Tag Archives: murder

FGM and Leyla Hussein

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What can I say that Leyla Hussein hasn’t already expressed so eloquently and so entertainingly? Her appearance on the channel 4 documentary, The Cruel Cutwas entertaining, and I’m so glad that I watched it.

FGM is an issue that has been fought by numerous charities, facebook groups, individuals, and campaigners for many years. Indeed, as the documentary itself pointed out, it has been illegal in the UK since 1985. I’m glad that Leyla’s programme has brought this subject into the mainstream media, and from what I read in the Evening Standard (yes, that benchmark of investigative journalism) her efforts might already be leading towards the UK’s first ever prosecution.

Given that there are so many pre-existing movements and NGOs fighting against FGM both here and across the globe, I think it was right that she didn’t focus on the pure horror of it, or throw endless case studies and statistics from Africa at the audience. She didn’t try to make us cry or feel sorry for survivors, or to alienate viewers for whom the problem might appear too distant and therefore irrelevant, or inapplicable.

Ms Hussein firmly planted this issue in our own backyard, and she’s making us all accountable. Quite right that she’s shouting out against excusing and protecting barbaric acts, and the perpetrators who deliver them, in the name of ‘cultural sensitivity’. The UK government’s preference for a ‘multiculturalist’ approach has only hampered attempts to fight other acts of gender-based  violence, by preventing cultural outsiders to minority communities from taking action in fear of offending local sensitivities.

Female genital mutilation has nothing to do with culture, tradition, or religion. It is torture and a crime. Help us to put an end to this crime. – Waris Dirie, Survivor of FGM, UN FGM Ambassador, Founder of the Desert Flower Foundation and former Supermodel

This an affront to women. I say it loud. Forced marriage, marital rape, domestic abuse and violence, child marriage, dowry-related murder, honour killings, and female genital mutilation are all acts of cruelty, violence, and most of all power. They are none of them supported in any religious doctrine, and remove them from their cultural setting, these acts become exposed for the horrific crimes that they are.

What I most liked about Leyla’s approach, and the work of the other women behind Daughters of Eve in making this programme, was the dual emphasis on education (not least her upfront engagement with men in the FGM-practising community) and on implementing structural change. It’s all very well to lament the issues of FGM, and highlight those affected, but even more essential is to move forward with that gut-wrenching feeling of disgust and horror to take action. And that is what she did.

We can all take action in eradicating FGM from the UK, from our own communities and localities. Leyla Hussein and Daughters of Eve are quite rightly calling for change in the structural responsibility for safeguarding against FGM in the UK. If one body (ie. The Home Office) takes charge of this role, theoretically the right training for frontline staff in the police, schools, health, and social services will enable them to not only identify the risk factors and signs of FGM, but also to know how to deal with the situation when it arises – and ultimately how to save a child from being forced to undergo life-altering mutilation.

I don’t think as a nation we should be focusing on punishment for perpetrators as in the France model, as time and again education and prevention-focused approaches have proven to be the far more cost-effective option in reducing the prevalence of various crimes. Taking a preventative approach akin to the Dutch, and mainstreaming FGM education within schools as part of their wider social awareness learning, would do far more than getting that first landmark prosecution.

There is a plethora of information, articles, and films out there. Channel 4 already produced a documentary on FGM all the way back in 2003, which I think illustrates how little we have progressed in 10 years.

There are so many ways that we can all get involved in fighting this. Join the twitter debate #StopFGM, or simply share The Cruel Cut with others.

By far the best thing that you could though, is to sign and encourage others to sign, the e-petition. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52740 The coalition government last week sent out a response to the petition, which it is required to do after a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, though it was less than inspiring:

This Government recognises that tackling violence against women and girls, including FGM, requires a sustained, robust and dynamic cross-Government approach. Every department needs to play its part in addressing FGM. The Department of Health is working to improve the information collected by the NHS on FGM. The Home Office has recently announced it will help fund a new study into the prevalence rates of FGM in England and Wales. The Department for International Development has established an ambitious £35m programme to address FGM in Africa and beyond, with an ambition toward ending FGM in one generation.

The Home Office is the lead on violence against women and girls (VAWG) and has captured FGM in our comprehensive VAWG Strategy, rather than in a stand-alone Action Plan. Recently updated, the Strategy (The Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls: Action Plan) has a renewed focus on protecting potential victims. Through the plan we are working closely across Government to help secure a FGM conviction, and with charities and frontline organisations to help improve awareness of FGM.

