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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Shutting down online #fakenews factories

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Got this email and image from Avaaz, subject line, “We’ve been hijacked”, that feels too important not to share.  Here’s my biggest takeaway from it:

During Brazil’s election, Avaaz ran an experiment — just six people were given basic training to investigate the propaganda networks, and they shut down online fake news factories that reached *16 million* people. Imagine what ten times as many could do!

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A space of one’s own

“Your walks are such a contrast to the events in Gujranwala in response to the women’s marathon,” wrote Saneeya Hussain in response to my Personal Political column published in The News on Sunday on 3 April 2005. “I keep thinking Pakistan shd change its name to Absurdistan or some such thing”. (Remember the women’s marathon?)

Since the article is not available on the web anymore I thought I’d post it here. The photo is more recent but since I wrote this piece in 2005, what has changed and what remains the same? 

Seaview beach, early morning. Photo: Beena Sarwar, 2016

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Solidarity with pro-democracy activists #India #Bangladesh #SouthAsia #FreeShahidul

“…In a coordinated operation… several well known academics, lawyers, writers, poets, priests and journalists have been arrested and their homes raided by the police”… 
(Note, 31 August 2018: added video below)
India arrests-threat

This extract from a statement titled ‘Fascism at our doorstep‘ by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) against the ongoing raids in India against democracy and rights activists applies elsewhere too. So do the words of Prof. Badri Raina in Delhi who writes in The Wire, “the grave fault of the human rights activists who have just been arrested is that they share knowledge of the provisions of the constitution of India with Indian citizens who, despite seven decades of practicing democracy, have remained disenfranchised from the promises of constitutional democracy”.

Below, an update from friends of Shahidul Alam, the detained photojournalist languishing in prison in Dhaka about whom I’ve written before. He is still denied the legal procedures and rights that he has fought for all his life. This is not a time to be silent.

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Attempts to Maneuver Polls Unacceptable: HRCP

The narrative being peddled in Pakistan through social media and Whatsapp, is one, that the politicians are totally corrupt and the Army is the only institution worth supporting. And second, even if the army has been interfering, it is “no longer an Army with a ‘security mindset’,” as one long message being circulated puts it, but “truly a national army, which has come of age”. Along the way, it “has become the fourth pillar in our country with influence far beyond its mandate. Something not to relish and a sad reality”. According to this narrative, “a strong, democratic, well governed and corruption free Pakistan is a political death warrant for Nawaz and Zardari”. And since the army is there to stay and “if Imran wins, this will be the first time in Pakistan’s civilian history that we will have this strategic alignment between these key State institutions which matter”.

Dept of political engineering

The satirical caption for this photo above is an example of the satire with which Pakistanis are countering the manipulations. Another satirical caption for this photograph is “Election Commission of Pakistan”. Wonder why many are taking such satire literally?

Sorry, but I’m not convinced. I believe that such a “strategic alignment” will backfire. Controlled democracy is not democracy. You can’t put the people’s democratic aspirations back in the bottle. If Imran Khan wins, it will be a win orchestrated by muzzling the media in an unprecedented way, threatening, killing and terrorising opponents, and mainstreaming hardliners along the India model as I wrote recently. And look what’s happening in India. A democratic, well governed, and corruption free Pakistan is a death warrant not just for the individual politicians named but also for the boots.

Below, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan‘s statement on the “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections” . Note: Please also see this  HRCP pre-poll monitoring form 2018 based on:

  1. Local news reports (print, radio and TV) about the area in which you live.
  2. Your own observations of the area in which you live (for example, candidates’ rallies, campaign banners, meetings with candidates).
  3.  Reliable observations of the area from other people (preferably, with supporting evidence).

Please send your completed copy of this form and any other supporting evidence (for example, photographs) of pre-poll irregularities to:

  1. Email: elections.hrcp@gmail.com
  2. Mobile/WhatsApp: 0332 430 4656
  3. Fax: 042 3588 3582

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Targeting of Marvi Sirmed latest in attacks on human rights activists, journalists, in Pakistan

Marvi Sirmed ransack-2018

Journalist couple Marvi and Sirmed Manzoor’s house ransacked: Humiliating violation of privacy besides theft of laptops, cell phone, passport. Online photo

Journalists in Pakistan are under increasing pressure, besides severe, ongoing censorship. The break in to columnist and activist Marvi Sirmed’s house and its ransacking is the latest in the series of intimidation, threats and violence to those who uphold democratic values and are critical of the security establishment.

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