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

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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

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.

Days after Asma Jahangir passed away in Lahore, some of us, members of what I think of as Asma’s tribe, got together at Harvard 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 :

Continue reading

Pakistani, Indian citizens appeal: “Let’s talk peace”

Over 400 artists, writers, activists, academics, lawyers, businesspeople, journalists and students from Pakistan and India appeal to their governments, fellow citizens, politicians and media to strive for peaceful relations between the two countries

Sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik’s piece for Raksha Bandhan at Puri beach, Odisha, with a message urging India and Pakistan to “Stop Bullets, Be Friends”

Sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik’s piece for Raksha Bandhan at Puri beach, Odisha, with a message urging India and Pakistan to “Stop Bullets, Be Friends”

It started out as an admin note to members of the Aman ki Asha Facebook group, by volunteer moderator Samir Gupta on August 30, 2015. The pinned post he put up on the AKA group wall read:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.23.14 PM“Peace or war?
———————–
As our governments and militaries lose their minds and continue to escalate this dangerous game of military conflict, it is the duty of all members of this group to stand together and demand peace in all fora available. We expect members to be responsible for peace and refrain from making provocative posts and comments. We expect you to be bipartisan”

Several group members commented there, expressing their support for the idea. Continue reading

Pakistanis against Terrorism: Global Vigil, March 2015

NOTE: This is the first blog post I’ve done since Feb 21, 2015. That day a beloved, courageous and wise childhood friend lost her fight to cancer. I dedicate this post to Poppy, Shayan Afzal Khan, always so incredibly supportive, bold and outspoken for the liberal, progressive, secular Pakistan she believed in. She was there at the first Global Vigil in London in January. “A defiant figure in bright red lipstick and a yellow bobble hat, she yelled anti-Taliban slogans,” as Moni Mohsin wrote. Miss you and love you forever. We will keep the torch alive and see your dream come true, Inshallah. 

Never Forget PK March 15-16 Since the barbaric massacre of school children and teachers in Peshawar on 16 December, 2014, Pakistanis in the country and abroad have been converging for monthly global protest vigil around the 16th of every month. The third Global Vigil is taking place in several cities on Sunday 15th and on Monday 16th March in the following cities we know of so far:  Continue reading

There is no ‘honour’ in killing – Sept 2008, sadly still relevant

samia sarwar

Not just the ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ – Samia Sarwar was murdered in her lawyer’s office by a man abetted by her own mother, a doctor.

The outrage against the murder of Farzana Parveen outside the Lahore High Court reminded me of something I wrote in September 2008, published in The News, Pakistan and in The Hindu, India, below. Farzana was going to the court to testify that she had married her husband of her own choice (defending him against kidnapping charges her family had brought against him). Such murders for ‘honour’ are common in the region. In Pakistan, the situation is exacerbated by the Qisas and Diyat law which enables the perpetrators to literally get away with murder (as Raymond Davis did). This case is particularly horrific because of where it happened and because the woman was three months pregnant.  See booklet by Hassam Qadir Shah: Honour killing-criminal procedures-Hassam Qadir Shah-Shirkat Gah (2002, PDF) 

There is no ‘honour’ in killing, Sept 2008

[Note: in my published article, I had mixed up the names, corrected below – the correct names are Saima Waheed and Samia Sarwar Continue reading

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