This response seems to me like one of trying to fob us all off. It goes on to say in the next paragraph how the government is out-sourcing it’s anti-FGM efforts to charities and other non-governmental organisations [so that it doesn’t have to take responsibility for establishing effective measures itself], and is focusing on providing advice to people concerned about FGM [so that it can pay lip-service to supporting victims as a valid stand-alone strategy, instead of taking preventative measures to change attitudes and practices and protect future generations of girls].

I think the fact that the DFID (the Department for International Development) approach focuses on Africa “and beyond” tells you everything you need to know about the government’s attitude towards preventing FGM. It is clear that they don’t regard FGM as a problem within the UK itself, and that they subsequently believe it is not ‘our’ problem.

All the more reason that we ensure Leyla’s e-petition reaches 100,000 signatures for this issue to be discussed by the Backbench Business Committee, and take hold of that opportunity when it comes to ensure truly effective prevention strategies to protect British girls are put in place.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/52740

Homesick for India

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It’s been two and a half months since I left India. Time has moved both immensely slowly, as it seems like forever ago that I was surrounded by autos and cows, and motorcycles trying to run me over on the pavements, and yet it’s also gone too quick. I don’t know how I’ve managed to squeeze in so much: writing endless job applications, becoming an Avon lady (needs must, and the makeup is cheap :P), getting a job on my first interview with a London-based charity, starting the job, and finally becoming one of those irritating London commuters who gets frustrated when a tube doesn’t turn up within thirty seconds.

“I heart India”

I’m where I was aiming to be. This was the plan all along – to reach India, get some experience and spend some time away delving deeper into the culture I love so much, and eventually return to land my first real job towards my career in the charity sector. Done. Box ticked.

But that craving and gnawing absence is starting to creep up on me again. It’s the same feeling I had after leaving India the first time in 2009, like an addiction that cannot be numbed or forgotten by anything other than re-immersion in the thing that first caused it.

Indian-born French Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin…aka me, obviously

I don’t even know what it is that I am missing – surely not the lecherous little men, the misogyny, the hopeless inefficiency of every government office…? This time on returning to the UK from a starkly different culture, more strongly than any time before, I can almost taste my own frustration at the banality of some people’s worries and conversation topics. But that’s not it. Everyone becomes absorbed in their daily lives, and the issues relevant to their own bubbles. Indians are definitely guilty of doing it too.

When you’re trying to essentialise a feeling of longing though, for a place, a thing, an idea, it’s like trying to strip down what defines an entire culture to its bare bones. I can’t say what exactly it is about India that has me so hooked, but perhaps it can be most simply put as a sense of belonging, of being home. So many little things which come automatically to me are not shared with those around me in the UK. If I start humming a Bollywood tune, people won’t complain that I’ve got it stuck in their heads all day; when I try and cram myself into (what looks to me) a half-empty tube, people gawp at me; a freudian slip of ‘auntie’ in addressing a stranger makes you weird.

“…Excuse me, auntie…auntie!”

It seems natural to express the very Indian body language of bending my head side-to-side, or flicking out hand from forehead to emphasise a point. My syntax has been irrevocably changed, isn’t it. The non-verbal cues and signals I’ve internalised are now entirely void from the culture that presently surrounds me.

Perhaps then, it is these little everyday embellishments to human interaction which I miss. Without them, the act of conversing seems to fall flat. There’s an absence of nuance, of drama, of the complex social dance that constantly shifts and changes between two people in navigating and judging each other’s social status.

Body language

Whilst histrionics and tantrums can be symptomatic of how many Indians tend to deal with unwanted outcomes, they are part of a tapestry of lively and socially stimulating interactions, without which your life becomes filled with empty time. That dull task of catching your bus is suddenly a thrilling race to nab the driver’s attention, of listening with all your senses for information, a whisper of “is it that one” from the crowd, the satisfaction of navigating the confusing cacphony with practised ease. Like a boss.

Or maybe in England it’s that we’ve forgotten what significant problems really look like against the backdrop of the world. I recently read an article on Armpit August (or something like that), challenging the biased misconception that it’s unfeminine for women to grow out their underarm hair. Fine, go ahead. You actually already have the choice to do it anyway, so you’re not really changing anything, except your own self-acceptance of a certain body image. It’s a little bit sickening against the relentless conveyor-belt of honour crimes, trafficking, rapes, sexual harassment, incest, and gendered poverty that I was fighting whilst with SICHREM. I can’t help feeling disenchanted after having actively battled against such degrees of violence and for seemingly futile gain.

