Writing for peace. And activism in Himachal Pradesh

Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, Mohsin Tejani in Karachi: Breadloaf friends, great synergy. Photos: supplied.

Really enjoyed this Sapan online family writing workshop by educators and teacher trainers Mohsin Tejani in Karachi and Lee Krishnan in Mumbai, hosted by the amazing Khushi Kabir in Dhaka, joined by educationist and writer Benislos Thushan in Jaffna – looking dramatic due to a power cut, just before dashing off for an overnight bus to Colombo. Human rights activist and physician Fauzia Deeba from Quetta now in New Jersey talked about the floods in Pakistan and shared the In Memoriam section designed by a young journalist Sushmita Preetha in Dhaka. Senior journalist Namrata Sharma in Kathmandu delivered the heart warming closing remarks that the piece starts with.

Namrata Sharma: “Who and how can anyone say that Southasia is divided?” – screenshot from the workshop.

Lovely writeup on it by young agriculturist-researcher-educationist M. Waqas Nasir in Lahore, published as a Sapan News Network syndicated piece in several media outlets. Read it here: Divided by borders, united by aspirations. This piece and the event would not have been possible without the efforts of data analyst and researcher Priyanka Singh in New Delhi. Both she and Waqas are Sapan founder members.

I’m also happy to share this piece young lawyer Vishal Sharma in Shimla, also a Sapan founder member. I love how hard and patiently he worked on the article, taking in feedback from various friends to shape it into what it became. I also learnt a lot by working with him on it, especially the idea of ‘Himachaliyat’ which reminds me of ‘Kashmriyat’ – promoting pluralism and peace. Published in Himachal Watcher. Read it here: A young leader’s activism may be a gamechanger for the Congress in Himachal‘. Vishal had the visual specially made by an artist friend.

Vikramaditya Singh uses the shield of “Himachaliyat” and “Virbhadra Singh Vikas Model” to counter political rivals. Visual by artist Deepak Saroj in Noida

Southasian solidarity for flood-hit Pakistan

Flood survivors and volunteers at Shahdadkot. Photo: Courtesy Rubina Chandio via the Flood Relief Work WhatsApp group.

It is moving to see how many on the ground, as well as across the region and beyond, are stepping up to help those hit by the floods in any way they can.

At our online Southasia Peace Action Network, Sapan, meetings and in personal messages, Indian friends in particular have expressed their anguish and desire to help. Many are frustrated by being unable to contribute financially as I mentioned in my last post, Floods in Pakistan: Many eager to help held back by restrictions.

See Sapan’s statement of solidarity and appeal for Southasian nations to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – encompasses issues like the climate crisis and food security. We also compiled this list of initiatives people can donate to.

Also, love how a young Indian friend initiated this Sapan appeal to cricket boards ahead of Asia Cup to support Pakistan flood relief efforts – image below.

The YouTube video below has friends Dr Amna Buttar and Dr Geet Chainani talking about the realities on the ground in disaster-hit areas and why as an Indian origin physician in the US, Geet wants to go back to Sindh to help with flood relief. Sabyn Zaidi remembers how Geet worked in medical camps during the 2010 floods. On the first day she saw 172 patients, without breaks. There were no restrooms, no food, no electricity; there were bugs and insects. When it got dark, she worked with the light from cell phone lights and torches brought by the villagers.

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Solidarity with Sri Lanka

The situation in Sri Lanka is really dire. We at Sapan issued this statement 02 June – posted to website. Pls share widely: Southasians express solidarity with Sri Lanka, concern about economic and humanitarian crises.

Excerpt: “Amidst all the tension and uncertainty, it is important to note the undercurrent of hope enabled by the active engagement of individuals, organisations and civil society calling for accountability and good governance.” 

Here’s the scan of a report shared just now by a friend waiting in a petrol queue – the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has only a week’s worth of fuel left:

She also shared a short piece from the Daily Mirror today. Excerpt:

“The people of Sri Lanka deserve to live their lives without these politically-triggered interruptions.  Towards that end, I implore international companies that Sri Lanka works with to not divert business from here when we need their support and partnership the most.  Hopefully tourists will return once the country finds stability.  The wonders of this country still remain as beautiful, unmarred by the constant disruption.”  – Paradise Disrupted

A 58-year old daily wage labourer who lives in a single room on the outskirts of Colombo with her husband shares how they’ve had to switch from cooking with gas, to kerosene, and now firewood. Her husband forages for vegetables and edible leaves on his way home from work. See her story at: Financial Pandemic: ‘Sri Lanka is not a country for poor people now’, The Fuller Project, 20 May, 2022.

