Writing for peace. And activism in Himachal Pradesh

Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, Mohsin Tejani in Karachi: Breadloaf friends, great synergy. Photos: supplied.

Really enjoyed this Sapan online family writing workshop by educators and teacher trainers Mohsin Tejani in Karachi and Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, hosted by the amazing Khushi Kabir in Dhaka, joined by educationist and writer Benislos Thushan in Jaffna – looking dramatic due to a power cut, just before dashing off for an overnight bus to Colombo. Human rights activist and physician Fauzia Deeba from Quetta now in New Jersey talked about the floods in Pakistan and shared the In Memoriam section designed by a young journalist Sushmita Preetha in Dhaka. Senior journalist Namrata Sharma in Kathmandu delivered the heart warming closing remarks that the piece starts with.

Namrata Sharma: “Who and how can anyone say that Southasia is divided?” – screenshot from the workshop.

Lovely writeup on it by young agriculturist-researcher-educationist M. Waqas Nasir in Lahore, published as a Sapan News Network syndicated piece in several media outlets. Read it here: Divided by borders, united by aspirations. This piece and the event would not have been possible without the efforts of data analyst and researcher Priyanka Singh in New Delhi. Both she and Waqas are Sapan founder members.

I’m also happy to share this piece young lawyer Vishal Sharma in Shimla, also a Sapan founder member. I love how hard and patiently he worked on the article, taking in feedback from various friends to shape it into what it became. I also learnt a lot by working with him on it, especially the idea of ‘Himachaliyat’ which reminds me of ‘Kashmriyat’ – promoting pluralism and peace. Published in Himachal Watcher. Read it here: A young leader’s activism may be a gamechanger for the Congress in Himachal‘. Vishal had the visual specially made by an artist friend.

Vikramaditya Singh uses the shield of “Himachaliyat” and “Virbhadra Singh Vikas Model” to counter political rivals. Visual by artist Deepak Saroj in Noida

Southasian solidarity for flood-hit Pakistan

Flood survivors and volunteers at Shahdadkot. Photo: Courtesy Rubina Chandio via the Flood Relief Work WhatsApp group.

It is moving to see how many on the ground, as well as across the region and beyond, are stepping up to help those hit by the floods in any way they can.

At our online Southasia Peace Action Network, Sapan, meetings and in personal messages, Indian friends in particular have expressed their anguish and desire to help. Many are frustrated by being unable to contribute financially as I mentioned in my last post, Floods in Pakistan: Many eager to help held back by restrictions.

See Sapan’s statement of solidarity and appeal for Southasian nations to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – encompasses issues like the climate crisis and food security. We also compiled this list of initiatives people can donate to.

Also, love how a young Indian friend initiated this Sapan appeal to cricket boards ahead of Asia Cup to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – image below.

The YouTube video below has friends Dr Amna Buttar and Dr Geet Chainani talking about the realities on the ground in disaster-hit areas and why as an Indian origin physician in the US, Geet wants to go back to Sindh to help with flood relief. Sabyn Zaidi remembers how Geet worked in medical camps during the 2010 floods. On the first day she saw 172 patients, without breaks. There were no restrooms, no food, no electricity; there were bugs and insects. When it got dark, she worked with the light from cell phone lights and torches brought by the villagers.

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Floods in Pakistan: Many eager to help held back by restrictions

Suhasini Haidar’s report in Hindustan Times, 29 Augusst 2022

“Wish both India & Pakistan had friendly relationship I would have pledged all proceeds from the sale of book for the victims of disastrous floods in Pakistan” tweeted Raminder Jit Singh (@ramindersays), a “Sikh from Jammu & Kashmir” who has recently published a book titled Immaculate Thoughts. The scale of destruction “leaves one benumbed”.

How tragic is it that people who want to help, can’t.

