A visafree Southasia? Really?

It’s a dream, and aspiration. To quote Gulzar’s beautiful poem, “Ankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnoN ke sarhad koi nahiN” (Eyes don’t need a visa, dreams don’t have frontiers)

So there’s this dream: Southasia is a region with soft borders, like the European Union, or like the Southasia region itself was, prior to 1965.

We’ve long been calling for dialogue to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The call for soft borders and allowing people-to-people contact takes this further. Letting people meet, travel, and trade will benefit the region economically, as well as reduce misunderstandings and violent extremism.

Check out the list of demands – we know it’s a long shot, but we desis are used to bargaining – sign and share this online petition, coordinated by the Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan. As of today, over 36,000 signatures and counting. Help us reach 50,000.

Here’s a compilation of the organisations collaborating on this so far. More are joining. Each person counts, like the drops that make up the ocean.

We may not attain the dream in our lifetime but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Logos of participating organisations. Being updated on the petition site as more join.

The petition is addressed to the prime ministers and foreign offices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka allow visa-on-arrival. This is how it starts:

“This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain. 

“It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman. 

“It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”. 

Details at the petition online at this link.

Need to promptly repatriate cross-border prisoners, especially if they die…

Over 30 organizations around Southasia and beyond have endorsed a joint statement about cross-border prisoners initiated and coordinated by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, calling for the humane treatment of cross-border prisoners and to decriminalise inadvertent illegal border crossings.

Titled ‘Release prisoners on completion of jail term, decriminalise inadvertent border crossings, especially for fisherfolk and minors‘, the statement draws attention to the death of two Indian fisherfolk in Pakistani custody this year, and the death of a Pakistani fisherman of Bengali origin in India’s custody last year.

All three had served their sentences but remained in custody on ‘the other side’. Compounding the tragedy, there are terrible delays in the repatriation of the bodies of such fisherfolk, notes the statement.

The statement also draws attention to some teenagers who remain incarcerated in juvenile centers in India, mostly without any contact with their families. One has already served his sentence but remains incarcerated. Details below – Statement text and endorsements:

Arrested fisherfolk in custody across the border, far from home, no consular access until after sentence is over, often kept in custody even after serving their sentences. File photo. Getty images
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Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends

Two wonderful colleagues and friends departed this world rather suddenly within days of each other last month, leaving behind multitudes to mourn their loss — and celebrate their lives: Khalid Hameed Farooqui, Geo News correspondent in Brussels, 7 May, and Editor The News Talat Aslam, 25 May. We honoured both at the In Memoriam section of the Southasia Peace or Sapan event on the last Sunday of May, along with others.

Khalid Hameed Farooqui: A lifetime of politics, journalism, and activism in Europe and Pakistan.
Talat Aslam: His tweets @Titojourno gathered a fan following for his posts on politics, food, film, music and nocturnal wanderings in Karachi.

The tribute to Khalid by European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer in a press briefing shortly after Khalid’s passing speaks for the respect he inspired amongst colleagues and political figures:

TNS page on Talat Aslam, online, TNS e-paper, 29 May 2022

Friend Saifullah Saify in Amsterdam organised a wonderful online tribute for Khalid, with tributes from personalities like Farhatullah Babar, and journalists Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Munizae Jahangir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Murtaza Solangi, Mazhar Abbas, Raza Rumi, Nazir Leghari – see video clips at this playlist on his YouTube channel.

Sharing below my piece on Tito, as friends and family called Talat, one of three articles carried by The News on Sunday in a full page tribute. The two other remembrances, by colleagues Zia ur Rehman and Gulraiz Khan, are online here. My piece includes a couple of my illustrations for Tito’s columns in The Star 1986-88.

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Solidarity with Sri Lanka

The situation in Sri Lanka is really dire. We at Sapan issued this statement 02 June – posted to website. Pls share widely: Southasians express solidarity with Sri Lanka, concern about economic and humanitarian crises.

Excerpt: “Amidst all the tension and uncertainty, it is important to note the undercurrent of hope enabled by the active engagement of individuals, organisations and civil society calling for accountability and good governance.” 

