Why being a bystander is not an option

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Photo: Harsh V.

My column Personal Political published in the Cambridge Chronicle, June 8, 2017

Beena Sarwar

“You don’t even speak English,” comes a male voice across the fading evening light.

We glance past Cambridge Public Library’s main entrance. The man is bending close to someone sitting on a bench on the other side. A couple of homeless guys slightly drunk, ribbing each other?

The voice breaks through the dusk again. “This is not your country. Why don’t you go back?”

I jump up and walk purposefully towards them, suppressing a reminder that I’m a small brown woman heading towards an unknown situation.

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RIP Mashal Khan – University Student, Latest Victim of Pakistan’s ‘Blasphemy’ Vigilantism

Here’s the story I wrote for The Wire about journalism student Mashal Khan and his barbaric murder on campus yesterday – a tragedy I felt quite gutted by and felt compelled to write about (text below). For a short, sharp analysis of the phenomenon that led to the brutality, read Raza Rumi’s piece in The Daily Times, ‘Blasphemer Hunting must Stop’.

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Facebook post by Mashal Khan with an Urdu couplet (roughly translated): Along the way sometimes I feel / As if those hidden eyes are watching me.

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Don’t snuff out the lights

The horrific murder of a journalism student lynched on a university campus in Mardan on April 13 after being accused of ‘blasphemy’, 2017 has revived the urgency of coming together on a joint platform with a minimum common agenda to uphold humanitarian values. Nothing will bring back Mashal Khan, a poet, self-declared humanist and “voice of the voiceless”, but we can at least try to ensure that no other mother loses her Mashal (light) to such barbaric ignorance and orchestrated violence.

We drafted this statement a few months after the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, signed by over a hundred activists, teachers, lawyers and other professionals as well as students in March 2015: Pakistanis against terrorism: Minimum common agenda against violence in the name of religion – below. Does it need to be amended or updated?  Continue reading

Women’s Action Forum letter to the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan

recover-activistsReproducing below the letter sent by the Women’s Action Forum letter to the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan about the “disappeared” activists and the deliberate and sustained campaign against them in the media and on social media. This campaign, with its accusations of blasphemy and treason being leveled against the missing activists and those campaigning for their safe recovery poses a danger to those missing, their families and the human rights campaigners.

WAF urges that the state, its institutions and agencies be held responsible for the recovery of the missing bloggers/activists and inform what the investigation has yielded, and that the federation be held answerable for non-compliance of SC orders on the issue of enforced disappearances.

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Ongoing worldwide protests against “missing” bloggers

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Lahore protest. Photo: Khalid Mahmood

January 15, 2017 marks just over two weeks since the professor, poet and activist Salman Haider was abducted from Islamabad, followed soon after by more such “disappearances”. Human rights activists around the world are demanding that Pakistan produce the missing bloggers and end the climate of fear being created. Disappearing activists is not a new tactic, as Pervez Hoodbhoy reminds us – been happening with alarming regularity in Balochistan. But these abductions happened in Punjab. Meanwhile, the propaganda machinery of the dirty tricks brigade (#DTBPk) is out in full force painting as ‘blasphemers’ and ‘traitors’ the missing bloggers and those supporting them – which in the context of Pakistan is a clear incitement to violence and vigilante action. Below: photographs from some of the protests – Peshawar, Toba Tek Singh, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Dallas TX and London, England.  Continue reading

“Future of Pakistan” Conference: London Declaration 2016

IMG_0602.JPGLondon Declaration for Pluralism and Democracy in Pakistan
October 29, 2016

Several prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures from Pakistan gathered in London for a conference on ‘The Future of Pakistan’ organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

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World Polio Day, Oct 24: ‘Any number more than zero is too much’

A slightly revised version of my article in The News on Sunday on Oct. 23, 2016, posted here with additional links and photos. The world watches as the last three polio endemic countries strive to relegate the crippling virus to history

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Polio survivors Ramesh Ferris and Minda Dentler share their experiences – and dreams about a polio-free world. Photos: Beena Sarwar

“In 1955 Dr Jonas Salk invented the preventive vaccine. It is outrageous that 25 years later I contracted polio,” says author and global health advocate Ramesh Ferris.

Standing on his good leg, a crutch compensating for the paralysed one in braces, eyes gleaming behind black-rimmed glasses, Ferris passionately addresses the audience of about a hundred physicians, scientists and international diplomats. They include representatives from the world’s three remaining polio endemic countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Continue reading

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