Arundhati Roy Gives All Her Prize Money to Charities

Arundhati Roy has also put her money where her mouth is.

In 1998, she donated the Rs 15 lakh Booker prize money for The God of Small Things to the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

In 2002, the Lannan Foundation gave her a $3,50,000 (Rs 1.67 crore) prize for “her precise and powerful writing highlighting her commitment to social, economic and environmental justice”. She donated the prize money in solidarity to 50 people’s movements, publications, educational institutions, theatre groups and individuals. And as her published books continue to earn royalties, she continues to share her good fortune with movements and individuals.

Clip_29Arundhati, therefore, embraces a universe that is by definition larger than that of most writers. She spoke for an hour to Saba Naqvi about what shaped her, what moves her, and what gets her to start writing. Excerpts:

You are a writer but you have made some very powerful arguments and interventions on rights issues and movements. How do you see your evo­lution from a gender perspective?

Clip_28First of all, I should say that I don’t believe that there are only two genders. I see gender as a spectrum and I’m somewhere on that spectrum. Accor­ding to a Queer friend, my evolution on the gender spectrum has been from ‘Straight’ to ‘Qwicked.’ Second, I don’t see myself as someone who looks at the world through a lens of ‘rights’ and ‘issues’. That is a very narrow, shallow way for a writer to look at the world. If you ask me what is at the core of what I write, it isn’t about ‘rights’, it’s about justice. Justice is a grand, beautiful, revolutionary idea. What should justice look like? If we disaggregate things into “issues”, then they just remain “issues”, problematic areas in an otherwise acceptable scenario. Of course, there isn’t any society in the world that is a just or perfect one—but we cannot ever stop striving towards justice. Today we seem to be running in the opposite direction, striving towards injustice, applauding it as though it’s a worthy dream, a goal, an aspiration, and the terrible tragedy of India is that the caste system has institutionalised injustice, made it a sacred thing. So we are programmed to accept hierarchies and injustice. It’s not that other societies are just. Other societies have been through wars and genocide on an incredible scale. I am just talking about the imagination of our society. What can one do, how do we rail against it? Many of us do what we do, knowing that even if no one’s listening, even if we never win, though we want to, badly, we’d rather go down on the other side than be a part of this victory march that is really a death march.

When you put your mind to it, is it possible to understand why women have been at the forefront of so many contemporary struggles?

Why are women involved? Because, broadly speaking, they are under attack from both ends, from tradition as well as this new market-driven “modernity”. I myself grew up in Kerala, dreaming of escape from a life of ‘tradition’ but then came up against a type of modernity that I wanted to flee from too. So you have to pick through it all and find your own path. In this country we have people who practise female infanticide, female foeticide in which millions of girl children are killed—and not only in traditional rural communities—we have honour killings based on caste, and at the same time we have the freest, strongest, most vibrant women anywhere in the world, the most independent and radical women, original thinkers who are on the frontlines of struggles—in India, we live in several centuries simultaneously.

Clip_30The attack on every kind of livelihood, the attack on land, all of this affects women fundamentally. So if you look at the Narmada movement, where we are talking about the displacement and destruction of an entire river valley civilisation, hundreds of thousands of people, women who jointly worked and owned land, adivasi women—and I am not saying that adivasi society is some paragon of feminist virtue—but there was a sense in which the women were co-owners, the land was theirs too. But to displace a whole population of women and just give the cash compensation to men who within weeks turn it into drink and motorcycles, to cast the women out on to this ocean of terrifying modernity where all of them are on the market as casual labour or to be exploited in other ways is not always seen as a feminist issue, though it is one. The 90,000-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan in Bastar, fighting displacement, is not really thought of as a feminist organisation. But they’re fighting, and how! In the Narmada valley, it is the women who carry the struggle. And in the process of the fight, they change, they stren­gthen themselves. When I went to Bastar, when I wrote Walking with the Comrades (March 29, 2010), I was taken aback that half of the armed guerrilla fighters were women. I spoke to them at length, over nights and days, about why they made that decision. Of course, many of them had witnessed the horrors of Salwa Judum and the paramilitary forces—the rape and the burning of villages and so on. But a lot of them also saw it as an escape from the chauvinism and violence of the men in their own society. And of course they came up against chauvinism and violence in the “party” too. There was a moment when we all went down to bathe in the river, me and the women comrades. Some of them kept watch while the rest of us had a swim and a bath. Upstream some women farmers were bathing too. And I thought, “Just look at who all are in the water! Look at the women in this flowing water.” What a thing it was. So, to answer your question, I think there is a pretty logical explanation for why women are at the forefront of movements. And there’s something very special about women who can do that, in a society that is so filled with violence against them. And it’s not just the few extraordinary women, whose names we all know, it’s many many women, not just the urban sophisticates—and they are up there not as somebody’s wife or mother or widow or sister. They’re they. They’re magnificent.

What were the influences in your own life that make you what you are?

