IN SOLIDARITY: Charlestown families honour Malala Yusufzai at Bunker Hill, Boston

Joanne Samuelson lights a candle for Malala

“Families in Charlestown are gathering on Bunker Hill monument on Sunday October 14 at 5:30 pm to hold a vigil for Malala Yousafzai. Please try to attend and spread the word, all welcome,” read the email circulated by the Pakistani Association of Greater Boston on behalf of Joanne Samuelson, a Boston resident who works at M.I.T.

The drizzly weather cleared away allowing the sun to come out in time to endorse the gathering at this historic spot in Charlestown, Boston, the site of a major battle between the revolutionaries and the British colonists. Continue reading

Good news from Pakistan (besides the Oscar award): LUMS to create Abdus Salam Chair

Update to the news below: Professor Asad Abidi Named the Inaugural Holder of the Abdus Salam Chair at LUMS, (Jan. 2017)

Exciting news from Adil Najam, Vice Chancellor of LUMS – for those who don’t know him, Dr. Adil Najam was the Frederick S. Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy at Boston University and served as a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), work for which the IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore. He left BU (where his office had the most gorgeous view overlooking the Charles River) to head the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Continue reading

Zarteef Khan Afridi: The tribesman who showed the way

Zarteef Afridi's latest photo. Courtesy: HRCP

A tribute to the human rights activist Zarteef Khan Afridi who was shot dead recently – my article in The News on Sunday. Latitude News earlier published a shorter, different version titled In Pakistan, an unlikely hero dies for his cause. Also see my earlier article: Pakistan’s ‘enlightenment’ martyrs

The tribesman who showed the way

There was the letter from an anonymous writer saying he was going to hunt down and kill her. And then there was the letter from an Afridi tribesman offering to come down and protect her.

This was in the mid-1990s. The recipient of the letters was the fiery human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, under threat for having taken on the case of Salamat Masih, the illiterate Christian boy sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ for having allegedly written sacrilegious words on the walls of a village mosque. Continue reading

Pakistan curriculum urgently needs change

The findings of the report “Connecting the Dots:  Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan” are dire, but not new (Summary at press release below, forwarded to me by The Mirror, a publication of the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace). Pakistani academics have long been pressing for a reform of the curriculum, for example through reports like The Subtle Subversion (SDPI, 2003). The jihadisation of the curriculum includes inane prerequisites like religious studies for medical students – the Supreme Court recently provisionally allowed a Hindu student to sit for the medical college entry test. All this must change. But lest we forget, the idea of Jehad was incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan war, because it suited Washington, and Pakistan to encourage and glorify the “Mujahideen” (holy warriors) in the war against the Soviets. An American institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools accordingly. “The institution was University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a center for Afghan studies which was tasked by CIA in the early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left, kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about 2002,” says Dr A.H. Nayyar, one of the co-editors of the SDPI report, quoted in my article Jehad and the curriculum,’ 2004. Continue reading

General observations about Pakistan floods

Some general observations from the floods of 2010, which are sadly relevant again:

  • People affected by the floods (last year as well as now) were already among the poorest begin with although they do include some well-off farmers and trades-people too, in areas where there was already little access to education and healthcare.
  • The relief camps set up last year brought an unexpected silver lining in the opportunity to many flood affected people who had access to a doctor or a teacher – for the FIRST time in their lives – at the relief camps. This indicates the level of underdevelopment in Pakistan, the huge percentage of the population that lacks access to healthcare and education. Continue reading

Women rock the boat

Pakistani women demand their rights. Photo: courtesy Nasir Mansoor, LPP

WOMEN’S DAY RALLY IN KARACHI: Thousands of working class women, many of them home based women workers, with red flags in their hands marched on roads of Karachi, chanting slogans against ‘mullahism’, religious extremism and for their democratic rights. The march started from Karachi Press Club and culminated at the Arts Council of Pakistan where a seminar was held in the open air theatre followed by songs, theatre and documentaries. They demanded: *End all discriminatory laws against women and minorities *End religious fundamentalism *Recognize home based women workers as workers in law, extend social security cover to them *Equal opportunity to women in all fields of life

Also see: Dedicated to Pyari Pakistanis: Happy Women’s Day, y’all! a delightful sum up of the situation of Pakistani women, with statistics and action points, by blogger and cartoonist Mehreen Kasana. Check it out 🙂

Karachi rally speakers and demands: Continue reading

Remembering Saneeya Hussain on her birthday

Here’s a note I sent out to the Saneeya Hussain yahoogroup yesterday, Aug 13th, her birthday – please do check out the link about the Saneeya Hussain Trust:Saneeya Homepage

Dear family and friends of Saneeya, scattered all over the world, this huge community of caring and committed people working in all kinds of ways to make the world a better place in their own ways

Here’s to Saneeya – we’ll always miss her. It is wonderful that the Saneeya Hussain Trust is up and running. Please do check it out at http://www.saneeyahussaintrust.com/ – The Trust has already done a lot of valuable work in terms of helping young girls obtain an education.

