A visafree Southasia? Really?

It’s a dream, and aspiration. To quote Gulzar’s beautiful poem, “Ankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnoN ke sarhad koi nahiN” (Eyes don’t need a visa, dreams don’t have frontiers)

So there’s this dream: Southasia is a region with soft borders, like the European Union, or like the Southasia region itself was, prior to 1965.

We’ve long been calling for dialogue to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The call for soft borders and allowing people-to-people contact takes this further. Letting people meet, travel, and trade will benefit the region economically, as well as reduce misunderstandings and violent extremism.

Check out the list of demands – we know it’s a long shot, but we desis are used to bargaining – sign and share this online petition, coordinated by the Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan. As of today, over 36,000 signatures and counting. Help us reach 50,000.

Here’s a compilation of the organisations collaborating on this so far. More are joining. Each person counts, like the drops that make up the ocean.

We may not attain the dream in our lifetime but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Logos of participating organisations. Being updated on the petition site as more join.

The petition is addressed to the prime ministers and foreign offices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka allow visa-on-arrival. This is how it starts:

“This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain. 

“It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman. 

“It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”. 

Details at the petition online at this link.

World Press Freedom Day: India/Pakistan media and prospects of peace

Screenshot from Bushra Ansari-Asma Abbas video, 3 May 2019. Over 4 million views on one YouTube channel alone.

My comment about the polarized media in India and Pakistan and the prospects of peace, incorporated in the International Federation of Journalists Truth vs Misinformation: South Asia Press Freedom Report 2018-19 released on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2019. Also published in Naya Daur

Beena Sarwar

Polarization and Prospects of Peace

There have never been as many media outlets and forms of media in India or Pakistan as there are today — or as much push for freedom of expression and information, and its counterpoint, various forms of censorship.

Continue reading

Remembering Kuldip Nayar, journalist, activist, peacemonger

Kuldip, Nandita, Asma J

A precious photo: Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das and Asma Jahangir at Wagah border. Photo: courtesy Seema Mustafa, The Citizen

I was sad to hear about the passing away of veteran journalist and peacemonger Kuldip Nayar, 95, in Delhi. His passing in general evoked great sadness — as well as a resolve to keep working for his values — not only in India but the land of his birth, Pakistan. I had got to know Kuldip ji over the years through the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that I joined as a young journalist from Lahore when it was launched in 1994-95, as the largest people-to-people organization between the two countries. The last time I met him was at Allahabad train station a few years ago. The lawyer S.M.A. Kazmi and our family friend Zia ul Haq — the comrade, not the general, himself now over 90 were dropping me off and picking him up. He got the surprise of his life. We didn’t have much time to chat as my train was about to leave but I treasure that memory.

Sharing here the two pieces I put together for Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace), the India-Pakistan website I edit. One is pegged on a tribute from Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi his long-time friend and fellow-activist, former member of the Planning Commission of India and founder trustee of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. She aptly termed him the “gentle giant of India Pakistan peace” in her wonderful piece in The Citizen. See also her account of the Aman Dost Yatra (peace and friendship march) at the border. In the other piece, I put together other tributes paid to him by Pakistanis.

Here are links to both pieces: Remembering the ‘gentle giant of India Pakistan peace’,  and Pakistanis pay tribute to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar.

SyedaH-KuldipN

(L-R) Dr Syeda Hameed, Navaid Hamid, Kuldip Nayar, Maulana Syed Jalauddin Umari. File photo – Indiatomorrow.ne.

Who is Raza Khan, why is he missing, and why do I care?

FindRaza-Lahore-RahatDar

Lahore, Dec. 11: Protesting the disappearance of activist Raza Mahmood Khan. (Rahat Dar/European Pressphoto Agency/EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

On Dec 2, 2017, a peace activist disappeared from Lahore. Raza Khan is one of over 1,400 missing persons in Pakistan whose cases the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances is hearing.

Who is Raza Khan, why is he missing and why do I care? Raza 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 a growing desperation to control the narrative on the military, religion and India. My piece,  In Pakistan, promoting peace with India can be bad for your health — and freedom, published in The Washington Post, Dec. 22.  Continue reading

Mahesh Bhatt’s “Milne Do” – II

A year ago, I wrote about Mahesh Bhatt’s new theatrical project a play titled ‘Milne Do’ aiming to find common ground between India and Pakistan. Here’s an update: He’s going ahead with it in collaboration with Azad Theatre and Laal band in Lahore. My article published in Aman ki Asha below:

imran and mahesh 1

Imran Zahid and Mahesh Bhatt: teamwork for a causMahesh Bhatt, in an attempt to find common ground between India and Pakistan, is all set to produce and present a play titled “Milne Do”.

The veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, in an attempt to find common ground between India and Pakistan, is all set to produce and present a play titled “Milne Do”.

“I have always maintained that a movie or a play can be a greater vehicle of peace than all the lectures we give,” he says. Any message, if communicated through storytelling, touches a chord. We are also trying to do the same. This play will be an emotional transaction between industries on both sides.”

This cross-border collaborative project across borders has been in the making for over a year. Continue reading

India/Pakistan: #DearNeighbour – a new ‘velfie’ movement

A ‘velfie’ movement is sweeping social media as Indians and Pakistanis share video messages for peace as part of the ‪#‎DearNeighbour‬ Peace Challenge. But are the politicians listening? The organisers invite people to send their Peace Velfies to: dearneighbourmovement@gmail.com and/or upload it to the fb page DearNeighbour Movement and nominate two friends to take the challenge. Here’s the piece I wrote about it for Aman ki Asha. Text below.

Continue reading

India/Pakistan: Asha ki Kiran

Tea with the lovely Nandita Das in Mumbai

Tea with the lovely Nandita Das in Mumbai

Found to be inoperable in Bangalore, young Kiran Soomro won over scores of hearts and has returned to Pakistan with a priceless gift of love – and homemade Singhar mithai. My article published in Aman ki Asha and TOI blogs today

On January 20, 2014, her seventeenth birthday, Kiran Soomro flew from Karachi to Bangalore on with her parents. They left with hope in their hearts and a prayer on their lips, expecting that Dr. Devi Shetty at the Narayana Health hospital would be able to surgically close the hole in Kiran’s heart.

Five days later, they learnt that her condition is inoperable by now. It would have been a fairly simple operation had it been looked into and treated earlier. Doctors initially discussed a heart-and-lung transplant. Dr. Balakrishnan, a well-known surgeon from Chennai drove down on his own initiative to examine Kiran in Bangalore. Continue reading

Play for peace: Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Milne Do’

Mahesh Bhatt-Imran Zahid play

Mahesh Bhatt’s forthcoming play is creating a media buzz

My article in the Aman ki Asha page of The News, Dec 4, and in the TOI blog

Play for peace: Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Milne Do’

A behind-the-scenes look at what is driving a veteran film producer and peace activist’s fourth stage production, coming up

By Beena Sarwar

It was Google’s “Reunion” ad released on the web that pushed Delhi-based actor Imran Zahid to move on an idea that he has been thinking about for some time, creating waves in the media.

Last week Imran messaged me, asking for story ideas for a stage play “to promote Aman ki asha and the concept of ‘Milne do’ (let them meet) to be staged in various cities of India and Pakistan in association with Mahesh Bhatt Saab”. Continue reading

Eye Opener: An Indian-American Visits Pakistan


Nice share on the Aman ki Asha facebook group:
Eye Opener: An Indian-American Visits Pakistan – by Mahanth S. Joishy, Editor of usindiamonitor.com – extract: “…But even these problems can be overcome by bringing Pakistan deeper into the community of nations, and further integrating Pakistan into world markets.  India and the United States for their part can do more to help bring this about.  I am convinced that instead of the delicate dance the three nations have done around each other since 1947, it is time for all to become closer friends and drop the pretexts for moving backward instead of forward.  What I saw in Pakistan more than the perils, is great potential. I plan to do my part, and this piece is only the first step.”

Beyond business

New Delhi, May 2010: OUP Director Ameena Saiyid presents Brij Mohan Lal Munjal of Hero Honda with a souvenir at the first Aman ki Asha Indo-Pak Business Conference. Photo: TOI/ Piyal Bhattacharjee

My article on how it all started for The News special edition published ahead of ‘Dividends’, the Aman ki Asha Indo-Pak Business Meet in Lahore, May 7-8, 2012, attended by several top Indian businessmen, addressed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Chief Minister of Punjab, and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. See Aman ki Asha website for more.  Continue reading

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