The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have already claimed over 1,000 human lives, over 700,000 heads of cattle and destroyed millions of acres of crops. The situation makes it all the more urgent to ease restrictions between countries of the region and allow food aid and trade to take place. 

The destruction has caused food prices to rise, to the extent that Pakistan is considering opening duty-free import and even reviving imports through the land border with India.

The previous government headed by Imran Khan had cancelled trade ties with India in protest against the Modi government’s revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 in August 2019. There have been only two exceptions since then: to import pharmaceutical products during the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow India to ship 50,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Modi has tweeted his condolences to Pakistan for the losses caused by the floods and expressed “hope for an early restoration of normalcy”. This “normalcy” needs to include something that hasn’t been normal for the region – good neighbourly relations. Let people of the region meet – allow visa-on-arrival or a visa-free Southasia, like the European Union, or US-Canada as envisioned by Pakistan’s founding father.

Also read Neel Kamal’s article in TOI: Many hands rising from Southasia for flood-marooned in Pakistan – includes a mention of Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network that aims to make this happen.

Why should politics come in the way of people helping each other?

Please see and share this petition and bring friends, family and colleagues on board.

#FloodsInPakistan #Pakistan #India #Southasia 

02 Sept: Updated post to correct the figure of cattle lost to floods, had missed a zero.

India-Pakistan @ 75 and graphic images from Ukraine: Two articles and some context

Sharing two recent pieces, this time not part of the Sapan News Network syndicate. One commissioned by The Wire, and the by The Conversation.

Below – some context and what the editors wanted.

The “piano man,” a war refugee, became one of the symbols of resistance emerging from conflict. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Lviv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
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A peace pilgrimage from Pune, political prisoners, Bhutan, Gulzar and more

The latest syndicated pieces from our Sapan News Network: A report on peace pilgrims from Pune in Pakistan, a call to free political prisoners, an oped on why Bhutan needs a peace and reconciliation movement, an analysis of the early years of Independence, and a report on the poet Gulzar’s visit to the USA. Enter your email at the Sapan website www.southasiapeace.com to get the pieces sent straight to your mail box. For now, read on:

  1. On eve of 75th independence anniversary, peace pilgrims from Pune bring message of love to Pakistan: The three crossed Wagah border on 22 July for the first peace pilgrimage from India to Pakistan in a quarter century. After a week in Karachi, Shikarpur, and Lahore each, they return to India today after celebrating Pakistan’s Independence day with Pakistani friends at Wagah border. By Priyanka SIngh and Beena Sarwar. Read more here
From Dhaka, Khushi Kabir in conversation with Yogesh Mathuria, Nitin S., and Jalandarnath Channole in Shikarpur. Photo credits: @southasiapeace on Facebook

2. The world’s ‘happiest country’ needs a peace and reconciliation process – “Bhutan’s much-touted happiness rating lies atop a bed of pain. The pain of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin. I know, because I am one of them,” writes Suraj Budathoki in this groundbreaking oped. Read more here.

3. “Free them all!” A call of solidarity with political prisoners in India, America, and beyond – Revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s iconic 1962 poem Main Nahi Manta (I refuse to accept) still resonates beyond Pakistan. A report on a discussion on “Political Incarceration and Resistance in India and the USA organised by the Boston South Asian Coalition recently in conjunction with the Boston branch of the Jericho Movement. By Padma B. and Beena Sarwar. Read more here.

4. The years that were: Let lessons from the past inform the present, argues Tridivesh Singh Maini. “…f we just look back and study the 1947-1965 phase in our own region in terms of people-to-people exchanges as well as economic linkages, there is a lot to learn ” Read more here

5. A Southasian poetic giant tours North America Siraj Khan in Boston reports on Gulzar’s visit to several North American cities, in conversation with the writer Rakhshanda Jalil, and a talented musical team rendering his poetry. Read more here.

Subscribe to Sapan News Network by entering your email at http://www.southasiapeace.com to stay up to date with Sapan offerings.

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:

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