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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Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends

Two wonderful colleagues and friends departed this world rather suddenly within days of each other last month, leaving behind multitudes to mourn their loss — and celebrate their lives: Khalid Hameed Farooqui, Geo News correspondent in Brussels, 7 May, and Editor The News Talat Aslam, 25 May. We honoured both at the In Memoriam section of the Southasia Peace or Sapan event on the last Sunday of May, along with others.

Khalid Hameed Farooqui: A lifetime of politics, journalism, and activism in Europe and Pakistan.
Talat Aslam: His tweets @Titojourno gathered a fan following for his posts on politics, food, film, music and nocturnal wanderings in Karachi.

The tribute to Khalid by European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer in a press briefing shortly after Khalid’s passing speaks for the respect he inspired amongst colleagues and political figures:

TNS page on Talat Aslam, online, TNS e-paper, 29 May 2022

Friend Saifullah Saify in Amsterdam organised a wonderful online tribute for Khalid, with tributes from personalities like Farhatullah Babar, and journalists Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Munizae Jahangir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Murtaza Solangi, Mazhar Abbas, Raza Rumi, Nazir Leghari – see video clips at this playlist on his YouTube channel.

Sharing below my piece on Tito, as friends and family called Talat, one of three articles carried by The News on Sunday in a full page tribute. The two other remembrances, by colleagues Zia ur Rehman and Gulraiz Khan, are online here. My piece includes a couple of my illustrations for Tito’s columns in The Star 1986-88.

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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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RIP Saquib Hanif: A meticulous editor, generous friend, passionate cultural aficionado

Death brings people together. I had known Saquib Hanif and his wife Nadia Chundrigar for years in Karachi without really knowing them. We spent a lot of time together when they came to Boston 2015 for the funeral of Saquib’s childhood buddy, the brilliant Nasser Hussain, younger brother of one of my old school friends. Now, it is Saquib’s sudden death, aged just 57, that brings us together again.

Thanks to The News on Sunday for asking me to write his obituary, published on the same page as another obituary, of Tasneem Siddiqui, the top former ‘pro-people” bureaucrat and social activist who died recently from a cardiac arrest, aged 82. We had run into him at the Karachi Gymkhana just a couple of weeks earlier. He had attended a meeting on the morning he died.

In the process of working on Saquib’s obituary, I talked to old friends Amra Ali and Salman Rashid – their contrasting views of Saquib would no doubt have amused him greatly. Also sharing Salman Rashid’s lovely video – he had talked to me about these aspects of Saquib the day before recording it.

I took the photos below the day Saquib and Nadia were leaving. There was intense grief, and yet we found it within ourselves to laugh.

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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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Undaunted by temple attack, Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children yearns to return home

This is a followup report to a piece I did in May about a Pakistani Hindu family that migrated to India but wants to go home to Pakistan, made more desperate after a personal tragedy. This not about patriotism or religion but humanity. p.s. I sent this report to several media houses. It’s been published in The News, NayaDaur, South Asia Monitor, The Wire, Aman Ki Asha, Pakistan TodayVibes of India, and its Gujrati portal and others. Note the credit at the end — Sapan News. This report may be a soft launch for syndicated service I’ve long dreamt of. Sapan News is linked with the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan, recently initiated by some of us. Check it out! Grateful for your support.

A couple of weeks ago, Ajeet Kumar borrowed a car and took his children on a rare outing: Coping with bereavement and desperate to go home. Photo: Supplied.

A Pakistani Hindu stuck in India with three children after his wife died in April is pleading with the authorities to let him return to before Independence Day, August 14.

“Mein TooT gaya huN – I am broken,” says Ajeet Kumar Nagdev, 41, speaking on phone in Urdu from Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. His wife Rekha Kumari, 38, died on April 22, a day before the last Attari-Wagah border opening. “What can I do? The children break me, but I have to get up and keep going.”

Struggling to look after them, fearful of what will happen if one of them gets sick or if something happens to him, Nagdev feels trapped. He worries about their schooling. They miss their mother.

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PFUJ condemns abduction of two journalists, announces countrywide protest on Monday

UPDATE 5.45 PST: Journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat released on bail. Federal Investigation Agency says they were arrested for their alleged contempt against Judiciary, Army and some “women”…

Tweet from Amir Mir’s brother journalist Hamid Mir

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I don’t normally post back-to-back but the situation warrants it. Hours after my last blogpost Stand in solidarity with journalists, two more journalists have been picked up. What is this andher nagari, land in darkness…?

Image of HRCP tweet – Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) has strongly condemned abduction of two senior journalists Syed Imran Shafqat and Amir Mir from Lahore from their residences in Lahore on Saturday and demanded their immediate release.

The PFUJ also announced to hold countrywide protest from Monday against growing incidents of journalists’ abductions in Pakistan.

The abductors were reportedly from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which, PFUJ, believes is involved in taking actions against the journalists at the behest of the government.

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