Archive | October 2015

Over 100,000 British Orphans were Sent Overseas as ‘child migrants’*

Over 100,000 British Orphans were Sent Overseas as ‘child migrants’*

Pamela (right) reunited with her mother in 1990

Up until the late 1960s the U.K. sent children living in care homes to new lives in Australia and other countries. It was a brutal experience for many, writes Kirstie Brewer.

In the winter of 1949, 13-year-old Pamela Smedley boarded a ship to Australia with 27 other girls. She had been told by the nuns from the Catholic home she lived in that she was going on a day-trip. In reality, she was being shipped out to an orphanage in Adelaide and wouldn’t see England again for more than three decades.

“We thought it would be like going to Scarborough for the day because we were so innocent and naive,” says Pamela, who is now in her 70s and still lives in Adelaide.

“The nuns said that in Australia you could pick the oranges off the trees, and I was very excited because I loved oranges.”

Pamela’s unmarried Catholic mother had been pressured to give her up as a baby and so she was sent to live under the care of nuns at Nazareth House in Middlesbrough, Teesside.

The place was cruel and joyless, according to Pamela, and she remembers that when the Reverend Mother asked who wanted to go to Australia, every girl in the home put their hand up.

Once the SS Ormonde set sail for its six-week voyage, the girls soon realised this would be no day-trip. Instead they were allowed to believe there would be families waiting to adopt them.

“We arrived wearing our winter coats and hats and I remember being hit by this stinking 100-degree heat,” recalls Pamela.

“I hated it and when we found out we had travelled 10,000 miles just to be put in another orphanage we all just cried and cried.”

Children en route for emigration to Australia, the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Pamela would spend the next two years at the Sisters of Mercy Goodwood Orphanage, an imposing redbrick Catholic institution, home to about 100 children.

She was one of as many as 100,000 British children to be sent overseas to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries as child migrants between 1869 and 1970.

Run by a partnership of charities, churches and governments, the schemes were sold as an opportunity for a better life for children from impoverished backgrounds and broken homes. In reality, an isolated and brutal childhood awaited many of them.

Pamela was one of an estimated 7,000 children to go to Australia, some as young as four. They were often given the false status of “orphans” to simplify proceedings – and most never saw their homes, or their families again.

Child migrants were actively solicited in Australia as a way of building up the white Anglo-Saxon population and to give the growing economy there a boost,” explains Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent.

This was not something which happened under the radar – the vast majority of children were sent to Australia with government funding.

“It is sometimes easy to assume childcare continuously improves and becomes more enlightened, but by the time Pamela went out [to Australia] the child migration schemes were really running against the grain of accepted childcare practice in post-war Britain,” explains Lynch, who is also a contributing curator to a new exhibition around the subject at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Upon arrival at Goodwood, all the children’s personal mementos – photographs, letters, toys – were taken from them and they were left with just a Bible. Everyone was terrified of the Reverend Mother, even the other nuns, says Pamela. She recalls the big strap the nun had around her waist which her rosaries would hang from.

“It is what she’d use to beat us – at night she would walk up and down the dormitories and if you so much as twitched in your bed you’d get the strap.”

When she arrived, Pamela remembers defiantly shouting out “God Bless England!” during morning prayers, rather than saluting Australia, for which she received “the thrashing of her life” from the Reverend Mother. Eventually, the nun retired and was replaced with someone much kinder and more progressive, according to Pamela.

Daily life at Goodwood consisted of early prayers, chores and then school, followed by more chores, prayers and an early bedtime of 6pm.

A few hours a day would be spent making the strings butchers use to hang their meat.

“It was very coarse string and it made our fingers bleed,” says Pamela.

“If you did anything wrong the penalty was an extra 100 strings and the nun in charge would hit us with her walking stick.”

Child labour helped schemes like the one at Goodwood to be financially viable, according to Lynch.

“It would often be presented as an opportunity for children to learn useful skills or a trade but it was much more about providing some economic contribution,” he explains.

Pamela also remembers working in the laundry room and would spend school holidays living with a family and being worked hard throughout her stay.

“The two daughters in the family were very good to me but their mother just saw me as free labour,” she explains.

Pamela says that every now and then a priest would come to check up on how the children were getting on.

“The nuns would stand right beside us when we were asked questions and toys would appear in time for his inspections, but as soon as he left they were taken away,” she says.

One of the biggest failings of these schemes was that staff were often poorly trained and poorly resourced and very few follow-up checks were made, explains Lynch. Eventually, the Ross Report came out in 1956, as the result of a visit to Australia by a British team of inspectors, commissioned by the Home Office.

“It made grim reading and said that children who’d already had disruptive backgrounds and been subjected to traumatic experience in the U.K. were really the last people who should be sent overseas,” says Lynch. Confidential appendices, containing the worst of the findings, were not publicly released until 1983.

