Lessons from journalism, tai chi, and life

Finding ‘a way of looking inwards, confronting my own demons, and competing with my own best self”‘

My keynote speech at the first affinity graduation celebration for AAPI – Asian American and Pacific Islander / APIDA: Asian Pacific Islander Desi-American – at Harvard University, 23 May 2022

With my mother Prof. Zakia Sarwar, plus Harvard School of Education graduates after the ceremony: Najwa Maqbool and Nishant Singh from India, and Nigel Gray from Sri Lanka. Their families couldn’t make it so we were glad to be there for them. Photo: Lipofskyphoto.com

Beena Sarwar, video and text of speech below. Also published in Sapan News Network

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Writing for peace. And activism in Himachal Pradesh

Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, Mohsin Tejani in Karachi: Breadloaf friends, great synergy. Photos: supplied.

Really enjoyed this Sapan online family writing workshop by educators and teacher trainers Mohsin Tejani in Karachi and Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, hosted by the amazing Khushi Kabir in Dhaka, joined by educationist and writer Benislos Thushan in Jaffna – looking dramatic due to a power cut, just before dashing off for an overnight bus to Colombo. Human rights activist and physician Fauzia Deeba from Quetta now in New Jersey talked about the floods in Pakistan and shared the In Memoriam section designed by a young journalist Sushmita Preetha in Dhaka. Senior journalist Namrata Sharma in Kathmandu delivered the heart warming closing remarks that the piece starts with.

Namrata Sharma: “Who and how can anyone say that Southasia is divided?” – screenshot from the workshop.

Lovely writeup on it by young agriculturist-researcher-educationist M. Waqas Nasir in Lahore, published as a Sapan News Network syndicated piece in several media outlets. Read it here: Divided by borders, united by aspirations. This piece and the event would not have been possible without the efforts of data analyst and researcher Priyanka Singh in New Delhi. Both she and Waqas are Sapan founder members.

I’m also happy to share this piece young lawyer Vishal Sharma in Shimla, also a Sapan founder member. I love how hard and patiently he worked on the article, taking in feedback from various friends to shape it into what it became. I also learnt a lot by working with him on it, especially the idea of ‘Himachaliyat’ which reminds me of ‘Kashmriyat’ – promoting pluralism and peace. Published in Himachal Watcher. Read it here: A young leader’s activism may be a gamechanger for the Congress in Himachal‘. Vishal had the visual specially made by an artist friend.

Vikramaditya Singh uses the shield of “Himachaliyat” and “Virbhadra Singh Vikas Model” to counter political rivals. Visual by artist Deepak Saroj in Noida

India-Pakistan @ 75 and graphic images from Ukraine: Two articles and some context

Sharing two recent pieces, this time not part of the Sapan News Network syndicate. One commissioned by The Wire, and the by The Conversation.

Below – some context and what the editors wanted.

The “piano man,” a war refugee, became one of the symbols of resistance emerging from conflict. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Lviv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
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Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends

Two wonderful colleagues and friends departed this world rather suddenly within days of each other last month, leaving behind multitudes to mourn their loss — and celebrate their lives: Khalid Hameed Farooqui, Geo News correspondent in Brussels, 7 May, and Editor The News Talat Aslam, 25 May. We honoured both at the In Memoriam section of the Southasia Peace or Sapan event on the last Sunday of May, along with others.

Khalid Hameed Farooqui: A lifetime of politics, journalism, and activism in Europe and Pakistan.
Talat Aslam: His tweets @Titojourno gathered a fan following for his posts on politics, food, film, music and nocturnal wanderings in Karachi.

The tribute to Khalid by European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer in a press briefing shortly after Khalid’s passing speaks for the respect he inspired amongst colleagues and political figures:

TNS page on Talat Aslam, online, TNS e-paper, 29 May 2022

Friend Saifullah Saify in Amsterdam organised a wonderful online tribute for Khalid, with tributes from personalities like Farhatullah Babar, and journalists Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Munizae Jahangir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Murtaza Solangi, Mazhar Abbas, Raza Rumi, Nazir Leghari – see video clips at this playlist on his YouTube channel.

