A conversation about coronavirus in USA and Pakistan

This afternoon I spoke to my hospitalist friend Dr Cyma Firdous while she was on a break. She told me her hospital in New Hampshire is preparing for a surge of coronavirus cases expected in a couple of weeks. They are feeling unprepared and under-equipped. If things are this bad in wealthy, developed USA, how bad will they get in Pakistan and other such countries? We decided to do a brief video conversation in Urdu and share it on social media to try and get across the urgency of the situation. Sharing here the gist of our discussion.

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Farewell Dr Mubashir Hasan: A Nobel Peace Laureate Remembers His Old Friend

In the midst of coronavirus madness, March 14 brought the sad news of Dr Mubashir Hasan’s passing. Wrote this piece published in The Wire a few days back. Reproduced here with additional pix and links.

Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, a legacy of Dr Mubashir Hasan, continues to speak out for Kashmir.
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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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RIP Dr Mubashir Hasan. The last public statement he endorsed was on India’s CAA along with other South Asian citizens

Dr Mubashir Hasan: A towering figure and visionary for South Asia regional peace. File photo.

In December 2019, when I visited Dr Mubashir Hasan at his home in Lahore, I read out to him a Statement on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, drafted by a friend in Kathmandu. Dr Saab readily endorsed it, probably his last public comment (see below). He is the first person who talked to me about pushing for a South Asian Union along the lines of the European Union. He passed away today, aged 98. A great mentor, leader, guide and friend. May he rest in peace. More later.

Statement on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act by 14 independent South Asian citizens

26 December 2019

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#FakeNews and #AuratMarch – ‘Patriotic Trolling’ to ‘Astro-Turfing’: Lessons from Maria Ressa on dealing with online hate

Last Thursday, I attended a talk by journalist Maria Ressa at Harvard. She talked about the “pounding” journalists get on social media and “trends” set by fake accounts. Women are attacked online at least 10 times more than men, and research shows online violence leads to actual violence on the ground. It reminded me not only of the challenges journalists face in Pakistan but also what organisers of the forthcoming Aurat March commemorating International Women’s Day are up against. Here’s what I wrote, published in The News International, Pakistan and The Wire, India.

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#AuratMarch: The polarity of narratives

The News on Sunday last week asked me to write a piece on the narratives surrounding gender in mainstream and social media, the space to take up the debate on the subject and whether that has increased or shrunk over the years, and what sort of narratives are emerging from movements like the Aurat March (the impact and social deconstruction of certain slogans deemed ‘controversial’ and ‘immoral’ by right wing quarters within the society). I began writing this just before the controversy over ‘Mera jism meri marzi’ (my body, my choice) kicked off that I mention, in the piece below, part of the TNS Special Report on the issue published 8 March 2020, which includes several related pieces worth reading.

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Detained fisherfolk: Denial of consular access is denial of justice

It is beyond belief that Pakistan has STILL not nominated members to the joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which India did in 2018. I have personally sent notes to several members of the ruling party through various contacts. They say they care but there are obviously more important matters to worry about than poor imprisoned fishermen. The Judicial committee, instituted in 2007, has been virtually defunct since the end of 2013. Cross-border prisoners completing their sentences continue to languish in prisons across the border because of lack of consular access. This wouldn’t happen if they were rich and powerful.

Arrested Indian fishermen in Pakistan lockup. File photo. Getty images
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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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Rising above divisive politics, golf tournament brings Indians and Pakistanis together in America

Wrote this curtain raiser a couple of weeks ago together with a colleague in India, published in Aman Ki Asha 20 September 2019.

By Neel Kamal and Beena Sarwar

The world’s largest India-Pakistan golf tournament will take place in Los Angeles early October, even as relations between nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours India and Pakistan sink to a dangerously low levels.

Photo from Mohubbat Golf Tournament 2018
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Cambridge event Standout for Peace in solidarity with #StandWithKashmir

Demonstrators at MIT, part of a series of peaceful world-wide protests in solidarity with Kashmir on the weekend of 21 September, International Peace Day. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Published in Cambridge Chronicle, September 24, 2019.

Sunday, 22 September, Cambridge MA: “Resist to exist” proclaimed a placard on the steps of MIT. The placard featured the picture of a woman in a red pheran, the long woolen tunic traditionally worn by Kashmiris from the Himalayan region in India’s north-west tip.

Visual by Zarina Teli, based on a photograph by Sumaya Teli.

The woman holding the placard also wore a red pheran, her mouth taped shut like the others in the pheran-clad group she stood with to symbolize the communications blackout in her home state since 5 August this year. The pheran reflects an iconic image that has become integral to the Kashmiris’ resistance movement, as covered by NPR news recently (Finding resistance in fashion, Kashmiri creator turns to the pheran).

The color red, taken up by thousands in their social media profile images, has come to symbolize the Kashmiris’ spirit of resistance and defiance.

The woman and her companions stood with other peace-loving South Asians and friends on the steps of MIT this past Sunday at noon, to demand that the Indian government “immediately restore communication in Kashmir, remove the draconian measures enforced in the name of security and order, and respect Kashmiris’ right of self-determination”.

Boston event – Global Standout for Peace in South Asia. Photo: Beena Sarwar

The next day, Monday 23 September, marked Day 50 of “the unprecedented and total communications blackout for 8 million Kashmiris enforced on them by the Indian government. Kashmiris, living in the most militarized region on earth, now fear that the present communications blackout is part of a larger plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Kashmir,” according to the statement read out at the event.

The event at MIT was part of a series of peaceful protests that weekend in solidarity with the Kashmiri people, coordinated by a small coalition called the Global Standout for Peace in South Asia.

Besides Boston, the Standouts took place in the San Francisco Bay area, Kolkata (India), Gotenburg (Sweden), Islamabad (Pakistan), and Kathmandu (Nepal), on the same weekend as Indian Prime Minister Modi shared the stage with U.S. President Trump in Houston. Solidarity with Kashmir protests took place in Houston also, as well as Seattle WA.

Standout for Peace in solidarity with Kashmir, Goteburg, Sweden

Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan both lay claim to Kashmir. The Global Standout protestors showed their rejection of these territorial claims by not carrying the flags of any nation or state.

Supporting organizations in Boston included Massachusetts Peace Action, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, MIT Students Against War, Stand With Kashmir, Coalition for Democratic India, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, and Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine.

Addressing the participants, Cambridge City Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui encouraged them to keep ‘speaking out for justice’.

The event ended with a drum sounding 50 beats, one for each day since the communications lockdown up to that point.

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