poster designed by Priyali Sur
Last week, as fear of war between Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed countries, remained a viable threat, activists around the globe organized to call for peace in South Asia as well as justice in Kashmir. Through WhatsApp chat groups spearheaded by my sister Beena Sarwar and Priyali Sur and Pawan Bali – three women with journalist backgrounds – an improv cross-border collective organically formed. Activists and artists from several cities stepped into the movement, and the Global StandOut for Peace in South Asia was born.
Once participants from 20 cities decided to hold public rallies on March 3, my sister texted me to ask if I could organize something in Los Angeles. Still new to the city, I reached out to other activists. Within three days of organizing with activists, artists, and community members including Naila Ahmed, Neela Banerjee, Diya Bose, Ayesha Kamran, Afreen Mirza, Sara Sikandar, Faroukh Virani, and many more, we had kicked off an event, Poetry for Peace.
Most of the cities that participated in the Global Standout for Peace, organized outdoor rallies, but Los Angeles’ Poetry for Peace was at Pasadena Central Library and was an artistic response to the conflict. On March 3, more than 75 audience members of all ages and backgrounds arrived at the library with poems in their hands. Some brought their own work, while others read writings by poets they admire. Journalist Sara Sikandar, with the help of Afreen Mirza, created a video collage showcasing peace videos from both sides of the border.
On Sundays, Pasadena Central Library closes at 5:00 pm. but that afternoon, even as the library’s PA system announced closure for the night, Poetry for Peace remained a live event. Undeterred by volunteers who cleared away refreshments, activists, writers, and community members continued to march up to the mic to read poetry.
As I drove away, I was reminded of Words for Peace, another collaborative series that I started almost two decades ago in response to 9/11 through my Houston-based arts organization when more than 400 people poured into an art space to experience writing, music, and dance. Back then, long before social media or Skype, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ahmed Rashid, and Irena Klepfisz read their writings over a speaker phone, which my friends and I hooked up to a sound system while another friend projected images onto the black-box screen. Much has changed in terms of technology and the transfer of information, but wars and invasions remain realities, Kashmir and Palestine are still occupied, and walls around the globe continue to rise.
But today, I am grateful that voices of dissent are loud, and that the call for peace is a global movement that collapses national borders. Poetry for Peace was an affirmation, yet again, of how the majority of the citizens of the world will organize to demand peace and justice.
Dear Girl from Pakistan from Delhi Poetry Slam
Other videos collaged by Sara Sikandar: Jang/War by Yasra Rizvi, Tiranga by Navaldeep Singh; The War Itself is a Blight by Sahir Ludhianvi; Hum Daikhain Gay/We will See by Faiz Ahmed Faiz by Pakistani artists presented by Coke Studio.
Los Angeles’ Global Standout for Peace in South Asia / Poetry for Peace was cosponsored by Mohabbat, a Los-Angeles based non profit that promotes peace and dialogue between Indian and Pakistani citizens.