PERSONAL POLITICAL: Rest in peace, comrade Kutty. The struggle continues

I wrote this piece a few days back – the second of my occasional syndicated columns. Published in The Wire, Naya Daur, Mainstream, The Citizen among others.

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Early Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on 18 July 2019, B. M. Kutty slipped into the ever after. Lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi – his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

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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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Muna’s ordeal

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Women mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Lahore, November 25, 2010. (Getty)

Found this old report I wrote about a young woman who miraculously survived horrific domestic violence, published in The News on Sunday, 18 January 2004. What has changed in Pakistan since I reported on it and what hasn’t? Posting it here as I couldn’t find it online.
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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.

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Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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Honouring Asma Jahangir’s legacy

My piece on several memorial meetings held for the late Asma Jahangir in New York and Boston over the past couple of weeks. Published simultaneously in The News on Sunday and The Wire, 8 Oct 2018

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Lyse Doucet moderating the panel at Asia Society. Screen grab from video.

Honouring Asma Jahangir’s legacy

Beena Sarwar

At a time when universal fundamental human rights values are under attack from fascist forces everywhere, an enduring lesson from Asma Jahangir remains: do your homework, stand your ground, and carry on. Continue reading

Kuldip goes home to Lahore

A piece I put together for Aman ki Asha based on information and conversations about the upcoming events this Friday and Saturday in Lahore in honour of the late, great Kuldip Nayar. Borrowed the great headline above from friend and longtime peacemonger iFaqeer‘s blog post. 

Seminars, tree-planting to accompany Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar’s ashes immersion ceremony in Pakistan 

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Peace activists are grateful to the Pakistani authorities for granting various permissions required for events related to the last rites of acclaimed Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar to take place in Pakistan this coming weekend.

Nayar passed away in Delhi on 23 August 2018, shortly after celebrating his 95th birthday on 14 August. His funeral the following day was attended by thousands, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Nayar’s granddaughter Mandira Nayar and her husband Ratish Nanda from Delhi will cross Wagah border on the morning of Friday 5 October 2018 to participate in an Asthi Visarjan (immersion of the ashes) ceremony that afternoon.

Goodwill

The Joint Action Committee of People’s Rights, an umbrella group of several non-profit organisations that is coordinating the programme in Pakistan, will take Nayar’s family, friends and followers out in boats to the middle of the River Ravi to immerse his ashes.

Ashes of other peace activists have been previously scattered in Pakistan before, like Gandhian leader Nirmala Despande and journalist Praful Bidwai. The symbolic gesture flies in the face of the ongoing hostility between India and Pakistan and their refusal to grant visas on a normal level.

Nayar and Nanda will stay on to attend other events in Lahore that evening and the following day to honour Nayar, who had made it his life’s mission to promote peace between the two countries. The events will be broadcast live on Facebook at the page Celebrating Kuldip Nayar and His Vision of Peace.

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Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das, Asma Jahangir at Wagah border: Celebrating Aug 14-15. Undated file photo

Mandira Nayar, a journalist with The Week, India, appreciated the Pakistan Embassy for giving her and her husband visas to participate in her grandfather’s last rites. “I was amazed at the goodwill and how helpful and cooperative they have been,” she said gratefully.

The Pakistani Rangers in charge of border security have granted special permission for a host delegation to enter the border reception hall at Azadi (freedom) Gate and meet the Indian guests as they emerge from immigration and customs.

Since the 2014 suicide blast that killed over 50 people, Pakistan has created a buffer zone here. Crossing over to Pakistan from India at Wagah border, travelers now have to walk over a mile to exit the restricted area into which no one is allowed without special clearance.

“When I called a senior officer to ask about arrangements for receiving our Indian guests and he said they would let us bring our cars all the way in, I was so surprised, I had to ask him to repeat what he had said,” laughed Karamat Ali.

Ali is a founding member of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that Nayar had also been long involved with.

The organisers have sent the names of delegation members and vehicle registration numbers to be allowed up to the border reception area.

Legacy

One of Nayar’s enduring legacies is the joint Independence Day celebrations of Pakistan and India, 14-15 August. Since 2000, Nayar had led peace activists to light candles at the Attari-Wagah border near Amritsar.

The recent restrictions on the Pakistan side force the peacemongers to stand far back, unable to see their friends on the other side. However, lights from their candles and snatches of music and song do waft through the darkness to the other side at the border ceremony every year that activists doggedly insist on holding.

A couple of weeks ago, peace activists held an Asthi Visarjan at the Ravi on the Indian side of the border and planted a mango tree on no-man’s land. The Indian Border Security Force was fully cooperative, said Ramesh Yadav of the Folklore Research Academy that had often joined hands with the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch (India-Pakistan friendship forum) founded by Kuldip Nayar.

Mango was Nayar’s “favourite fruit,” said his granddaughter.

Tree for Asma

Pakistani activists plan to plant a tree on the Pakistan side of the border near Nayar’s tree in memory of the pioneering human rights lawyer and peacebuilder Asma Jahangir who passed away earlier this year.

Mandiri Nayar said she likes the idea of trees to honour her grandfather and his friend being planted across the border from each other.

Nayar’s Asthi Visarjan in Pakistan will be followed by a reference at the Lahore Press Club. On Saturday morning, 6 October, the Government College University will hold a seminar honouring Nayar, and plant another tree in his honour.

In the evening, there will be a reference co-hosted by several organisations at the South Asia Free Media Association at the SAFMA auditorium in Lahore.

In Hyderabad, India, the Peace Now and Forever Campaign Secretariat at the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA) plans to host a gathering at Lamakaan, Banjara Hills. Those interested in joining the collective live viewing of Kuldip Nayar’s Asthi Visarjan, or need help connecting to or posting on the Facebook page, may contact program coordinator Gowtham Uyyala, Communications Officer, COVA. Email: crmo@covanetwork.org, mobile: +91 99892 22959.

They would like the event to be “shared widely through different social media platforms to enable others to participate and promote peace and cohesion across our borders” and continue Nayar’s mission.

For more details or to attend a programme in Pakistan honouring Kuldip Nayar, contact Irfan Mufti (SAP- Pakistan) at +92 300 8480822 or email: irfanmufti@gmail.com

— Beena Sarwar

Remembering Kuldip Nayar, journalist, activist, peacemonger

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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.

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

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