“Dialogue is necessary for conflict resolution, not the other way round”

I.A. Rehman. File photo

– I.A. Rehman’s last interview, with youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti

My young friends Atiqa Shahid in Sweden and Nickhil Sharma in Germany got this scoop, an interview with the visionary journalist I.A. Rehman, shortly before he passed away. He looks frail but his words are clear and strong. Wrote this short piece in Aman Ki Asha and thought I’d share it as well, below.

Sheen Farrukh, Zakia Sarwar: At our place in Karachi a couple of years ago. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Meanwhile, trying to process other losses. Another dear friend of my parents, journalist friend Sheen Farrukh passed on today in Karachi. A feisty, independent-minded pioneering journalist, she was so encouraging when I came into the field. Always supported me in all my causes – her causes too. Appreciate our friends artist K.B. Abro and writer Attiya Daud who had moved in with her and looked after her. RIP Sheen Khala.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s interview with I.A. Rehman, 27 March 2021

“We are neighbours, situated next to each other. We have a shared history and geography. We have fought for our freedom together… Plus human beings are social animals, and social animals talk to each other. Unfortunately, our politicians and states due to their own compulsions have not allowed us to do this”

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Imagine! Neighbours in peace – #KhelneDo! Play for peace

Sharing below the press release of an event we’re organising this weekend. Free and open to the public. Registration required. Scroll below for details.

Sunday April 25, online event

An international squash player, a former test cricketer, an eminent South Asian political commentator, a cricket star and well-known sports journalists will come together this weekend to bat for peace at the online event ‘Khelne Do – Imagine! Neighbours in Peace’. 

Event poster courtesy Vishal Sharma / @southasiapeace
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India-Pakistan dialogue must continue – peace activists at virtual brainstorming session agree to form South Asia Peace Action Network

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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Farewell Saleem Asmi: A quiet warrior slips into the night

Saleem Asmi, Nov. 29, 1934 – Oct. 30, 2020

First published in The News on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Reposted here with more photos.

Saleem Asmi: Portrait by Sharjil Baloch, 2014-2015.

By Beena Sarwar

His old friend S. M. Shahid termed Saleem Asmi a ‘Marxist Sufi’ in his compilation of biographical essays, ‘Living Souls: Memories’. Asmi Sahib would typically brush aside the accolades that came his way, not because he didn’t appreciate himself but because he had no false pride, false humility, or a shred of hypocrisy.

I can imagine his chuckle at the couplet by his favourite poet initially chosen by family and friends to inscribe on his gravestone:

Ye masaail-e-tassawuf, ye tera byan Ghalib
Tujhey hum vali samajhtalay jo na baada khwar hota

The way you talk of philosophy Ghalib, the mystical way you explain it
You would have been considered a saint yourself, had your drinking been less.

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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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#WhiteCoats4BlackLives: Boston rally by New England physicians from Pakistan and India, joined by others

Last Sunday some physician friends in the Boston area invited me to help them organise a rally under the banner White Coats for Black Lives. These rallies began last Friday with synchronised standouts taking place at hospitals and medical institutions around the United States. This may be the first one taking place at a public venue.

Dr M. Sarwar, Jan 2007. Photo: Anwar Sen Roy

I found it exciting that Pakistani and Indian physicians are joining hands for a common cause, across the political divide. I’m glad to have been able to help them and glad to see doctors becoming politically active. Remembering my father Dr M. Sarwar who believed so passionately in equality and social justice. He not only wouldn’t charge workers, artists and journalists but also gave them medicines for free. He would have approved ❤️

The event has generated a lot of support (see list of endorsing organisations below).

I’m thrilled that Alicia Barrow, one of the co-organisers of a rally last weekend at South Royalton, VT, is coming down for the Sunday vigil in front of the Boston Public Library. South Royalton is a tiny, predominantly White town, but the rally for #BlackLivesMatter drew a substantial crowd. The demonstration was part of several others in Vermont that weekend – and in small towns around the USA. Read this account by veteran journalist friend Skip Isaacs: “A very small close-up from a very big picture”: a report on a Black Lives Matter protest in very white, very Republican, Pasadena, Maryland. Has the USA reached a tipping point?

Copying below the press release about the upcoming White Coats For Black Lives rally:

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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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A beloved jurist passes on

Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim (12 February 1928-7 January 2020) gained respect early on in his career for refusing to take oath under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq. Through his life he wore many hats — founder member Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Supreme Court judge, Governor Sindh, Chief Election Commissioner, to name some. But a little-known feather in his cap is his pro bono work for the imprisoned leftist and student activists of the 1950s, that he credited for his politicisation. Those, he would say, were “the best days” of his life. Here’s that story as I heard it from him and from my father Dr. M. Sarwar, published in The News on Sunday and The Wire a few days after Fakhru Uncle passed on.

Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim: A fine legacy (online photo)

By Beena Sarwar

As the debate on the much-delayed restoration of student unions in Pakistan gathers momentum, we celebrate and commemorate a beloved jurist who cut his teeth by taking on cases of detained student activists pro bono in the 1950s.

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PERSONAL POLITICAL: Rest in peace, comrade Kutty. The struggle continues

I wrote this piece a few days back – the second of my occasional syndicated columns. Published in The Wire, Naya Daur, Mainstream, The Citizen among others.

kutty-smiling.jpg

Early Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on 18 July 2019, B. M. Kutty slipped into the ever after. Lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi – his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

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