But despite the report, children continued to be shipped overseas. According to Lynch, the reality became “an uneasy truth” – the Home Office weren’t prepared to publicly go against the Commonwealth Relations Office (who were in charge of the schemes) so they tried to discourage local authorities from continuing to send children overseas instead.

Pages from the diary of 12-year-old Maureen Mullins, who emigrated to Australia on SS Otranto in 1952.

“Furthering the British Empire was still very much a priority and there was also a fear of going up against not only the Australian government, but the Catholic Church,” he explains.

The Australian government soon countered the Ross Report with its own glowing review of all the homes under criticism.

Sexual abuse was a harsh reality for many of the children under the care of these schemes, including Pamela, who was assaulted while on the voyage over to Australia and while working at an isolated shearing station, aged 15.

“We were taught never to let a man touch you – and that was all I knew, so I believed I was a sinner and would go to hell for it,” she says. When it happened for the first time on the boat, the nuns in Pamela’s charge insisted she was just dreaming. “I was terrified and I still go to sleep with my hands guarding between my legs,” she says.

At the shearing station Pamela had just one weekend off every six weeks and spent her entire first pay on a ceramic miniature English house. “I bought it to remind me of England,” she says.

Desperate to break free of the scheme’s clutches, she got married three days after her 18th birthday. In 1989 she was connected with the Child Migrants Trust, who helped her to be reunited with her mother Betty. For 40 years Betty had believed Pamela was adopted by a loving family in England.

They kept in touch until Betty died, and in 2010 Pamela was one of 60 former child migrants to be flown over to England to hear an official apology from the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

“I still have nightmares about what happened but hearing the apology gave me a little bit of peace,” says Pamela. “It showed that finally somebody cared about what happened to us.”

Source*

Related Topics:

Forced Adoption: U.K. Parents Cleared Of Abuse ‘Unlikely to See Their Child Again’ Three Years Later*

To Be Washed of their Sins

The Slavish Past of the Irish*

St. Patrick’s Day*

U.K: To Become a Genderless, Parentless Society

Serena Williams To #BlackLivesMatter ‘Keep It Up’*

Serena Williams To #BlackLivesMatter ‘Keep It Up’*

By Serena Williams

BACK IN 2008, when I was competing in the U.S. Open, I would keep little “match books,” where I’d write affirmations to myself and read them during matches. It worked pretty well. But before long I found an even better way to inspire myself: I started using affirmations as the passwords to my phone and my computer. (No, I’m not going to tell you what my current affirmation is!) You should try it. You’ll be surprised how many times a day you log in and have an opportunity to trigger that positivity. I love that I can use technology that way.

Here’s one of the affirmations I gave myself when I was younger: “I will work in Africa and help kids and help people.” And I did. I opened a school in Kenya in 2008 and a second in 2010. Now, sometimes in Africa they send only the boys to school. So we had a strict rule that our schools had to be at least 40 percent girls. It was impossible to get 50-50 boys to girls, and we really had to fight for 60-40. But we got it.

Equality is important. In the NFL, they have something called the Rooney rule. It says that teams have to interview minority candidates for senior jobs. It’s a rule that companies in Silicon Valley are starting to follow too, and that’s great. But we need to see more women and people of different colors and nationalities in tech. That’s the reason I wanted to do this issue with WIRED—I’m a black woman, and I am in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people. And while tennis isn’t really about the future, Silicon Valley sure is. I want young people to look at the trailblazers we’ve assembled below and be inspired. I hope they eventually become trailblazers themselves. Together we can change the future.

So to those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too (see “Get Up, Stand Up”). To other people, I say: When someone’s harassing someone else, speak up! J. K. Rowling spoke up for me this summer, and it was an amazing feeling—I thought, well, “I can speak up too.”

And when we’re not talking, we can get coding. Adria Richards (see “Take Back the Net”) has suggested solutions to online harassment, including my favourite, Send-a-Puppy, where you’d send a digital doggy to support someone who’s being harassed. And we can champion efforts that get kids interested in computers, efforts like Kimberly Bryant’s Black Girls Code.

Nothing like Black Girls Code existed when I was growing up. (And I know what it’s like to be interested in a field where the other kids don’t look like you.) So I think we’re making progress. But we can keep working even more to increase equality—whether it’s making sure to interview black candidates for tech jobs or standing up to cyberbullying or making sure that our technology is designed by all kinds of people. Eventually we’re going to make the world better. For everyone. And hopefully my next school will be 50-50. —As told to Sarah Fallon

Source*

Related Topics:

‘We Charge Genocide’: Systematic Murder & Oppression of Blacks Continues in U.S.*

Arrested and Held in Psych Ward Because Cops Didn’t Believe as a Black Woman She Owns BMW*