Arundhati Roy's Syrian Christian Mother Mary Roy

Arundhati Roy’s Syrian Christian Mother Mary Roy

My wild and uncommon mother first of all, I guess, in wonderful as well as brutal ways. She can reduce me to a shambling wreck in a few seconds flat. Maybe you should be interviewing her, and not me. She comes from a Syrian Christian family that was not wealthy by any means. Then she married outside, a Bengali, got divorced within a couple of years and came back to the village in Kerala to live with her mother. She…and we…were totally shunned by this very casteist and entitled, wealthy, landed community—now of course she’s celebrated. But back then she often worked off her rage on my brother and me. We understood, but that only made it harder. I have a very complicated relationship with my mother—I left home when I was 17 and returned only many years later. For many people the family is portrayed as the settled place of reasonable safety but as anyone who has read The God of Small Things would know, for me it was a dangerous place. I felt humiliated in that space. I wanted to get away as soon as I could. I grew up in a village where everything was going on. It was a place where great religions coexisted—Hin­duism, Christianity, Islam, Marxism—we believed the Revolution was coming. It was all red flags and Inquilab Zindabad! And yet somehow it was still so parochial and there was always caste. I found myself trying to understand it all from the time I was very small. It was made very clear to me that I was not a “pure” Syrian Christian and was never going to be part of that great society. And so I grew up desperate to escape from there, there wasn’t any great romance of the village for me, there wasn’t any desire to fit into the community or the family and the community and family held no desire for me to fit into it. I didn’t know my father, I’d seen a couple of photographs, that’s it. I only saw him much later, when I was about twentysomething, so I never had that male figure in my life that was going to look after me and protect me. Emotionally it was a strange and unsafe space in which to grow up. Given all the suffering in the world and what children go through, I can’t claim that I had a tragic childhood. But it was a thoughtful childhood, having to think through things more or less alone. I spent a lot of time fishing on the river, as a writer I cannot assume the clear, raw voice of rage of the ‘pure’ victim of oppression—if indeed there is such a thing. I sort of sit on my somewhat uncomfortable, angular vantage point and write from there.

You have written about so much, the Narmada movement, Kashmir, the Maoists, and capitalism. We just had a hanging in India and you once wrote a very powerful piece arguing about the innocence of Afzal Guru.

When The God of Small Things won the Booker prize, I was trotted out along with the Miss Worlds as a manifestation of a triumphant, newly globalised, free-market India, stepping with confidence on to the world’s stage. I was being used in a way, which is okay. But very soon after that, the BJP came to power and immediately did the nuclear tests to great and vulgar applause from the most unexpected quarters.

I was horrified. I was such a public figure then that keeping quiet was a kind of endorsement of the tests, it was as political as speaking out. And so I wrote The End of Imagination (August 3, 1998). I was immediately kicked off the pedestal—the fairy queen-Miss India-prize-win­ning writer pedestal. The dumb drumbeat of hatred and abuse began. I believe that those nuclear tests changed the tone of public discourse. It became uglier, more stridently nationalistic and has remained like that. But while I was being trashed by one set of people, I was embraced by others. And that set me off on a journey that still goes on. Soon after the nuclear tests, the Supreme Court lifted its long-standing stay on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. I travelled to the Narmada valley and wrote The Greater Common Good (May 24, 1999).

Each journey, each essay I wrote deepened my understanding. The Parliament attack, even when it happened, seemed utterly hokey to me. The lawyer Nandita Haksar did a brilliant job of uncovering things. Around that time, I was sent to jail for committing contempt of court. Afsan Guru, wife of Shaukat Guru, one of the accused in the Parliament attack was there too. She was pregnant, wild-eyed, weeping and had no idea why she was in jail. Other prisoners were treating her like some great traitor. I tried to talk to her. I said, “I will be released soon, is there anything I can do for you?” She just looked at me blankly and said, “Can you organise a towel for me? I don’t have a towel.” She was acquitted a few years later but her life was ruined.

Nobody talks about her any more. After that I followed the case carefully. When S.A.R. Geelani was acquitted and Afzal was sentenced to death, I collected all the court papers of the case and I went off to Goa by myself with this suitcase full of papers. It was the monsoon, there were few people there, and I just sat in a shack and read the whole thing. I was appalled. So I wrote ‘…‘And His Life Should Become Extinct (October 30, 2006) about how evidence was manufactured, no process was followed, how Afzal never had a lawyer to represent him. The Supreme Court said confessions extrac­ted in police custody were inadmissible as evidence, but the media used various videos of his various “confessions”, extracted from him by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell. The police videotaped him, right here in Lodi Estate. In one confession he was made to implicate Geelani, in another someone else.

