From the Zia dark years in Pakistan to the ‘hijab row’ in India

I was initially hesitant to add my two bits to the ‘hijab row’ in India about which so much has already been written. But I’m glad I did – gained a lot of insights and info that I tried to share with a wider audience. Thanks to Ullekh NP, Executive Editor at Open Magazine in India for prodding me. Published 25 Feb with the headline Hijab Row in India: Just Like Us, with a powchaerful illustration copied below. I’m thrilled that my SAWM sisters, the South Asian Women in Journalism, liked it enough to share it on their website under Article of the Day category. Posting the essay below with materials not used in the Open article, including my 1983 (or was it ’82?) piece in The Star with my own illustrations, HUNDRED AND ONE USES OF A CHADDAR, and link to Fahmida Riaz reciting her poem.

Illustration by Saurabh Singh for Open Magazine

WOMEN ACROSS SOUTH Asia and beyond have for centuries loosely covered their heads and bosoms, regardless of religion, shielding themselves from unrelated men as well as from the hot sun.

Those entering the work force in urban areas have been quicker to shed traditional attire. Those who find these changes threatening sometimes find ways to keep women in their place. Religion offers a convenient pretext.

The more conservative Muslim women in South Asia also traditionally wore a burqa, more all-enveloping than a chaddar or dupatta. My grandmother in Allahabad, U.P., used to wear a brown burqa that she discarded eventually in Karachi.

Growing up in Pakistan under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq, 1977-88, women like me have first-hand experience of such tactics. We watch in horror as shadows of the ZIa dark years seem to spread across the border into India.

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Wanted: Adult behaviour in SouthAsia

The last Sapan – South Asia Peace Action Network – event of the year was titled “Growing up, growing together” with activists across the region resolving to continue working for a better tomorrow. It was wonderful to hear so many young people speak – most under 35 years old. Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make the event a success – including the poetry and music at the end. Sapan’s next monthly event on the last Sunday of January will have more music and culture.

The Facebook Live recording of the recent meeting is available at this link – video log online at this link. Here’s a feature report about the event.

Commemorating Human Rights Day, the founding of SAARC, and 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence, Sapan discussion highlights the commonality of human rights issues across the region

Some of the participants at the event – most speakers were under 35-years old. Screenshot.
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Stop Hazara killings #BostonWithHazara

#BostonWithHazara: Silent vigil at Copley Square in below freezing temperature. My mother Zakia Sarwar in the middle with her pink pom pom hat.

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Even as media attention focused on the goings on at America’s capital where protestors shocked the world by storming the Capitol Building (nothing shocking for Pakistanis used to such attempts to subvert democracy) another drama — tragedy rather — unfolded in Quetta, Pakistan.

This too is not new. The target killings. The silent, and the not-so-silent protests. Standing in front of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square in the freezing cold, in solidarity with the Hazara protestors who are also out there in below freezing temperatures of Quetta.

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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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Fragile Egos, Fragile States: COVID-19 Doesn’t Care

Two demonstrations involving Indians and Pakistanis in Massachusetts once again foregrounded the common issues that the people of the two countries, and elsewhere, face

Wrote this piece published in The Wire some days back – feels like forever now, given the fast pace with which ‘coronamadness’ seems to be taking over the world. Sharing it here anyway.

Boycott CAA, NRC, NPR, RSS, BJP, Modi, Hindutva.
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#MeToo: Moving towards a cycle of healing

Something I wrote about sexual harassment and abuse, published in The News on Sunday. It was a difficult piece to write, took a lot of thought, time, and research, and forced me to introspect on uncomfortable ideas. I went through a learning process that I’ve have tried to share. One idea links to the concept of restorative justice. Another is that, regardless of whether or not guilt is proven, such cases are forcing society to re-evaluate acceptable behaviour. This, in fact, may be the #MeToo movement’s most enduring contribution. 

me2-tns

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South Asian activists, academics, journalists urge Sri Lanka not to violate fundamental rights in the name of combating terror

 

SriLanka statement-Wire-collage

Top row (L-R): Sima Samar, Kanak Mani Dixit, Hamida Hossain. Bottom row (L-R): Uma Chakravarti, Shahidul Alam, Pamela Philipose, Beena Sarwar. Collage: TheWire.In

Thanks to friends who initiated this statement in solidarity with the artists, thinkers and people of Sri Lanka, that I have signed along with over 250 other activists, academics and journalists from across South Asia. Please feel free to endorse and share. Signatories include human rights activists from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, journalists from Nepal, Pakistan and India, and historians and feminists from India and Pakistan, among others who have been at the forefront of facing similar realities in their respective nation-states for decades. Full text below, updated from the version published earlier in TheWire.in.

 

May 2, 2019: Continue reading

Pakistan Hazara genocide and NotreDame: Waiting for Jacinda?

Hazara sitin-Qta-ABNA

The Hazara community’s sit-in, Quetta, protesting their target killing. Photo: IRNA

Had the Hazaras who were killed in a bomb blast in Quetta died in the Notre Dame fire instead, there might be more outrage about their persecution and targeted killing in Pakistan, comments a designer friend disgusted by the apathy of Pakistan’s elites to the Hazara community’s ongoing sit-in, braving the rain and cold of Quetta while his “timeline is on fire with pix of the burning cathedral and people’s pictures in front of it”. 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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Asma Jahangir: A meaningful life, an inspiring legacy

I wrote this piece for a web dossier produced by Heinrich Boell Foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘ 70th anniversary 2018 – Asma Jahangir – ein bedeutungsvolles Leben, ein inspirierendes Erbe. Sharing now, a year after Asma Jahangir has passed on. This piece doesn’t include her role for peace in the region and in the UN system that I’ve written about earlier and also detailed in a longer essay to be printed in an anthology titled Voices of Freedom from Asia and the Middle East, co-edited by Mark Dennis and Rima Abunasser, TCU, is under publication by SUNY Press. Above: Asma Jahangir at her office; still from my documentary Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice (2006)

By Beena Sarwar

The field on the outskirts of Lahore was full of workers waiting to hear the woman from the city speak. They squatted on their haunches with dull hopeless eyes, the drab greys and browns of their clothes at one with the earth they fashioned into bricks to bake in bhattas — kilns that dot the rural landscape of Punjab and upper Sindh. For their back-breaking labour they were paid in kind, leading to generations of indebtedness as the traditional informal economy transitioned into a cash-based system.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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