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“The Pandemic is a Wake-up Call for Regional Cooperation in South Asia” – SAPAN

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“We have to learn to maintain physical distancing but at the same time create economic and healthcare closeness in South Asia,” said Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, speaking at a webinar on South Asia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The gathering also adopted a resolution describing the pandemic as a wake-up call for regional cooperation, and pressed for equitable vaccine supply across the region.

Stressing the need for contact and collaboration across South Asian borders, Prof. Sen said our battle is not just against the Covid virus but also against the economic injustice of hunger and poverty created by the pandemic.

Prof. Sen was among nearly 200 opinion-makers and activists from across South Asia and the diaspora who came together to attend the webinar titled: ‘South Asian Solidarity in the Time of Covid: Sharing Grief, Inspiration, Hope and Strategies’.

Academics, journalists, activists and doctors shared experiences and discussed strategies over the two-hour long event, organised by the recently launched South Asian Peace Action Network (SAPAN). The plenary session was followed by an interactive discussion with volunteers and healthcare professionals about their experiences on the ground.

Participants endorsed the SAPAN 30 May Resolution (link here), presented by journalist and editor Raza Rumi, calling on South Asian societies to treat healthcare as a basic human right, increase healthcare budgets, collaborate to manage the pandemic and plan responses to future challenges. “Our future cannot be held hostage to a past. We have to form an alternative trajectory for our combined futures,” Rumi said.

Speakers discussed the situation of South Asian countries in terms of vaccination drives, awareness-building, rural infrastructure and citizen participation.

Introducing the event Lalita Ramdas, founder Greenpeace India and a co-founder of SAPAN, said that participants had come together in solidarity and hope. Speaking from Alibag south of Mumbai, she said: “We will just not mourn but celebrate the people who came out of their comfort zones to fight this battle.”

Artist Salima Hashmi in Lahore spoke of friends consoling each other across borders. After the passing of human rights activist I.A. Rehman, she reached out to Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi: “We cried together, shared a piece of music, wrote searing columns.”

Stating that the pandemic had urgently highlighted the need for South Asian regionalism, journalist Kanak Mani Dixit in Kathmandu said: “We comprise one-fourth of the world’s population, so what we do to combat Covid-19 is important for ourselves, but also for the rest of the world.”

In Rajasthan, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, pioneers of India’s freedom of information movement stressed that calamities have no boundaries and we have to reach out to each other.

“So many people across South Asia have fallen into poverty because of the pandemic,” she said.

Dr Yousuf Sheikh, President of the Association of Pakistani Physicians in New England (APPNE) highlighted the cooperation between doctors from the region. Indian and Pakistani doctors in the diaspora were reaching out to each other he said: “Though I have never been to India I can imagine the situation there.”

The event featured a slideshow (link here) commemorating visionaries of the regional peace movement as well as prominent intellectuals, journalists, actors and activists taken by the coronavirus pandemic, including Dinesh Mohan of Delhi and Kamran Arif of Islamabad, both stalwarts of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD).

The name of Dev Raj Sharma from Himachal Pradesh was also included in slide, he was an Ex-Councilor from Khalini ward in MC Shimla and an Ex-Chairman of the Himachal Pradesh Private Bus Operators Union.

“We may have lost many of our mentors and friends but not their ideas,” said an emotional Tapan Bose, founder member PIPFPD. “We will always be committed to creating democracy in the true sense, which is through the power and participation of the people.”

Participants also paid homage to veterans of the India Pakistan Soldiers’ Peace Initiative (IPSI) who have passed on over recent months. The IPSI was founded by the late Nirmala ‘Didi’ Deshpande, one of the leaders whose vision guides SAPAN. “This was a landmark initiative by Didi who tried to bring the world together with the slogan ‘jai jagat’ — long live the world,” reminisced  Gen. (rtd.) Tej Kaul, chair of IPSI-India.

Journalist Ayesha Kabir in Dhaka described the Government’s attempts to suppress journalist’s efforts to expose corruption during the pandemic. “Whatever our political leanings, journalists were united  when reporters like Rozina Islam were persecuted for their expose on the irregularities of the public health system.”

Convenor of the South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) Sanjoy Hazarika in Shillong referred to media professionals as frontline workers who were “exposed to the physical threat of Covid… we have lost many colleagues to the pandemic.”

Activist Irfan Mufti in Lahore moderated the second session, chaired by Khushi Kabir in Dhaka, and Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi. They set the tone for volunteers from India and Pakistan sharing inspirational personal experiences of working on the ground during the pandemic.

Samir Gupta from Delhi introduced volunteers involved with citizen relief groups working in both countries. The stories that emerged reflected a hope for humanity and were the fruition of the idea of neighbourly cooperation that activists in the region have been propagating.

The speakers highlighted their experiences of organising relief and coordinating with fellow volunteers across the border to help human beings not just citizens of particular nations, like Pakistanis at home and overseas coordinating with ambulances, hospitals, and crematoriums in India during the second wave.