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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“We will fight, we will win”

The spirit of South Asia and the power of the four-letter word love

Commemorating 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, remembering Kamla Bhasin

By Beena Sarwar

The annual international 16 Days of Activism against gender violence takes place this year without the pioneering feminist and poet Kamla Bhasin, even as her songs and poetry enliven events during this period and beyond.

Kamla Bhasin. Radical love. Photo: Kashif Saeed

The 16 Days are observed annually starting 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. They end 10 December, with international Human Rights Day. These are integrated issues that Kamla fought for all her life. And she did this with love, joy, music, poetry and compassion.

As she famously said, “I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. I am a feminist and I do not hate women who are not feminists. I am a feminist – and I laugh.”

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A Southasia climate resolution

The Sapan Resolution on Climate Change ahead of COP26 is still relevant

At the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan, event at the end of October, participants and speakers answered YES to the question of Can South Asia combat climate change? – and also suggested how.

The informative and engaging session hosted by Khushi Kabir and moderated by Afia Salam was followed by breakout rooms focusing on Climate justice, Cross-border reporting, Water issues, Renewable energy, and Indigenous communities, each facilitated by expert moderators and rapporteurs. See details at this link.

At the end of the event, youth activists Disha Ravi of India and Durlabh Ashok Pakistan read out a Resolution that participants endorsed. Read the Resolution at this link.

Speakers, moderators and rapporteurs: Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Vandana Shiva, Saleemul Haq, Khushi Kabir, Sunita Narain, Nalaka Gunawardene, Afia Salam, Sarita Bartaula, Durlabh Ashok, Priyanka Singh, Pragya Narang, Kinga Tshering, Pratima Gurung, Kunda Dixit, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Kanak Dixit, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Shilsila Acharya, Disha Ravi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rani Yan Yan Yoddha, Lubna Jerrar Naqvi, Dayamani Barla. Collage by Aekta Kapoor.

Chomsky among speakers at discussion on “9/11” and aftermath: Impact on SouthAsia and SouthAsians

Event banner

Marking two decades of the September 2001 attacks on New York City, global thought leaders and activists from across South Asia and the diaspora will meet across time zones this Sunday to discuss the impact of “9/11” on the region and its people.

The online event also commemorates the global International Peace Day, September 21.

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Uphold the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, say human-rights advocates

Meant to share this earlier – great discussion last weekend on the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, organised by Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network. Besides human rights advocates and experts, there were testimonies from those who have suffered incarceration, and presentations from Sapan volunteers about prison conditions and best practices in the region. The issues raised are relevant beyond the region. Hope we can keep the momentum going – and we need help to do that. Please like, comment, share and post about this issue that affects all of society. Thank you.

Participants turned on cameras at the end for a group photo. Collage by Aekta Kapoor, eShe magazine.

29 August 2021: “If the government becomes the monster that it can be, then the belly of the beast contains the people in jail”, said Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, speaking at a regional session on the rights of the incarcerated in South Asia, particularly in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He was among the prominent activists, legal experts, concerned citizens, and formerly incarcerated persons across the region who came together online to discuss the issue on Sunday, 29 August 2021, under the umbrella of Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, of which he is a founding member. 

Held a day before the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 30 August, the meeting underlined the need to recognise enforced disappearance as a distinct crime. The recent commemoration of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August also pegged the need for compassion and empathy for vulnerable communities. The tragic situation in Afghanistan further highlights the need for solidarity in the region and to insist on upholding human rights principles.

The event featured gut-wrenching testimonies in various languages from those who have experienced incarceration in the region, including those who were picked up but not produced before the courts for months or years. Those who fill the prisons tend to be the poorest of the poor as many pointed out.

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#Goodnews update. And an upcoming event

Glad to report that Ajeet Kumar Nagdev and his children are on the train headed to Amritsar, and will hopefully cross the border on Saturday along with some 50 other Pakistanis who had been stranded in India due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks for all those who helped Nagdev and his family, especially Samir Gupta, Shishir Arya and others, including the helpful folks at the Pakistan High Commission, New Delhi, operating under stressful conditions. Salute to all of you.

Meanwhile, need help getting the word out about this upcoming regional event Sunday, on the rights of the incarcerated with legal experts and human rights activists from around the region. Pls subscribe, join, share, post, comment, like, tweet, whatever you can. Much appreciated.

Poster for the event. Thanks Vishal Sharma.

The main panel is coincidentally all women…. (Read more)

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