Women who Named the Unnamed
Tribute to the Brilliance
Sabeen Mahmud (1975-2015)
By Fauzia Rafique
Sabeen Mahmud was a computer programmer and graphic designer who had a clear vision of her world and her own role in it. She taught herself these skills not just to make a living but to create public spaces for free expression in a city she saw as chaotic and oppressed by a system based in a military industrial complex. In her own words, she wanted to create ‘a safe haven for artists, musicians, writers, poets, activists, and thinkers— essentially anyone who wanted to escape the relentless tyranny of the city for a little while. If I built it, would anyone come?’
She sure built it, and her vision brought enough support to establish an institution called The Second Floor or 2tf, combining art and literary presentations with opportunities for vibrant social interaction by inculcating secularism, freedom of speech, non-discrimination and equality. Soon, the surrounding religious and governmental structures began to see this as an unwanted activity. Sabeen began to receive death threats from conservative religion-based outfits in 2013, and later, from the country’s security agencies. She continued to bring out some of the burning issues to public attention including the devastating reality of the people of the province of Baluchistan where Baluch activists, political workers and men in general were, and are, made to disappear by para-military agencies.
In 2014, Baluch families and activists staged a 3000 mile three-month long march from Quetta to Islamabad to protest the over 3000 documented cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that had occurred since 2005, and to demand the return of their loved ones. Sabeen had organized talks and discussions on this issue since 2011, in 2015, she presented an event called ‘Unsilencing Baluchistan – take two’. After the event, Sabeen was driving home with her mother when unidentified armed men from the para-military agencies fired at the car injuring her mother, and killing Sabeen.
She was not a dangerous criminal to have been killed like that, she was a visionary, informed, articulate, her execution-style killing was a warning to other democracy-loving people to stay silent. Indeed, after this, many poets, writers, bloggers and teachers were killed, tortured or made to disappear in Pakistan’s cities. Yet what Sabeen stood for, did not disappear; her vision, her t2f, her Peace Niche, her kindnesses, her humour- all remain and flourish in Karachi and Beyond.
Wishing a Happy Sabeen Day to us all, today and every day.
Fauzia Rafique is a novelist, poet, editor and blogger. She has published two novels, ‘The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior‘ and ‘Skeena’. A collection of her poems ‘Holier than Life’ was published as an ebook in 2013. She is a co-founder and the coordinator of Surrey Muse Arts society (SMAS).
Women Who Named the Unnamed
Pakistan’s & Local Women Heroes
Saturday, September 28, 2019
6 – 9 PM
Surrey City Hall
13450 – 104 Avenue
Surrey, BC, Canada V3T 1V8
Buy your ticket online at this link:
Box Office : 604-501-5566
We gratefully acknowledge
that we are on the unceded Coast Salish territories of
the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen,
Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam,
Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.