Source:    SAPAN @southasiapeace, Beena Sarwar, Rehmat Merchant, Waqas Nasir and other peace activists present at the session

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Himachal Kisan Sabha Condemns Alleged Mowing Down of Protesting Farmers by Minister’s Son, Calls it “Ghastly” and “Inhuman”

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Himachak Kisan Sabha

Shimla-Himachal Kisan Sabha has condemned the incident where four farmers were allegedly run over by vehicles in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, terming it a “ghastly” and “inhuman” act. The Sabha paid tribute to the martyred farmers and demanded immediate arrest of Ashish Mishra – son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra – and other accused and book them under Section 302 (murder).

The farmers have alleged that three SUVs that mowed down protesting farmers were part of the convoy of the Union Minister of State. The farmers alleged that Minister’s son was behind the wheel in one of these SUVs. Following this incident, violence broke out that killed four more persons. The Minister, however, denied the allegations. 

Kisan Sabha also demanded that an inquiry should be conducted into the incident by a Supreme Court Judge. The Sabha also demanded that the Union Minister of State should be suspended with immediate effect.

Sabha said that it’s extremely shameful that the Centre government is attempting to end farmers protest against three Farm Laws in a dictatorial way by means of violence.

“On September 25, 2021, Union Minister of State, Ajay Mishra, had threatened to end the farmers protest within two minutes in a public meeting, and now his son has been alleged of mowing down farmers,” said State President of Himachal Kisan Sabha, Dr Kuldeep Singh Tanwar.

“The execution of this ghastly act merely one day after the non-violence day clearly reflects that the current Centre Government has no belief in democracy. The government wants to suppress dissenting voices rising against it at any cost,” Tanwar added.

Dr Tanwar further added that protests would be staged against this “barbaric” act in Himachal Pradesh too. The sacrifice of martyred farmers won’t go in vain, and it would only strengthen the farmers’ protest, he added.  

Meanwhile, following this incident, Priyanka Gandhi, who was on her way to Lakhimpur to meet the affected families, was detained by police, while Akhilesh Yadav – former Chief Minister of UP and president of Samajwadi Party- was put under house arrest ahead of his scheduled visit.

 

 

 

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Covid-19 Needs a Regional Response, Say Physicians and Activists at SAPAN Meeting

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Poster

Peace activists under the SAPAN platform conducted an event on Sunday which included prominent physicians like Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Dr Anup Subedee, Dr Vandana Prasad, and Dr Hamid Jafari of Pakistan (led the team that eradicated polio in India). Speakers included Salima Hashmi, Khushi Kabir, Kanak Dixit, Lalita Ramdas, besides journalists Beena Sarwar, Mandira Nayar and others. Activist Priyanka Singh conducted the event.

South Asian countries cannot go it alone, that’s irrational,’’ said Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, renowned public health activist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee from Bangladesh.

The hard lockdown in his country will lead to furthering the inequalities in society, he warned, emphasizing that it is irresponsible to impose lockdowns without providing food. “Poverty has increased. There are 25 million more poor without food.”

Dr Chowdhury was among the physicians and health right activists across countries who came together on Sunday 27 June at a webinar organised by the South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) to emphasize that the coronavirus pandemic must be fought collectively.

The third in the series of SAPAN’s monthly public webinars themed ‘Imagine: Neighbours in Peace’, the meeting focused on health as an entry point to talk about South Asian regionalism and Healthcare for all. Three main aspects deliberated included:

  How the pandemic is affecting rural areas of South Asian countries, hurdles in treatment, and access — or lack thereof — to vaccinations.

  How COVID-19 has affected mental health, women and particularly women in rural areas of all the countries of the region

  How the challenges are similar in all countries of the region and require similar solutions.

The meeting took place at a time when South Asia is reeling from the devastating second wave of Covid-19, especially in India. With Delta plus virus mutation now detected in parts of the region, the possibility of another wave looms large.

Journalist Mandira Nayar in Delhi moderated the physicians’ panel with Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury in Dhaka; infectious diseases specialist Dr Anup Subedee in Kathmandu and public health activist Dr Vandana Prasad also in Delhi. Dr Hamid Jafari of Pakistan, who led the WHO team that eradicated polio in India, joined from his current posting in Jordan. 

Dr Chowdhury advocated challenging vaccine-producing countries and pushing South Asian governments to invest more in public health.

Participants also noted that the pandemic has particularly hit women hard.

“Domestic violence has increased,” noted Dr Prasad. Women often lack control over finances, are primary caregivers and shoulder the responsibility of caring for the ill. The pandemic has pushed women further into the margins, she said, adding that there is also a “gender dimension to the access of vaccines”.

She urged doctors to enter the peace activism domain, because the poor all over are at the brink of disaster.

Dr Prasad drew attention to the gendered nature of pandemic and frontline workers, as well as Dalits, indigenous people, other minorities. “Telemedicine is important, but we must not lose focus on need for ground-based public health to begin with”.