They could pick and choose which confession to show. They decided which one suited them. The media showed them seven years later when he was still alive, and as the video played SMS messages from viewers rolled along the bottom of the screen saying: “Hang him by the balls in Lal Chowk” and so on. It was such bestiality. If one lived in a crazed banana republic, one could accept it but here we go about pretending to be something else. I remember letters to Outlook where the essay was published saying things like, “Spare Afzal Guru but hang Arundhati Roy”. Despite everything, the government—the Congress government—hanged him, knowing fully well that he was innocent. It was a political move, they were trying to curry favour with the mob that was baying for his blood, fishing for votes, it was a terrible, cowardly thing to do. They should be so ashamed…. They can’t even give his body back to his family. The letter that they wrote was deliberately delayed so that it would reach the family after he was hanged. See, things like this are not ‘issues’. The barbarity perpetrated in Kashmir by the Indian government is not an “issue”—it’s life itself. And if as a society we are prepared to digest it, we corrode ourselves. We curse ourselves.

I have written about two valleys, the Narmada valley and Kashmir valley, and I do sometimes wonder why the ferocious quest for justice in one has not left it time to understand, or leave its mark on the other. Meaning that in the Nar­mada valley there is such a sophisticated understanding on environmental issues, of what a dam does, of the local economy, of the World Bank, of the grinding poverty, but there is little understanding of what the people of Kashmir suffer. And in Kashmir there is such a sophisticated understanding of what it means to live under a military occupation but very little of what a big dam is and does, very little about the ways in which neo-liberal policies grind people down. I’m just saying the thread of justice that I have followed…that may not be everyone’s thread but it is certainly mine. Together it all adds up to what John Berger calls “A Way of Seeing”. That is what literature is, what poetry is. That’s what it’s meant to be.

In today’s India, where we are loca­ted, what troubles you the most?

What we are living through today is something that had to happen at some point, given the history of the RSS. How we get through it will establish what stuff we’re really made of. Today there is a vicious, communal assault on every institution, the judiciary, educational institutions. Universities are being dismantled as places of learning, communal dunderheads appointed as teachers, syllabi are being emptied of scholarship and replaced with idiot-food. Everything is being engineered to this fascist point of view. It’s a short way down. It’s not just about political parties and power. There is tectonic shit going on. It’s an assault on the very soul, the imagination of this country. It’s serious. I have to say that I am encouraged by some of the reactions. People are standing up everywhere—look at the ftii students—wonderful. The attack we are up against is wide and deep and dangerous, but the euphoria around the Modi government has evaporated pretty fast, much before anyone would have expected. I fear that when they get really desperate, they’ll get dangerous. The hanging of Yakub Memon is a step in that direction. They’ll probably ignite communal riots on a big scale before the next election. I worry about false-flag “terrorist” atta­cks and a war with Pakistan, a nuclear war. That’s the kind of suicidal stupidity some of these maniacs on both sides of the border in the government as well as in the media are capable of.

You are an internationally acclaimed writer but you don’t seem to want to be part of the community of writers, you don’t go to literary festivals although you are part of a community of people who can be called activists.

I’m not sure there is a community of writers here. Look, I am not a purist. All I can do is to say what I think. People have to go to festivals, often they’re sponsored by mining corporations and foundations that I have written against—but I am not suggesting I am more pure than them. I am not. I’m just uncomfortable, so I don’t do it. But the world is a tough place to survive in, people have to do things they don’t want to do. I have the privilege to make a choice. So I do. Not everybody has a choice.

As for this term “activist”—I’m not sure when it was coined. To call someone like me a writer-activist suggests that it’s not the job of a writer to write about the society in which they live. But it used to be our job. It’s a peculiar thing, until writers were embraced by the market, that’s what writers did—they wrote against the grain, they patrolled the borders, they framed the debates about how society should think. They were dangerous people. Now we’re told we must attend festivals and get on to bestseller lists and, if possible, try to be good-looking.

Hundreds of Hectares of Land Handed-Over to China

26.4 mile long bridgePakistan has recently handed hundreds of hectares of land over to China for development of a special economic zone in the port of Gwadar, part of a $46 billion project giving Beijing greater access to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The government of Balochistan province — Pakistan’s poorest — handed over about 280 hectares of a 923-hectare (2,300-acre) swathe of tax-exempt land that Beijing will develop under a 43-year lease.

The rest of the land will be handed over under the agreement with the public China Overseas Port Holding Company “soon”, senior Pakistani government officials said.

The development is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an ambitious $46 billion investment plan linking western China to the Arabian Sea, part of Beijing’s ambition to expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia while countering US and Indian influence.

Access to the port of Gwadar will cut thousands of kilometres off the distance which oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East have to travel to reach China.

Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal and shipping minister Kamran Michael attended the handover ceremony Wednesday with Chinese development commission vice chairman Wang Xiaotao.

As part of the wider plans, an international airport will also be built with a Chinese grant at Gwadar, with construction due to begin in January.

Gwadar port, located 540 kilometres (335 miles) southwest of Karachi, was built in 2007 with technical help from Beijing as well as Chinese financial assistance of some $248 million.

It gives China “new access” to the Arabian Sea and it shows to the rest of the world that “China is willing to help friends and spread its influence through positive economic and trade activities”.

India has previously expressed concerns about the scheme.

Acquiring the land from private owners to build the economic zone took several years and cost the Baluch government around $62 million.

