Opinion / India: A tale of two pardons

The latest Sapan News syndicated feature, by Ramon Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey on the difference between the release of convicts in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case and those convicted in the Bilkis Bano case. He argues that the premature release of one set of convicts cannot be used to justify another — one was set free by the courts, while administrative decree was behind the other. One poses no threat to the victim’s family, while the other has sent witnesses into hiding.

Read more at Sapan News Network.

Available for use with credit to Sapan News Network.

Three events and a report

Sharing some recent updates from our lovely new initiative, Sapan – we wouldn’t be able to do all this without the amazing volunteerism of those involved

First, the report: Friend Nadra Huma Quraishi’s inspiring piece on the Society of Pakistan English Language Teacher (Spelt)’s unique Teacher Stories competition, a brainchild of Prof. Zakia Sarwar – From the Philippines to Dubai and beyond, a groundbreaking platform for educators provides new ways to collaborate – a Sapan News Network syndicated feature, published at Sapan News Network and other places. Available for use with credit to Sapan News.

(Yes, Zakia Sarwar is my mother, but on merit, it’s a great idea and the writeup was lovely. Hope it’s not seen as nepotism).

The events:

Nov 19-20: Sapan Film Club pilot screening of Bani Singh’s award-winning documentary Taangh. Excited and grateful she has made her film free for 24-hours for Sapan members starting Nov 19. Watch at your own pace. We will have a discussion with her on Sunday 10 am ET / 8 pm Pakistan time. The registration link has details of other time zones. More details at this post on the Sapan website: Sapan Film Club: Bani Singh’s award-winning documentary ‘Taangh’ – register to watch free.

Sun. 27 Nov: ‘Beyond Partitions – Shared Histories, Ways Forward‘ with acclaimed writers: Aanchal Malhotra, Anam Zakaria, Ananya Jahanara Kabir. Thrilled and honoured that Urvashi Butalia in Delhi and Hameeda Hossain in Dhaka will join and present closing remarks.

Nov. 18: Ahead of UN World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (Nov 20), Sapan gets into Twitter Spaces. Also today, we had a great Zoom meeting with some awesome people working on the issue – here’s the Facebook live video recording. We could do with some traction, so hope you will ‘like’ and share.

For more details, visit http://www.southasiapeace.com. Will be grateful to all those who share with their networks. Jo share karey uss ka bhala. Jo na karey uss ka bhi bhala (Wishing well those who share and also those who don’t).

Love and solidarity

NOTE: Posted earlier in Substack – my Personal Political feed.

Asma Jahangir Conference; Pakistan-India cross-border collaborative reporting; a cautionary tale from Sri Lanka; and a Bhutan peace initiative – Sapan News Network

Justice Qazi Faez Isa, late Asma Jahangir, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Manzoor Pashteen: Collage by The Friday Times/Naya Daur

Sharing four recent offerings from Sapan News Network – the most recent one in full below, pegged on the Fourth Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore, on the ‘ ‘Crisis of Constitutionalism in South Asia’, that I’m thrilled to have co-authored by aspiring young journalist Abdullah Zahid, published in The Friday Times/Naya Daur, South Asia Monitor and other media outlets. Plus three other recent syndicated features:

A teach-in on Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis, with eminent thought leaders Amita Arudpragasam, Nalaka Gunawardene, Marlon Ariyasinghe, Rehana Thowfeek.
East-West Centre Fellows and alumni from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka converge in Kathmandu – Photo: courtesy Lubna J. Naqvi
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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

Southasian solidarity for flood-hit Pakistan

Flood survivors and volunteers at Shahdadkot. Photo: Courtesy Rubina Chandio via the Flood Relief Work WhatsApp group.

It is moving to see how many on the ground, as well as across the region and beyond, are stepping up to help those hit by the floods in any way they can.

At our online Southasia Peace Action Network, Sapan, meetings and in personal messages, Indian friends in particular have expressed their anguish and desire to help. Many are frustrated by being unable to contribute financially as I mentioned in my last post, Floods in Pakistan: Many eager to help held back by restrictions.

See Sapan’s statement of solidarity and appeal for Southasian nations to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – encompasses issues like the climate crisis and food security. We also compiled this list of initiatives people can donate to.

Also, love how a young Indian friend initiated this Sapan appeal to cricket boards ahead of Asia Cup to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – image below.

The YouTube video below has friends Dr Amna Buttar and Dr Geet Chainani talking about the realities on the ground in disaster-hit areas and why as an Indian origin physician in the US, Geet wants to go back to Sindh to help with flood relief. Sabyn Zaidi remembers how Geet worked in medical camps during the 2010 floods. On the first day she saw 172 patients, without breaks. There were no restrooms, no food, no electricity; there were bugs and insects. When it got dark, she worked with the light from cell phone lights and torches brought by the villagers.

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A visafree Southasia? Really?

It’s a dream, and aspiration. To quote Gulzar’s beautiful poem, “Ankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnoN ke sarhad koi nahiN” (Eyes don’t need a visa, dreams don’t have frontiers)

So there’s this dream: Southasia is a region with soft borders, like the European Union, or like the Southasia region itself was, prior to 1965.

We’ve long been calling for dialogue to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The call for soft borders and allowing people-to-people contact takes this further. Letting people meet, travel, and trade will benefit the region economically, as well as reduce misunderstandings and violent extremism.

Check out the list of demands – we know it’s a long shot, but we desis are used to bargaining – sign and share this online petition, coordinated by the Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan. As of today, over 36,000 signatures and counting. Help us reach 50,000.

Here’s a compilation of the organisations collaborating on this so far. More are joining. Each person counts, like the drops that make up the ocean.

We may not attain the dream in our lifetime but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Logos of participating organisations. Being updated on the petition site as more join.

