R.I.P. Sabeen Mahmud. You blazed a trail and passed the spark on to us

By Samir Gupta

We are cross posting this piece by Samir Gupta from Aman Ki Asha blog. Samir has given a tribute to Sabeen Mahmud from India, where many have responded with grief to the murder of the Pakistani activist and entrepreneur in Karachi last Friday.

A tribute to Sabeen Mahmud from India, where many have responded with grief to the murder of the Pakistani activist and entrepreneur in Karachi last Friday

Late last Friday night, I was talking on the phone with a Pakistani friend who suddenly stopped our conversation with: “Oh my god, oh my god, Sabeen has just been shot”.

I did not know who Sabeen was but given the magnitude of emotion in my friend’s voice, I hung up. I googled Sabeen and read that she was a Director for a place called The Second Floor (T2F) in Karachi. I read that T2F had organised a program about human rights violations in Balochistan and that she was shot dead soon after the event ended as she headed home.

I called up my businessman friend Tariq Jamil Khan in Karachi. He was simply stunned by the news.

“How can someone kill Sabeen?” he asked. “Sabeen was the most wonderful and polite human being”.

He told me more about Sabeen, an amazing friend for one and all who would warmly welcome people to T2F and enable and catalyse them to reach their potential in so many areas – arts, sciences, culture, music, politics, technology, poetry, literature, film. The list is endless because she had a holistic vision that saw the interconnectedness between seemingly disparate spaces. She was also an outspoken advocate for peace between India and Pakistan.

It was amazing how many people around the globe wept at her death, people who hadn’t even met her and some who had not even known of her before that dark day.

On social media, I saw a deluge of tributes, many of them from Indians. Sabeen was a vocal proponent of good relations between India and Pakistan and had visited India many times, and hosted Indians in Pakistan.

Over the next 24 hours, dozens of Indians wrote moving tributes to Sabeen, expressing their sense of personal grief and loss.

Chintan Girish Modi, an educator and India-Pakistan peace activist wrote, “I am really shaken after hearing about Sabeen Mahmud’s murder in Karachi. She was hope”.

The next day, he was still trying to make sense of it all as he wrote, “There’s so much to write about Sabeen. But the pen can move only after the tears stop.”

And finally, “Yeh kya ho gaya, yaar! Aansoo thamtay hee nahin” (What’s happening, friend! The tears won’t stop.”

Shivam Vij, a journalist with the news website Scroll.in wrote, “A brave soul in Pakistan has been shot dead because she spoke up. She gave voice to people whose voices were being silenced. Sabeen Mahmud spoke up when she knew the consequences could be dire…. Sabeen Mahmud a hero and inspiration for the entire world. #‎RIP #‎Respect”.

Well-known television journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted, “Gutted about assassination of @sabeen – warm, brave, delightful – she described herself as a fiery comet- and went in a blaze of heroism”.

Lalita Ramdas, well known environmental and peace activist wrote, “RIP? No – clearly you will not – you will inspire and provoke and struggle and provoke – wish I had met you – and yet somehow I feel we did”

Parshu Narayanan, the founder and creative director of Left Hook, a brand management company wrote, ” Pakistanis like @sabeen Mahmud remind us that we should stay humble and never be arrogant either of our democracy or Pakistan’s lack of it”.

Delhi-based activist Shabnam Hashmi quoted Sabeen’s interview in Wired magazine, 2013, where she talked about why she wouldn’t have an armed security guard at The Second Floor. “That’s the price you pay for having a public space. I’m not having people checked and a military guy there because of a pervasive fear.”

Sabeen added, “Read Chomsky. Things are dangerous and bad things happen. But you can’t let fear control you, you’ll never get anything done.”

“We extend our solidarity and sincere wishes. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Sabeen’s friends and family at the brutal killing of one of the most daring and fine activists of Pakistan,” wrote Shabnam.

Retired professor Prof. Badri Raina sent an email reminding friends of similar murders in India: “Recall that the rationalist, Dhabolkar, and comrade Pansare were likewise gunned down in Mumbai for promoting dialogue and a culture of rational enquiry.” In such cases, he wrote, the state is tacitly complicit.

“Beyond the present grief for Mahmud and for others who have died in this escalating war between fundamentalist intolerance and basic human rights, there are lessons for India,” commented journalist Nilanjana Roy, warning us against taking “the free spaces and the right to dissent that we have had so far for granted.”

Drawing attention to the rising clashes between religious and cultural majoritarians and liberal Indians as well as Bangladeshis and

“And yet, despite these troubling signs,” she notes, “it is worth remembering that those who stay on in a country going through upheaval often find ways to thrive and survive even the worst attacks on their spirit.”

