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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So much human suffering – and for what?

Sharing here a piece I wrote published in The Wire and later in Aman Ki Asha about a poor man from a tiny village on the India-Pakistan border who went missing in 2008. For nine years his family didn’t know where he was. But his government knew for four years before the family learnt from another released prisoner that their loved one was in a prison across the border.

Under-trial for three years, he then served a five-year conviction – but remained imprisoned for three more years while the government dawdled over verifying his nationality.

When they finally repatriated him at the end of January this year following court orders, he was made to travel 1000 km upcountry, then wait for three more days at a border town until police from his home state went to bring him back, another 1000 km downcountry. Here’s a map I made about his enforced travels:

Ismail Sama’s short journey across the border (small arrow) – and his long journey home. Fisherfolk caught violating the maritime border also have to endure this when imprisoned on the other side.

Read the full story at The Wire: India-Pakistan Relations: What the Kafkaesque Case of a Repatriated Cattle-Herder Tells Us, or at the Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace) website that I edit.

Here’s a follow up story by Gopal B. Kateshiya, ‘Coming back is second birth for me’: Kutch man returns home after 13 years in Pakistan jail, The Indian Express. Extract: “A scorpion stung me and I felt giddy. I lost my direction. Next morning, around 10.30 am, Pakistan rangers caught me, telling me I had intruded into their country. They took me to hospital and after my condition improved, they handed me over to Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” said Ismail, son of a farmer.

Ismail Sama with his family: Reunited and it feels so good. Photo: Courtesy Indian Express.

Thirteen years is a long time. The story would be remarkable if it was a one-off but sadly, such incidents are not rare.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Here's a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF). Here’s a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF).

As journalists around the world face growing threats, President Biden must lead by example

An oped that my fellow professor of journalism James McManus at Emerson College and I co-wrote recently, published in The Wire:

As the newly-sworn in United States President Joseph Biden begins his tenure, he has a lot of salvaging to do from the wreckage left by his predecessor.

Representational image. Illustration: Wikimedia Commons

One of the more disturbing messages arising out of the attack by violent pro-Trump insurrectionists at the US Capitol on January 6 involved frightening threats to a free press. Scrawled on a door at the building were the words: “Murder the Media.”

That pithy, vile phrase represented the raw culmination of five years of rhetorical attacks by Donald Trump and his political allies against critical media coverage.

Read the rest of the oped here: Why Restoring Press Freedom Globally Should Take Precedence on Biden’s Priority List

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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Merry Christmas… my dear

There have been over 300,000 Covid-related deaths this year in the USA alone, and the numbers are still rising as many deniers refuse to take basic precautions like wearing masks. Asymptomatic carriers — no signs of illness — can be infected and infect others. The second wave is well under way. So many losses.

Here’s a recent oped by pediatricians in the Boston area, pleading for the public to stay home: We’re Pediatricians In A Pandemic. We Shouldn’t Be Taking Care Of Your Grandparents. A new confusing disease they’re seeing is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, MIS-C. In Karachi, Dr Darayus Gazder at Ziauddin Hospital describes the same thing, seeing children “who post-COVID develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is worse than adult onset COVID” (emphasis mine).

Tweet after hearing of another tragedy in the family: Sajid Rizwan Ansari, 36, died in his sleep of a heart attack

So many personal losses this year. Grateful to have spent time with friends and loved ones in Pakistan last winter. Several have since departed this world. There’s sadness also about the departure of some whom I hadn’t seen in years, like my second cousin Khalid Afzal in London, an early victim of Covid-19. In Allahabad, family friend and mentor Comrade Ziaul Haq (Munnan Chacha) passed on in November, joining his wife Dr Rehana who departed a week after his 100th birthday barely a month earlier. My mother’s college friend Inkesar Nawaz died suddenly in Lahore of a heart attack.

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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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The outrage culture about rape masks a landscape of pervasive child abuse

Protest in Karachi over the ‘motorway gang rape’ incident. 12 September 2020. Reuters photo.

I haven’t updated this site for a while, caught up with teaching two journalism courses at Emerson College this semester – prepping for the courses, training for the unprecedented online situation, then assignment-setting, student feedback, grading – it’s been hard to do much else. But when Mehr Mustafa at The News on Sunday asked me to contribute to their special report on rape culture, I couldn’t refuse. Was up till 3 am to meet the deadline for the piece – The outrage culture masks a landscape of pervasive abuse (TNS Special Report, 27 September 2020).

They asked me to define ‘rape culture’ as a lens to view the issue as a social/political construct rather than individual/isolated events, and to address the systematic nature of sexual violence. That rang some bells. Among the things it got me thinking about was systemic oppression – visible in the racial injustice in the USA highlighted over recent months. I revisited the piece I did last year, Moving towards a cycle of healing, focusing on the need for preventive rather than reactive measures and the concept of restorative rather than retributive justice (thanks Anita Wadhwa and Dina Kraft for expanding on my understanding of this). And just found my 2012 post: We must move beyond outrage against selected rape cases.

As I was working on the piece, the rape of a Dalit teenager in India (#Hathras) and then another, began making headlines. Here’s the powerful piece Dr Syeda Hameed wrote about that: ‘She Was A Dalit Child from Boolgarhi Village, She Was Mine and Yours’. Yes, India seems particularly horrific right now but it’s a regional issue: Pakistan/India: There is no honour in killing… End the culture of impunity.

My article for the TNS special report on rape culture below.

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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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Pakistan’s ‘best kept secret’ (not The Samosa)

Sumaira Samad, Shahid Nadeem, Anwar Akhtar at Lahore Museum (screengrab)

Anwar Akhtar is a Pakistan-origin cultural activist based in London who started The Samosa many years ago — think cross-culture, activism, media, teaching. We had met several years ago and reconnected recently when he reached about his intriguingly titled documentary, Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret. I invited him to write about it for Aman Ki Asha. Sharing the documentary, as well as his piece, here:

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Give peace a chance: Activists urge India, Pakistan, to step up for #SouthAsia

The Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) has begun a series of online discussions aimed at reclaiming the people’s narrative. The PIPFPD The page has several video excerpts from these and other discussions. Below reports on both discussions by Neel Kamal, published in Times of India and Aman Ki Asha.

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