Here’s the scan of a report shared just now by a friend waiting in a petrol queue – the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has only a week’s worth of fuel left:

She also shared a short piece from the Daily Mirror today. Excerpt:

“The people of Sri Lanka deserve to live their lives without these politically-triggered interruptions.  Towards that end, I implore international companies that Sri Lanka works with to not divert business from here when we need their support and partnership the most.  Hopefully tourists will return once the country finds stability.  The wonders of this country still remain as beautiful, unmarred by the constant disruption.”  – Paradise Disrupted

A 58-year old daily wage labourer who lives in a single room on the outskirts of Colombo with her husband shares how they’ve had to switch from cooking with gas, to kerosene, and now firewood. Her husband forages for vegetables and edible leaves on his way home from work. See her story at: Financial Pandemic: ‘Sri Lanka is not a country for poor people now’, The Fuller Project, 20 May, 2022.

Kabir festival in Boston this weekend

UPDATE 11 June: Due to rain Kabir Festival postponed to Sunday June 19,2022. Please inform everyone

Some friends have been working hard on the upcoming Kabir Festival in Cambridge MA. Excited for it and fingers crossed it doesn’t rain. Our weekly Wednesday meeting this time focused on Kabir, and they showed this documentary by Kashif ul Huda, TwoCircles.net

Details about the Kabir Festival in the press statement below:

Kabir Festival 2022: Celebrating the humanistic values of an ancient mystic

Event poster

BOSTON: A cultural event to commemorate the birth anniversary of Kabir Das, an ancient South Asian mystic and social reformer will take place Sunday, 12 June 2022, at Danehy Park, Cambridge MA.

The Kabir Festival 2022 honors the values propagated by Kabir Das, a 15th century poet whose message of humanism, fraternity, love, harmony and equality resonates today in a world that is in many ways much like his. Then as now, great and astonishing changes were taking place, causing anxiety, fear, strife and dislocations.

Kabir’s message of humanism, fraternity, love, harmony and equality resonates today in a world that is in many ways much like his. Then as now, great and astonishing changes were taking place, causing anxiety, fear, strife and dislocations.

Ahead of Kabir’s birth anniversary on 14 June 2022, several individuals and organizations of the South Asian community are organizing a Kabir Festival in Cambridge. The organizers hope to bring Kabir’s message of peace, harmony and love to people in our troubled times.

The festival includes performances by local musicians, singers and artists. The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

The outdoor gathering will observe Covid-19 guidelines as per the City of Cambridge.

Participating organizations include Learn Quest Academy of Music, New England Hindi Manch, Kabir Society, Sanjha Punjab, Southasia Peace Action Network, Subdrift Boston, Boston Study Group and Jago World.

Contact: Rupal Shah: Email – south-asian-center@googlegroups.com

Sapan News

The Wednesday discussion also shared this music video by the Kabir Cafe in Mumbai:

May Day and Eid greetings: Solidarity with workers around the world and Southasia

It was activist friend Kavita Srivastava in Jaipur who suggested focusing on ‘Labour Rights and Democracy’ for our April event ahead of May Day. Like all Sapan events since launch in March 2022 – the Southasia Peace Action Network – this was also on the last Sunday of the month.

As usual, we live-streamed the discussion on FB – video at this link. We truly appreciate all the ‘likes’, comments and shares that help ensure that our voices are heard amidst the din.

Thanks to old friend and talented musician Arieb Azhar in Islamabad for agreeing to sing at the last minute. Dhonobad Khushi Kabir in Dhaka for transliterating the first verse of the workers’ anthem, The Internationale in Bangla for him. She knows them all by heart. Arieb also sang some of his own verses in Urdu, reflecting contemporary realities. He’s doing an English translation to add. Here’s the clip – thanks Priyanka Singh in Delhi for uploading it so fast.

Priyanka has a great affinity for music and poetry – she was reciting a poem at the online PIPFPD event in January 2021 where I first ‘met’ her. Not surprised she also took time out to post the extempore song by young Lucky Akter in Dhaka ended her presentation with. A former former student activist working with Bangladesh’s oldest and largest peasant organisation, Lucky’s stirring call for rights is lovely even if you don’t understand Bangla.

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Evoking the madness of Manto, what we need is ‘one big roar of laughter across Southasia’

Sharing a feature I co-wrote with Priyanka Singh in Delhi about Sapan’s last event on the first anniversary of the Southasia Peace Action Network. The next one, on labour rights and democracy, will take place on the last Sunday of April.

Southasia Peace Action Network

Artists, journalists, sportspersons, healthcare workers, educators, businesspersons, students, gather for the first anniversary of a Southasian peace coalition.