The Never-ending Feminist War on Children*

Bessie Coleman: The First Black Female Pilot*

Black Wall Street*

Get Out of Jail Free Card for Cop Involved in 100+ Tortures of Black Men*

Meet the Indian Women Trying to Take Down the Caste System*

Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Hands*

Black and Afro-Indigenous Farmers Will Share 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize*

Black-Palestinian Alliance Emerges to Confront Global Violence and Racism*

South Africa Delays Court Decision on Black Ownership of Mines*

Discovering Black Identity*

The First Black Female Principal Dancer*

Muslim Charities Are Helping To Raise Money for Burned Black Churches In The US*

Obama Anaesthetizing Black Resistance*

Leading #BlackLivesMatter Activists Arrested*

Corporate Plunder of the Philippines*

Corporate Plunder of the Philippines*

By Matthew Behrens

For many in the Global North, certain countries only appear on our radar screens as discount winter vacation hotspots. Other times, when natural disaster strikes, these countries serve as empathy-building backdrops to raise millions for charities that, after skimming some off the top, may distribute some of the contributions for the clean-up effort.

One such country is the Philippines, which made Canadian news headlines this month because of a typhoon, and which may again generate some news coverage if Justin Trudeau decides to attend the Asia-Pacific economic summit next month. The Philippines might be mentioned in passing as one of the largest sources of Canada’s live-in caregiver program and of  “temporary foreign workers,” both groups painfully separated from their loved ones for years by Canada’s restrictive immigration policies.

Widespread human rights abuses 

The Philippines also made news this month because two Canadians are among a group who were kidnapped from a resort on the island of Mindanao on September 21, allegedly held by a group calling itself Abu Sayyaf. A video released by the group shows one of the Canadians, Robert Hall, calling on family and friends to “contact the Canadian government and … plead with them to co-operate with the Philippine government to stop the bombings and the problems that are going on here.”

While one hopes the Canadian government will go beyond its normal lackadaisical approach to helping citizens wrongfully held overseas, the video message itself contains an unexplained reference to a little-reported, relentless series of human rights abuses carried out in the name of “national security” over the past 15 years by the Filipino military and state security forces. As the Philippine human rights group Karapatan reports, from January 2001 to October 2009, the Philippines witnessed 1,118 extrajudicial killings, 204 enforced disappearances, 1,026 documented cases of torture, 1,946 illegal arrests, and 255 political prisoners put behind bars under trumped-up charges.

Those numbers have continued to grow, with, by June 2014, an additional 204 extrajudicial killings, 21 enforced disappearances, 99 instances of torture, and 664 illegal arrests and detentions. Such numbers can be mind numbing, but keep in mind each one represents a human being with family, friends, and colleagues who have been terrorized by the violence unleashed against someone they know and care about.

This repression has been carried out with relative impunity, with Human Rights Watch reporting:

”At the lowest ranks, the military has created an environment in which foot soldiers have readily participated in killings of leftist activists. A military insider told [us] that even if the local commander did not give the order to kill, ‘he knows of everything’ and will protect his soldiers. Soldiers have also been paid as hired killers, acting on behalf of private interests or other government agencies.”

The Aeta People: Indigenous Tribe of the Philippines

With groups like Human Rights Watch pressing North America and Europe to push for improvements in human rights, especially with respect to the Philippine military, such abuses have been glossed over in favour of the Obama administration’s “Asian pivot” military strategy to “contain” China, and Canadian efforts to open up further trade opportunities. In May 2015, Canada’s then-trade minister Ed Fast led a delegation for four days of talks, calling the Philippines “a priority market under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan,” with bilateral merchandise trade estimated at $1.8 billion in a market where the “business-friendly environment [is] introducing reforms such as lowering the corporate tax rate.”

A cozy military partnership

As always, the dreadful human rights situation on the ground is only of passing concern for Canadian military and corporate officials. In February 2014, Canada and the Philippines formalized a military training co-operation program to bring Filipino soldiers to Canada. Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines, Neil Reeder, declared:

“Canada and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have enjoyed a strong military training partnership since 1997, and today’s signing allows that partnership to continue and flourish even further,” enthusing further that “I am proud to say that to date we have trained more than 150 Philippine military personnel in Canada from all major services of the AFP.” Among the training provided to Filipino soldiers are everything from “senior management courses” to “national security,” the latter an umbrella phrase allowing military abuses in which civilian casualties are dismissed as “collateral damage” or, as drone operators refer to their victims, “bug splat.”

Reeder’s glowing comments neglected to address the well-documented carnage committed by members of the very military to which Canada continues cozying up.

Indigenous resistance to mining from the Philippines to …

One month later, not surprisingly, came even more gravy train, with the Philippines agreeing to buy $100 million worth of Canadian Bell 412 military helicopters, manufactured in Montreal. They were received a year later for, as Reuters reported, “close air support and air reconnaissance in counter-insurgency operations.” At the time, the NDP’s Paul Dewar wondered why the sale agreement was secret (rather like the secret Saudi $15-billion weapons deal with General Dynamics in London, Ontario), telling the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese,

“If it’s good for the economy or jobs then great, let’s see the deal. There’s no reason not to have full disclosure on this.”

