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Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech

My op-ed for The New York Times
The appalling murder in Karachi last week of Sabeen Mahmud is a stark reminder of challenges that human rights defenders face in Pakistan. Ms. Mahmud, 39, had devoted her life to creating an alternative to the religious nationalism promoted by the Pakistani state over recent decades, which has led to a proliferation of violent jihadist organizations. She was gunned down on Friday night as she left the arts center she had founded.

In the country’s largest city, troubled by violence and crumbling institutions, Ms. Mahmud created a hub to promote the arts, harness creative talent and foster democratic dialogue. Since 2007, The Second Floor, commonly known as T2F, had evolved as a small but significant arena for pluralist and secular movements in the Islamic Republic. In Pakistan’s deeply conservative, repressive society, this was a kind of liberation theology.

Hours before she was shot, Ms. Mahmud, a tech entrepreneur as well as a social activist, hosted human rights advocates who were campaigning against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in insurgency-hit Balochistan Province. After the government ordered the cancellation of the event, which was called “Unsilencing Balochistan” and was to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, Ms. Mahmud offered T2F as a venue.

The government is deeply worried about the insurgency in Balochistan. The commonly held — and vigorously promoted — view is that Pakistan’s great rival, India, is supporting the insurgency. Thus advocating for the rights of the Baloch people is regarded as treasonous.

[…]

People of this Murderous City

The other day, I translated my poem in Urdu written after the events of 27 December, 2007. It has been published by this blog. I am reproducing it here.

In this island of grief
Where all journeys stand directionless
Fragrant Roses adorn your image
And, We, your murderers, impotent accomplices,
Cast guilty shadows across this barren land

O, the gifted leader, that inimitable image
You had given a new meaning to resplendence
Dragging your worn feet
and covering your bare head
You had borne invective upon invective
And the half-dead people of this city
gaped at your strength

This was the murder of all my visions
And all my dreams cracked
as you entered hades*,
beneath the weight of roses

Though a grave shall unfold its fragrance
We the ashamed,
fighting our tears
holding the placards of our dreams
Will analyse, compose elegies

And the bleeding wound shall scar
all the paths
The moon shall keep waxing
As the illumining candles of your tomb
reveal an endlessly humiliated Yazeed**

There is just a little request
Enact another wonder
what the city of Yazeed could not do
Forgive those
Who could not forgive you
and pushed you over the edge of Euphrates***

And today,
locked in the mist of wistfulness
gripping their torn shirts
they search for their forsaken hearts

* the underworld kingdom in Greek mythology inhabited by the souls of the dead.
** Yazeed (645 – 683), the second Umayyad ruler who established monarchy and killed Husain and his family members, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad who had challenged the principle of rule without the consent of the ruled.
*** The location of the legendary battle of Karbala.

The Urdu version can be read below. […]

February 13th, 2008|Poetry, Urdu|10 Comments