aim, which was reform. The content of new writing that thus emerged shifted its focus from being about the elite class to being about the masses (McLain).
Many writers of this movement were indirectly active on the political front. They protested to events occurring in the world of foreign affairs which were an affront to their Marxist beliefs and loyalties. An example of this occurred when on September 2, 1939; British viceroy in India declared that India would participate in the world war. Progressive writers condemned this act of British government and this period led to the shifts in progressive writers’ poetry. One could argue that this action by progressive writers was in some ways motivated by the actions taken by The Communist International (Comintern), an organization initiated in 1919 in Moscow, had condemned Germany and its allies for engaging in a war forced by the thirst to gain world power. Moreover, these writers in their writings predicted that this involvement in war will eventually bring an end to British imperialism (Malik). These thoughts were expressed eloquently by Ali Sardar Jafri:
This lightening was nurtured in your home; this dagger was sharpened by your own hands.
This long-awaited calamity has befallen, and your anchor of fate is beyond your control.
Your throne is no longer safe on its pedestal, and your crown has fallen off your head;
Your imperialism has been shaken to its foundations.
Freedom-lovers rejoice at this occasion, all the rebels sing the anthem of freedom.
Let us burn sorrows with fires of glad-tidings
Let us dance under the blood-drenched flag. (Malik)
These impassioned verses show the new stream of thought amongst many people regarding what Indians viewed as their war of “Independence”. The passion and intensity embodied in these verses also show how literature can and has functioned as a strong stimulation for people’s sentiments.
Moreover, demonstrating a similar zeal and emboldened confidence to assert oneself, Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote poems like “Siyasi Leader kay Naam”(“To a Political Leader”) and he warned Congress leaders of the upcoming success of the Soviet Union and advised them to put off their strategy of joining second World War. Similarly, Makhdum Mohy-ud-Din wrote “Tarana-I Azadi” (“Song of Freedom”) to highlight the changes going on in the nature of war (Malik).
In the years preceding the partition of India, the writings of the progressive writers evolved, affected by the external realities around them. Soon after the World War 2, it became obvious that the British were going to leave India and it was made clear that the country would be partitioned into two parts, one for the Muslim majority and the other one for Hindu majority. The Progressive Movement’s impartiality was affected by this divide and it led many of these progressive writers to become partial. Also for some Muslim writers, the pull of Muslim nationalism proved to be stronger than Marxism. Asrar al-Haq Majaz was one of the progressive writers who led many agitational rallies demanding the creation of Pakistan (Malik). Moreover, he wrote a poem named “Pakistan Ka Milli Tarana” for the future state (Malik).
In the mid 1942 The Communist Party of India was hesitant to support the cause of the independence of Pakistan and it presented the idea that India was a multinational entity and it should give the right of self-determination to these nationalities. But one year later it was supporting the cause of Pakistan openly. During this period, certain progressive writers like Ibrahim Jalis and Nazir Hyderabadi ended their relations with CPI and Progressive Writers Association. They joined Majlis Ittehad-al-Muslamin which was a right wing Muslim organization committed to the independence of Hyderabad. Meanwhile several progressive writers joined to create Anjuman Muslim Musanafin which was committed to the same aim. During this chaos they forgot Marxism and proletarian solidarity and they struggled instead to create South Pakistan in Hyderabad. This example shows how the partition of British India affected the loyalties of certain writers’ and that partition was in fact a very polarising event (Malik).
However, on the other hand there were still several committed supporters of Progressive Writers Movement who remained true to its cause and consistent in its support even in those uncertain and turbulent times. By 1947, CPI was successful in starting a serious communist revolution against the Nizam of Hyderabad. Progressive writers like Ali Sardar Jafri and Makhdum Mohy-ud-Din participated vigorously in this revolt, which aimed to overthrow the Nizam. Progressive writers considered these communes of Telengana (district in Hyderabad) modal communes (Malik). Zahir Kashmiri composed a poem dedicated to these communes:
Today, Communes are sprouting from the land of Telengana,
Today, the scorched earth is bearing varieties of beautiful life;
Today, Men of Telengana are spreading the glad tidings of conquering love,
Today, Men of Telengana are giving the blessed news of the renaissance of east,
Today, Men of Telengana have joined in the struggle of Java and Greece. (Malik)
In late forties when partition was imminent, Mian Ifthkhar-ud-Din founded the Progressive Papers Limited. It published Pakistan Times and Daily Imroz. Daily Imroz was a magazine which openly propagated leftist ideas. Soon after its creation this leftist joint stock started publishing several other literary-cum-political magazines. Faiz Ahmed Faiz who was by then an appointment holder of Public Relations Directorate of the British-Indian Army resigned from his position and he was appointed as the first editor of Pakistan Times and the Managing Editor of the daily Imroz. Even when he was imprisoned he technically held these positions (Malik).
