Remembering Doc: The importance of civil discourse and the art of listening

At a small gathering last year, our friend S. Ali Jafari read his essay in Urdu about my father, whom he called “Doc”. His son Salman videotaped the reading, which forms the basis of this 14-minute video I edited for 26 May 2019, ten years after Dr M. Sarwar passed away peacefully at home in Karachi, at age 79.

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Good news: Shahidul Alam walks free after over 100 days in Dhaka prison

Shahidul free

“Shahidul is free !! ধন্যবাদ !!! Thank you for your support!!” – message from Dhaka. Best news of the day 🙂

 Press statement from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and
South Asia Media Defenders Network

Dhaka, November 20– After day-long wrangles today between his lawyers and jail authorities in Dhaka over purported “discrepancy” in the prison’s address, internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was set free on bail to joyous scenes this evening. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy’s letter to her jailed comrade Shahidul Alam, who has now been granted bail

Arundhati-By Shahidul

Arundhati Roy with a furry friend. Photo by Shahidul Alam.

Read Arundhati Roy’s letter to Shahidul Alam as part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, 15 November. Today the Dhaka High Court also finally granted bail to Shahidul Alam, been incarcerated for over 100 days. He has yet to be actually released — the government is appealing the court’s decision.

Every November 15 PEN highlights the cases of five persecuted writers and activists imprisoned, killed, persecuted or otherwise at risk for their work. This year’s campaign focuses on Dawit Isaak imprisoned in Eritrea, Miroslava Breach Velducea killed in Mexico, Oleg Sentsov imprisoned in Russia, Shahidul Alam detained in Bangladesh and Wael Abbas imprisoned in Egypt. Writers David Lagercrantz, Jennifer Clement, Tom Stoppard, Salil Tripathi and Khaled Hosseini are also participating in this year’s campaign. Continue reading

Bangladesh #FreeShahidul – my opinion piece in Washington Post yesterday

Shahidul Alam in Central Park, New York, 2012. Photo: Beena Sarwar

The Washington Post published my opinion piece about Shahidul yesterday. Below, a slightly earlier version of the final edited piece for those unable to access WP.

Here’s why Bangladesh made a huge mistake by jailing Shahidul Alam

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Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy among writers, artists urging Bangladesh #FreeShahidul

FreeShahidul

Academics, writers, artists and journalists around the world , including Noam Chomsky, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Patrick Farrell, celebrated writers Arundhati Roy and Bapsi Sidhwa, artist and daughter of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz Salima Hashmi, historian Ayesha Jalal, Urvashi Butalia, and others from Harvard to UC San Diego, have urged the Bangladesh government to free the detained photojournalist Shahidul Alam, picked up on 5 August — see statement and endorsements below. See also eminent photographer Raghu Rai’s powerful open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. and the Change.org petition urging Dhaka police to drop charges and release him.

Shahidul Alam’s detention underlines the growing crackdown on dissenting voices in Bangladesh, in a pattern that is visible elsewhere too. The court denied him bail and gave the  police a seven-day remand. This was subsequently reduced and the court ordered that Shahidul be sent to a hospital and given an immediate medical exam and treatment. However, at the time of writing (Aug 7), he is still at the Detective Branch and has not been moved to hospital. (UPDATE Aug 8: He was moved to hospital amid tight security and a few medical tests conducted. His family was allowed to visit him before he was taken back to the DB Special Branch centre).
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Stifling dissent in Southasia

I earlier posted about resistance to the stifling of dissent in India, and why as a Pakistani it matters to me. The trend is visible in other parts of Southasia too, including of course Pakistan about which I’ve written a fair amount. Here’s an update from Bangladesh, where defamation, sedition cases and the attempts to silence the independent media are underway, as well as Chattisgarh, India.

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Smiles and sedition. Photo: Andrew Biraj, Reuters

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‘A Bangladesh tragedy with universal resonance’

Zara Hayes introducing "Clothes to Die For", with Jennifer Leaning and Ruth Barron.

Zara Hayes introducing “Clothes to Die For”, with Jennifer Leaning and Ruth Barron.

I wrote this piece recently for the Harvard South Asia Institute after attending the screening of a documentary film on the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, “Clothes to Die For”. The screening was followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Zara Hayes whom I’d assumed was Bangladeshi but turned out to be British – “I get that all the time,” she told me.  Continue reading

One Billion Rising: Global campaign against violence against women

Eve Ensler, founder of the One Billion Rising movement. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian.

The well known feminist activist, playwright and actor Eve Ensler has given a call for One Billion Rising campaign that aims to mobilise and bring out one billion people on streets across the world on February 14th, 2013 against violence against women, and in celebration of women’s power (One Billion Rising on Facebook).

Noted women activists from all over South Asia, including Kamla Bhasin of Sangat, OBR’s South Asian coordinator, were at the launch in Nepal. (Photo: WFS)

This, writes Ensler, “is a call to the billion women who have been violated and the men who love them, to the women who have been beaten and raped and mutilated and burned and sold and who know the destruction of the female species heralds the end of human kind. A call to walk out of your homes, your jobs, your schools and find your friends, your group, your place and music and dance” (‘One Billion Rising: Together we can end violence against women’, op-ed in The Guardian). Continue reading

Bengali “Crossfire” reaches U.S.

This is a slightly longer version of my interview of Bangladeshi photographer-activist Shahidul Alam published in Latitude News, May 4, 2012, with reference to his exhibition at Queen’s Museum in New York. The exhibition is an attempt to internationalise the issue of extra-judicial killings. Thousands have been killed in such ‘crossfire’, allegedly at the hands of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that the U.S. and UK governments have been training and providing arms to.

Crossfire @ Queens

Crossfire launch at Queens Museum. Photo: Beena Sarwar

In “Crossfire,” an exhibition of photographs at the Queens Museum of Art in New York that closes on Sunday the 6th, acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam chronicles the extra-judicial killings allegedly committed by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB.Over a thousand victims have been ‘cross-fired,’ or executed by police without trial, in the last four years in the South Asian country, human rights activists claim. Many more people, perhaps thousands in total, have suffered similar fates, they say. Continue reading

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

'Saving Face' co-directors, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy: American-Pakistani cooperation wins

My report for IPS, featuring an interview with Dr Mohammad Jawad, published before ‘Saving Face’ premiered on HBO on March 8, International Womens Day

Acid survivors fight back: a story of hope amidst despair

Beena Sarwar

BOSTON, March 8:  When the Oscar-nominated film ‘Saving Face’ won an Academy Award in Hollywood Best Documentary (Short Subject), it was the triumph of several ‘firsts’: the first time ever that a Pakistani filmmaker had won an Oscar; Pakistan’s first Oscar winner was a woman; and it was the first time that an American and a Pakistani had co-directed an Oscar-winning film. Continue reading

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