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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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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Modern day slavery: Janitorial workers in Pakistan

Email from Naeem Sadiq in Karachi, with this note: Modern-day- slavery (You may like to write to CM Sindh on this issue)

January 11, 2019

Mr. Imran Khan, 

Prime Minister of Pakistan

Abolish the cruelest form of modern-day- slavery, child labour and exploitation being practiced at Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), Karachi.

1.     I would like to bring to your notice some specific details of the cruelty, slavery, child-labour and inhuman exploitation. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy’s letter to her jailed comrade Shahidul Alam, who has now been granted bail

Arundhati-By Shahidul

Arundhati Roy with a furry friend. Photo by Shahidul Alam.

Read Arundhati Roy’s letter to Shahidul Alam as part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, 15 November. Today the Dhaka High Court also finally granted bail to Shahidul Alam, been incarcerated for over 100 days. He has yet to be actually released — the government is appealing the court’s decision.

Every November 15 PEN highlights the cases of five persecuted writers and activists imprisoned, killed, persecuted or otherwise at risk for their work. This year’s campaign focuses on Dawit Isaak imprisoned in Eritrea, Miroslava Breach Velducea killed in Mexico, Oleg Sentsov imprisoned in Russia, Shahidul Alam detained in Bangladesh and Wael Abbas imprisoned in Egypt. Writers David Lagercrantz, Jennifer Clement, Tom Stoppard, Salil Tripathi and Khaled Hosseini are also participating in this year’s campaign. Continue reading

Honouring Asma Jahangir’s legacy

My piece on several memorial meetings held for the late Asma Jahangir in New York and Boston over the past couple of weeks. Published simultaneously in The News on Sunday and The Wire, 8 Oct 2018

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Lyse Doucet moderating the panel at Asia Society. Screen grab from video.

Honouring Asma Jahangir’s legacy

Beena Sarwar

At a time when universal fundamental human rights values are under attack from fascist forces everywhere, an enduring lesson from Asma Jahangir remains: do your homework, stand your ground, and carry on. Continue reading

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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