This is perhaps just a rant on my part, and so I shall end on a positive note: instead of grieving for something I know I can’t have right now, I’ll instead try to engage others in all that I find makes India amazing, and special, and irritating but hilarious as hell. Good job it’s Diwali coming up.

Trafficking, tourism, and death penalties

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A brief update on the week for you.

Last Friday saw me attending a workshop on the prevention of trafficking, at the Indian Social Institute in Bangalore. It was good to learn a bit more about trafficking in general, and it highlighted lots of things I never knew. Karnataka it turns out is the second highest source region for trafficking in India, and a lot of girls are tricked away from Bangalore itself, at one of the major bus stations. Most shockingly, I learnt that the vast, vast majority of street beggars, especially those under the age of 12, have been trafficked (often from the other end of the country), and forced to beg under a person who holds them captive under threat or sedative drugs. More information on the institute can be found here.

Following this, I went to my first Hindi lesson the next day, where the domineering but very efficient teacher gave me a crash course in the alphabet and naming body parts. Classic beginner’s first lesson! Having spent the last week completing the homework she set me, I’m a little nervous for tomorrow’s second installment  I’d like to learn the second half of the alphabet though, so I can’t really find an excuse to run away!

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Jama Masjid

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Gateway at the fort

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Hanuman statue at a temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday became an unashamedly touristy day. I made a beeline for the Sri Kanteerava Stadium near Cubbon Park, where I eventually found what I was looking for after spending half an hour walking around the entire thing. The climbing wall was a stand-alone, outdoor facility with three sides – maybe 15 feet tall. It was totally abandoned though, and I didn’t have any ropes or quickdraws with which to climb, so I set to some low-level bouldering. My pumps were poorly suited to it however, and I soon had to give up, meaning to return for their climbing league in the near future.

Next on the list was a visit to the Jama Masjid about two kilometres southwest, where, after eventually finding the right entrance, unknowingly parked myself right where the 1’o’clock prayers would commence. Stupid, uncultured westerner. I even tried to be sensitive beforehand by finding my way up to the women’s quarters, but the room was filled with women crashed out asleep in the dark. After the Imam very gently directed me to shift my bum to a more suitable location, I made my way out to the nearby KR Market for some retail therapy.

It was a huge, stinking place, but full of activity and traders calling out. Between the cowpats and mud streaked by tyre treads, everything from shabji to sarees to books was on sale. Finding myself drawn to a fixed-price pile of saris on the pavement, I became part of a horde of women vying to get the best piece. In the end I settled for a dark green cotton blend sari, strangely embroidered in places with a baby’s face, and a second in red and gold satin sheen. Very pleased with my bargain purchases at 200 rupees each, I trotted off up the street, only to walk past several more stalls and shops selling the very same for only 150!

I carried on to Bangalore’s fort, Tipu Sultan’s Palace, the Bull Temple and Dodda Ganesha Temple. By the time I was finished, the opening night of the art exhibition in which my work was being displayed was about to begin.

There I met Emma, as the inauguration began. Various members of the small gathering added their taper to the large diya stood in the room’s centre, before a few individuals said some words about the One Billion Rising movement. Then we all had chai – obviously the most important part of the evening! I found my own painting in a corner, and was astounded at the price the gallery had placed on it. Prices on different canvases there ranged from 5000/- to 18,000/-. My own picture was up for 8000/-! Even in pound sterling that rounds to £100! And it’s not a painting I’m particularly proud of, given that I had only a few hours to produce it. Does this mean I can officially call myself an artist now?

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My painting on the theme of One Billion Rising

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Astounded by the price tag!

I didn’t think the week could get more exciting, but Mathews asked me on Tuesday morning to draft an emergency memorandum on the need to abolish the death penalty. Four men had been sentenced to death the day before, and SICHREM was desperately trying to halt the hangings.

He called me and Chithra – a hilarious, bossy and exceedingly kind lady – to the court where most of SICHREM’s staff were that day. They had been arrested for protesting in January on a different issue, and whilst the hearing continued Mathews finalised the document with me. It became a petition, which various individuals and civil society members signed at a protest later that day, and was given to the governor of Bangalore.

I’m pleased to say that the whole process had the desired result, staying the men’s deaths by six weeks. Some semblance of democracy has been restored in Bangalore, and SICHREM has been doing its job excellently once again! I feel proud to be part of this organisation.