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:

“There is tension on the border due to Kashmir issue. But we have been getting huge response from the public. Sentiment on ground is different from social media where people have been trolling each other and spreading hate. On ground, people are coming to greet us. We are encouraged by the response. We have plans to light candles at Indo-Pak border on the midnight of August 14 and 15. We hope security forces will allow us this peace gesture like last year,” said Ravi, adding that this year, the yatra is dedicated to Shri Guru Nanak Dev on his 550th anniversary.

From Delhi to Wagah, a yatra for peace gets warm response.

My article below.

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

Indian Army Col. (rtd) Ahluwalia with the peace marchers at Karnal, Haryana. Photo: Ravi Nitesh

Beena Sarwar

As India and Pakistan enter yet another tense phase in relations following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as an autonomous state, peace activists from either side continue their efforts to call for normalizing relations between the two nuclear-armed nations.

The annual Aman Dosti Yatra (Peace and Friendship March) was launched from Delhi Monday, with prominent Indian citizens. Public interactions are planned at more than ten places along the way in India starting with Rajghat in Delhi. Other points include Harijan Sevak Sangh, Murthal, Gannuar, Samalkha, Panipat, Gharonda, Karnal, Taraori, Shahbad, Ambala, Ludhiana, and finally Amritsar. Participants include locals from all walks of life and from different regions of India.

The midnight candle light vigil of 14-15 August is a legacy of late Kuldeep Nayar and Nikhil Chakravarty in India, and late Asma Jahangir and Dr Mubashir Hasan in Pakistan, who started this yearly tradition over two decades ago.

The Yatra takes forward the cause of peace that they and many others on both sides have advocating and working for all their lives. Last year’s Aman-Dosti Yatra was flagged off in Delhi by Kuldeep Nayar, despite his failing health. It was his last public appearance. He passed away barely 10 days later. 

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

Every year, thousands of people show up at the multiple public meetings held along the way at the Aman Dosti yatra and express their support for the peace cause. This is quite different from the dominant narrative perpetuated by the mainstream as well as social media.

The launch ceremony in Delhi this year included eminent citizens like Dr. Mohini Giri, former Chairperson National Women Commission, founder Guild for Service, and Founder Trustee Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia; former Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar; Dr Syeda Hameed, author, and former member Planning Commission; Kamla Bhasin, feminist and founder member organisations like Sangat and Jago Ri; Prof Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh; as well as several others. They were joined by other eminent personalities like writer Ram Sharan Joshi, cartoonist Abid Surti, former Commissioner, Haryana T. K. Sharma, activist Dr Shanker Lal among others.

Local activists and organizers of annual Hind-Pak Dosti Mela in Amritsar will join the marchers to light candles on Wagah border at midnight of 14-15 August “as a symbol of hope for peace, open borders, and to foster people to people relations between India-Pakistan”, says Devika Mittal of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, one of the supporting organisations.

Supporting groups in India include Nirmala Deshpande Sansthan, United Religion Initiative, Gandhi Global Family, Mission Bhartiyam, National Youth Project, Khudai khidmatgar Hind  and Hali Panipati Trust.

At Karnal a couple of hours drive from Delhi, the marchers were welcomed by Prof Abrol and other locals at Jaat Bhawan, the hall decorated with posters of peace poetry and quotes. Providing updates, Ravi Nitesh said that the passion for IndoPak Peace “lives on in the hearts of common people without being affected by social media and states”.

Speaking at the event, Indian Army Col. (Rtd) Ahluwalia welcomed the marchers, supported their call for peace and shared his friendly experiences with Pakistani counterparts in 1982 at Suchetgarh border region. The local hosts included renowned writer activist Dr Pavan Arya, along with Harpal Singh Kamboj and several other leading faces from Ambala.

Throughout their journey, and especially in the Punjab, the marchers have come across “huge support for India-Pakistan peace”, says Nitesh. “People stayed on even when it got late”.

