Asma Jahangir: A meaningful life, an inspiring legacy

I wrote this piece for a web dossier produced by Heinrich Boell Foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘ 70th anniversary 2018 – Asma Jahangir – ein bedeutungsvolles Leben, ein inspirierendes Erbe. Sharing now, a year after Asma Jahangir has passed on. This piece doesn’t include her role for peace in the region and in the UN system that I’ve written about earlier and also detailed in a longer essay to be printed in an anthology titled Voices of Freedom from Asia and the Middle East, co-edited by Mark Dennis and Rima Abunasser, TCU, is under publication by SUNY Press. Above: Asma Jahangir at her office; still from my documentary Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice (2006)

By Beena Sarwar

The field on the outskirts of Lahore was full of workers waiting to hear the woman from the city speak. They squatted on their haunches with dull hopeless eyes, the drab greys and browns of their clothes at one with the earth they fashioned into bricks to bake in bhattas — kilns that dot the rural landscape of Punjab and upper Sindh. For their back-breaking labour they were paid in kind, leading to generations of indebtedness as the traditional informal economy transitioned into a cash-based system.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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Pakistan #humanrights: Raza Khan’s disappearance highlights missing persons’ issue

Video made by friends of missing peace activist Raza Mehmood Khan to demand his safe and immediate return. Case details below. How can you help? Scroll to the bottom of this post for suggestions. 

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Pakistan: Another peace activist goes missing #FindRaza

Raza- million signature-VAW

Raza Khan with a copy of the One Million Signature Campaign against violence against women, Pakistan

On Saturday, peace activist Raza Khan, 37, went “missing” in Lahore shortly after he had organised a public discussion about the recent ‘dharna’ (sit-in) on the country’s capital that ended in ignominious surrender to those seeking power in the guise of religion. He is a law-abiding, passionate campaigner for peace in the region particularly India, for gender equality and interfaith harmony — all of these are anathema to the keepers of Pakistan’s ‘ideology’. Please sign the online petition urging the government of Pakistan to find him. Share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #FindRaza. A twitter campaign for Raza is planned at 4 p.m. (Pakistan time today, Dec 5), hashtag #FindRaza. More case details below. Continue reading

“Future of Pakistan” Conference: London Declaration 2016

IMG_0602.JPGLondon Declaration for Pluralism and Democracy in Pakistan
October 29, 2016

Several prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals, human rights and social media activists, and public figures from Pakistan gathered in London for a conference on ‘The Future of Pakistan’ organized under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

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Pakistan Must Discard its ‘Good Taliban, Bad Taliban’ Narrative

MULLAH MOHAMMED OMAR

Pakistan needs to counter not just those who come out on the street in support of Taliban Inc. but also those who support them tacitly.

Thanks to The Huffington Post for inviting me to write this opinion piece, published on Dec. 17, 2014.

By Beena Sarwar

The world looks on with horror at the Pakistani Taliban’s barbaric murder of 145 children and teachers at a school in Peshawar.

Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has termed the Peshawar attack a national tragedy, announced three days of national mourning and promised to eradicate the terrorists, real change won’t occur unless Pakistan discards the “good Taliban, bad Taliban” narrative and moves to decisively uphold the rule of law. Continue reading

Pakistan needs #ruleoflaw. Arrest and punish those who murder and those who incite violence

Shama Shehzad and daughter

Shama and Shehzad with one of their daughters, in front of a tropical backdrop. How dare they aspire for a better life?

Update: For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the state has become the plaintiff in a case involving murder due to alleged blasphemy. Let this be the start of a new era where no one dare attack or kill anyone on such a pretext again. Let the rule of law prevail, and religion not be used to cover up heinous crimes.

The vicious cycle continues in the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It will not end unless the ‘takfiri’ (declaring someone a non-Muslim) ideology and justifying murder for alleged ‘blasphemy’ are not curbed. Once again a violent mob incited by calls from mosque pulpits has killed on the basis of such allegations. Once again the motive was not ‘religious’ but financial (as often happens). Rule of law MUST be imposed and the culprits caught, charged, tried and punished. Enough of this culture of impunity for crimes committed in the name of religion. This time it was a poor young couple – read Asif Aqeel’s comprehensive account of Shama and Shehzad, brick-kiln workers, lynched after being accused of ‘desecrated’ pages of the Quran (she was pregnant, they leave behind four children including a baby). Fifty people have been arrested. The next day, in another city, a policeman axed to death a man brought into custody after being arrested for a brawl – his justification: the man had been committed “blasphemy”. The policeman has been arrested. Below: Society for Secular Pakistan’s demand that  clerics involved in hate speech be arrested and punished for inciting religious feeling.

The cycle will continue because no one is ever punished for either false allegations, or for their involvement in the criminal act of extra-judicial murder, although laws exist against both. The ‘blasphemy’ laws of Pakistan are not divinely ordained. These are man-made laws, imposed on Pakistan by a military dictator. Gen Ziaul Haq added various clauses to the original Article 295 of the British law (shared by India and Bangladesh) that dealt with injuring religious sentiment. While criminalising other aspects of ‘injuring religious sentiment’, the critical words ‘malicious intent’ were quietly dropped. ‘Intent’ or ‘neeyat‘ is crucial when someone is accused of such crimes. If the intent was not to defile or injure religious sentiments, there is no case. It’s time to openly debate these issues and stop this senseless violence. Even if someone burnt some pages of the Quran, that is not grounds to kill them.  Continue reading

India’s Crusader Against Impunity

Manoj Mitta speaking at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

Manoj Mitta speaking at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

My recent article for IPS 

BOSTON, Oct 25 2014 (IPS) – As senior Indian journalist Manoj Mitta was testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress last month about mass violence and impunity in India, President Barack Obama escorted India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

“They were just three miles away,” Mitta told IPS, commenting on the irony of this coincidence, remembering that the United States had banned Modi’s entry on the mass violence on his watch in 2002 leading to the killing of about 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat state. Continue reading

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