Sharing grief and solidarity: South Asia regionalism

Even while grieving the loss of her father to Covid-19 the previous day, journalist Barkha Dutt was able to put aside her own pain to send out a powerful message to the world: “Don’t treat this as our problem alone,” she said in an interview to ITV.

Her father was one of over 2,500 Indians who reportedly succumbed to the coronavirus on Tuesday – the real numbers are suspected to be far higher as many dying at home are not counted as Covid victims. If the Covid-19 crisis “erupts” in India, it will “hit the world.” Countries understandably want to shut borders as a “necessary” short term response and put their citizens first but “we live in a world where we cannot be separated indefinitely,” she added.

A number of us had made a similar plea underscoring the connected nature of today’s world and the regionalism of South Asia, at an online discussion originally aimed to focus on Khelne Do (play for peace) on Sunday under the series title – Imagine! Neighbours in Peace’. We changed the focus at the last minute to share grief and solidarity as the situation in India spiraled out of control.

See press release below.

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India-Pakistan dialogue must continue, say peace activists at virtual brainstorming session

Wonderful discussions at a brainstorming meeting some of us got together for. Thanks to Mandira Nayar – granddaughter of the late, great Kuldip Nayar for putting this statement together.

Press statement, March 28, 2021:

India and Pakistan peace activists across time zones came together for a virtual brainstorming session on March 28, inspired by the work of giants like Dr Mubashir Hasan, Asma Jahangir, Kuldip Nayar and Nikhil Chakravartty and others. On the agenda was the way forward for the movement, how to invigorate it by involving more allies, younger people and expatriates.

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Talking to the Indian diaspora on India-Pakistan: Youth, Media, Aspirations, Common Issues

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to share my thoughts with Indian Diaspora Washington DC Metro on a topic close to my heart: India-Pakistan: Youth, Media, Aspirations, Common Issues. I posted the information to social media and was amazed at the response – the most I’ve had for any post in a long time. An indication of the passions and aspirations associated with this issue. Sharing a recording of the video below.

Coincidentally, this event took place barely a week after the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan’s agreement that came into effect at midnight Feb. 24/25, to implement the 2003 Ceasefire that couldn’t have happened without high level approval. Then a couple of days ago, the Pakistan Army chief in a speech reached out to India, saying it’s time to bury the past, move forward – read my friend Nirumpama Subramaniam’s analysis in The Indian Express here.

Here’s the talk I gave. They edited out the worst of the abuses. but you can still see some of the trolling that took place. Just a glimpse of what we are up against when we stand for peace, countering the military-industrial complex:

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So much human suffering – and for what?

Sharing here a piece I wrote published in The Wire and later in Aman Ki Asha about a poor man from a tiny village on the India-Pakistan border who went missing in 2008. For nine years his family didn’t know where he was. But his government knew for four years before the family learnt from another released prisoner that their loved one was in a prison across the border.

Under-trial for three years, he then served a five-year conviction – but remained imprisoned for three more years while the government dawdled over verifying his nationality.

When they finally repatriated him at the end of January this year following court orders, he was made to travel 1000 km upcountry, then wait for three more days at a border town until police from his home state went to bring him back, another 1000 km downcountry. Here’s a map I made about his enforced travels:

Ismail Sama’s short journey across the border (small arrow) – and his long journey home. Fisherfolk caught violating the maritime border also have to endure this when imprisoned on the other side.

Read the full story at The Wire: India-Pakistan Relations: What the Kafkaesque Case of a Repatriated Cattle-Herder Tells Us, or at the Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace) website that I edit.

Here’s a follow up story by Gopal B. Kateshiya, ‘Coming back is second birth for me’: Kutch man returns home after 13 years in Pakistan jail, The Indian Express. Extract: “A scorpion stung me and I felt giddy. I lost my direction. Next morning, around 10.30 am, Pakistan rangers caught me, telling me I had intruded into their country. They took me to hospital and after my condition improved, they handed me over to Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” said Ismail, son of a farmer.

Ismail Sama with his family: Reunited and it feels so good. Photo: Courtesy Indian Express.

Thirteen years is a long time. The story would be remarkable if it was a one-off but sadly, such incidents are not rare.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Here's a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF). Here’s a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF).

The outrage culture about rape masks a landscape of pervasive child abuse

Protest in Karachi over the ‘motorway gang rape’ incident. 12 September 2020. Reuters photo.

I haven’t updated this site for a while, caught up with teaching two journalism courses at Emerson College this semester – prepping for the courses, training for the unprecedented online situation, then assignment-setting, student feedback, grading – it’s been hard to do much else. But when Mehr Mustafa at The News on Sunday asked me to contribute to their special report on rape culture, I couldn’t refuse. Was up till 3 am to meet the deadline for the piece – The outrage culture masks a landscape of pervasive abuse (TNS Special Report, 27 September 2020).

They asked me to define ‘rape culture’ as a lens to view the issue as a social/political construct rather than individual/isolated events, and to address the systematic nature of sexual violence. That rang some bells. Among the things it got me thinking about was systemic oppression – visible in the racial injustice in the USA highlighted over recent months. I revisited the piece I did last year, Moving towards a cycle of healing, focusing on the need for preventive rather than reactive measures and the concept of restorative rather than retributive justice (thanks Anita Wadhwa and Dina Kraft for expanding on my understanding of this). And just found my 2012 post: We must move beyond outrage against selected rape cases.

As I was working on the piece, the rape of a Dalit teenager in India (#Hathras) and then another, began making headlines. Here’s the powerful piece Dr Syeda Hameed wrote about that: ‘She Was A Dalit Child from Boolgarhi Village, She Was Mine and Yours’. Yes, India seems particularly horrific right now but it’s a regional issue: Pakistan/India: There is no honour in killing… End the culture of impunity.

My article for the TNS special report on rape culture below.

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Reflections: Baba Bujha Singh, revolution, poetry, and democracy

Sharing below an informative, moving and insightful piece by friend Jaspal Singh in Cambridge commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Baba Bujha Singh’s extrajudicial murder in Punjab, India. The story is reflected in other instances of police brutality elsewhere too. And so is his comment on democracy. He regularly dispatches his ‘Reflections’ to friends via email; a list I feel privileged to be on. Over to Jaspal ji:

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Give peace a chance: Activists urge India, Pakistan, to step up for #SouthAsia

The Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) has begun a series of online discussions aimed at reclaiming the people’s narrative. The PIPFPD The page has several video excerpts from these and other discussions. Below reports on both discussions by Neel Kamal, published in Times of India and Aman Ki Asha.

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The need for ‘radical love’ – Cornel West, Dalit and Sheedi solidarity, and a #WC4BL Boston report

This is a follow up to my earlier post about physicians of Pakistani and Indian origin, already in the frontlines of the Covid19 battle in the US, stepping up in the war against a longer-running pandemic, racism. We know that racism is not limited to the US. In our home countries in South Asia, it is expressed as casteism and oppression of vulnerable communities.

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Commemorating K. A. Abbas: Ideas, ideals and more

Born: June 7, 1914, Panipat. Died: June 1, 1987, Bombay.

This post has the following sections:

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Remembering Mashal Khan at a time of despair, hope, and healing

Demonstration in Karachi for Mashal Khan. AFP file photo
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