A real and dangerous pandemic, and lives well lived

The Covid-19 pandemic is real and dangerous. Yesterday it likely snatched another beloved relative from us. My beautiful, youthful 83-year-old cousin Geti’s husband Ismail Saad, 90, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. He was frail and not keeping very well, but was mentally all there. Had just finished yet another book – in Urdu. A comparison between educational systems in different countries, it will now be published posthumously.

Ismail Saad and Geti Waheeduddin a week before their wedding, 1967.

He wasn’t tested but the positivity rate in Karachi is currently estimated at 40%. Like others, many of our family members tested positive over the past weeks – most with mild or no symptoms, probably the Omicron variant, including my mother Zakia Sarwar, 82, and many overseas guests visiting for a family wedding. But it’s not mild or asymptomatic for everyone. The day before Ismail Saad’s passing, the virus killed a senior pediatrician at Aga Khan Hospital.

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Wanted: Adult behaviour in SouthAsia

The last Sapan – South Asia Peace Action Network – event of the year was titled “Growing up, growing together” with activists across the region resolving to continue working for a better tomorrow. It was wonderful to hear so many young people speak – most under 35 years old. Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make the event a success – including the poetry and music at the end. Sapan’s next monthly event on the last Sunday of January will have more music and culture.

The Facebook Live recording of the recent meeting is available at this link – video log online at this link. Here’s a feature report about the event.

Commemorating Human Rights Day, the founding of SAARC, and 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence, Sapan discussion highlights the commonality of human rights issues across the region

Some of the participants at the event – most speakers were under 35-years old. Screenshot.
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Married across an intractable border, Rajput Sodhas suffer due to India-Pakistan visa issues

Something I wrote based on a tip by an officer with a humanitarian conscience who came across Ganpat Singh Sodha’s story and wanted to help him reunite with his family. I subsequently connected Ganpat to a reporter colleague in India who wrote a great report about the issue, cited in my feature piece for which I did additional interviews and research. #MilneNo

South Asia Peace Action Network

This is the story of Ganpat Singh from Pakistan’s Sodha Rajput community of less than half a million. Like him, each member of this community has matrimonial linkages across the border in neighbouring Rajasthan, India. This is the only way they can keep their community alive, as they are barred from marrying within their own ‘gotra’. A special dispensation over a decade ago provided them relief with six-month visa extensions – but now those who apply for such extensions are being blacklisted, leading to painful and preventable human tragedies

By Beena Sarwar

Ganpat Singh Sodha couldn’t go to his mother as she lay dying of cancer at his brother’s house in Jodhpur, India, a little over 300 km from Umerkot, Pakistan, where he lives. Three of his children are in Jodhpur too. He has been apart from them for five years.

A former government schoolteacher of Sindhi in Umerkot —…

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“We will fight, we will win”

The spirit of South Asia and the power of the four-letter word love

Commemorating 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, remembering Kamla Bhasin

By Beena Sarwar

The annual international 16 Days of Activism against gender violence takes place this year without the pioneering feminist and poet Kamla Bhasin, even as her songs and poetry enliven events during this period and beyond.

Kamla Bhasin. Radical love. Photo: Kashif Saeed

The 16 Days are observed annually starting 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. They end 10 December, with international Human Rights Day. These are integrated issues that Kamla fought for all her life. And she did this with love, joy, music, poetry and compassion.

As she famously said, “I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. I am a feminist and I do not hate women who are not feminists. I am a feminist – and I laugh.”

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A Southasia climate resolution

The Sapan Resolution on Climate Change ahead of COP26 is still relevant

At the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan, event at the end of October, participants and speakers answered YES to the question of Can South Asia combat climate change? – and also suggested how.

The informative and engaging session hosted by Khushi Kabir and moderated by Afia Salam was followed by breakout rooms focusing on Climate justice, Cross-border reporting, Water issues, Renewable energy, and Indigenous communities, each facilitated by expert moderators and rapporteurs. See details at this link.

At the end of the event, youth activists Disha Ravi of India and Durlabh Ashok Pakistan read out a Resolution that participants endorsed. Read the Resolution at this link.

