A real and dangerous pandemic, and lives well lived

The Covid-19 pandemic is real and dangerous. Yesterday it likely snatched another beloved relative from us. My beautiful, youthful 83-year-old cousin Geti’s husband Ismail Saad, 90, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. He was frail and not keeping very well, but was mentally all there. Had just finished yet another book – in Urdu. A comparison between educational systems in different countries, it will now be published posthumously.

Ismail Saad and Geti Waheeduddin a week before their wedding, 1967.

He wasn’t tested but the positivity rate in Karachi is currently estimated at 40%. Like others, many of our family members tested positive over the past weeks – most with mild or no symptoms, probably the Omicron variant, including my mother Zakia Sarwar, 82, and many overseas guests visiting for a family wedding. But it’s not mild or asymptomatic for everyone. The day before Ismail Saad’s passing, the virus killed a senior pediatrician at Aga Khan Hospital.

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“We will fight, we will win”

The spirit of South Asia and the power of the four-letter word love

Commemorating 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, remembering Kamla Bhasin

By Beena Sarwar

The annual international 16 Days of Activism against gender violence takes place this year without the pioneering feminist and poet Kamla Bhasin, even as her songs and poetry enliven events during this period and beyond.

Kamla Bhasin. Radical love. Photo: Kashif Saeed

The 16 Days are observed annually starting 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. They end 10 December, with international Human Rights Day. These are integrated issues that Kamla fought for all her life. And she did this with love, joy, music, poetry and compassion.

As she famously said, “I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. I am a feminist and I do not hate women who are not feminists. I am a feminist – and I laugh.”

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Commemorating ‘the second 9/11’ and the way ahead

The United States and India should join with other regional powers to deal with the Taliban and help the Afghan people – Noam Chomsky

BOSTON, 27 September: Prominent academic Noam Chomsky has urged the United States and India to engage with the Taliban, work towards overcoming differences with other regional powers, and help the Afghan people rather than blocking ”the best of the options that are available”.

He was speaking last Sunday at the tail end of a webinar titled “20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians” organised by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan. Speakers shared stories of hope and inspiration, besides those of distress and challenges.

Noam Chomsky: Put the Afghan people first. Screenshot from Sapan webinar, 26 September 2021.
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#Goodnews update. And an upcoming event

Glad to report that Ajeet Kumar Nagdev and his children are on the train headed to Amritsar, and will hopefully cross the border on Saturday along with some 50 other Pakistanis who had been stranded in India due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks for all those who helped Nagdev and his family, especially Samir Gupta, Shishir Arya and others, including the helpful folks at the Pakistan High Commission, New Delhi, operating under stressful conditions. Salute to all of you.

Meanwhile, need help getting the word out about this upcoming regional event Sunday, on the rights of the incarcerated with legal experts and human rights activists from around the region. Pls subscribe, join, share, post, comment, like, tweet, whatever you can. Much appreciated.

Poster for the event. Thanks Vishal Sharma.

The main panel is coincidentally all women…. (Read more)

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The continuing trauma of Kashmir

Sharing below a press release rejecting India’s continued violations of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir – from the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), the region’s largest and oldest people-to-people organisation, launched in 1994.

Also below – a PDF of the just-released report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an informal group of concerned citizens including retired Indian judges and armed forces personnel. The Forum aims to ensure attention to continuing human rights violations in the disputed region that both India and Pakistan claim. This is its third report.

#WIthKashmir – courtesy PIPFPD
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“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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