Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has called for the South Asian nations to strengthen cooperation in their fight against the Covid-19 crisis, poverty, climate disaster and other regional issues.
“There is need for connection at different levels—connection among India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other countries of the region. None can fight against the pandemic without helping each other,” he said, addressing an online session organized by the South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN).
The octogenarian Harvard professor who won the world’s most prestigious award in economics in 1998 in a rare online appearance appealed to the people of region to come together and establish an environment of mutual cooperation.
The webinar titled “Covid-19 & South Asia Solidarity: sharing grief, hope and strategies” was SAPAN’s second public event in as many months. These online events aim to extend condolences to families of Covid-19 victims and put forward ideas to cope with the future challenges.
Journalist and peace activist Beena Sarwar conducted the session attended by several hundred people including eminent scholars, writers, journalists, physicians, teachers and students from across South Asia.
“Physical distancing is fine, but we need social closeness, medical closeness…we have to seek a system which allows us to come close to each other,” said Amartya Sen.
Veteran Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit said thatSouth Asia represented fourth of the world population and hence the people of the region were duty bound to self and also to the globe to stand united to address their problems. Covid-19, he said, sent a shock to the system which was already under crises.
“We must look beyond the nation state and analyze the weaknesses of the format of South Asia regionalism.
“Let the nation states survive but we need to build people-to-people contact and adopt economic rationalization and shoved the past history.”
South Asia regionalism, he said, was an argument for social justice and economic growth. Currently, he argued, the region faced poor governance and had biggest reservoir of poverty. But, he said, the region can solve its problems by introducing better governance, opening borders and bringing people together.
He appreciated the SAPAN initiative and hoped the platform would play a vital role to reshape the future of the region. Quoting a verse from the poem which Lalita Ramdas narrated earlier in her introductory remarks, Dixit said: “Let us become the uplifting rush of quiet birds flying together sticking to the skies.”
“Let us beat the Covid and let us beat nation stateism,”he added.
Noted artist peace activist Salima Hashmi read an excerpt from the poem “The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl” written by her father, legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, his only poem in English language. She hoped the hard time would soon pass away and people would see a new dawn.
“In Pakistan as elsewhere in Asia
And Africa time past is time present
And in the past – the past
Which neither man nor history remembers –
There was no time.
The timelessness of the city of dead
And the graves of nameless saints.”
Salima also shared the work of Graciela Magnoni, a Latin American photojournalist, who recently published a poetic-pictorial book ‘Watan’ on the shared culture of east-west Punjab, highlighting the need to build people-to-people contactsin the region with its rich shared cultural history. The book, with a foreword by Salima Hashmi, brings together the poetry of Amrita Pritam, Faiz, Ustad Daman and Gulzar.
Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, founders of the MKSS or Organization for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants, who have both recently survived Covid-19,said that the Indian government’s mismanagement in dealing with the pandemic has been exposed.
The pandemic crisis showed India had a poor public health system and weak democracy, said Aruna Roy, adding that democracy has to be strengthened at the grassroots level to benefit people.
“We need to build South Asia with public health access to all. We need compassionate governance and regional solidarity,” said Nikhil Dey.
Dr Yousaf Sheikh, President of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England (APPNE), shared his experience of working in Pakistani hospitals. Like Pakistan, other countries in the region also suffer from a severe dearth of medical equipment, as he has found from colleagues from around the region working in USA.There are similar crises around the region which cannot be resolved without extending mutual cooperation, he said.
Veteran peace activist Tapan Kumar Bose speaking from Delhi said the governments in South Asia must allow people to connect and to develop understanding. “It is true we lost many of our mentors but we must remember their ideas and commitment to establish harmony between India and Pakistan.”
Bangladeshi journalistAyesha Kabir talked about the problems faced by health reporters during the Covid-19 crisis in her country. She said the governments must shun the confrontational attitude with media persons. Journalists are not enemies of the state when they expose the weaknesses of the health sector and other mismanagement, she said.
Rights activist Lalita Ramdas in her introductory remarks had earlier welcomed participants. She explained that the purpose of gathering was to work towards building a region where people, their children and grandchildren could live together with peace and harmony. She expressed condolences with those who lost their dear ones to Covid.
This is a time not only to share grief but to pay tribute to those who are not amongst us today but who worked all their life to establish peace and end poverty in South Asia, she said.
Lalita Ramdas read verses from Mary Elizabeth Frye’s immortal “Do not stand at my grave and weep/I am not there...I do not sleep” to pay tribute to late rights and peace activists of South Asia.
Reading “Amaltas”, a poem written by her friend Manish Sinha, she said Delhi would be abloom with amaltas in this season that Dinesh Mohan has left us in.
Manish, a travel entrepreneur, poet and storyteller, had been so moved and motivated with love, sadness and outrage that he had taken to writing some wonderful evocative poetry.
last lone Amaltas
in full bloom
reaching out to grieving families
Gasping men and women
in ICU beds draw succour from its hanging yellow flowers
from inside their PPE suits
soothe their nerves-and-eyes
looking at the Sarva-roga-prashamani….
Noted actor Samina Ahmed along with Beena Sarwar, Mandira Nayar, Gurmehar Kaur, Shuja Uddin and others read out names of visionaries of the peace movement as well as many of those lost to Covid-19 in the recent past, presented in a slideshow at the start of the event. Those honoured included founder member of the PIPFPD Dr Mubashir Hasan, journalist I.A Rehman, activist Nirmala Deshpande, journalist Kuldip Nayar, lawyer Asma Jahangir, co-founder PIPFPD Dr Eqbal Ahmad, professor Anisuzzaman, poet Begum Sufia Kamal. Other prominent figures who have recently passed on due to Covid-19 and other illnesses were also honoured.
The slideshow included a chart with casualties, death rates and Covid-19 deaths since January 2020-May 2021. The figures showed that Nepal has highest death rate 24.1 during this period, followed by India 23.3, Pakistan 9.3, Bangladesh 7.6, Afghanistan 7.4 and Sri Lanka 6.3.
Pakistani author and journalist Raza Rumi presented a resolution on “Public Health and Health as Basic Human Right”. The participants and large number of people unanimously endorsed and signed online the resolution.