Remembering Saneeya Hussain of Absurdistan, five years on…

Saneeya Hussain (1954 - 2005)
Exactly five years ago today, journalist and activist Saneeya Hussain left us. Hers was a needless death that left a deep impression in numerous friends she had around the world. We still remember.

We remember Saneeya as a journalist who took a special interest in environment and human rights issues. All her working life, she campaigned tirelessly for a cleaner, safer and more equitable society for everyone, everywhere.

We remember Saneeya as one who supported pluralism – not just in her own country Pakistan, but everywhere. She hated autocrats and military dictators. She spoke out and wrote against unfair domination and agenda setting by a handful of (usually graying) men. She had the courage to suggest re-naming her country as Absurdistan!

We remember Saneeya as a fun-loving, easy-going if slightly absent-minded friend. She wasn’t the most organised person, but was diligent and relentless on causes and issues that she passionately believed in.

Saneeya’s worldwide network of friends have keep her flame alive, and this blog post is as much a tribute to them as it is for Saneeya. Officially, the Saneeya Hussain Trustcontinues her vision and mission.

In fact, the chairperson of the trust (and Saneeya’s mother) Najma Hussain just wrote us a group email, saying: “Let’s share happy memories of Saneeya and celebrate her life.”

She asked: “If you have any anecdotes to share with us please write back. We will love to hear from you.” Saneeya Hussain Trust can be contacted here.

Read my blog post written on Saneeya’s second death anniversary, 20 April 2007, for more of my own memories

Our mutual friend Beena Sarwar has made a 14-minute documentary called Celebrating Saneeya. Here’s the shorter version available on YouTube:

Celebrating Saneeya (August 2005; 14 mins; language: English; Filmed in Karachi, Pakistan, with archives and footage from Brazil, South Africa and Nepal)

Synopsis: Saneeya, with her joyful laugh, lightness of spirit, striking height and long hair, embodied “feminism” and “women’s rights” in the most un-dogmatic way. Living life on her own terms, she countered the trends that militate against women’s individual freedoms in Pakistan. During the repressive years of military dictator General Ziaul Haq she worked as a journalist and was active in the women’s movement that defied the military rule. She also pioneered environmental journalism in Pakistan. Later, while working with the World Commission on Dams in South Africa she met a Brazilian geographer eleven years her junior. Their love story transcended age, culture, religion and nationalities.

In 2004, a severe allergic reaction stopped Saneeya’s breathing and her breathing stopped during a traffic jam in Sao Paulo, preventing her from reaching the hospital in time and sending her into a coma. This documentary is a celebration of her life and all that she stood for, through interviews with her husband, family and friends, and archive material. Sticker on Saneeya’s fridge: “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first”.

Read more about Saneeya Hussain on the trust website

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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