When Moneeza Hashmi arrived at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi on 9 May to check in for the 15th Asia Media Summit which was to begin the next day, she was informed by the staff that there was no booking in her name. When she showed them her Indian visa and papers, she was still refused. Soon, the director of the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD), Chang Jin, who was the organiser, arrived and profusely apologised to her, but could do nothing.
She was told she could not stay at the hotel, or register for the conference, or even speak as she was scheduled to. This happened, despite the fact that she had even sent her PowerPoint presentation for the occasion, which was accepted.
Hashmi stood her ground and asked for an alternative place to stay; she had paid for her own travel, and it was only fair that the organisers should book her into another hotel — a demand which was accepted.
Speaking to Firstpost, Hashmi said, "I asked Mr Jin why I could not speak, and he said he could not say, and kept repeating that he was sorry." She is the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and the creative and media head of Kashf Foundation. It is Pakistan’s first specialised micro-finance institution, and her work involves working on micro-credit and women, modelled on the lines of Grameen Bank. She was also the head of programming at Pakistan Television and has a career in TV that spans 45 years.
She said she had addressed these conferences 12 or 13 times in the past and that they were all on non-political issues. This time too, it was about stories of women.
A hassled Moneeza later met her friend, writer and activist Kamla Bhasin, at the Indian International Centre in New Delhi and narrated this experience, but didn’t want to make a fuss. The news travelled and soon it was known that she was not allowed to speak at the conference. She was booked into another hotel and left after three days. Bhasin, who has known Hashmi for over 30 years, said she was saddened by the incident. “It is the reaction of all of us involved in the peace process, and we have to avoid such things in the future. She had come as a speaker for a major international event with participants from over 20 countries. How would they look at the situation in their neighbouring country?” she wondered. “At IIC people knew and remembered her, and that is because we are one cultural and ideological family,” added Bhasin.
Hashmi has been a high profile speaker at these conferences in other Asian countries. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which hosted the conference along with Prasar Bharati, has denied it had anything to do with the incident. And the AIBD too, seemed helpless. She had a valid visa, and her papers were in order.
The incident, at the very least, marks a new low in the general pettiness and tit-for-tat attitude that characterises Indo-Pakistan bilateral relations.
Hashmi asserts that this is not the way the people of India would treat anyone. Speaking of her father, she said, "Faiz is all about peace; about keeping hearts and minds, borders and doors open. This is an unfortunate, silly incident, but I hold no grudges. I kept the lid on and I promise we at Faiz Foundation will always welcome Indians. We hope to keep this episode behind us. I am sure Faiz did not want this and we will continue to uphold those values he stood for – to have the capacity to listen to someone else, and have a dialogue.”
Never in her 72 years, she said, had she come across anyone who would not allow an Indian to speak in Pakistan (though in diplomatic circles, there are such incidents). “This is really stupid, and it is not going to help peace. People use these incidents to create more hate, and we don’t want that.”
In response to Bhasin, while talking about how the Faiz family and Faiz Foundation will continue to work towards peace between these two countries, Hashmi quoted her one of her father’s verses: “Lambi hai gham ki sham, magar sham hi to hai” (Though the night of sorrow is long, but it is just a night). Clearly for her, this is not going to come in the way of her work towards peace.
However, in the case of India and Pakistan, it does seem like an endless night. We have much to learn from Hashmi’s dignity, generosity of spirit and disinclination to bear grudges — a breath of fresh air in our dour bilateral relations. The incident has been condemned in India and several journalists have, in a statement, said that, “Whatever the political problems this government has with its Pakistani counterpart, it cannot vent its venom on artists from our neighbouring country, or even on ordinary people.”
This incident highlights visa denials to pilgrims and a complete failure to move ahead even diplomatically in terms of the comprehensive dialogue agreed to in 2015. This rather bleak scenario is unlikely to improve and, with general elections in the offing in both countries, the need to ratchet up jingoism will be paramount. Not permitting Faiz’s daughter to speak after she was invited to diminishes us as a country and a people, and tears into that shared history that we were once so proud of. It also undermines the much fought for freedom and free speech in a democracy. As Faiz put it:
“Ye daag daag ujala, ye shab ghazida sehar, wo intezar tha jiska, yeh wo sehar nahin hai (This leprous brightness, this dawn which reeks of night, this is not the one, the long awaited morn).”
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Updated Date: May 18, 2018 15:58:52 IST