A visafree Southasia? Really?

It’s a dream, and aspiration. To quote Gulzar’s beautiful poem, “Ankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnoN ke sarhad koi nahiN” (Eyes don’t need a visa, dreams don’t have frontiers)

So there’s this dream: Southasia is a region with soft borders, like the European Union, or like the Southasia region itself was, prior to 1965.

We’ve long been calling for dialogue to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The call for soft borders and allowing people-to-people contact takes this further. Letting people meet, travel, and trade will benefit the region economically, as well as reduce misunderstandings and violent extremism.

Check out the list of demands – we know it’s a long shot, but we desis are used to bargaining – sign and share this online petition, coordinated by the Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan. As of today, over 36,000 signatures and counting. Help us reach 50,000.

Here’s a compilation of the organisations collaborating on this so far. More are joining. Each person counts, like the drops that make up the ocean.

We may not attain the dream in our lifetime but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Logos of participating organisations. Being updated on the petition site as more join.

The petition is addressed to the prime ministers and foreign offices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka allow visa-on-arrival. This is how it starts:

“This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain. 

“It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman. 

“It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”. 

Details at the petition online at this link.

Need to promptly repatriate cross-border prisoners, especially if they die…

Over 30 organizations around Southasia and beyond have endorsed a joint statement about cross-border prisoners initiated and coordinated by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, calling for the humane treatment of cross-border prisoners and to decriminalise inadvertent illegal border crossings.

Titled ‘Release prisoners on completion of jail term, decriminalise inadvertent border crossings, especially for fisherfolk and minors‘, the statement draws attention to the death of two Indian fisherfolk in Pakistani custody this year, and the death of a Pakistani fisherman of Bengali origin in India’s custody last year.

All three had served their sentences but remained in custody on ‘the other side’. Compounding the tragedy, there are terrible delays in the repatriation of the bodies of such fisherfolk, notes the statement.

The statement also draws attention to some teenagers who remain incarcerated in juvenile centers in India, mostly without any contact with their families. One has already served his sentence but remains incarcerated. Details below – Statement text and endorsements:

Arrested fisherfolk in custody across the border, far from home, no consular access until after sentence is over, often kept in custody even after serving their sentences. File photo. Getty images
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May Day and Eid greetings: Solidarity with workers around the world and Southasia

It was activist friend Kavita Srivastava in Jaipur who suggested focusing on ‘Labour Rights and Democracy’ for our April event ahead of May Day. Like all Sapan events since launch in March 2022 – the Southasia Peace Action Network – this was also on the last Sunday of the month.

As usual, we live-streamed the discussion on FB – video at this link. We truly appreciate all the ‘likes’, comments and shares that help ensure that our voices are heard amidst the din.

Thanks to old friend and talented musician Arieb Azhar in Islamabad for agreeing to sing at the last minute. Dhonobad Khushi Kabir in Dhaka for transliterating the first verse of the workers’ anthem, The Internationale in Bangla for him. She knows them all by heart. Arieb also sang some of his own verses in Urdu, reflecting contemporary realities. He’s doing an English translation to add. Here’s the clip – thanks Priyanka Singh in Delhi for uploading it so fast.

Priyanka has a great affinity for music and poetry – she was reciting a poem at the online PIPFPD event in January 2021 where I first ‘met’ her. Not surprised she also took time out to post the extempore song by young Lucky Akter in Dhaka ended her presentation with. A former former student activist working with Bangladesh’s oldest and largest peasant organisation, Lucky’s stirring call for rights is lovely even if you don’t understand Bangla.

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Pakistan Constitution upheld – for now

Rajdeep Sardesai: A stable Pakistan is in India’s interests. Screenshot by Tej Kaul from yesterday’s show.

Thanks to the Pakistan Supreme Court for the unanimous judgement upholding the opposition’s right to a no-confidence motion and declaring as void the ruling party’s attempt to dissolve the assembly and hold fresh elections. The situation had many of us on tenterhooks given its potential to disrupt the democratic political process that has only just begun taking hold in the country.

Since 2008, only two cycles of elected governments have completed their term and handed over power to the next one without the assemblies being dissolved. Imran Khan was the third political leader to grasp the baton of this relay. If he passed the baton on to the next elected government that would be a historic hat-trick in Pakistan’s history and hopefully strengthen the process and pave the way for it to continue. He can still redeem himself by doing that after losing the no-confidence move on Saturday and stepping into the opposition.

Of course elections aren’t the be-all and end-all of a democratic political process. But as the wise know, the process is crucial. As a sportsman, Imran Khan should know that the game is only an event that needs an ongoing, continuous process of rigorous, consistent training.

Unfortunately the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team has turned out to be a sore loser. My commiserations to his supporters, many of whom had placed their hopes in him to improve the system. They need to recognise that an individual can’t do this alone. He has to work with others, and needs to pick the right people for his team. And stay in the game.