Frontline workers in India, the accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers often lack training, safety equipment and often doesn’t get her wages for months.

While highlighting that a public health system is meant to be a great equaliser, Dr Anup Subedee noted how the pandemic exposed systematic failures in many aspects of life in Nepal, referring not only to the grievous impact on non-Covid healthcare – like child immunization and maternity care – but also the painful ordeals of healthcare community itself. 

He shared how the healthcare community in Nepal has been compelled to deal with threats of violence, lack of access to personal protection equipment, prospects of income loss without any social security system support, and an unaddressed mental health crisis among healthcare workers. 

Doctors at the meeting endorsed the need for greater cooperation and collaboration across borders. Participants called on the governments to allow free flow of critical equipment and medical personnel across borders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had floated the idea of a SAARC medical visas for patients and for medical teams to assist during the pandemic – something that must be followed up.

The doctors also urged the international fraternity to push for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, waiver so that the Covid-19 vaccine production can be ramped up. “It is the way forward for vaccines for all,’’ asserted Dr Prasad.

Activist Khushi Kabir in Dhaka introduced the event. She talked about connections, sharing her memory of how Dr Haroon Ahmed, one of the event’s speakers, was her physician when she was a child and he was starting work at a government clinic in Karachi. Dr Haroon was unable to join at the last moment due to ill health. 

Wishing him a speedy recovery, Khushi commented, “Each time we meet, there are more losses people who have been part of our journey”. As at the previous SAPAN meeting there was a commemoration of mentors and leaders whose vision SAPAN is taking forward, like Asma Jahangir and Dr Mubashir Hasan, and Nirmala Despande and others. 

There was also a moment of silence to express condolences and share the grief of the families and friends of those lost to Covid and other causes over the past month. “Since we were unable to memorialise everyone, the presentation could only be symbolic,” noted Khushi Kabir.

The In Memoriam slideshow includes journalist Ghazi Salahuddin’s three siblings taken by Covid in as many weeks, including Dr Aquila Islam, Pakistan’s first woman nuclear physicist. It also included the legendary runner Milkha Singh and his wife, volleyball champ Nirmal Saini who died within days of each other, and radiologist Chinna Dua, 56, wife of journalist Vinod Dua. She had endeared herself to music and poetry lovers across the region when she joined Tina Sani some years back at the Faiz Festival in Karachi – on Facebook at this link.

Ghazi Salahuddin has written about his family tragedy in a brave and heartbreaking oped for The News, Partings without goodbyes (20 June 2021), noting: “my struggle to cope with this terrible bereavement was eased a bit when I reminded myself that this pandemic has devastated so many families across the world…”

Several well known activists and experts also joined from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere, including Hina Jillani, Urvashi Butalia, Jean Dreze, Kavita Srivastava, Shireen Huq, Kanak Mani Dixit and others.

The South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) is primarily a coalition of individuals and organisations aiming to take forward a peace agenda for the region, building on the work done by mentors and leaders over the last few decades. 

SAPAN founder and curator Beena Sarwar shared the story of this network and her vision for an inter-generational, multi-sectoral, inter- and intra-regional coalition of individuals and organisations coming together in broad consensus for a one-point agenda.

Facebook live recording is online at this link

Source: SAPAN,  Beena Sarwar, Kanak Mani Dixit, Mandira Nayar, Rida Anwaar, Rehmat Merchant, Priyanka Singh and some other peace activists present in the virtual session

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Editors Guild of India Condemns FIR Against Journalists, Calls it Destructive of Freedom of Speech

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ghaziabad incident
Image Credit: The Cognate

Shimla-The Editors Guild of India on Thursday condemned the filing of First Information Reports (FIRs) by the Uttar Pradesh Police against The Wire and several other journalists for their tweets on an assault on an elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad on June 5th.

“The Guild is deeply concerned by the UP Police’s track record of filing FIRs against journalists to deter them from reporting serious incidents without fear of reprisals”, it said.

It further added that it is the duty of the journalists to report on the basis of sources and in case facts become contested later on, to report the emerging versions and facets.

The guild called such actions by the police destructive of freedom of speech. It also claimed that the police has been discriminatory in targeting those media organizations and journalists when thousands had tweeted the video- that have been critical of the government and its policies.

“The Guild condemns this wanton misuse of laws to criminalize reporting and dissent to harass independent media and demands that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately,” it demanded.

Several media organizations and journalists had posted the video on their social media feeds. The UP police has filled FIR’s against The Wire, Twitter, journalist Mohammed Zubair, Rana Ayyub and Sana Naqvi and some Congress leaders under IPC Sections 153(provocation for rioting), 153A(promoting enmity between different groups), 295A(acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 505(mischief), 120B(criminal conspiracy) and 34(common intention) against them.

In the video that was posted by those charged, the man is seen alleging that he was beaten up by some people and was forced to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’.

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