Pakistan is also raising a special security force of between 10,000 and 25,000 men to protect the port.

Desperately poor Baluchistan has been roiled since 2004 by a separatist insurgency aimed at seeking greater control over the province’s rich oil, gas and mineral resources.

Some Baluch nationalists have accused the Chinese of conspiring with the Pakistani elite to plunder the province’s resources while doing little to share profits and create jobs for local people.

 

Hunger, Poverty & the International Declarations,

Clip_6Who can enjoy any of the basic human rights guaranteed to them by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948 through the United Nations General Assembly resolution 217, if they face chronic hunger, or even worse, starvation? The answer to the question is simple. The rights guaranteed by the UDHR to peoples of all nations would be nothing more than a cruel joke on them.

Clip_7Sadly, this is the truth that millions of hungry souls in the world encounter meal by meal, day by day, month by month, even 67 years after the declaration and 19 years after the recognition by the world community. This is the realizing of everyone’s right of access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food. It is the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This concept was put forth on November 13 1996, in Rome, at the World Food Summit called by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The world has seen progress since then and equally spectacular failures to achieve a planet free of hunger. As the FAO itself notes in its State of Food Insecurity in the World report (SOFI) for 2015; 72 developing countries out of 129 it was monitoring for the Millennium Development Goals targets, have achieved them. But, we still see globally more
than 793 million people who remain undernourished. The numbers have come down from 960 million, but is this acceptable?

A regional breakdown of hunger statistics makes things even more worrying. It tears apart claims of economic development and growth being the best weapons for eradicating hunger. India, for instance, is one of worst offenders in failing its hungry citizens. However, it maintained its spectacular annual growth rate of over 7 percent for almost all of the decade gone by-even when the rest of the world was on the brink of an economic break down not seen since the 1970 Oil Shock. The same period has also seen other countries not doing that well when dealing with hunger on the economic front. Bangladesh was much better.

The reasons behind the prevalence of chronic hunger are as varied as the countries and communities in which it is endemic. Armed conflicts and insurgencies raging in Africa have pushed millions more into starvation in an Africa that has always been beset with hunger. India has seen the same without having such violence except in a few border areas. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, did not suffer much food insecurity despite three decades of civil war. In the case of food scarcity- it threatens the food security of millions across the world but millions of others in India go hungry despite food grains rotting in government warehouses.

However, there is one commonality among all those countries who have failed to arrest hunger and starvation. It appears that almost all of their public institutions are either completely defunct or just pretending to be functioning. This denies their hungry citizenry of any attempt at seeking redress. The rot in the public institutions of these countries runs too deep-from their justice to their social welfare institutions-with the end result remaining the same. The end result is brilliantly summarized by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros in their book The Locust Effect. They say countries remain stuck in the cycle of poverty because of the failure of the justice system, law enforcement and the government in saving the poor from day to day violence, slavery or forced labor. Governments, and the world community, might have a thousand schemes ready to fight hunger. The question is worth asking, what would they be on the ground fighting against bullies? Often in connivance with law enforcers than not, stealing all the benefits from the intended beneficiaries who have no justice system to seek redress against such theft.

“Hunger is more than a lack of food—it is a terrible injustice,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the World Food Day, albeit in a very different context. It cannot be further than the truth. It is a terrible injustice that public institutions, which can eradicate hunger, do not work for the hungry people and most of them have no justice institutions in which to turn. A massive reengineering and rebuilding of these public institutions is the key to eradicate hunger.

 

5 Most Beautiful Royal Princesses in Indian History

Gayatri

Maharani Gayatri Devi

May 23, 1919 to July 29, 2009

Ranked as the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” in the 60’s, by Vogue Magazine. Late Rajmata Gayatri Devi was the Maharani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970. She was the epitome of true royalty and effortless style.

Educated in Europe, the Maharani was a striking beauty in her youth and grew up to become quite a fashion icon.

Gayatri 2Passionate about horse-riding, she was an able Polo player and a good shot, often indulging in hunting, a royal pastime, in her youth. Gayatri Devi also harboured a passion for automobiles and imported the first Mercedes-Benz W126, a 500 SEL to India.

She dedicated all life to philanthropic efforts, building schools for girls’ education and reviving and promoting the floundering art of blue pottery.

Maharani Gayatri Devi has been mentioned in The Guinness Book of Records for having the most expensive wedding in the 1940’s. She received a blue Bentley, a two-seater Packard and a mansion in Himalayas as wedding present. Her wedding trousseau boasts of sheets from Czechoslovakia, shoes from Florence, and nightgowns in mousseline de soie from Paris.

Indira Raje of Baroda

February 19, 1892 to September 6, 1968

Indira Raje of BarodaMaharani of Cooch Behar, was a stunningly beautiful woman and prominent socialite.

The strong-willed princess’ personality shone through when she was a very young woman. She was engaged to the Scindia of Gwalior, but in defiance of her parents’ wishes and royal protocol, at 18 she eloped with her sweetheart, Prince Jitendra of Cooch Behar.

