Cambridge event Standout for Peace in solidarity with #StandWithKashmir

Demonstrators at MIT, part of a series of peaceful world-wide protests in solidarity with Kashmir on the weekend of 21 September, International Peace Day. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Published in Cambridge Chronicle, September 24, 2019.

Sunday, 22 September, Cambridge MA: “Resist to exist” proclaimed a placard on the steps of MIT. The placard featured the picture of a woman in a red pheran, the long woolen tunic traditionally worn by Kashmiris from the Himalayan region in India’s north-west tip.

Visual by Zarina Teli, based on a photograph by Sumaya Teli.

The woman holding the placard also wore a red pheran, her mouth taped shut like the others in the pheran-clad group she stood with to symbolize the communications blackout in her home state since 5 August this year. The pheran reflects an iconic image that has become integral to the Kashmiris’ resistance movement, as covered by NPR news recently (Finding resistance in fashion, Kashmiri creator turns to the pheran).

The color red, taken up by thousands in their social media profile images, has come to symbolize the Kashmiris’ spirit of resistance and defiance.

The woman and her companions stood with other peace-loving South Asians and friends on the steps of MIT this past Sunday at noon, to demand that the Indian government “immediately restore communication in Kashmir, remove the draconian measures enforced in the name of security and order, and respect Kashmiris’ right of self-determination”.

Boston event – Global Standout for Peace in South Asia. Photo: Beena Sarwar

The next day, Monday 23 September, marked Day 50 of “the unprecedented and total communications blackout for 8 million Kashmiris enforced on them by the Indian government. Kashmiris, living in the most militarized region on earth, now fear that the present communications blackout is part of a larger plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Kashmir,” according to the statement read out at the event.

The event at MIT was part of a series of peaceful protests that weekend in solidarity with the Kashmiri people, coordinated by a small coalition called the Global Standout for Peace in South Asia.

Besides Boston, the Standouts took place in the San Francisco Bay area, Kolkata (India), Gotenburg (Sweden), Islamabad (Pakistan), and Kathmandu (Nepal), on the same weekend as Indian Prime Minister Modi shared the stage with U.S. President Trump in Houston. Solidarity with Kashmir protests took place in Houston also, as well as Seattle WA.

Standout for Peace in solidarity with Kashmir, Goteburg, Sweden

Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan both lay claim to Kashmir. The Global Standout protestors showed their rejection of these territorial claims by not carrying the flags of any nation or state.

Supporting organizations in Boston included Massachusetts Peace Action, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, MIT Students Against War, Stand With Kashmir, Coalition for Democratic India, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, and Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine.

Addressing the participants, Cambridge City Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui encouraged them to keep ‘speaking out for justice’.

The event ended with a drum sounding 50 beats, one for each day since the communications lockdown up to that point.

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Badri Raina’s marvelous Professor Higgins poem (But the ‘Equality idea’ ain’t dead)

Prof. Higgins haranguing Eliza in My Fair Lady

Another marvelous poem by Badri Raina in Delhi, published in ZNet, referencing Prof. Henry Higgins’ famous line in the musical My Fair Lady based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I will differ from Badri ji only to humbly offer that far from being dead, the ‘Equality idea’ is alive and kicking. It is in fact the growing prevalence of this idea that so threatens the beneficiaries of oppressive systems that they feel compelled to churn up fascism and bigotry, that get amplified in the news and social media. Am I wrong? 

Remembering Professor Higgins

We raised eyebrows when Higgins asked
“why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
Look how whole nations now build upon
That thought in the Professor’s brain. Continue reading

#MeToo: Moving towards a cycle of healing

Something I wrote about sexual harassment and abuse, published inThe News on Sunday. It was a difficult piece to write, took a lot of thought, time, and research, and forced me to introspect on uncomfortable ideas. I went through a learning process that I’ve have tried to share. One idea links to the concept of restorative justice. Another is that, regardless of whether or not guilt is proven, such cases are forcing society to re-evaluate acceptable behaviour. This, in fact, may be the #MeToo movement’s most enduring contribution. 

me2-tns

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South Asian activists, academics, journalists urge Sri Lanka not to violate fundamental rights in the name of combating terror

 

SriLanka statement-Wire-collage

Top row (L-R): Sima Samar, Kanak Mani Dixit, Hamida Hossain. Bottom row (L-R): Uma Chakravarti, Shahidul Alam, Pamela Philipose, Beena Sarwar. Collage: TheWire.In

Thanks to friends who initiated this statement in solidarity with the artists, thinkers and people of Sri Lanka, that I have signed along with over 250 other activists, academics and journalists from across South Asia. Please feel free to endorse and share. Signatories include human rights activists from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, journalists from Nepal, Pakistan and India, and historians and feminists from India and Pakistan, among others who have been at the forefront of facing similar realities in their respective nation-states for decades. Full text below, updated from the version published earlier in TheWire.in.

 

May 2, 2019: Continue reading

The story behind the viral ‘gwandne’ song

Collage of Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel screenshots, 4-30 April 2019.

I wrote this piece a few days after Neelum Bashir’s Punjabi poem ‘Humsaye Maa Jaye’ (children of the same soil) went viral over India and Pakistan. Originally published in The Wire, 6 April 2019, the updated piece below includes the revised poem-script that Neelum Apa kindly sent me. Her talented performer sisters Bushra Ansari and Asma Abbas’ musical rendition caught public imagination, cutting through the rising tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, forcing even the Indian media, including television channels in the thick of hectic pre-poll reporting, to take note. Updates include the the jump in Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel subscriptions, from 34 to over 25,000 in just three days, and to nearly 70,000 by 30 April, besides millions of views and shares. 

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Women warriors for peace and a viral Punjabi music video

Asma-Bushra-wall

A poetic dialogue between two neighbours separated by an insurmountable wall goes viral. Pictured here: Asma Abbas and Bushra Ansari, performing their sister Neelum Bashir’s poem.

There’s been so much going on that I haven’t shared any updates here for a while. On Tuesday 11 Feb., Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gave a talk on Pakistan and the Welfare State at Harvard that I reported on: “We can’t say we’re too poor to look after our people”, published in The News on Sunday, 17 Feb.  I was going to post it with an important paragraph that got left out of my report when I cut it down, but the Pulwama attack of 14 Feb overshadowed everything. I’ll share it at some point. Continue reading

Asma Jahangir: A meaningful life, an inspiring legacy

I wrote this piece for a web dossier produced by Heinrich Boell Foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘ 70th anniversary 2018 – Asma Jahangir – ein bedeutungsvolles Leben, ein inspirierendes Erbe. Sharing now, a year after Asma Jahangir has passed on. This piece doesn’t include her role for peace in the region and in the UN system that I’ve written about earlier and also detailed in a longer essay to be printed in an anthology titled Voices of Freedom from Asia and the Middle East, co-edited by Mark Dennis and Rima Abunasser, TCU, is under publication by SUNY Press. Above: Asma Jahangir at her office; still from my documentary Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice (2006)

By Beena Sarwar

The field on the outskirts of Lahore was full of workers waiting to hear the woman from the city speak. They squatted on their haunches with dull hopeless eyes, the drab greys and browns of their clothes at one with the earth they fashioned into bricks to bake in bhattas — kilns that dot the rural landscape of Punjab and upper Sindh. For their back-breaking labour they were paid in kind, leading to generations of indebtedness as the traditional informal economy transitioned into a cash-based system.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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