Despite being foreign affairs critic, Dewar did not come out and ask directly why a military that has been implicated in gross human rights abuses gets a free pass on new equipment whose primary function is murder and terror from the skies.

Indeed, readily available reports from the likes of Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been clear. The same year (2012) Canada signed another memorandum of understanding on military procurement with the Philippines, HRW reported:

“Human rights violations are not new for Filipinos. They have heard over and over again about the extrajudicial killings of activists, environmentalists, journalists and critical members of the clergy, among others. When Benigno S. Aquino III, the son of the late president Corazon Aquino, took office in 2010, he promised sweeping reforms, including stopping abuses by state security forces. While the number of incidents has dropped, the lack of accountability remains a problem.

“Court cases and investigations are barely moving, even as new violations are being committed. Worse, there is evidence that the Philippine armed forces has frustrated investigations. ‘Our problem is that the military has been very uncooperative,” Loretta Ann Rosales, the chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, complained, referring to a case in which the military took more than a year to turn over evidence.”

Indigenous Filipinos

Environmental plunder

Early in the so-called War on Terror, the U.S. declared the Philippines a second front, increasing its presence in a country that has had a lengthy history of colonial invasions and unending occupation by the likes of the United States. Canadian and American support for long-time brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos  (one of many blots on Jimmy Carter’s human rights record) was always strong, both because the nation is treated as a massive air base for foreign military forces and also, as a Wikileaks-released cable written in 2006 by the U.S. embassy revealed, ”the Philippines may have untapped mineral wealth worth between $840 billion and $1 trillion.” Mindanao, in particular, is seen as ”a treasure trove” of minerals:

“[U]p to 70 per cent of the Philippines’ mineral resources may be in Mindanao. Interest has grown significantly since a December 2004 decision by the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act. Companies that are up to 100 per cent foreign-owned may now pursue investments in large-scale exploration and development of minerals, oil and gas. As of early 2006, there were 23 mining projects nationwide. Multinational firms are already eyeing areas in Mindanao for possible projects.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are “approximately 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the South China Sea that have yet to be tapped.”

Indigenous peoples of the Philippines

The Philippines and, especially, this mineral-rich area in Mindanao, is also home to centuries of Indigenous resistance, historically viewed by U.S. and Philippine government authorities as “terrorist.” In addition, in March 2012, the drone war shifted focus with a strike on Jolo Island that killed 15 people, followed by an announcement that the U.S. would increase its drone capacity there by 30 per cent to bolster the role of American troops who are there in an “advisory role.” As the Brookings Institute reported, “The expansion of the U.S. drone war has the potential to further enflame a volatile conflict involving the southern Muslim areas and Manila, which has killed around 120,000 people over the past four decades.” It goes on to explain that while the U.S. has tried to target Abu Sayyaf, groups that have been fighting to right grievances for centuries all tend to get painted with the same Abu Sayyaf brush.

Others who might be seen as security threats — a not uncommon occurrence — are those opposed to the opening of environmentally devastating mining operations. Canadian mining companies are globally notorious for their connections to local human rights violations and environmental destruction, as well documented by This Magazine in 2009. In Mindanao, one such company is Canadian TVI Pacific Ltd. As the Toronto Star reported:

“In 2005, a foreign affairs committee looked at allegations that TVI Pacific was employing paramilitary forces to trample tribal grounds and abuse human rights. The committee called for an investigation. The Liberal government at the time responded, saying it recognized ‘the difficulties Canadian companies can face when operating in foreign jurisdictions’ and said the TVI case ‘highlights the complexities of evaluating company activities against standards that may be either unclear or inconsistent between governments.'”

The government failed to investigate further.

In 2010 and 2014, Scarborough Liberal MP John McKay unsuccessfully put forward a number of private member’s bills whose purpose was to:

“[P]romote environmental best practices and to ensure the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in respect of the mining, oil or gas activities of Canadian corporations in developing countries. It also gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade the responsibility to issue guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards for mining, oil or gas activities and it requires the Ministers to submit an annual report to both Houses of Parliament on the provisions and operation of this Act.”

McKay won re-election under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals; whether he will be able to get his bill through a Liberal majority government remains to be seen.

Of the Philippines

Ending repression

This brings us back to the video reference to an unexplained violence taking place in one region of the Philippines where two Canadians are held hostage. Canada may well be compromised in its ability to negotiate unless it acknowledges these broader violations and does something to end them.