Sharing below my piece on Tito, as friends and family called Talat, one of three articles carried by The News on Sunday in a full page tribute. The two other remembrances, by colleagues Zia ur Rehman and Gulraiz Khan, are online here. My piece includes a couple of my illustrations for Tito’s columns in The Star 1986-88.

: Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends Continue reading

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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As journalists around the world face growing threats, President Biden must lead by example

An oped that my fellow professor of journalism James McManus at Emerson College and I co-wrote recently, published in The Wire:

As the newly-sworn in United States President Joseph Biden begins his tenure, he has a lot of salvaging to do from the wreckage left by his predecessor.

Representational image. Illustration: Wikimedia Commons

One of the more disturbing messages arising out of the attack by violent pro-Trump insurrectionists at the US Capitol on January 6 involved frightening threats to a free press. Scrawled on a door at the building were the words: “Murder the Media.”

That pithy, vile phrase represented the raw culmination of five years of rhetorical attacks by Donald Trump and his political allies against critical media coverage.

Read the rest of the oped here: Why Restoring Press Freedom Globally Should Take Precedence on Biden’s Priority List

V for virus, V for vendetta… In ongoing case against media boss, calls to #FreeMirShakilurRehman fall on deaf ears

It is outrageous that for nearly a month now, chief editor and owner of the country’s largest media group has been behind bars. Mir Shakilur Rahman was arrested by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau on March 12, in connection with a 34-year old land case. Leading lawyers agree that the case is baseless. They are among the many voices – journalists, international human rights organisations and media platforms, rival media groups, civil society organisations at home and abroad – outraged by this travesty of justice and urging MSR’s release #FreeMirShakilurRehman.

Leading international organisations have called for MSR’s release

The detention is widely seen as part of an ongoing attack on media freedom in Pakistan. The case, clearly motivated by vendetta, is particularly disturbing at a time when everyone needs to be on the same page in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic. See my story in Naya Daur, also posted below with updates, about a maverick poet and intellectual with no affiliation to the Jang/Geo media group, on hunger strike since March 29 for MSR’s release.

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Two conferences and a paper

covering an event with a video camera

File photo, courtesy European Broadcasting Union, alliance of alliance of public service media 

Two conferences this past weekend reminded me of a media conference in Warsaw, Poland, that I attended earlier this year. The Nieman 80th Reunion at Harvard featured intense and thought-provoking discussions on journalism, democracy, human rights, and peace — topics that the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore took forward as well while honouring the work and legacy of a great human rights defender. More on both later. Below, the paper I presented at the Warsaw conference. My take on the topic they gave me, Digital and traditional media – conflict or complementarity?, ties in with the conferences this weekend.  I’m also sharing my report about the Poland conference, Journalists at Media Conference vow to uphold journalistic values, ethics, which references the Conference declaration about journalistic ethics and values and challenges arising from violence, threats, commercial pressures and false information.  Continue reading

Kuldip goes home to Lahore

A piece I put together for Aman ki Asha based on information and conversations about the upcoming events this Friday and Saturday in Lahore in honour of the late, great Kuldip Nayar. Borrowed the great headline above from friend and longtime peacemonger iFaqeer‘s blog post. 

Seminars, tree-planting to accompany Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar’s ashes immersion ceremony in Pakistan 

Kuldip Nayar Pk prog

Peace activists are grateful to the Pakistani authorities for granting various permissions required for events related to the last rites of acclaimed Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar to take place in Pakistan this coming weekend.

Nayar passed away in Delhi on 23 August 2018, shortly after celebrating his 95th birthday on 14 August. His funeral the following day was attended by thousands, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Nayar’s granddaughter Mandira Nayar and her husband Ratish Nanda from Delhi will cross Wagah border on the morning of Friday 5 October 2018 to participate in an Asthi Visarjan (immersion of the ashes) ceremony that afternoon.

Goodwill

The Joint Action Committee of People’s Rights, an umbrella group of several non-profit organisations that is coordinating the programme in Pakistan, will take Nayar’s family, friends and followers out in boats to the middle of the River Ravi to immerse his ashes.