Clip_13As fate would have it, her husband became the Maharaja of Cooch Behar a short while later, but passed away leaving his Maharani a young widow with five children. She accepted her circumstances with grace and served as regent till her eldest son, then a minor, came of age to ascend the throne.

Indira loved the high-flying life and often spent months on end moving in posh international circles and holidaying in Europe and she is even rumoured to have had an affair with Prince George, Duke of Kent.

Sita Devi of Baroda

May 12, 1917 to February 15, 1989

Sita Devi of BarodaProbably one of the most colorful royals in Indian history was Maharani Sita Devi Sahib of Baroda, christened the ‘Indian Wallis.

This daughter of the Zamindar of Pithapuram married the Zamindar of Vayyur and bore him three children. But in 1943, she met and was smitten by Maharaja Pratap Singh Gaekwar of Baroda. Using legal loopholes and unmindful of the scandal it caused in those days, Sita Devi left her first husband and married the Maharaja, embarking upon a jet-setting life that saw her spend millions on shopping abroad, mingling with royalty from across the world and setting up a second home in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

In the years that followed, the royal couple were plagued with further controversy when it emerged that the Maharaja had taken several large interest-free loans from the Baroda treasury and helped himself to many of its most priceless jewels, bringing them to Monte Carlo and having their custody transferred to the Maharani. As a result of these indiscretions, Sita Devi and Gaekwar were deposed by the Indian Government in 1951 and their divorce followed soon after, in 1956. Despite the circumstances, Sita Devi still insisted on being referred to with her royal title; even her Rolls-Royce sported the armorial insignia of Baroda.

She lived the rest of her days in luxury, hobnobbing with her European upper-crust clique, but the last four years were fraught with grief following the suicide of her only son with Gaekwar.

Sita Devi of Kapurthala

1915 to 2002

Rani Sita Devi of KapurthalaRani Sita Devi of Kapurthala is regarded as one of India’s most glamorous royals of all time.

Born the daughter of a zamindar, she was married at the age of 13 to a younger son of the Sikh Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. As a young woman, she quickly gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful Indian women of the day and like her namesake and contemporary Sita Devi of Baroda, she quickly became part of Europe’s elite fraternity.

The Rani was fluent in several European languages and had couturiers across the Continent falling all over her in fact, Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli was so taken with her that her 1935 collection was inspired by Sita Devi’s saris. What she wore one day was the hottest trend on the next. At the age of 19, Vogue Magazine called her a ‘secular goddess’ and Look counted her among the five best-dressed women on earth.

Sita Devi impressed one and all including her husband, who lavished his royal wife with resplendent jewelry by some of the biggest names like Cartier Van Cleef & Arpels. As befitted her status, she was always decked out in jaw-dropping jewels and was showered with attention and praise wherever she went.

Princess Niloufer Of Hyderabad

January 4, 1916 – June 12, 1989

Rani Nilophur of Hyderabad‘Style with substance’ or ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ can best define Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad.

Born in Istanbul, Princess Niloufer of Ottoman ancestry became an Indian royal by virtue of marriage – she wed Prince Moazzam Jah, the second son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931 (they divorced in 1952).

Princess Nilophur of HyderabadA remarkably beautiful woman, Niloufer was the perfect princess in many ways, attending social dos and inaugurating events decked out in the latest fashions of the day. She was considered among the 10 most beautiful women in the world and movie offers came her way often.

There was, however, more to her than the popular social and public image. She was a champion of women’s rights and during World War II, she received training as a nurse and carried out relief duties. Niloufer also established a hospital for women and children in Hyderabad, after losing one of her maids in childbirth.

Princess Nilophur of Hyderabad2Despite her love of children, the princess was tragically unable to conceive and it is rumored that behind the glamorous facade was an empty, unhappy woman. Post her divorce she moved to Paris, where she died in 1989 and they named another hospital after her.

The Social Scene Begins To Pick Up In Tacloban After The Typhoon

Clip_13“Before Haiyan, all we had on Grindr was mehhhh – four or five people. After Haiyan, boom – white men!”

Jericho*, 28, finds it hard to recall much of a social scene in Tacloban before Typhoon Haiyan. A senior manager at one of the Filipino city’s most expensive hotels, he recounts a routine that consisted of going to the gym in the morning and walking home along empty streets after dark in a city where “everyone knows everyone.”

Out to his friends but closeted at work, he would escape to Cebu or Manila to party at gay clubs, where his babyface features with gym-buff arms got him attention. Jericho didn’t share the pageant-fever or Imelda-nostalgia of other gay Taclobanons, some of whom proudly recite the factoid that former first lady Imelda Marcos was winner of their city pageant back in the day. Jericho’s main frustration was that his hook-up app of choice – Grindr – kept coming up with the same five familiar torsos, which didn’t really count in his opinion as a proper gay scene.

Typhoon Haiyan, which hit Tacloban hard in November 2013, was clearly a disaster, but it was also a powerful gust of change, not least in Jericho’s social life.

