For the Record

The forgotten Delhi home of a historic Pakistani newspaper

Muhammad Ali Jinnah founded Dawn in Delhi in 1941. creative commons
01 August, 2014

AT SUNDOWN ON A HOT JULY EVENING in Old Delhi, 83-year-old Yunus Jaffery proceeded slowly along Netaji Subhash Marg, a major thoroughfare in the neighborhood of Daryaganj. He peered carefully at passing signboards as pedestrians swirled around, ducking in and out of bustling shops. Suddenly Jaffery stopped, in front of a dilapidated two-storey building with a board reading “Gupta Promoters” hanging on its façade. A rusty lock dangled from the broken door. “This is the office you were looking for,” he said.

It was in this very building, Jaffery told me, at what is now house number 3576, that Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English daily, was founded. Jaffery, a Persian scholar and life-long resident of Delhi, witnessed the heady days of the freedom movement and the trauma of Partition unfold in the city. “You see that other building there,” he said, pointing to another decaying two-storey structure roughly twenty meters away. “This is where Dawn was printed.” That building, he told me, used to house the Latifi Press, which published numerous prominent newspapers and magazines in pre-Independence India.

Dawn was founded in 1941 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a mouthpiece of the Muslim League, which he led, to counter pro-Congress coverage in many prominent papers at the time. The newspaper played a vital role in shaping opinions and events in the run-up to Partition, after which it moved to the Pakistani city of Karachi. Sadly, its original office, a crucial site in the history of India and the subcontinent, now stands neglected and almost entirely forgotten. None of the locals I spoke to in Daryaganj knew of the building’s history. Latif Kirmani, the editor of Rashtriya Vishwas, a Hindi political fortnightly published out of the neighbourhood, told me “there were other influential Urdu newspapers published from Daryaganj, but I have never heard about Dawn.” Jaffery is among the very few who still remember the site’s significance.

The history of Dawn typified many of the arguments and tensions that played out in the decade before Independence. In 1937, after sweeping elections in seven provinces of British India, the Congress rejected a Muslim League proposal for cooperation and coalition. Many prominent publications carried the Congress’s denouncements of Jinnah as a communal statesman. In response, Jinnah created a Press Propaganda Fund, asking Muslims from all over the country to donate for the establishment of publications that would propagate the ideology of the Muslim League. Besides Dawn, the fund also bankrolled prominent Urdu publications such as Anzam and Jang in Delhi, Zamindar and Inquilab in Lahore, and Asar-e-Jadeed in Calcutta. Dawn first appeared, as a weekly, on 26 October 1941, with a front-page headline proclaiming itself the “Muslim Mirror of India.” Jinnah was euphoric. “I am glad,” he wrote in a message to the Muslim League, “that at last an English weekly, the Dawn, is founded and established in Delhi, the capital city of India, which is at present the nerve centre of all political activities.”

Though Dawn consistently supported Jinnah’s call for a separate Muslim state, first officially delivered in a speech in March 1940, its offices witnessed much debate on the issue. In 1942, Jinnah appointed as editor Pothan Joseph, a Christian with known reservations about dividing the country, who turned the paper into a daily. In an interview for a paper by the scholar JV Vil’anilam published last year, Joseph’s son Jaiboy said his father joined the paper in hopes of persuading Jinnah to change his mind. But Jinnah was persistent, and in 1944 Joseph resigned, stating, “There is a limit to which I can stretch my logic about Partition.” Jinnah appointed a new editor, Altaf Hussain, and the paper’s popularity continued to rise.

Later, over a glass of soda, Jaffery told me he remembered occasionally stopping by the Dawn offices as a young boy to pick up copies of the newspaper for his employer. “I could barely read English at that time,” he said, “but I remember a popular column in Dawn that appeared on the second page, called Round a Cup of Tea. It occupied half of the page, and focused primarily on politics.”

Jaffery paused between sips of his soda. “There was no concept of division or Pakistan known to the common man at that time,” he said, and looked down at his glass in silence. Then suddenly he turned to me, and recounted how one day he went to see Jinnah at a football match at a ground in Old Delhi. There he was shocked to hear, for the first time, a crowd of people shouting “Pakistan Zindabad.”

He fell silent for a while again before speaking. “After Partition they asked me to leave India and go to Pakistan,” he remembered. “My friend gave me a rupee and asked me to return when things became normal. But I never left.”