Many who had known Sabeen personally wrote about how she gave them hope, advice and help in realising their dreams of transforming the world. It was a role she seemed to enjoy. Although she was a single woman, barely 40 years old, I felt there was something very nurturing, very maternal about her.

Someone quipped that if her killers had told her what they were going to do, she would have invited them for a chai to talk about their differences.

I could hear the buffaloes in the dairy near my house waking up but sleep was the last thing on my mind. I was grieving as if I had lost someone very dear. I wished I could travel back in time and to Pakistan and have chai with Sabeen. I wished I could share my world with her and listen to her words of wisdom and share her sense of fun.

Those who killed her have taken away that chance forever, but going by what her friends and admirers in Pakistan and around the world have to say, her legacy lives on and will continue to motivate us, in Pakistan as well as in India.

Rest in peace, Sabeen. You blazed a trail and passed the spark on to us. The story of your life and work will continue to inspire.

samir gupta  The writer is an IT professional and peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India. Email:samirguptacklear@yahoo.com

  • Arzu

    grieve , grieve and grieve more my friend.. this is the price we shall pay by letting ,rationalizing & apologizing for intolerant people ,societies and ideologies…amongst us.

  • RRHH

    Pragmatic persons like Raza Rumi and Hussain Haqani leave Pakistan to save their lives and fools like Sabeen stay there to get killed. She is not the first and won’t be the last.

  • Rex Minor

    Fear no one but why show ‘Red’ to the Bull? Is it the total fault of the Bull?

    Rex Minor

  • Rex Minor

    RRHH,
    Can any one escape the risk of ‘Death’? They must stop their provocative narratives to neutralise it or carry always a dog with them to keep it at bay.

    Rex Minor

  • rana ayyub

    The outrage by Nepalis over the condescending attitude of the Indian media is legitimate. Hope our star anchors &editors learn their lesson

  • The Observer

    tje traitor kuthe you dont need to prove your unbelievable hatred for all ‘non muslim’ , tu aur tera like minded jihadis humara kuch nahin bigad saktha, jhelna padhega humein / or should i say it is the other way round unfortunately for us Indians

  • romain

    When I read these articles by Paki lovers, it gets my gall. These idiots have forgotten Mumbai. They are lost in some la la land where the other side is firing bullets and these guys are waiting at the border with garlands in their hands hoping the TV cameras will show them in the evening news.
    =
    Unadulterated Idiots!!!
    =
    A country is judged by its TV and radio, especially private ones – the ones whose viewership matters. These idiots should see it. The Pakis hate you morons .
    There are only two things constant with Pakis. 1. They hate India and indians. 2. When in doubt revert to No 1.
    =
    That is why sane people like Raza Rumi and RHR have left the country.
    I just dont get what is wrong with these asinine birdbrains. Is this the new Rahul affect?

  • romain

    Errata

    That is why sane people like Raza Rumi and RHR have left the country, and Sabeen Mahmud gets killed.

  • kaalchakra

    But romain, Sabeen Mahmud could be as far removed from Mumbai, Lakhvi, or Hafiz Saeed as one could possibly be. And and she spoke up when she knew it wasn’t safe. An eulogy to her should be welcome by Indians even if it is written by people who imagine themselves to be the ruling Sabeen Mahmuds in India.

  • heavy_petting

    romain, Control yourself. In your irresistible urge to show yourself as a tough guy you have failed to note that nowhere in this eulogy the author has “forgotten Mumbai” and “is behaving as idiots lost in some la la land where the other side is firing bullets”. Don’t try to be an epileptic romain lettuce in a “seizure salad”.

  • romain

    Kaal Mian,

    Yep you are right.

    HP,

    I take it this buddy is a friend of yours. But please do learn to spell, it is romane or use quotes. Dude, if you cant write properly, how do you manage to teach? 🙂

  • Rex Minor

    HP,
    Do you mean Romain is a loner who has been forced out of India because of epileptic lunacy? If the Chaiwala represents the poor sods who among Indian politicians is representing the sane ones if most are leaving the country.

    Rex Minor

  • Ranger99

    What did I say about lies, propaganda and mendacity in the other blog? This guy has made even this Paki activist’s death to advance his hatred for Modi. So is this Aman ki Asha stuff all about Paki = India – Equal Equal. Why do I even bother? This shit will never stop. Better just to forget and let these morons have their fill.

  • Majumdar

    Ranger bhai,
    .
    This guy has made even this Paki activist’s death to advance his hatred for Modi.
    .
    I didnt see any reference to Narendra Modi in this article, altho I did see a mention of Chintan Girish… However, even if he had, he would merely have been following our advise to Septic tank mian. That including Modi boosts readership. We cant blame the author for following our advise.
    .
    Regards

  • tajender