While some residents have left Tacloban to cope with trauma or find work, the city has welcomed an influx of professional aid workers, able-bodied gap year volunteers, and fellow Filipinos seeking opportunities and hoping to help in the recovery.

“Overnight,” Jericho says, “my Grindr became the United Nations.”

Disaster dating

Jericho and his friends – a convivial cohort of film-school creative types, community leaders and offbeat local entrepreneurs – have met and befriended many humanitarian workers over the past year.

In the immediate aftermath of Haiyan, patchy mobile phone signal notwithstanding, survivors longing for intimacy turned to Grindr to arrange discreet meet-ups with aid workers, who themselves sought distraction.

Clip_13Levi, 26, tells me how Grindr helped him meet a French-Canadian volunteer in Tacloban: “He didn’t have a very clear picture so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I met him in his hotel, I thought, ‘Mmm, nice!’ He just asked me how I was and whether I lost my home. But I didn’t really give him details. I just wanted him.”

Levi chuckles throughout our interview while narrating the novelty of his one-night stand – his first with a white man. As he speaks, it becomes clear that this was the type of sex that was for the moment, and nothing more. Having come face to face with how suddenly and completely all could be lost, there was no expectation of longevity or commitment.

Just friends

Grindr is also used to forge platonic friendships, especially as foreign visitors, local volontourists and disaster researchers (author included) longed for social spaces to unwind from physically and emotionally demanding relief work.

Hong Kong-based Scottish expat Aidan met David, a Filipino health worker, through Grindr back in January 2014. A weekend volunteer for his friend’s NGO, the green-eyed Aidan shares with me how he used Grindr whenever he visited new cities. “I wanted to tour Tacloban like I would other cities – with a friendly local who could show me around. Grindr makes that easy!” Aidan chatted with David on Grindr and agreed to rent a motorbike with him for a tour of scenic San Juanico Bridge.

In a separate interview, David gives me his own version of their meet-up. Tired from his hospital duties, David was excited to escape from downtown and make friends with a foreigner. “Aidan made quite the impression when he arrived to pick me up,” he recalls. “My colleagues were so jealous because he’s hot. They even had a picture taken with him!”

The one afternoon they spent together was comprehensively captured and captioned on David’s Facebook page. Today, they keep in touch only via the occasional greeting or like on Facebook.

Global values in a small town

Just as humanitarians have forever changed local politics and economy through their relief work, their presence in restaurants and bars has often caused extraordinary, if unintended, changes to social life.

While gay Tacloban has previously had leaders to give public visibility to issues of discrimination, such as the transgender councillor Jom Bagulaya, gay Taclobanons mention how spending time with foreign aid workers had led LGBT people to become more open and expressive in everyday life.

“I observed humanitarians as being very publicly affectionate,” shares Jericho. “Unlike us Filipinos. We’re more disciplined. So when I see them get drunk and guys kiss other guys and girls kiss other girls, I say to myself, ‘Cool! It shouldn’t mean anything.’” As a Catholic who still sometimes speaks of hanging out with humanitarians in the language of “temptation” and “sin”, Jericho feels that foreign visitors have loosened up some of Tacloban’s small-town anxieties.

On Burgos Street, a few steps away from the hotels and headquarters of aid workers, a mobile truck bar parked on a pebbled lot serves expat-priced San Miguels, imported beer, and Brazilian cocktails. Beside it stands an al fresco burger joint with boho trappings: reclaimed wood furniture, snacks served on cutting boards, even vegetarian options. The owners claim they were inspired by the hipster food scene in Maginhawa, Quezon City, but after a glimpse of their global clientele, Brooklyn, New York seems like a better comparison. Jericho’s stories suggest the laid-back vibe in these spaces makes being gay normal and unfussy.

He shares with me how a closeted friend of his came out as gay while chatting up foreign aid workers in the truck bar. After several drinks, a humanitarian asked his friend point-blank whether he liked guys or girls – a question Jericho was always too embarrassed to ask. Put on the spot, his friend casually admitted to being gay, a non-event greeted by the foreigners with nonchalance. The absence of ceremony with made it an achievement twice over.

Liberation or exploitation?

In order to prevent exploitation and abuse of power, humanitarian agencies have traditionally imposed strict guidelines on sexual relations between staff and beneficiaries, even between foreign and local employees. However, aid workers interviewed for this article said there were grey areas, especially when it came to relationships with more well-to-do locals who are not the actual beneficiaries of aid – such as the middle-class-skewed demographic facilitated by Grindr in tech-savvy Tacloban.

“People are people, right, so while I understand why policies are in place, you can’t stop people fancying each other, wherever they live,” says Richenda, a 28-year-old British evaluation officer active in the Haiyan response. Indeed, recent books such as The Need to Help argue that humanitarians’ everyday practices and relationships form a basis for “real political work”. In Tacloban, these laid-back drinking spaces are often regarded by agency workers as among the best brainstorming and networking venues, forming the personal bonds carried through in formal cooperative work.

