Remembering Hal Gould, a friend of South Asia


I wrote this piece recently about someone I was honoured to consider a friend although we never met. Hal Gould came to mind when we launched Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, earlier this year. I knew he was over 90 by then, a few years older than my late father Dr M. Sarwar, who Hal had felt an affinity with. We’re in a pandemic and I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

Hal and I had been in touch since early 2008 after he read my op-ed in Dawn, An inconvenient truth” (Feb. 22, 2008) about Pakistan’s ‘return to democracy’, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful electoral transfer of power. He had quoted from it in his column for the then newly launched online magazine South Asia Monitor, in which he urged America and the world to allow democracy to take root in Pakistan without outside interference.

My piece had emerged in response to an American friend’s outraged comment: “What kind of democracy is it that puts the fate of the country in the hands of a Nawaz Sharif and an Asif Zardari?” Trying to put the issue in context, I had written: “It’s surely not worse than a democracy which puts the fate of America – and the world – in the hands of a George W. Bush… TWICE!” I added that India had twice elected a right-wing BJP government-backed by religious militants. This was, of course, before Trump and Modi.

Interesting times, these. As a scholar who has done seminal work on caste in India, I am sure Hal would have had something to say about the Dismantling Hindutva conference taking place this weekend that is under massive attack from those who refuse to distinguish between Hindus and Hindutva…

Then came the sad update about his stroke, followed by news of his passing – shared by his son to the Friends of Hal email list that Hal used to post to. I found it hard to put the piece together in the middle of all that was going on but I felt Hal deserved a proper remembrance.

Hal’s son Armeen eventually sent around an obituary which I’ve drawn from, including a list of the books Hal authored. For the photos I’m indebted to historian Richard Barnett – who I had interviewed years ago for The Frontier Post – who connected me with another friend of Hal and of South Asia, Philip McEldowney at University of Virginia who dug about and sent some.

Obituary on Hal Gould in South Asia Monitor, cross-posted to our recently launched Sapan website. Rest in peace Hal. We will keep learning from you.

Here’s the full piece:

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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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RIP Dr Mubashir Hasan. The last public statement he endorsed was on India’s CAA along with other South Asian citizens

Dr Mubashir Hasan: A towering figure and visionary for South Asia regional peace. File photo.

In December 2019, when I visited Dr Mubashir Hasan at his home in Lahore, I read out to him a Statement on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, drafted by a friend in Kathmandu. Dr Saab readily endorsed it, probably his last public comment (see below). He is the first person who talked to me about pushing for a South Asian Union along the lines of the European Union. He passed away today, aged 98. A great mentor, leader, guide and friend. May he rest in peace. More later.

Statement on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act by 14 independent South Asian citizens

26 December 2019

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PERSONAL POLITICAL: Rest in peace, comrade Kutty. The struggle continues

I wrote this piece a few days back – the second of my occasional syndicated columns. Published in The Wire, Naya Daur, Mainstream, The Citizen among others.

kutty-smiling.jpg

Early Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on 18 July 2019, B. M. Kutty slipped into the ever after. Lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi – his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

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Cricket World Cup and the spirit of South Asia – #SouthAsianUnion

Bashir-Chacha-CWC-2019

M. Bashir ‘Chacha Chicago’ cheers for both teams (for details see this report)

I wrote this piece published in The Wire 6 June 2019, Letter From a Pakistani to an Indian Friend: Can We Please Have a South Asian Union? — pegged on Eid at the time. Posting it here on the eve of the Cricket World Cup match between Pakistan and India in Manchester Sunday. As Admiral Ramu Ramdas says in his little video message, treat it as a game, not a proxy war… And we want a South Asian spirit (also see Himal SouthAsian map and caption below)

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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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Activists support peace defenders in Pakistan, denounce false allegations

MEDIA STATEMENT
Activists support peace defenders in Pakistan, denounce false allegations

LONDON, Oct. 30: Some two dozen activists from Pakistan working in the fields of media, peace, culture, development and politics, USA, Canada and U.K. met in central London to discuss India-Pakistan relations and reaffirm the need for peace between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. They reiterated the vision of Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah that relations between the two countries should be like those of Canada and the United States.

London India Pakistan peace cropped

Group photo of some of the peace activists after the meeting in London.

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Ways of seeing: Imagine, South Asia

Something I wrote for The News on Sunday, published Feb 14, on a thoughtprovoking series of discussions and Anila Quayyum Agha’s stunning installation ‘Intersections’ at the cornerstone of ‘Imagine, South Asia’ at the historic Peabody Essex Museum

Intersections

Intersections by Anila Q. Agha: an immersive, mesmerising experience. Photo: Beena Sarwar

In an age of divisiveness and conflict, with media attention focused on power politics and high profile acts of violence, Imagine, South Asia, a weekend-long series of events at the Peabody Essex Museum was a welcome reminder of the healing and inclusive power of the arts.

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Rahul Roy: Addressing “masculinities” through film

My blog post for Harvard South Asia Institute on Rahul Roy’s documentary film series on ‘masculinities’

Filmmaker Rahul Roy, right, captures in his films the nuances, masculinities and realities in a slice of urban life over the years.

Filmmaker Rahul Roy, right, captures in his films the nuances, masculinities and realities in a slice of urban life over the years. Photo: Ashima Duggal

By Beena Sarwar

Indian filmmaker Rahul Roy first met and began filming four young men in 1999 for his documentary film When four friends meet, interacting with them and filming for about two years in the Delhi slum where they live. He stays in touch with the four – Sanjay, Sanju, Kamal and Bunty – over the years and 12 years later, returns to do a sequel titled Till we meet again. Continue reading

‘Not just India’s daughter’ – article for TNS Special Report

Jyoti Singh’s death has become a global symbol and the beginning of change. Here’s hoping she did not die in vain… ‘Not just India’s daughter‘: My article for The News on Sunday Special Report on the issue

Delhi gang rape protest

Protest at India Gate against gang rape in Delhi. TOI photo

India has been under the spotlight for the rape and gender violence since the horrific gang rape in Delhi on December 16, 2012. That night, a 23-year-old physiotherapist on her way home from the movies with a male friend was brutally gang-raped by six men in a moving bus in the national capital. She died of her injuries on December 29, 2012. Her friend who tried to save her was also brutally beaten but survived.

The BBC documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’ following up on a rape that shook not just India but the world, and the Indian government’s subsequent ban on the film has re-ignited hot debate on an issue that is relevant to far more than just India or India’s daughters. Continue reading

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