Ashes of other peace activists have been previously scattered in Pakistan before, like Gandhian leader Nirmala Despande and journalist Praful Bidwai. The symbolic gesture flies in the face of the ongoing hostility between India and Pakistan and their refusal to grant visas on a normal level.

Nayar and Nanda will stay on to attend other events in Lahore that evening and the following day to honour Nayar, who had made it his life’s mission to promote peace between the two countries. The events will be broadcast live on Facebook at the page Celebrating Kuldip Nayar and His Vision of Peace.

Kuldip, Nandita, Asma J

Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das, Asma Jahangir at Wagah border: Celebrating Aug 14-15. Undated file photo

Mandira Nayar, a journalist with The Week, India, appreciated the Pakistan Embassy for giving her and her husband visas to participate in her grandfather’s last rites. “I was amazed at the goodwill and how helpful and cooperative they have been,” she said gratefully.

The Pakistani Rangers in charge of border security have granted special permission for a host delegation to enter the border reception hall at Azadi (freedom) Gate and meet the Indian guests as they emerge from immigration and customs.

Since the 2014 suicide blast that killed over 50 people, Pakistan has created a buffer zone here. Crossing over to Pakistan from India at Wagah border, travelers now have to walk over a mile to exit the restricted area into which no one is allowed without special clearance.

“When I called a senior officer to ask about arrangements for receiving our Indian guests and he said they would let us bring our cars all the way in, I was so surprised, I had to ask him to repeat what he had said,” laughed Karamat Ali.

Ali is a founding member of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that Nayar had also been long involved with.

The organisers have sent the names of delegation members and vehicle registration numbers to be allowed up to the border reception area.

Legacy

One of Nayar’s enduring legacies is the joint Independence Day celebrations of Pakistan and India, 14-15 August. Since 2000, Nayar had led peace activists to light candles at the Attari-Wagah border near Amritsar.

The recent restrictions on the Pakistan side force the peacemongers to stand far back, unable to see their friends on the other side. However, lights from their candles and snatches of music and song do waft through the darkness to the other side at the border ceremony every year that activists doggedly insist on holding.

A couple of weeks ago, peace activists held an Asthi Visarjan at the Ravi on the Indian side of the border and planted a mango tree on no-man’s land. The Indian Border Security Force was fully cooperative, said Ramesh Yadav of the Folklore Research Academy that had often joined hands with the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch (India-Pakistan friendship forum) founded by Kuldip Nayar.

Mango was Nayar’s “favourite fruit,” said his granddaughter.

Tree for Asma

Pakistani activists plan to plant a tree on the Pakistan side of the border near Nayar’s tree in memory of the pioneering human rights lawyer and peacebuilder Asma Jahangir who passed away earlier this year.

Mandiri Nayar said she likes the idea of trees to honour her grandfather and his friend being planted across the border from each other.

Nayar’s Asthi Visarjan in Pakistan will be followed by a reference at the Lahore Press Club. On Saturday morning, 6 October, the Government College University will hold a seminar honouring Nayar, and plant another tree in his honour.

In the evening, there will be a reference co-hosted by several organisations at the South Asia Free Media Association at the SAFMA auditorium in Lahore.

In Hyderabad, India, the Peace Now and Forever Campaign Secretariat at the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA) plans to host a gathering at Lamakaan, Banjara Hills. Those interested in joining the collective live viewing of Kuldip Nayar’s Asthi Visarjan, or need help connecting to or posting on the Facebook page, may contact program coordinator Gowtham Uyyala, Communications Officer, COVA. Email: crmo@covanetwork.org, mobile: +91 99892 22959.

They would like the event to be “shared widely through different social media platforms to enable others to participate and promote peace and cohesion across our borders” and continue Nayar’s mission.

For more details or to attend a programme in Pakistan honouring Kuldip Nayar, contact Irfan Mufti (SAP- Pakistan) at +92 300 8480822 or email: irfanmufti@gmail.com

— Beena Sarwar

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