There are plenty of organizations working toward such changes, so the Canadian government, if it does wish to play a constructive role, needn’t look far for advice. Indeed, representatives of 20 countries and 140 organizations from six continents met in a remarkable gathering in the Philippines’ Quezon City at the end of July for the International People’s Conference on Mining. They issued a powerful statement of unity, declaring they:

“[E]ngaged in profound conversations — sharing each other’s experiences of resistance and struggle — gaining lessons from victories, as well as defeats — in order to move forward and guarantee a better world for future generations. These insights and conversations have inspired us to remain committed and steadfast in our resolve to stop the further onslaught of imperialist mining plunder and greed against the people and the environment. Our coming together has brought us hope. Hope that in working separately in our own particular contexts and countries, and together through co-ordinated international actions and solidarity, our collective resistance for the defence of rights, the environment and a common future, will bring forth triumph for people over profit, nature over neoliberal mining policies, and social justice over death and destruction.”

A month after participants from this inspired gathering headed home, they woke to the gruesome news on September 1 that three of their colleagues from Mindanao had met a brutal fate at the hands of the Canadian-supplied Philippine army. Emerito Samarca, who had been the executive director of the Alternative Learning Centre for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, and a staunch supporter of Indigenous rights, “was bound, beaten, stabbed, and had his throat slit almost from ear to ear. He was last seen with elements of the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the ALCADEV grounds with a rope binding his neck, hands, and feet, in the afternoon of August 31.” Also murdered by members of the paramilitary Magahat/Bagani Forces group (largely viewed as a creation of the Filipino military) were Dionel Campos, chairperson of the Indigenous organization MAPASU, and Datu Bello Sinzo, a Lumad leader (Lumad is the collective name for 18 Indigenous groups on Mindanao).

In a subsequent statement, Call for International Action and Solidarity Against Mining and Militarization in Mindanao, conference participants reiterated that:

The Lumad peoples of Caraga, recognizing that large-scale mining projects will push them out of their lands and destroy their lives and livelihoods, have been fiercely defending their ancestral lands against the entry of large-scale mining. Their resistance has resulted in the brutal militarization of their communities to silence dissent and pave the way for large-scale mining activities. Presently, there are nine battalions of the Philippine army deployed in the region, in addition to two infantry brigades, special security forces of mining and logging companies, and paramilitary groups.

“We call on the Philippine government to respect the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples and uphold human rights and justice of the law. We demand that all anti-people and anti-environment policies and projects such as foreign large-scale mining operations must be immediately stopped. Lastly, we call on all our friends, allies, and colleagues worldwide to stand with us in action and solidarity to demand justice and accountability for these brutal killings and put an end to militarization, the persecution of Indigenous peoples, and an end to large-scale mining plunder, destruction, and injustice.”

As Justin Trudeau considers a November trip to the Philippines, larger questions loom for Canada’s newest prime minister: will the rush for mineral wealth continue to roll over human rights in the Philippines and elsewhere? Will he support the introduction of a new bill to mandate Canadian corporate respect for human rights standards and environmental responsibility? Will he stop supplying some of the world’s worst regimes with military equipment used to repress their own populations?

The answers to those questions do not rely solely on Trudeau’s response. They ultimately depend on our own.

Source*

Related Topics:

Bush’s War on Terror in the Philippines*

Philippines Indigenous Excluded from Peace and Development Agenda*

Philippine Farmers Uproot Monsanto’s GM Golden Rice*

Philippine typhoon kills at least 10,000: survivors ‘walking around like zombies’

A Sad Day for the Philippines*

Meet the Indian Women Trying to Take Down the Caste System*

Meet the Indian Women Trying to Take Down the Caste System*

Asha Kowtal and the Dalit Women’s Self-Respect March travelled across Northern India to document the ongoing violence against women who were once branded as “untouchable.” Now, they’re raising new leaders, and finding allies in Black Lives Matter.

By Rucha Chitnis

This week, grisly news emerged of the deaths of two Dalit children in India: An infant and toddler were burned alive in an arson attack in Faridabad, a city near Delhi. Their father, Jitender Kumar, who is a member of India’s Dalit caste (formerly known as “untouchables”) held the Rajputs, an upper-caste group, responsible for the deaths of his children.

Raging controversy and protests have since followed—including the blocking of a major highway to the Taj Mahal—especially after the inflammatory remarks of the Union Minister of State, V.K. Singh, who likened the killings to the stoning of dogs:

“If one stones a dog, how can the government be held responsible for this?”

“Untouchability has ruined the untouchables, the Hindus and ultimately the nation as well,” noted the late B. R. Ambedkar, an iconic Dalit leader and architect of India’s constitution.

Despite India’s race into the 21st century with an accelerating economy and a narrative of acche din aane wale hai (good days are coming), the pernicious shadow of the caste system lingers. India is home to nearly 200 million Dalits, and the fetters of its deeply entrenched social hierarchy continue to repress many, none more than Dalit women.

