A South Asia women and peace weekend

Thrilled and honoured to be part of two peace building events with some awesome women this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Tune in.

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Commemorating ‘the second 9/11’ and the way ahead

The United States and India should join with other regional powers to deal with the Taliban and help the Afghan people – Noam Chomsky

BOSTON, 27 September: Prominent academic Noam Chomsky has urged the United States and India to engage with the Taliban, work towards overcoming differences with other regional powers, and help the Afghan people rather than blocking ”the best of the options that are available”.

He was speaking last Sunday at the tail end of a webinar titled “20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians” organised by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan. Speakers shared stories of hope and inspiration, besides those of distress and challenges.

Noam Chomsky: Put the Afghan people first. Screenshot from Sapan webinar, 26 September 2021.
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Remembering Hal Gould, a friend of South Asia


I wrote this piece recently about someone I was honoured to consider a friend although we never met. Hal Gould came to mind when we launched Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, earlier this year. I knew he was over 90 by then, a few years older than my late father Dr M. Sarwar, who Hal had felt an affinity with. We’re in a pandemic and I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

Hal and I had been in touch since early 2008 after he read my op-ed in Dawn, An inconvenient truth” (Feb. 22, 2008) about Pakistan’s ‘return to democracy’, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful electoral transfer of power. He had quoted from it in his column for the then newly launched online magazine South Asia Monitor, in which he urged America and the world to allow democracy to take root in Pakistan without outside interference.

My piece had emerged in response to an American friend’s outraged comment: “What kind of democracy is it that puts the fate of the country in the hands of a Nawaz Sharif and an Asif Zardari?” Trying to put the issue in context, I had written: “It’s surely not worse than a democracy which puts the fate of America – and the world – in the hands of a George W. Bush… TWICE!” I added that India had twice elected a right-wing BJP government-backed by religious militants. This was, of course, before Trump and Modi.

Interesting times, these. As a scholar who has done seminal work on caste in India, I am sure Hal would have had something to say about the Dismantling Hindutva conference taking place this weekend that is under massive attack from those who refuse to distinguish between Hindus and Hindutva…

Then came the sad update about his stroke, followed by news of his passing – shared by his son to the Friends of Hal email list that Hal used to post to. I found it hard to put the piece together in the middle of all that was going on but I felt Hal deserved a proper remembrance.

Hal’s son Armeen eventually sent around an obituary which I’ve drawn from, including a list of the books Hal authored. For the photos I’m indebted to historian Richard Barnett – who I had interviewed years ago for The Frontier Post – who connected me with another friend of Hal and of South Asia, Philip McEldowney at University of Virginia who dug about and sent some.

Obituary on Hal Gould in South Asia Monitor, cross-posted to our recently launched Sapan website. Rest in peace Hal. We will keep learning from you.

Here’s the full piece:

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Uphold the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, say human-rights advocates

Meant to share this earlier – great discussion last weekend on the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, organised by Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network. Besides human rights advocates and experts, there were testimonies from those who have suffered incarceration, and presentations from Sapan volunteers about prison conditions and best practices in the region. The issues raised are relevant beyond the region. Hope we can keep the momentum going – and we need help to do that. Please like, comment, share and post about this issue that affects all of society. Thank you.

Participants turned on cameras at the end for a group photo. Collage by Aekta Kapoor, eShe magazine.

29 August 2021: “If the government becomes the monster that it can be, then the belly of the beast contains the people in jail”, said Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, speaking at a regional session on the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, particularly in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He was among the prominent activists, legal experts, concerned citizens, and formerly incarcerated persons across the region who came together online to discuss the issue on Sunday, 29 August 2021, under the umbrella of Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, of which he is a founding member. 

Held a day before the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 30 August, the meeting underlined the need to recognise enforced disappearance as a distinct crime. The recent commemoration of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August also pegged the need for compassion and empathy for vulnerable communities. The tragic situation in Afghanistan further highlights the need for solidarity in the region and to insist on upholding human rights principles.

The event featured gut-wrenching testimonies in various languages from those who have experienced incarceration in the region, including those who were picked up but not produced before the courts for months or years. Those who fill the prisons tend to be the poorest of the poor as many pointed out.

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#Goodnews update. And an upcoming event

Glad to report that Ajeet Kumar Nagdev and his children are on the train headed to Amritsar, and will hopefully cross the border on Saturday along with some 50 other Pakistanis who had been stranded in India due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks for all those who helped Nagdev and his family, especially Samir Gupta, Shishir Arya and others, including the helpful folks at the Pakistan High Commission, New Delhi, operating under stressful conditions. Salute to all of you.

Meanwhile, need help getting the word out about this upcoming regional event Sunday, on the rights of the incarcerated with legal experts and human rights activists from around the region. Pls subscribe, join, share, post, comment, like, tweet, whatever you can. Much appreciated.

Poster for the event. Thanks Vishal Sharma.

The main panel is coincidentally all women…. (Read more)

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Undaunted by temple attack, Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children yearns to return home

This is a followup report to a piece I did in May about a Pakistani Hindu family that migrated to India but wants to go home to Pakistan, made more desperate after a personal tragedy. This not about patriotism or religion but humanity. p.s. I sent this report to several media houses. It’s been published in The News, NayaDaur, South Asia Monitor, The Wire, Aman Ki Asha, Pakistan TodayVibes of India, and its Gujrati portal and others. Note the credit at the end — Sapan News. This report may be a soft launch for syndicated service I’ve long dreamt of. Sapan News is linked with the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan, recently initiated by some of us. Check it out! Grateful for your support.