Speakers, moderators and rapporteurs: Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Vandana Shiva, Saleemul Haq, Khushi Kabir, Sunita Narain, Nalaka Gunawardene, Afia Salam, Sarita Bartaula, Durlabh Ashok, Priyanka Singh, Pragya Narang, Kinga Tshering, Pratima Gurung, Kunda Dixit, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Kanak Dixit, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Shilsila Acharya, Disha Ravi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rani Yan Yan Yoddha, Lubna Jerrar Naqvi, Dayamani Barla. Collage by Aekta Kapoor.

How climate change is linked to the tragedy of a Bengali-Pakistani fisherman incarcerated in India

Beena Sarwar

The tragedy of a fisherman who died of Covid-19 while imprisoned in India, far from his family in Karachi, highlights the link between geopolitics and climate change – issues being deliberated at the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow.

In November 2017, Amir Hamza was among the crew of a Pakistani fishing boat arrested by Indian security forces across the maritime border.

Fisherfolk along the Arabian Sea coast shared by nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India know that they risk such arrests, as well as sea storms, if they stray across the invisible line. But it is a risk they take, driven by declining fish populations.

Bhuj to Attari-Wagah to Karachi: An arduous journey. Map: Beena Sarwar
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A South Asia women and peace weekend

Thrilled and honoured to be part of two peace building events with some awesome women this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Tune in.

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Commemorating ‘the second 9/11’ and the way ahead

The United States and India should join with other regional powers to deal with the Taliban and help the Afghan people – Noam Chomsky

BOSTON, 27 September: Prominent academic Noam Chomsky has urged the United States and India to engage with the Taliban, work towards overcoming differences with other regional powers, and help the Afghan people rather than blocking ”the best of the options that are available”.

He was speaking last Sunday at the tail end of a webinar titled “20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians” organised by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan. Speakers shared stories of hope and inspiration, besides those of distress and challenges.

Noam Chomsky: Put the Afghan people first. Screenshot from Sapan webinar, 26 September 2021.
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Chomsky among speakers at discussion on “9/11” and aftermath: Impact on SouthAsia and SouthAsians

Event banner

Marking two decades of the September 2001 attacks on New York City, global thought leaders and activists from across South Asia and the diaspora will meet across time zones this Sunday to discuss the impact of “9/11” on the region and its people.

The online event also commemorates the global International Peace Day, September 21.

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Remembering Hal Gould, a friend of South Asia


I wrote this piece recently about someone I was honoured to consider a friend although we never met. Hal Gould came to mind when we launched Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, earlier this year. I knew he was over 90 by then, a few years older than my late father Dr M. Sarwar, who Hal had felt an affinity with. We’re in a pandemic and I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

Hal and I had been in touch since early 2008 after he read my op-ed in Dawn, An inconvenient truth” (Feb. 22, 2008) about Pakistan’s ‘return to democracy’, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful electoral transfer of power. He had quoted from it in his column for the then newly launched online magazine South Asia Monitor, in which he urged America and the world to allow democracy to take root in Pakistan without outside interference.

My piece had emerged in response to an American friend’s outraged comment: “What kind of democracy is it that puts the fate of the country in the hands of a Nawaz Sharif and an Asif Zardari?” Trying to put the issue in context, I had written: “It’s surely not worse than a democracy which puts the fate of America – and the world – in the hands of a George W. Bush… TWICE!” I added that India had twice elected a right-wing BJP government-backed by religious militants. This was, of course, before Trump and Modi.

Interesting times, these. As a scholar who has done seminal work on caste in India, I am sure Hal would have had something to say about the Dismantling Hindutva conference taking place this weekend that is under massive attack from those who refuse to distinguish between Hindus and Hindutva…

Then came the sad update about his stroke, followed by news of his passing – shared by his son to the Friends of Hal email list that Hal used to post to. I found it hard to put the piece together in the middle of all that was going on but I felt Hal deserved a proper remembrance.

Hal’s son Armeen eventually sent around an obituary which I’ve drawn from, including a list of the books Hal authored. For the photos I’m indebted to historian Richard Barnett – who I had interviewed years ago for The Frontier Post – who connected me with another friend of Hal and of South Asia, Philip McEldowney at University of Virginia who dug about and sent some.

Obituary on Hal Gould in South Asia Monitor, cross-posted to our recently launched Sapan website. Rest in peace Hal. We will keep learning from you.

Here’s the full piece:

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