“The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations,” noted Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

Dalit women face widespread discrimination, much of it at the intersection of gender, caste, and economic disadvantage, leaving them acutely vulnerable. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, four Dalit women are raped every day in India.

In the face of this staggering violence, an emerging movement called The All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (All India Dalit Women’s Rights Forum, or AIDMAM) is resisting the culture of violence that subjugates Dalit women. Led by the ingenuity and creativity of Dalit women themselves, many of whom are survivors of violence, this movement is challenging gender-based violence that is rooted in caste. This new generation of frontline human rights defenders has given a voice to women in rural and urban spheres to frame their own narratives of resistance and share stories of struggle.

Last year, Dalit women activists travelled across several states in Northern India as part of Dalit Women’s Self-Respect Yatra (march) to document the salvo of violence against Dalit women, build solidarity, and connect with survivors and witness their trauma and grief. The march documented how caste dynamics unleash a barbarous range of violence against Dalit women—gang rapes, public stripping and parading and branding of Dalit women as witches, while privileging and shielding the perpetrators of heinous crimes.

Currently, AIDMAM is on a North American tour to “break the silence on caste apartheid and caste rape” and engage with women activists in the U.S. who are also speaking out against state violence.  I spoke with Asha Kowtal, AIDMAM’s general secretary, who has propelled this critical dialogue around caste and its deep links with gender-based violence.

Asha Kowtal, center, with activists from #DalitWomenFight. Photo by Rucha Chitnis

Rucha Chitnis: Could you share the history of Dalit women’s resistance in India, and the evolution of AIDMAM as a movement that was founded and led by Dalit women?

Asha Kowtal: The Dalit movement in India has a huge legacy, strong resistance, its own evolution over several decades now, where Dalit women played a significant role—particularly women who wrote books, songs, poems, and were part of the cultural resistance of that time. And yet, we don’t get to read about our own cultural history in India. At the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, we had a discussion to look specifically at Dalit women’s issues. We needed a women’s movement because of various challenges—the lack of resources, patriarchy within the movement itself—and we needed a vision for what it meant to organize independently as women.

Slowly we began to grasp the situational analysis more deeply in Northern India in states, like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and it took some time to look at the context in the field and understand who were our allies in Delhi and beyond. We covered a lot of ground and began to identify new activists. The big shift happened in 2012. A few months before the Delhi gang rape, which captured the world’s attention, we received reports of 22 gang rapes of Dalit women in Haryana alone. The frequency of the crimes was staggering, and our movement galvanized into a stronger force. We were eight to ten Dalit women leaders, and we decided to travel to ten districts in Haryana, village-to-village, to meet survivors and their families in November, 2012. And then in December, the whole world woke up to news of the Delhi gang rape.

Rucha Chitnis: What was the conversation around violence against women in feminist spaces in India after the Delhi gang rape?

Asha Kowtal:  It opened up a lot of discussions among feminist groups.  We decided to use this space to bring [up] issues of gender and caste, and repeatedly highlighted that we cannot talk about gender justice without looking at the structure of caste. How long can you ignore this? We are the only Dalit women’s group that is consistently raising this issue.  We would often receive a sympathy response from mainstream feminists, but what we wanted was a real political analysis keeping caste at the core to understand violence against women. Every year in India, women’s groups celebrate International Women’s Day. But, we wonder why specific issues of Dalit women involved in manual scavenging work never appear in the agenda. How can gender justice be achieved when millions of women remain under the shackles of deep-seated caste apartheid?

Rucha Chitnis: Last year, the Dalit Women’s Self-Respect Yatra travelled across several states in Northern India to understand the context and realities of violence facing Dalit women. What did your fact-finding visits reveal?

Photo by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, #DalitWomenFight

Asha Kowtal:  After the first yatra (march) in Haryana in 2012, we felt is was a powerful strategy to connect with Dalit women and a community that was so thirsty to have someone talk to them, even if it meant comforting them, talking to their families, taking their petitions to the district collector. We had public meetings, awareness programs, street theatre, cultural programs, and hundreds of people started gathering. Dalit women were leading this process. All of a sudden Dalit women were on the stage and communities were gathering at our meetings, and this changed the equation and put Dalit women as state and national leaders.

Through these journeys across states, we were able to reflect, look at the geo-contextual situation of each state. In Bihar, we saw how violence against women was connected to access to land and resources. We saw how Dalit families’ land struggles were leading to backlash and violence. Ninety percent of land is owned by 10 percent of people in Bihar—this is the kind of unequal structure in these communities. We began to understand the root causes of violence against Dalit women. We saw that when Dalit women were participating in the panchayat (village self-governing systems), they were largely either proxy to male members of the family or a dominant caste person. We saw how much Dalit women faced violence as elected representatives. In spite of all the laws, there was a culture of impunity.