I shared my views on Al Jazeera last Sunday, and yesterday on a panel discussion with Rajdeep Sardesai at India Today, both linked here.

(ends)

Sara Suleri bows out

Sharing personal memories of the brilliant Sara Suleri whose genre-defying book Meatless Days inspired generations of writers, feminists, memoirists and dislocated Southasians. Thanks Ailia Zehra at The Friday Times for asking me to write this piece. Published as a Sapan syndicated feature in TFT, The Wire, Geo TV blog, South Asia Monitor and The Print – shared here with additional pix and links.

February 2018: Sara Suleri pays tribute to Asma Jahangir. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

PERSONAL-POLITICAL

By Beena Sarwar

March 25, 2022, Sapan News Service:

Aur bataiye” – tell me more, a polite invitation to keep talking. I can hear her voice, perhaps naturally husky, made deeper with years of cigarette smoking and perhaps more recently with pain and other medications.

She’d send her love to Pakistan whenever I’d call before flying out from Boston, where we had both ended up around ten years ago – she after retiring as Professor Emeritus of English from Yale University. I had transplanted myself from my home city Karachi where I was editing Aman Ki Asha, hope for peace – between India and Pakistan.

“Dream on!” I hear Sara say. And yet, she agrees, it’s important to keep going. She’s also a hundred percent supportive of our push for a regional approach – the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan, the more recent endeavour, launched last year with a wonderful group of inter-generational, cross-border peacemongers.

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Wanted: Adult behaviour in SouthAsia

The last Sapan – South Asia Peace Action Network – event of the year was titled “Growing up, growing together” with activists across the region resolving to continue working for a better tomorrow. It was wonderful to hear so many young people speak – most under 35 years old. Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make the event a success – including the poetry and music at the end. Sapan’s next monthly event on the last Sunday of January will have more music and culture.

The Facebook Live recording of the recent meeting is available at this link – video log online at this link. Here’s a feature report about the event.

Commemorating Human Rights Day, the founding of SAARC, and 50 years of Bangladesh’s independence, Sapan discussion highlights the commonality of human rights issues across the region

Some of the participants at the event – most speakers were under 35-years old. Screenshot.
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The continuing trauma of Kashmir

Sharing below a press release rejecting India’s continued violations of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir – from the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), the region’s largest and oldest people-to-people organisation, launched in 1994.

Also below – a PDF of the just-released report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an informal group of concerned citizens including retired Indian judges and armed forces personnel. The Forum aims to ensure attention to continuing human rights violations in the disputed region that both India and Pakistan claim. This is its third report.

#WIthKashmir – courtesy PIPFPD
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MSR’s ongoing incarceration: “There still remain journalists in this country determined to hold their ground”

The March 12 arrest of Mir Shakilur Rahman sent shockwaves through journalist and human rights communities, Here’s a link to my piece about this issue in The Washington Post today: In Pakistan, a bizarre arrest shows how media freedom is being squeezed.

But even if he is granted bail now – after over 100 days of being denied his liberty and that too at a time of Covid — this will be a minor victory  achieved at a huge cost, not only for Rahman, but also for media freedom and democracy in Pakistan.

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The need for ‘radical love’ – Cornel West, Dalit and Sheedi solidarity, and a #WC4BL Boston report

This is a follow up to my earlier post about physicians of Pakistani and Indian origin, already in the frontlines of the Covid19 battle in the US, stepping up in the war against a longer-running pandemic, racism. We know that racism is not limited to the US. In our home countries in South Asia, it is expressed as casteism and oppression of vulnerable communities.

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Tribute to a nationalistic hawk-turned-peacemonger with a SouthAsian vision

Lahore, 1992: Dr Syeda Hameed with Dr Mubashir Hasan, uncle, comrade and mentor. Photo by Reza Kazim.

With the world in the grip of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to find space for anything else. As horrors unfolded in country after country, exposing the hollowness behind military might, glittering capitalist facades, and exploitation, a gentle soul slipped into the hereafter at his house in Lahore. At 98, he had spent the last half of his life fighting for exactly the kind of egalitarian, people centered system that would have mitigated the ravages of Covid-19. There have been some wonderful tributes to Dr Mubashir Hasan. Two of the best I’ve seen are by his old friend I.A. Rehman and Indian journalist Nirupama Subramaniam in Indian Express, also published in Aman Ki Asha.

Below, my tribute to Dr M. in The News on Sunday last weekend, a follow up to my piece in The Wire earlier. Also below, two previously unpublished pieces I am honoured to present here — a powerful, poignant poem in Dr M’s memory by his niece in Delhi, and a lively little remembrance by a 12-year old based on her memories of the Chaukas collective meetings she attended with her mother, that led to A New Social Contract published by Dr M, 2016. Also linking here this tribute in Mainstream Weekly magazine, Kolkata, founded by Dr Mubashir’s friend Nikhil Chakravartty — “one of the greatest journalists of the subcontinent” as Dr M called him — now edited by his son Sumit Chakravartty.

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