Soch Columbia: “Rethinking Partition: The Quest for Jinnah’s Nation”

L to R - Kapil Dev, Ameena Zia, Yasser Latif Hamdani, Qasim Rashid, Hira Azhar

Panel on Azadi: The Fight for Religious Freedom in South Asia: (L-R) Kapil Dev, Ameena Zia, Yasser Latif Hamdani, Qasim Rashid, Hira Azhar. Photo: Columbia Soch.

Delighted to have participated at the Soch (thought) conference organised by Pakistani students association that includes at least one Indian (love it!) at Columbia University in New York last weekend. I was struck by the boldness of the themes they chose as well as the choice of speakers, many known for their outspokenness against the ‘establishment’. Below, their press release (photos: courtesy Soch).

Soch: Columbia Pakistan Symposium concludes annual conference on “Rethinking Partition: The Quest for Jinnah’s Nation” 

The third annual Columbia Pakistan Symposium, Soch, was held on March 31 on the Columbia University campus in New York, dedicated to the late lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir.

With panels on the rights of religious minorities in South Asia, on emerging nationalisms in Kashmir, and the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in Pakistan, Soch featured a keynote speech by Shahbaz Taseer on the theme of the 2018 conference, “Rethinking Partition: The Quest for Jinnah’s Nation.”


The Kashmir panel: Beena Sarwar, Saiba Varma, Nyla Ali Khan, Anish Gawande. Photo: Columbia Soch.

Iqra Bawany, a junior at Columbia University and Soch chair, shared the conference vision in her opening remarks: “We were eager to create a platform at Soch where we could look back to the fraught legacies of Partition on the most marginalized members in our communities while looking forward to the Pakistan’s future and the steps that still need to be taken to achieve Jinnah’s vision of a free and fair society.”

Started in 2016, the Columbia Pakistan Symposium has captured the spirit of intercultural dialogue and diplomatic exchange that is present throughout New York City. As one of the few conferences in the US to focus on Pakistan, Soch has brought together politicians, economists, academic, actors, artists, and activists from varied fields together to discuss South Asia from a Pakistani perspective.

This year, the conference brought together Dr. Ameena Zia, author and Ahmadiyya activist Qasim Rashid, and lawyer-journalist Yasser Latif Hamdani on the first panel, titled Azadi: The Fight for Religious Freedom in South Asia. Moderated by Hira Azhar, the panel discussed topics ranging from the rights of Pakistan’s Hindu citizens to the status of Ahmadis.

“I am a Hindu. Calling me ‘non-Muslim’ negates my identity and adds to other-isation,” said activist Kapil Dev from Mitthi, Thar, who works with a German NGO in Islamabad and is vocal about the rights of religious minorities. Organisers invited him to the panel as he was present in the audience on a short work visit to the USA.

The Kashmir panel titled Imagining Kashmir: Finding “The Country Without a Post Office, was organized in conjunction with the Dara Shikoh Fellowship. Author Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, journalist and Aman Ki Asha editor Beena Sarwar, and academic Dr. Saiba Varma share their perspectives on the need to de-center conversations around Kashmir from India and Pakistan. (We also showed a clip from my short documentary Milne Do: Let Kashmiris meet, below)

Moderated by Anish Gawande, director for the Fellowship, the Kashmir panel explored the need for emerging nationalisms to acknowledge the demands of marginalized groups ranging from women to the LGBTQ+ community.

Shahbaz Taseer: Courage and humility. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, shared the story of his kidnapping and subsequent release while putting forth his vision for Pakistan. Evoking Malala, who recently returned to Pakistan for the first time since her shooting, Taseer called for a more equitable and accepting future.

The conference ended with a closed discussion on LGBTQ+ rights in Pakistan.

Initiating conversations around marginalized groups that are rarely discussed in public forums, Soch brought together not only students and academics but also members of the Pakistani diaspora living across the United States.

“Asma Jahangir inspired us to push the boundaries of our own conversations at Soch. May we never forget her unwavering spirit during our conversations here,” said Bawany at the conclusion of the conference.


Honouring Asma Jahangir at Columbia Soch. Photo: Beena Sarwar

One Response

  1. Partition of India and formation of Pakistan was caused by Bad Politics of multi-dimensional kind involving local, regional, state level, national and international Bad Politics of Bad Politicians, having different political objectives/goals and as usual, Bad Politicians’ were successful in achieving what they wanted and people directly or indirectly affected, suffered and are still suffering unparalleled sufferings and great tragedies. Even, great tragedy also struck to people elswhere all over the world due to evil erupted out of Pakistan. India and Afghanistan being neighbour to Pakistan suffered and is still suffering the most.
    What happened to East Pakistan was again a great human tragedy leading to further partition and birth of Bangladesh, proving conclusively ‘The Two Nation Theory’ as Wrong.

    Like Pakistan, Kashmir is/was a religion issue fuelled by ReligionBasedHatred, leading both to self destruction.

    POlitics + religiON = POisON.

    Liked by 1 person

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