The situation in the state of Orissa was mind-blowing. We were there for 10 days and saw the full spectrum of violence, whether it was untouchability, Dalits not allowed to enter temples, children discriminated [against] in schools, women being stripped and paraded naked, women branded as witches and killed. The silencing of the violence was rampant when the police and civil society are repressive in a dominant Hindu and Brahmanized culture. In Bundelkhund, we went to a village, where not a single person has gone to school, where women were raped and could not go to the police station. We witnessed the thick-skinned wall of impunity.

Rucha Chitnis: How did the yatra shape the movement’s trajectory?

Asha Kowtal:  We wondered if the institutions that were mandated to give us justice can really serve us. We had an interaction with Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and she wrote how structural overhaul is needed in India to address violence against women.  Navi Pillay, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also wrote how India needs to tear down the barriers of caste. The impunity that we see in police officers is the same impunity we see in highest diplomatic officers, who don’t acknowledge caste in international human rights discourse. India has successfully avoided the use of the terminology of caste.

“We are Dalit women. We are not flowers. We are flames of resistance!” Photo by Rucha Chitnis.

Rucha Chitnis: Tell us about the conceptualization of #DalitWomenFight and how this has provided a powerful lexicon to tell the stories of Dalit women’s powerful resistance.

Asha Kowtal: We created #DalitWomenFight toward the end of 2013, and decided to do social media trainings for our girls so that this message could be heard across the world. We began to have a discussion around building solidarity. Who will stand shoulder to shoulder with us? We started expanding our horizons, and in 2014 we spoke at the Women in the World Summit. This was the first time they had a panel on Dalit women. We also went to the Color of Violence conference in Chicago, where we met many women of colour, queer and gender non-conforming people and indigenous women. The discussions were amazing. We also started Dalit History Month, because we realized that Dalits needed to rewrite their own history. This was powerful as it was conceived and implemented by the minds and knowledge systems of Dalit women.

Rucha Chitnis: How does the Dalit women’s movement define leadership? How do you empower and support frontline Dalit activists, many of whom are survivors of violence?

Asha Kowtal: It’s a difficult and precious process. There is a lot investment to build women’s leadership because the context and circumstances we come from are so difficult—extreme deprivation and poverty is one thing. But what it does to our own confidence and agency is very challenging, for myself and for other younger leaders. I realized that there is no other way—if we don’t mentor these young leaders now, then we can’t move forward in the face of fundamentalism and leftist feminism. Many of them are young students, and we offered trainings, workshops on human rights instruments, legal monitoring, how to understand law, gender and sexuality. We also had writing and history workshops, personal leadership trainings, where women could share their fears and insecurities. Now we are also focusing on digital security, direct action, Wikipedia, and self-defense trainings. We are starting to have a conversation on self-care as many of us are carrying a lot of trauma and pain. Also without resources and infrastructure, self-care is meaningless to us. We nurture relationships. We are like a family that wants to collectively take this resistance forward.

Activists stage a die-in in New York City. Photo by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, #DalitWomenFight

Rucha Chitnis: During the North America tour of #DalitWomenFight, you had dialogues with women from Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName action in San Francisco. What did these dialogues reveal for AIDMAM members on the tour?

Asha Kowtal:  We met women from Black Lives Matter and learned how they built their campaign. We also met Angela Davis and presented our poster to her and shared about our struggle. It was good to see the sharp perspective of these women. We had an intimate conversation at a home with women from #SayHerName action, which was powerful. We shared our vulnerabilities as oppressed women, and we also saw the strengths of our collectives. We saw so many parallels in our struggles, while recognizing the differences of race and caste. We realized the similarities of the impunity of state violence that denies us justice, dignity and respect. We talked about how brownness in India is also whiteness through Brahmin and upper-caste privilege. We talked about solidarity, how we unpack these questions that are very important to us, and now we have amazing new sisters and allies.

#DalitWomenFight

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U.K. Police Will be able to View Your Entire Internet History’*

U.K. Police Will be able to View Your Entire Internet History’*

By Hardeep Matharu

Police are to be given the power to view everyone’s entire internet history in a new surveillance bill to be published next week, according to reports.

The proposed legislation will make it a legal requirement for telecoms and internet service providers to retain all of the web browsing history for all customers for a period of 12 months, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Authorities such as the police, intelligence services and the National Crime Agency would be able to access specific web addresses people had visited, but would need approval from a judge to view the content of websites, emails and social media messages.

Police have argued that the powers are necessary due to the scale of activity being carried out online, with The Guardian reporting that police have lobbied the Government for the change.

Richard Berry, the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman for data communications, told the newspaper:

“We essentially need the ‘who, where, when and what’ of any communication – who initiated it, where were they and when did it happened.

“And a little bit of the ‘what’, were they on Facebook, or a banking site, or an illegal child-abuse image-sharing website?

“Five years ago, [a suspect] could have physically walked into a bank and carried out a transaction. We could have put a surveillance team on that but now, most of it is done online. We just want to know about the visit.”