Several months ago I wrote a chapter for a forthcoming book on environmental journalism being published (eventually, we hope) by Sage, India. It focuses to some extent on Saneeya and Nazeeha had it posted to the SHT website for those who are interested
http://www.saneeyahussaintrust.com/PakistanChapterforSageIndiaAug08.pdf

I finally made a blog (on which I post my own articles and other material that I also send to my issues yahoogroup) – have linked the SHT to it also. I’d encourage all those of you who maintain blogs or websites to do the same.

That’s all for now from hot and muggy Karachi

beena

Peace please, musically

No Saazish No Jung - Times of India, July14-09-

No Saazish No Jung - Times of India, July14-09-

Shahvar Ali Khan: “No Saazish, No Jung”

In January I posted out information to my  yahoogroup about a joint signature campaign between Indians and Pakistanis, and also a note from a Lahori who loves Mumbai, Shahvar Ali Khan

(A Lahori’s love for Mumbai; Pk-India joint signature campaign – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/beena-issues/message/1028)com/

Recently, Shahvar wrote, composed and sang a song “No Saazish, No Jung” (no conspiracy, no war) – which you can download at – http://www.shahvaralikhan.com/

I’m thrilled that it’s getting some media attention even without a video. There was a piece in Instep, The News on Sunday, Pakistan on July 06, 2009, and this piece in Times of India, July 14, 2009 – ‘Now a song for Indo-Pak peace’ –
http://tinyurl.com/TOI-Shahvar

Below, text of the Press Trust of India report of July 7, 2009 published in Indian papers:

Pak singer puts Gandhi, Jinnah together in appeal for peace

Islamabad (PTI): A Pakistani singer has combined the voices of Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto and US President Barack Obama in a new song that makes an impassioned plea for peace in the region.

Shahvaar Ali Khan’s “No Saazish, No Jung” is a peace anthem that tells “mullahs” and “foreigners” to leave his country alone.

Mullayae na kar tung, oo guraya na kar tung, meino rahen dae malang, mein nach nach kai larni yae jang de nal jang (Don’t bother me mullahs/Don’t bother me foreigners/Let me remain a free spirit/I will dance away and fight your war),” goes the song in Punjabi that combines a hard rock guitar riff with a folksy backing.

Khan, 25, said he plans to make a video based on the song. “I plan to shoot the video in Mumbai so that it will be an India-Pakistan peace initiative,” he said.

He is in touch with several Indian directors and is also looking for sponsors and TV channels to back the video so that it can be ready for release by the time Pakistan and India celebrate their independence days on August 14 and 15 respectively.

The song combines excerpts from speeches by Gandhi, Jinnah, Bhutto and Obama.

The voice of Gandhi can be heard intoning “…in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists”.

‘This wonderful Doc…’

NOTE: A slightly longer version of this article was published in ‘The News on Sunday’, July 5 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/tns-doc – also uploaded at This wonderful doc (2) at the Dr Sarwar website . The title is borrowed from Ali Jafari’s tribute posted at the Dr Sarwar site which also contains contributions by I.A. Rehman, Dr Badar Siddiqi, S.M. Naseem, Eric Rahim, Salima Hashmi, Drs Anwar and Abdullah Mangi and Dr Asif Ali Hameedi and others.

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

She is not the grave-visiting sort. A white-haired dynamo with luminous eyes she pioneered teacher training and teaching English as a second language in large classrooms with limited resources. The activism she brought with her from Pratapgarh in UP, India, to Pakistan in the late 1950s has remained, nurtured and encouraged by the life partner she found.

Zakia met Sarwar after moving to Karachi from Lahore in 1961. The unconventional, dashing, long-limbed Allahabad-born doctor was known as the ‘hero of the January movement’. He came to Karachi after Partition and joined Dow Medical College. There, he started Pakistan’s first student union, catalysing the first nation-wide inter-collegiate students’ body. When the government ignored their demands related to fees, lab and hostel facilities, the students held a ‘Demands Day’ procession on January 8, 1953. Confronted by armed police, Sarwar tried to stop the students from surging ahead. Police opened fire. Seven students died on that ‘Black Day’. Several, including Sarwar, were injured.

