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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Relief at Zeenat Shehzadi’s recovery

Zeenat-%22Quaid and daughter of Quaid%22 2014I wrote this piece for The Wire on Oct. 24, after hearing that the young journalist-activist Zeenat Shehzadi who “disappeared” over two years ago, has been recovered. A brief re-cap of what happened and how her case is linked to that of a young Indian man whose case she had been following after his “disappearance” in Pakistan. 

Pakistani Reporter Zeenat Shahzadi, Who Disappeared While Searching for Indian Man, Reappears

The Pakistani journalist-activist – who had gone missing in August 2015 – has paid a heavy price for wanting to uphold humanitarianism and the principles of social justice.

Five days before she was due to testify before Pakistan’s Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances in August 2015, 24-year-old journalist-activist Zeenat Shahzadi herself became a disappeared person. She remained missing until her parents received word on Friday – October 19, 2017 – that she had been recovered.

Shahzadi’s mother has spoken to her and reported that she was alright. The family would like to be left alone and not pressed for more details.   [Read more…]

Behind criminal acts motivated by religion, bigotry, misogyny, lies fear of change

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Gauri Lankesh, Sabeen Mahmud.

My piece for The Wire on the assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, that reminded me of the target-killing of my friend, activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi. I traced the patterns and similarity behind these murders.

A spoke in the wheel of this “intellecticide” is the ‘anti-intellectual’ nature of the vote for Donald Trump who shares a host of similarities with Modi in India despite differences. The rise of white supremacy in a nation of migrants built after virtually annihilating indigenous populations is a continuation of ongoing racism in the US.

The pendulum swings of history ushers in periods of the rise of the ‘Right’ or the ‘Left’. We are witnessing the rise of the militant Right at this moment with its ensuing bloodshed in India, Pakistan, the US and elsewhere.

But what will continue to rise inexorably, despite bloodshed along the way, are human aspirations to basic rights, equality and justice. There is no going back, no matter how fiercely the chaddis, topis or kluxies fight it.

Read more: In Life, and in Death, Gauri Lankesh and Sabeen Mahmud Battled Powers Fearful of Change

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Protest at Harvard Square: Commemorating Gauri Lankesh’s murder and ongoing Rohingya massacre. Photo: Beena Sarwar

 

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