By Beena Sarwar and Priyanka Singh

April 9, 2022, Sapan News Service: “Each of our countries is facing moments of total insanity and the only recourse is laughter – one big roar across Southasia,” said arts educator Salima Hashmi of Lahore, speaking at an event organised recently to mark a year of Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network

“To see the ludicrousness of Southasia right now,” she said, we need the “dark humour” of the great storyteller Saadat Hasan Manto.

The online discussion tackled various themes in nine breakout sessions, even as Pakistan plunged into a constitutional crisis and Sri Lanka into an economic tailspin.

“It’s us the little people who can say the emperor has no clothes, and laugh at the demi-gods pretending to be gods — because they…

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Pakistan Constitution upheld – for now

Rajdeep Sardesai: A stable Pakistan is in India’s interests. Screenshot by Tej Kaul from yesterday’s show.

Thanks to the Pakistan Supreme Court for the unanimous judgement upholding the opposition’s right to a no-confidence motion and declaring as void the ruling party’s attempt to dissolve the assembly and hold fresh elections. The situation had many of us on tenterhooks given its potential to disrupt the democratic political process that has only just begun taking hold in the country.

Since 2008, only two cycles of elected governments have completed their term and handed over power to the next one without the assemblies being dissolved. Imran Khan was the third political leader to grasp the baton of this relay. If he passed the baton on to the next elected government that would be a historic hat-trick in Pakistan’s history and hopefully strengthen the process and pave the way for it to continue. He can still redeem himself by doing that after losing the no-confidence move on Saturday and stepping into the opposition.

Of course elections aren’t the be-all and end-all of a democratic political process. But as the wise know, the process is crucial. As a sportsman, Imran Khan should know that the game is only an event that needs an ongoing, continuous process of rigorous, consistent training.

Unfortunately the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team has turned out to be a sore loser. My commiserations to his supporters, many of whom had placed their hopes in him to improve the system. They need to recognise that an individual can’t do this alone. He has to work with others, and needs to pick the right people for his team. And stay in the game.

I shared my views on Al Jazeera last Sunday, and yesterday on a panel discussion with Rajdeep Sardesai at India Today, both linked here.

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Let’s teach our kids about peace before someone else teaches them to hate

Sharing a piece I wrote with Rahul Mukherji in Kolkatta pegged on April 6 – #WhiteCard International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. A Sapan syndicated feature.

Southasia Peace Action Network

By Rahul Mukherji and Beena Sarwar

April 7, 2022, Sapan News Service: On 6 April 2022, an 11-year-old boy in Islamabad and 8-year-old in Kolkata raised White Cards to each other, in support of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

In doing so, Arman in Pakistan and Riaan in India were not just making a gesture of peace and friendship towards each other, but for their countries, and the world.

Tweet by Aman ki Asha (@amankiasha_1) on 6 Apr 2022.

The heartwarming little video shared on social media was one among millions of #WhiteCard photos and videos being posted that day as symbolic gestures calling for peace through sports around the globe. Participants included world champions, Olympic champions, sportspersons and fans.

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly createda historical link to the first modern Olympic Gamesof 1896 by declaring 6…

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Sara Suleri bows out

Sharing personal memories of the brilliant Sara Suleri whose genre-defying book Meatless Days inspired generations of writers, feminists, memoirists and dislocated Southasians. Thanks Ailia Zehra at The Friday Times for asking me to write this piece. Published as a Sapan syndicated feature in TFT, The Wire, Geo TV blog, South Asia Monitor and The Print – shared here with additional pix and links.

February 2018: Sara Suleri pays tribute to Asma Jahangir. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

PERSONAL-POLITICAL

By Beena Sarwar

March 25, 2022, Sapan News Service:

Aur bataiye” – tell me more, a polite invitation to keep talking. I can hear her voice, perhaps naturally husky, made deeper with years of cigarette smoking and perhaps more recently with pain and other medications.

She’d send her love to Pakistan whenever I’d call before flying out from Boston, where we had both ended up around ten years ago – she after retiring as Professor Emeritus of English from Yale University. I had transplanted myself from my home city Karachi where I was editing Aman Ki Asha, hope for peace – between India and Pakistan.

“Dream on!” I hear Sara say. And yet, she agrees, it’s important to keep going. She’s also a hundred percent supportive of our push for a regional approach – the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan, the more recent endeavour, launched last year with a wonderful group of inter-generational, cross-border peacemongers.

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