Tribute to a nationalistic hawk-turned-peacemonger with a SouthAsian vision

Lahore, 1992: Dr Syeda Hameed with Dr Mubashir Hasan, uncle, comrade and mentor. Photo by Reza Kazim.

With the world in the grip of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to find space for anything else. As horrors unfolded in country after country, exposing the hollowness behind military might, glittering capitalist facades, and exploitation, a gentle soul slipped into the hereafter at his house in Lahore. At 98, he had spent the last half of his life fighting for exactly the kind of egalitarian, people centered system that would have mitigated the ravages of Covid-19. There have been some wonderful tributes to Dr Mubashir Hasan. Two of the best I’ve seen are by his old friend I.A. Rehman and Indian journalist Nirupama Subramaniam in Indian Express, also published in Aman Ki Asha.

Below, my tribute to Dr M. in The News on Sunday last weekend, a follow up to my piece in The Wire earlier. Also below, two previously unpublished pieces I am honoured to present here — a powerful, poignant poem in Dr M’s memory by his niece in Delhi, and a lively little remembrance by a 12-year old based on her memories of the Chaukas collective meetings she attended with her mother, that led to A New Social Contract published by Dr M, 2016. Also linking here this tribute in Mainstream Weekly magazine, Kolkata, founded by Dr Mubashir’s friend Nikhil Chakravartty — “one of the greatest journalists of the subcontinent” as Dr M called him — now edited by his son Sumit Chakravartty.

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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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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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Commemorating Joint Independence Day together, India, Pakistan, citizens call for peace

Delhi, 12 August 2019: Mani Shanker Aiyer addressing the flagging-off ceremony. Photo courtesy Ravi Nitesh.

Wrote this piece yesterday, published in Aman Ki Asha, about the annual joint Independence Day Celebrations by Indians and Pakistanis. The Aman Dosti Yatra (Peace Friendship March) reached Amritsar from Delhi yesterday. Friends in Pakistan were prevented from going to the border but they held a seminar in Lahore. There’s a piece about the Yatra in The Indian Express:

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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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Shutting down online #fakenews factories

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Got this email and image from Avaaz, subject line, “We’ve been hijacked”, that feels too important not to share.  Here’s my biggest takeaway from it:

During Brazil’s election, Avaaz ran an experiment — just six people were given basic training to investigate the propaganda networks, and they shut down online fake news factories that reached *16 million* people. Imagine what ten times as many could do!

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Raza Khan, still missing. Why does it matter?

BringBackRaza3Raza Khan’s disappearance, like that of Zeenat Shehzadi earlier, is part of a new phase of such illegal abductions in Pakistan, violating due process and rule of law. Targeting young people from ordinary backgrounds, without social capital or networks, signals the miltablishment’s growing desperation to control the narrative on the military, religion and India, I argue in this opinion piece for the Washington PostIn Pakistan, promoting peace with India can be bad for your health — and freedom (Dec. 22, 2017; updated text below). Since then, a journalist covering this issue narrowly escaped an abduction attempt in Islamabad, and another journalist was picked up and beaten in Karachi, then released. 
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