Locals adding their support at different places included advocates, judges and other social activists. The overwhelming consensus was for hope for peace that they all desired, adds Nitesh.

Khadi Ashram, Panipat: Huge support for peace. Photo: Ravi Nitesh

At Panipat the marchers convened at Khadi Ashram, where the portraits on the wall include a famous photograph of M. K. Gandhi and M.A. Jinnah together. Welcoming the marchers, Khadi Ashram members talked about the poets Hali and Meer, and how Pakistan and India are two countries but one heart. They sang Mera Rang de Basanti Chola, the famous song commemorating shared hero Bhagat Singh Shaheed.

Mumbai-based journalist and longtime peace activist Jatin Desai who reached Attari on 13 August was among those who paid tributes at the Martyrs Monument built to pay tribute to the thousands of people, mostly Punjabis, who were killed during partition. From where he stood, he could see Pakistani flag across the border at Wagah.

Haryana-based singer and filmmaker Abhay Punjabi, who has roots in Sukkur, Sindh, is among the busload of peace lovers who reached Amritsar on the night of 13 August to participate in the event. Punjabi shared photos and brief descriptions of his fellow travelers to social media, providing a glimpse of the kind of people joining the 14-15 August commemoration.

Meanwhile, headed over from Delhi to Amritsar, well known feminist activists Kamla Bhasin and Dr Syeda Hameed learnt to their dismay that their friends in Pakistan had to cancel their plans to reach Wagah border on 14 August to participate in the joint Independence Day due to lack of government permission.

“Today in Amritsar. Two flags” – Dr. Syeda Hameed

However, the Freedom and Peace seminar on 14 August in Lahore is going ahead as planned at the South Asia Free Media Association auditorium, with several organisations participating.

The Pakistan government has designated 15 August, India’s Independence Day, as a Black Day in support of Kashmiris. There is some irony here since this was also Pakistan’s original Independence Day, as evident from the first speech of the Father of the Nation broadcast live on national radio: “August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan”. Pakistan’s first commemorative postage stamps released in July 1948, also mention 15 August 1947 as Independence Day as does the cover of the Press Information Department’s Independence Anniversary Series on August 15, 1948.

Pakistan commemorative stamps and Press Information Department publication listing Independence Day as 15 August

In support of the Pakistan government’s call, expatriate Pakistanis in UK are planning to hold a demonstration at the Indian Embassy in London. Their call to stand in solidarity with “oppressed Kashmiris suffering from human rights abuse perpetrated by India” may have more clout if they also express solidarity with those suffering from human rights abuses at home Pakistan.

Some Indians provoked by this are planning a counter protest at the same venue, calling for their fellow expatriates to turn up and “outnumber Pakistanis”. This should be easy enough, considering there are many more Indians than Pakistanis around.

These demonstrations and counter-demonstrations will provide good grist for the sensation-hungry media mill but are unlikely to help the Kashmiris. Nor will they contribute towards peace in the region, which should be the aim of anyone who wants to leave a better future for coming generations.

(ends)

Muna’s ordeal

Wom-violence-Pakistan-Getty-2010

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.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

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 

Kuldip Nayar Pk prog

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.

Kuldip, Nandita, Asma J

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

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.

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

Asma’s tribe: a remembrance at Harvard

Shahla Haeri-pic Ibrahim Rashid

Iranian anthropologist Shahla Haeri pays tribute to her Pakistani behen Asma. Photo: Ibrahim Rashid.

After Asma Jahangir passed away in Lahore, some of us, members of what I think of as Asma’s tribe, got together at Harvard, 17 Feb, to commemorate her life, impact and achievements. We had lots of flowers, and music, and chai and samosas – she loved these things and loved hosting people. The languages spoken — English, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and Farsi — are a testament to Asma’s reach. Below, two reports about the event by students at Emerson College and Wellesley College, with video clips of some speakers’ comments. All video clips online on Vimeo, courtesy Rick Brotman. Cambridge Community Television will run a full video of the event next Saturday. Here’s the slideshow we displayed at the event :

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