The petition is addressed to the prime ministers and foreign offices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka allow visa-on-arrival. This is how it starts:

“This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain. 

“It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman. 

“It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”. 

Details at the petition online at this link.

Need to promptly repatriate cross-border prisoners, especially if they die…

Over 30 organizations around Southasia and beyond have endorsed a joint statement about cross-border prisoners initiated and coordinated by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, calling for the humane treatment of cross-border prisoners and to decriminalise inadvertent illegal border crossings.

Titled ‘Release prisoners on completion of jail term, decriminalise inadvertent border crossings, especially for fisherfolk and minors‘, the statement draws attention to the death of two Indian fisherfolk in Pakistani custody this year, and the death of a Pakistani fisherman of Bengali origin in India’s custody last year.

All three had served their sentences but remained in custody on ‘the other side’. Compounding the tragedy, there are terrible delays in the repatriation of the bodies of such fisherfolk, notes the statement.

The statement also draws attention to some teenagers who remain incarcerated in juvenile centers in India, mostly without any contact with their families. One has already served his sentence but remains incarcerated. Details below – Statement text and endorsements:

Arrested fisherfolk in custody across the border, far from home, no consular access until after sentence is over, often kept in custody even after serving their sentences. File photo. Getty images
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Solidarity with Sri Lanka

The situation in Sri Lanka is really dire. We at Sapan issued this statement 02 June – posted to website. Pls share widely: Southasians express solidarity with Sri Lanka, concern about economic and humanitarian crises.

Excerpt: “Amidst all the tension and uncertainty, it is important to note the undercurrent of hope enabled by the active engagement of individuals, organisations and civil society calling for accountability and good governance.” 

Here’s the scan of a report shared just now by a friend waiting in a petrol queue – the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has only a week’s worth of fuel left:

She also shared a short piece from the Daily Mirror today. Excerpt:

“The people of Sri Lanka deserve to live their lives without these politically-triggered interruptions.  Towards that end, I implore international companies that Sri Lanka works with to not divert business from here when we need their support and partnership the most.  Hopefully tourists will return once the country finds stability.  The wonders of this country still remain as beautiful, unmarred by the constant disruption.”  – Paradise Disrupted

A 58-year old daily wage labourer who lives in a single room on the outskirts of Colombo with her husband shares how they’ve had to switch from cooking with gas, to kerosene, and now firewood. Her husband forages for vegetables and edible leaves on his way home from work. See her story at: Financial Pandemic: ‘Sri Lanka is not a country for poor people now’, The Fuller Project, 20 May, 2022.

Kabir festival in Boston this weekend

UPDATE 11 June: Due to rain Kabir Festival postponed to Sunday June 19,2022. Please inform everyone

Some friends have been working hard on the upcoming Kabir Festival in Cambridge MA. Excited for it and fingers crossed it doesn’t rain. Our weekly Wednesday meeting this time focused on Kabir, and they showed this documentary by Kashif ul Huda, TwoCircles.net

Details about the Kabir Festival in the press statement below:

Kabir Festival 2022: Celebrating the humanistic values of an ancient mystic

Event poster

BOSTON: A cultural event to commemorate the birth anniversary of Kabir Das, an ancient South Asian mystic and social reformer will take place Sunday, 12 June 2022, at Danehy Park, Cambridge MA.

The Kabir Festival 2022 honors the values propagated by Kabir Das, a 15th century poet whose message of humanism, fraternity, love, harmony and equality resonates today in a world that is in many ways much like his. Then as now, great and astonishing changes were taking place, causing anxiety, fear, strife and dislocations.

Kabir’s message of humanism, fraternity, love, harmony and equality resonates today in a world that is in many ways much like his. Then as now, great and astonishing changes were taking place, causing anxiety, fear, strife and dislocations.

Ahead of Kabir’s birth anniversary on 14 June 2022, several individuals and organizations of the South Asian community are organizing a Kabir Festival in Cambridge. The organizers hope to bring Kabir’s message of peace, harmony and love to people in our troubled times.

The festival includes performances by local musicians, singers and artists. The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

The outdoor gathering will observe Covid-19 guidelines as per the City of Cambridge.

Participating organizations include Learn Quest Academy of Music, New England Hindi Manch, Kabir Society, Sanjha Punjab, Southasia Peace Action Network, Subdrift Boston, Boston Study Group and Jago World.

Contact: Rupal Shah: Email – south-asian-center@googlegroups.com

Sapan News

The Wednesday discussion also shared this music video by the Kabir Cafe in Mumbai:

Sara Suleri bows out

Sharing personal memories of the brilliant Sara Suleri whose genre-defying book Meatless Days inspired generations of writers, feminists, memoirists and dislocated Southasians. Thanks Ailia Zehra at The Friday Times for asking me to write this piece. Published as a Sapan syndicated feature in TFT, The Wire, Geo TV blog, South Asia Monitor and The Print – shared here with additional pix and links.

February 2018: Sara Suleri pays tribute to Asma Jahangir. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

PERSONAL-POLITICAL

By Beena Sarwar

March 25, 2022, Sapan News Service:

Aur bataiye” – tell me more, a polite invitation to keep talking. I can hear her voice, perhaps naturally husky, made deeper with years of cigarette smoking and perhaps more recently with pain and other medications.

She’d send her love to Pakistan whenever I’d call before flying out from Boston, where we had both ended up around ten years ago – she after retiring as Professor Emeritus of English from Yale University. I had transplanted myself from my home city Karachi where I was editing Aman Ki Asha, hope for peace – between India and Pakistan.

“Dream on!” I hear Sara say. And yet, she agrees, it’s important to keep going. She’s also a hundred percent supportive of our push for a regional approach – the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan, the more recent endeavour, launched last year with a wonderful group of inter-generational, cross-border peacemongers.

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