He acknowledged it would be too intrusive for police to be able to access the content of social media messages and internet searches without the requirement for a judicial warrant.

Next Wednesday’s bill is expected to be a revival of Home Secretary Theresa May’s so-called ‘snooper’s charter’, which suffered a setback earlier this year when an independent review raised doubts over moves to store every person’s web-browsing history.

David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said the case had not been made for demanding full records of web-browsing histories, noting that he knew of no other Western countries which forced service providers to retain “weblogs” and that new Australian legislation had been drafted in such a way as to prevent that happening.

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So, this is Why U.S. and Saudi Bombed MSF Hospitals*

So, this is Why U.S. and Saudi Bombed MSF Hospitals*

Unsubstantiated U.S. State Department claims that Russian airstrikes had struck hospitals have been rejected by Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Red Cross.

Medical staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have made no claims that their hospitals were struck by Russian air strikes, the organization’s head of emergency care told Sputnik on Thursday.

MSF’s rejection of claims made by the White House, and repeated in the U.S. press, that Russian air strikes had hit hospitals follows confirmation from the Red Cross that none of its personnel on the ground have made any claims about a Russian air strike on its centres in Syria.

Dounia Dekhili said that MSF hospitals have no information on which to base the U.S. allegations that Russia is responsible for the destruction of hospitals.

On Thursday, the medical organization reported that 12 hospitals had been targeted in Syria, six of them MSF institutions. However, MSF declined to assign responsibility for the attacks.

“It is difficult to determine who is responsible for the air strikes that led to the destruction of the hospitals,” said Dekhili.

“We were not witnesses, so we cannot be precise on that.”

Dekhili explained that many areas of Syria are inaccessible, and the organization relies on reports from medical personnel on the ground, none of whom have said that Russia carried out an airstrike against a hospital.

The interview Dounia Dekhili gave to French Sputnik.

Dekhili expressed the medical professionals’ despondency at the violence which had left medical facilities and countless other civilian structures devastated in the course of the conflict, explaining that for years its institutions have reported being targeted by aerial bombardment.

“Regardless of who the parties to the conflict are, there is a total violation of medical and civilian structures.”

On Thursday, spokesman for the U.S. State Department John Kirby was asked to provide sources to substantiate its grave allegations that Russia was responsible for damaging hospitals.

Kirby said that “we have seen some press reporting to that end,” and referred to “Syrian civil society groups” and “other operational information” which led the U.S. administration to make the allegations, but was unable to provide any evidence.

Kirby was asked for substantiation after Red Cross Director Dominic Stillhart said that its personnel on the ground had not reported any airstrikes by Russian planes on civilian targets, including hospitals.

On October 3, MSF stated that a U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, had left 22 people dead and resulted in 37 being injured.

On October 29, the organization said it was “beyond doubt” that  the Saudi-led coalition carrying out bombings in Yemen, had hit its hospital in Haydan on October 26.

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U.S. Sending Special Forces to Aid ISIS in Syria*

U.S. Sending Special Forces to Aid ISIS in Syria*

By Stephen Lendman

Washington is desperate to find ways of countering Russia’s effective Middle East agenda – combining formidable military might against terrorism with trustworthy diplomacy, proving Moscow is a valued partner, polar opposite Washington, a rogue bully.

40a92-iuObama’s pledge about no “American combat troops fighting on foreign soil” proved another of his many Big Lies. Thousands of U.S. combat troops already operate in Iraq, along with Special Forces and CIA operatives.

On October 27, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced greater numbers being sent to join them for “direct action on the ground,” he said.

“We won’t hold back” – what’s already ongoing, now heading for Syria. U.S. Special Forces will be deployed to northern areas – illegally without Damascus or Security Council authorization.

Unannounced greater numbers may join them. Their mission: aiding ISIS and other takfiri terrorists, putting them in harm’s way.

What if some are killed by Russian air strikes? How many more U.S. forces are in Syria covertly? Maybe large unannounced numbers, likely operating in unmarked uniforms to conceal their identity.

Their presence won’t change Putin’s mission – over 1,600 terrorist targets already struck with devastating effectiveness, many more to come.

Washington seeks new provocations. Thousands more NATO troops are being deployed near Russia’s borders. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said these development(s) (aren’t new) as we’ve been talking about how undesirable and dangerous this move is for a long time” – undermining regional and global security, threatening world peace.

Upping the anti in Iraq and Syria raises great cause for concern. It suggests U.S. talks in Vienna to resolve Syria’s conflict aren’t serious. Washington deplores peace and stability, waging endless wars of aggression for unchallenged dominance.

Putin’s intervention changed things. He’s not about to lose the initiative he gained. Expect U.S. efforts to aid ISIS to fail the way its regional agenda is faltering, a major turn of events for the better.

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