Disaster as opportunity

The stories of Jericho and his friends are the inspiring stories of gay Filipinos who discovered – and seized – the opportunities that arose out of disaster. Their experiences shed light on the gay community’s studied resilience, having previously endured other calamities of homophobia and crises of identity.

Their stories are also exceptional, as most others have not been nearly as lucky after Haiyan. Inequalities remain. Middle-class gays have recovered faster, while working-class gays have struggled to make ends meet. While one group interacts with humanitarian workers only in social spaces, the other meets them only when receiving handouts.

In Tacloban, the recovery is far from over, and the lasting impact of humanitarians’ global values to the local LGBT community has yet to be measured. New social freedoms and opportunities enjoyed by a few may or may not reach and inspire the most marginalised in the community.

Unlike those who have felt more accepted and liberated after Haiyan, some working-class gays, including transgender people, have had to make less welcome changes. As I heard from an effeminate pedicurist who took up a new job in macho construction work to help his family, “Life is harder now. I hope people recover so they have time to beauty themselves up.”

Child Sexual Abuse in Taiwan

“Those adults didn’t just sexually harass me; after they were done, they spilled urine over my body…

Clip_12That is the nightly, neverending nightmare of (pseudonym) Dao-Dou Bin, a child sex abuse victim being counselled at the Garden of Hope Foundation’s Dandelion Centre.

The Garden of Hope Foundation (GOH) notes that there are many cases of hidden child sex abuse in Taiwan, as victims feel mute and unable to seek help. In fact, GOH estimates that the helpless victims of these cases number over 10,000 people.

According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, a total of 11,086 persons were sexually abused in Taiwan in 2014, some 7,044 (63.54%) of whom were minors under the age of 18. Among these minors, 844 persons were abused by family members (either direct relatives or collateral relatives).

GOH has analyzed child sex abuse cases where the victims were abused by family members or persons known to family members.

The victims of child sex assault may be male or female; the most likely abusers are fathers, followed by the cohabiting partners of mothers and other family members, as well as relatives.

Over half of victims were sexually abused at home for over two years; some were first molested and sexually harassed as kindergarten-aged children. A significant portion of victims were neglected at home or from divorced families.

It is important to treat child sex abuse victims early and to provide them with specialized counselling. Victims are afraid to seek help and are often neglected during their early years; if this results in delayed treatment for child sex abuse, treatment times become prolonged due to extended exposure to the effects of abuse and increased complexity.

Although victims are rarely diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, they may display physical symptoms such as headaches, bodily aches, pain associated with their reproductive organs, and problems with urination or defecation, as well as early sexual maturation, highly active sexual behavior or even promiscuity. They may also display emotional symptoms such as emotional instability, such as sudden rage, sudden crying, and phobias.

Unfortunately Bin Dao-Dou suffered child sex assault that resulted in enormous stress in her life. Under the guidance of a counsellor, she learned to express her emotions by painting. She locked her artwork in a safe at the Centre, and told her nightmares; “Don’t come to me. Go to the counselling centre.” Although her nightmares still return intermittently, the disturbance to her has already dwindled. In order to help her live a better life and to encourage her to persevere, GOH continues to guard all of her nightmares.

GOH notes that child sex abuse also exerts a significant negative impact on victims’ family members – for instance, the trauma and stress associated with social judgment. Family members also need receptive listeners and understanding; after receiving others’ help and support that family members can become cheerleaders for themselves and their children, with the ability to appropriately utilise resources along the path to healing. GOH believes that families have the strength and tenacity to recover; children possess the ability to heal, and to learn how to let go and restore their lives.

According to the Foundation, upon the discovery of child sex abuse, victims face a long road to recovery after the intervention of health and social welfare authorities. At that point in time, victims’ greatest need is for counselling services to transform them from victims to survivors, and to bring them closer to becoming advocators and winners. At present, the Dandelion Counselling Centre has a long waiting list. But with additional counsellors and increased financial support, the Centre hopes to ease the shortage of counselling resources in the south, central and east regions of Taiwan and establish a Dandelion Counselling Centre branch in the rural part of the east coast Region.

The “Dandelion Soaring Plan” needs to raise fifteen million TWD in order to serve more children who suffered child sex abuse and to increase needed counselling resources. Yi-Jin Li, the ambassador of the Dandelion Soaring Plan, encourages everyone to protect and console children that have suffered sex abuse; a percentage of the profits from ticket sales for the play “Hot Girl Goes To School” (La Mei Shang Xue Qu) will be donated to the Dandelion Counselling Centre. Moreover, Taiwan Taxi, EASECOX Group, Soft-World and other companies have also agreed to act as sponsors due to their shared concern for women and children that have suffered child sex abuse.

How to Propagate the Kashmir Issue

21538_292524958557_112849003557_3534412_5222175_nThe purpose of this paper is to provide you with a plan to mount an educational and  awareness campaign in support of self-determination in Jammu & Kashmir and to enlist the support of foreign embassies in your country, NGOs and media to persuade India and Pakistan to include Kashmiri leadership in any future dialogue that will lead to the settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Your objective should be to build support for the active involvement of the world powers and the United Nations to help resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the aspiration of the people and United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Your strategy has to be a part of a process to build momentum and create opportunities to show these officials how active support for a referendum in Kashmir can further the  interests of their respective countries in the region of South Asia.