Sarwar and his even taller older brother Akhtar were jailed (Sarwar received his final MBBS results in 1954 while in prison for a year) during the crackdown on progressive forces, after Pakistan and America signed a military pact.

Akhtar’s sudden death (pneumonia) in 1958 at the peak of his career devastated his circle of progressive writers, poets, activists and journalists. Sarwar, who had been particularly close to Akhtar, insisted that everyone get on with their work and not sit around mourning.

Zakia’s older brother Zawwar Hasan was also close to Akhtar. They had played field hockey for rival college teams in Allahabad, re-connecting as sports journalists in Karachi. Some years later, when Zawwar’s young children were ill, Zakia would take them to Sarwar’s clinic nearby.

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Defying the dictatorship: 1983 mushaira at PMA House – Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Their romance included outings like seeing off the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. “As a comrade, his relationship with Abba was an unspoken clear bond based on a shared understanding of the universal struggle for a just human order,” says Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter.

Sarwar and Zakia married in September 1962, overcoming parental apprehensions about religious differences (Shi’a, Sunni). Neither was religious. Akhtar would have approved, as Zawwar did.

As their eldest child, one of my earliest memories is Zakia and other college teachers on hunger strike, demanding an end to the exploitation of teachers. Sarwar supported her against the muttered disapproval (‘women from good families out on the streets’), as always, giving her the space to develop her potential.

He practiced as a general physician for nearly fifty years from a modest clinic in a low-income area, treating struggling workers, journalists, artists and writers free. He was contemptuous of doctors who charged high fees, prescribing costly tests and medicines where less expensive ones would do. He helped launch the Pakistan Medical Association and its affiliated Medical Gazette – platforms that have played a significant role in Pakistan’s progressive politics.

Diagnosed with cancer in August 2007 (‘stage four’, pancreas, metastasis to the lungs), he remained characteristically calm and good humoured. “Look,” he reasoned, “everyone has to die. If this is how I have to go, so be it.”

He refused to give up drinking or smoking, reminding us of friends who died early despite giving up such habits. When a cousin’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer, he asked wryly, “And does she also smoke?”

He defied doctors’ predictions of ‘maybe six months…’. “To look into the eyes of  a killer disease, and yet not roll over is something that the bravest could envy,” wrote Zawwar in October last year.

Friends flocked to ‘Doc’, hosting parties at his home when he was too weak to go out. Emerging from anaesthesia after getting a blocked bile duct cleared this April, one of his first questions was about the Indian elections. At home, when his breathing became dangerously obstructed, doctors suggested suctioning out excess fluid in intensive care, with the risk of lung collapse and life support if the procedure failed. He waved his hand and pronounced, ‘No point, no point’.

He died peacefully in his sleep that night, half an hour after I kissed him goodnight. “Sleep well Babba,” I said.

“Goodnight,” he replied, clasping my hand back. “Go to sleep.”

Zakia now takes time out from her work to sit by his last resting place. It gives her peace.

This article was first published in HardNews, New Delhi – http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3060

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

`Pakistan: Chaos unto Order?’ and ‘syllabus of hate’

1. `Pakistan: Chaos unto Order?’ by Haris Gazdar in EPW (Economic & Political Weekly, June 6, 2009 vol XLIV no 23).

Extract: The Pakistani military finally appears to have embraced the war against jihadi militancy as its own. If so, an
important shift in perception and policy has taken place. Past experience, however, demands caution before coming to any hasty conclusions.
Comment by Shaheryar Azhar in the Forum: “this is an excellent article – cuts through the fog of confusion. Those who have denied it can perhaps now understand what the big deal was about the ‘deal’ bravely made by both parties –
PPP and General Musharraf, which is what put into motion where we are now. Million dollar question remains whether overtime there will remain the political will that will be crucially required on a sustained basis within the military, politicians and the general public to fight this to the bitter end?”

PakTeaHouse link: http://tinyurl.com/gazdar-epw

2. `Awaiting changes to a syllabus of hate’ by Nirupama Subramanian, Islamabad correspondent for The Hindu, June 09, 2009

Extract: In April, the federal Cabinet put off approving the draft indefinitely, …until the Education Ministry makes the policy “more comprehensive, covering every aspect of education sector which needs improvement along with an
implementable work plan.” But no urgency is visible in the Ministry to get cracking on this task. Another concern is that the Education Minister is not known for his progressive views, especially on gender issues.

http://tinyurl.com/syll-hate

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