A couple of weeks ago, Ajeet Kumar borrowed a car and took his children on a rare outing: Coping with bereavement and desperate to go home. Photo: Supplied.

A Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children after his wife died in April is pleading with the authorities to let him return to before Independence Day, August 14.

“Mein TooT gaya huN – I am broken,” says Ajeet Kumar Nagdev, 41, speaking on phone in Urdu from Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. His wife Rekha Kumari, 38, died on April 22, a day before the last Attari-Wagah border opening. “What can I do? The children break me, but I have to get up and keep going.”

Struggling to look after them, fearful of what will happen if one of them gets sick or if something happens to him, Nagdev feels trapped. He worries about their schooling. They miss their mother.

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PFUJ condemns abduction of two journalists, announces countrywide protest on Monday

UPDATE 5.45 PST: Journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat released on bail. Federal Investigation Agency says they were arrested for their alleged contempt against Judiciary, Army and some “women”…

Tweet from Amir Mir’s brother journalist Hamid Mir

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I don’t normally post back-to-back but the situation warrants it. Hours after my last blogpost Stand in solidarity with journalists, two more journalists have been picked up. What is this andher nagari, land in darkness…?

Image of HRCP tweet – Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) has strongly condemned abduction of two senior journalists Syed Imran Shafqat and Amir Mir from Lahore from their residences in Lahore on Saturday and demanded their immediate release.

The PFUJ also announced to hold countrywide protest from Monday against growing incidents of journalists’ abductions in Pakistan.

The abductors were reportedly from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which, PFUJ, believes is involved in taking actions against the journalists at the behest of the government.

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Stand in solidarity with journalists

Journalists are under fire (literally) around the world, particularly in conflict zones like Afghanistan, where every day news comes in about journalists attacked, abducted, or killed. We stand with our colleagues as they fight the forces unleashed by decades of not only of deliberate fostering of extremist ideologies but also neglect in building systems and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, sharing a statement below signed by over 100 journalists around the world in support of colleagues in Pakistan. The signatories are Fellows at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University joining hands to condemn the April assassination attempt on journalist Absar Alam, a Nieman alumnus from the class of 2005.

The class of 1967 is represented by three Fellows, including Zawwar Hasan, 95, former sports reporter with APP and Dawn and oped writer with Morning News, Pakistan (he’s my mamoo and I’m grateful to him for prodding me to do this). Signatories include members of the recently graduating Nieman class of 2021, as well as three Nieman Foundation directors (oddly known as Curators).

Tweet from Nieman Foundation linked to report on website

Here’s the link to a piece I wrote soon after my own Nieman fellowship, published in Nieman Reports: Threats Come at Journalists in Pakistan From All Sides (2006). What has changed?

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has issued a statement hailing the Harvard-educated journalists’ concern.

Pakistan Press International, 27 July 2021

Statement and signatories’ list below:

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Covid-19 needs a regional response, say physicians and activists

The South Asia Peace Action Network webinar Neighbours in Peace and Health, June 27, 2021, was the third in the SAPAN series: Imagine! Neighbours in Peace, a title borrowed from an unpublished Chowk.com volume, 2005

Visuals by SAPAN volunteer Vishal Sharma in Simla.

Sunday’s event included prominent physicians like Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Dr Anup Subedee, Dr Vandana Prasad, and Dr Hamid Jafari of Pakistan (led the team that eradicated polio in India). Speakers included Salima Hashmi, Khushi Kabir, Kanak Dixit, Lalita Ramdas, besides journalists Beena Sarwar, Mandira Nayar and others. Activist Priyanka Singh conducted the event.

“South Asian countries cannot go it alone, that’s irrational,’’ said Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, renowned public health activist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee from Bangladesh.

The hard lockdown in his country will lead to furthering the inequalities in society, he warned, emphasizing that it is irresponsible to impose lockdowns without providing food. “Poverty has increased. There are 25 million more poor without food.”

Dr Chowdhury was among the physicians and health right activists across countries who came together on Sunday 27 June at a webinar organised by the South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) to emphasize that the coronavirus pandemic must be fought collectively.

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Health is a basic human right; inspiring stories of care and compassion

Create economic and healthcare closeness across South Asia during the Covid-19 crisis – Amartya Sen

Posting this a couple of days late, but it’s still relevant: South Asia Peace Action Network press statement 31 May 2021

Create economic and healthcare closeness across South Asia during the Covid-19 crisis – Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen: Our battle is not just against the Covid virus but also against the economic injustice of hunger and poverty (screengrab)

“We have to learn to maintain physical distancing but at the same time create economic and healthcare closeness in South Asia,” said Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, speaking at a webinar on South Asia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The gathering also adopted a resolution describing the pandemic as a wake-up call for regional cooperation, and pressed for equitable vaccine supply across the region.

Stressing the need for contact and collaboration across South Asian borders, Prof. Sen said our battle is not just against the Covid virus but also against the economic injustice of hunger and poverty created by the pandemic.

Prof. Sen was among nearly 200 opinion-makers and activists from across South Asia and the diaspora who came together to attend the webinar titled: ‘South Asian Solidarity in the Time of Covid: Sharing Grief, Inspiration, Hope and Strategies’.

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