World Press Freedom Day: India/Pakistan media and prospects of peace

Screenshot from Bushra Ansari-Asma Abbas video, 3 May 2019. Over 4 million views on one YouTube channel alone.

My comment about the polarized media in India and Pakistan and the prospects of peace, incorporated in the International Federation of Journalists Truth vs Misinformation: South Asia Press Freedom Report 2018-19 released on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2019. Also published in Naya Daur

Beena Sarwar

Polarization and Prospects of Peace

There have never been as many media outlets and forms of media in India or Pakistan as there are today — or as much push for freedom of expression and information, and its counterpoint, various forms of censorship.

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The story behind the viral ‘gwandne’ song

Collage of Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel screenshots, 4-30 April 2019.

I wrote this piece a few days after Neelum Bashir’s Punjabi poem ‘Humsaye Maa Jaye’ (children of the same soil) went viral over India and Pakistan. Originally published in The Wire, 6 April 2019, the updated piece below includes the revised poem-script that Neelum Apa kindly sent me. Her talented performer sisters Bushra Ansari and Asma Abbas’ musical rendition caught public imagination, cutting through the rising tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, forcing even the Indian media, including television channels in the thick of hectic pre-poll reporting, to take note. Updates include the the jump in Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel subscriptions, from 34 to over 25,000 in just three days, and to nearly 70,000 by 30 April, besides millions of views and shares. 

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Women warriors for peace and a viral Punjabi music video

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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

India, Pakistan #SayNoToWar: Global StandOut for Peace in South Asia

Salima-Abhi-27Feb

Lahore, 28 Feb: Salima Hashmi holds up a placard demanding that Pakistan return the captured Indian Air Force pilot – a step that Pakistan announced that day.

As tensions between India and Pakistan continue to keep the region hostage people everywhere are stepping up to urge the governments to resolve all issues through dialogue. They include:

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Celebrating Fahmida Riaz in Delhi

Fahmida Riaz-Delhi prog

Post updated to add the programme just received from Delhi; gratified that it includes the poem I posted here earlier, “Palwashe Muskurao”.

Great to know that friends in Delhi are organising this wonderful event to commemorate the great poet Fahmida Riaz – Fahmida Khala to me, she called my father Sarwar Bhai. I love the poem of hope and inspiration she recited, Palwashe Muskurao (Palwasha, smile), at the commemoration we organised for him and the student movement he led. Here’s information about the upcoming event in Delhi, fittingly, on Valentine’s Day, that I put together for the Aman Ki Asha website.

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Happenings Fahmida Riaz-Delhi-Feb 2019

What: ‘Transcending Boundaries, Defying Taboos:
The Poetry of Fahmida Riaz’

When: Thursday, 14 February 2019, 6.30 pm
Where: India Habitat Centre, Delhi
Who: Open and free to the public
Co-hosted by the PIPFPD and India Habitat Centre.

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Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Ab tak kahan chhupey they bhai!

(You have turned out to be just like us
Where were you hiding till now, brothers!)

Fahmida Riaz wrote her prescient poem in 1996 when the BJP first emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. When she recited it nearly twenty years later before an Indian audience in April 201, “it carried a weight equal to the history of South Asia itself” say members of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy. 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.

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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

Remembering Kuldip Nayar, journalist, activist, peacemonger

Kuldip, Nandita, Asma J

A precious photo: Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das and Asma Jahangir at Wagah border. Photo: courtesy Seema Mustafa, The Citizen

I was sad to hear about the passing away of veteran journalist and peacemonger Kuldip Nayar, 95, in Delhi. His passing in general evoked great sadness — as well as a resolve to keep working for his values — not only in India but the land of his birth, Pakistan. I had got to know Kuldip ji over the years through the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that I joined as a young journalist from Lahore when it was launched in 1994-95, as the largest people-to-people organization between the two countries. The last time I met him was at Allahabad train station a few years ago. The lawyer S.M.A. Kazmi and our family friend Zia ul Haq — the comrade, not the general, himself now over 90 were dropping me off and picking him up. He got the surprise of his life. We didn’t have much time to chat as my train was about to leave but I treasure that memory.

Sharing here the two pieces I put together for Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace), the India-Pakistan website I edit. One is pegged on a tribute from Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi his long-time friend and fellow-activist, former member of the Planning Commission of India and founder trustee of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. She aptly termed him the “gentle giant of India Pakistan peace” in her wonderful piece in The Citizen. See also her account of the Aman Dost Yatra (peace and friendship march) at the border. In the other piece, I put together other tributes paid to him by Pakistanis.

Here are links to both pieces: Remembering the ‘gentle giant of India Pakistan peace’,  and Pakistanis pay tribute to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar.

SyedaH-KuldipN

(L-R) Dr Syeda Hameed, Navaid Hamid, Kuldip Nayar, Maulana Syed Jalauddin Umari. File photo – Indiatomorrow.ne.

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