Ironically, while partition ravaged thousands of people’s lives and constrained human relationships widely, it did not break the bonds between all Muslim and Hindu writers. This is evinced by how even after partition, literary journals and commercial publishers in Pakistan continued to publish the literary works by Hindu and Sikh writers who wrote in Urdu. On the other hand, partition had created very serious financial problems for the Urdu progressive writers present in India. When Hindi was made the official language of India, it enjoyed official aid for its development and it expanded. Conversely, readers of Urdu decreased with the passage of time. In this situation of insecurity Krishan Chander became General Secretary of AIPWA in 1953 and he replaced Dr Ram Bilas Sharma. In order to defend the rights of Urdu language in India All-India Urdu writers’ convention was held in April 1960 in Nagpur. The committee passed resolutions at this conference to improve the deteriorating position of Urdu Literature. One resolution was to raise funds and publish books of higher quality at cheaper prices. Unfortunately, however, this aim yielded no concrete results (Malik).
On the other hand in Pakistan, the Progressive Writers’ Association was unwelcomed due to its political ideology. On 26th march 1948 CPI in its Calcutta session decided that separate communist party should be established in Pakistan. Sajjad zaheer who was secretary general of AIPWA and member of central committee until 1948 now became secretary general of Communist Party of Pakistan. He resigned from his previous positions. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi was made its first secretary. Communist Party of Pakistan operated as a legal party from 1948 to 1954. However, during this time party was under constant surveillance of Pakistani government. But soon after the creation of CPP in 1951 Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sajjad Zaheer were arrested and convicted for conspiracy along with some military officials. They were accused of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. This party was repressed by the successive governments. So, it can be said that Progressive Writers’ movement was at its peak between1930 and 1950. One of the main reasons behind the fall of progressive writers in Pakistan was that they boldly challenged Pakistani establishment. Other reason could be their uncompromising attitude towards those writers who deviated from the doctrine of association (Malik).
In November 1949, progressive writers held their first all-Pakistan conference in Lahore. Four delegates from Soviet Union participated in this conference. Sajjad Zaheer could not participate because Pakistani government had issued his arrest warrant. Moreover, in this conference big posters of Marxist revolutionaries were decorated. In this conference progressive writer presented manifesto which stated that with the creation of Pakistan new era of revolutionary struggle has started and poets and writers cannot remain neutral to it and they must chose avenues of action. Moreover, they raised their voice against the aggression of Pakistani establishment and they emphasized on the idea of true democracy. They laid out different proposals on how to accomplish the progress of socialism. In this manifesto, writers of Pakistan were divided into different categories, which were neutral writers, progressive writers and reactionary writers. Neutral writers were writers who believed in art for art’s sake and they were connected to stylistic embellishments. Reactionary writers were writers who presented the ideas of elite and status quo and they concealed their tyranny. Progressive writers were writers who thought that reality is the product of social actions and they believed in realism and therefore believed that art cannot be divorced from class struggles (Malik). This is the same idea propagated by Karl Marx. Marx did not believe in alienated forms of literature, history and philosophy. In Marx’s view, alienated form is a form which does not account for the material conditions that shape the society (Slaughter). Therefore, the progressive writers were following Marx’s view when they depicted the social realities in the societies around them, in their work.
Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi contributed enthusiastically to this movement and under his leadership, the movement made vigorous attempts to influence young intellectuals throughout Pakistan. This movement’s success can be credited mainly due to the personal charm of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. They were very famous poets of Urdu, who are still read today by large numbers of people. Large numbers of young poets and intellectuals were attracted towards this movement based on its appeal to the causes of social and economic justice. These intellectuals mainly drew idealistic picture of socialism and contrasted it with the existing poles of the rich and the poor in Pakistan. Moreover, they analyzed social relations in terms of Marxist concepts-economic determinism and class struggle. In Ahmed Nadeem’s short stories we see a portrayal of rural life in the Punjab, where there is continuous struggle between the famer and the landlord. On the other hand Faiz talked about economic and political struggle and proposed solutions to it. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was awarded Lenin Prize in 1958 by Soviet Union for his contributions to the cause of world peace. This shows the far reaching and long lasting impact that some writers of the progressive writers movement had, due to the strength, authenticity and beauty of their writings even when they were publicly disgraced and even when their cause had declined (Malik).
In conclusion, All-India Progressive writers’ movement changed the passage of Urdu literature by introducing new form and content inspired by Russian literature. This movement however, to some extent, degenerated due to partition and it declined due to the conditions it faced in the two newly independent countries. One limitation faced when conducting research for this essay arises out of the fact that Urdu literature has not been made subject to extensive research and analysis. Discovering reliable sources and conducting secondary research on the subject matter is a tedious task. At times, multiple reliable sources have diametrically opposed views regarding the same subject. Hence, a personal analysis of the available literature had to be conducted. What is required is that extensive research be conducted and due importance be given to the unsung heroes of Urdu Literature – literature that best portrays a mourning heart. It must be realised that this entire movement and the wide array of writing it produced has a strong element of Marxist thought in it. However, these writings also created entirely new form of social consciousness and added a new style of writing in Indian Urdu literature- a style that made evident deep and grave realities about life and problems faced by common people, in a language rich in aesthetic beauty and sensitivity to human feelings and conditions. An overview of the history of the movement reveals that it underwent several phases of change and in Pakistan, was crippled due to certain political and ideological factors. However, its contribution to Urdu prose and to forms of writing in the rich and diverse world of Urdu literature is indubitable and must be appreciated. I would like to end with some verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, an immemorial jewel in the realm of Urdu poetry whose words impart a sublime beauty that is felt by the soul:
This thought keeps consoling me:
though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed,
no poison of torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
if just one moment anywhere on this earth.
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