New Delhi: Speakers at an event organised by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) said countries in the region should cooperate and behave in an empathetic way to overcome the second of COVID-19, saying the volume of pain and suffering could be mitigated through greater socio-economic cooperation and resource-sharing.
They also advocated a visa-free South Asia, since the region’s history has several examples of soft borders that reflect the shared history and inter-connected space.
The focus of the Sunday event was originally planned as a call to open sporting ties and visas in South Asia but was changed at the last minute due to the rapidly deteriorating COVID-19 situation in India. where the death toll and new cases have been rising at an alarming pace.
Dozens of South Asians spoke at the even, expressing grief and solidarity amidst the suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. One of the participants – long time human rights and Karachi-based peace activist Karamat Ali – said his wife was in Delhi and was down with COVID-19, but visa restrictions did not allow him to visit her.
“I want to go to the Wagah border and take a tank of oxygen to my wife, but I can’t,” said Ali, according to a press release issued by SAPAN.
The organisation said Ali’s story illustrates “the anguish of divided families unable to help loved ones across the border”. Though citizens above the age of 65 are entitled to visa-on-arrival at the border according to the 2012 agreement signed by India and Pakistan, this has been ignored by both sides, SAPAN said.
Other participants also shared their experience of personal loss over the past 24 hours. Prominent educationist Baela Jamil had to leave the programme as news came in about a cousin’s death in Lahore. Eminent sports journalist Sharda Ugra lost a friend in Mumbai that morning, prominent photojournalist Vivek Bendre. Two prominent peace activists also passed away that morning in India.
On fighting the pandemic, the participants emphasised the need for cross-border empathy and cooperation.
The event was the first of a series of monthly discussions being curated by a coalition of individuals and organisations joining hands to take forward the principles and ideals of peace, justice, democracy and human rights in South Asia as championed by the late I.A. Rehman, Asma Jahangir, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Nikhil Chakravartty, Nirmala Deshpande, Kuldip Nayar, Rajni Kothari and others.
Other participants at the meeting included Kathmandu-based journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, environmental, peace and rights activist Lalita Ramdas and former Indian Navy chief R. Ramdas, former Planning Commission member Dr Syeda Hameed, Lahore-based artists Salima Hashmi, Dhaka-based activists Nazneen Firdausi and Khushi Kabir, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Boston-based journalist Beena Sarwar, former Pakistani test cricketer Jalaluddin, international squash player Nooreena Shams and sports journalists Afia Salam in Karachi and Zainab Abbas in Lahore.