Your challenge will be to provide the officials of the embassies and representatives of the NGOs and media with specific ideas for future policy actions and decisions. The ideas must be sound, concrete, tangible and realistic.

Your meeting with them must be more than educational. It must move forward the political dialogue that can ultimately lead to more extensive tripartite discussions between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership.

Foreign Embassies

The world powers must realize that:

(i).       The Kashmiri people could be instrumental in providing a ‘way out’ of this cycle of violence and period of uncertainty. Kashmiris are an educated people. They have a recorded history of five thousand years. They have a skilled workforce. The Jammu & Kashmir itself is rich in natural resources including an abundance of fertile land and vast waterways which could produce enough hydroelectric power to support not only Kashmir but parts of India and Pakistan as well.

(ii).      Given a chance, Kashmiris could govern themselves as an independent country, develop a thriving economy and international tourism.

(iii).     They could be instrumental to encourage peace and stability not only in the subcontinent but in Afghanistan as well. As many experts of international relations now publicly say that the key to peace and stability in Afghanistan lies in Kashmir.

(iv).     Adhering to the status quo will lead to more bloodshed and greater instability.

(v).      Kashmiri leadership is not a problem but rather a part of solution.

(vi).     One cannot deal with the tensions between India and Pakistan without simultaneously addressing the bone of contention of these tensions – that is Kashmir.

Your campaign to reset the agenda should focus on effective ‘re-education’ campaign because there is a vacuum of information about Kashmir.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Your strategy has to be to establish relationship with the NGO’s (both international and national) that represent a diverse spectrum of viewpoints.

The international NGO’s play a critical role in shaping foreign policy of major world powers, through studies, backgrounders, issues memorandums, seminars and conferences. They are looked at by foreign policy agencies as powerful sources of information on many complex issues.

The reports put out by these organizations are read by many of the key decision-makers. These institutions are therefore a direct and influential link to the people who are crafting foreign policy towards Kashmir.

Media

(i).       The media relies on these institutions for their analysis and uses their expertise for comment in writing stories.

(ii).      A timely editorial or opinion piece or article can influence the outcome of a debate and encourage a shift in policy. By generating stories on Kashmir, you will draw the attention of the foreign policy agencies and ultimately persuade them to take interest in the Kashmir cause.

(iii).     Individual letters to editor always play an important role. The letters should always be signed. They should include personal experience of the individuals, their family and friends. In this way, each letter becomes a personal plea to the editor from a concerned citizen.

(iv).     The media is a tool to crystalize the growing support for right to self-determination and to transmit information of the human rights violations in Kashmir.

Not only have most NGOs not focused many of their resources on the recent events in Kashmir, many do not even have specialists who are well informed on India and Pakistan relations. Remember that most of these NGO’s do not have any built-in biases. We can therefore become a source of information for them.

Indian Disinformation Campaign

You can be sure that the Indian lobby, much larger than yours has wasted no time in voicing their opposition to what they term ‘separatism’ fundamentalism’ and ‘terrorism.’ Their successful efforts have effectively eclipsed the root cause of the instability in the region: the unfulfilled United Nations pledge of self-determination for the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

The influence of the Indian lobby has enjoyed virtually unchallenged activity at world capitols.

The world powers have repeatedly heard the various pro-Indian position themes. These include:

(i).       Kashmiri militants threaten to destabilize delicate India – Pakistan relations.

(ii).      Fundamentalists Muslims, if victorious, will bring instability and undemocratic ideas to an independent country.

(iii).     The current violence in Kashmir  is an internal matter of India.

Our Response

Our efforts have to be designed to provide information that supports the positive themes that strengthen our position.

Remember, never exaggerate the events. Why to exaggerate when your story is true in the first place!

We must combat the Indian disinformation campaign by providing direct, positive and substantive information.

There are several themes that will be Important to promote. These include:

(i).       The international community has long supported the right of the people of Kashmir to decide their future.

(ii).      The Kashmiri leadership stands for an equitable and peaceful resolution of the dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

(iii).     The debate between India and Pakistan cannot be resolved without the involvement and participation of the Kashmiri leadership.

(iv).     World powers should provide humanitarian relief to those who were affected during the recent floods of 2014.

How to Request a Meeting

A letter requesting a meeting with foreign embassies in your country, NGOs and media should be sent at least two weeks ahead of time. The letter should identify a specific date, time block for the meeting. Without specificity, the meeting would be postponed indefinitely. Accompanying the letter should be brief information on the ‘Youth Forum on Kashmir’, some recent news clippings from the international NGO’s, like Amnesty International, etc.

The letter should be followed up with a phone call. If there is no immediate follow up by phone call, there will be no meeting.

There should be no more than two to three other persons in the meeting with you. Each person should have a specific role. For example, one individual may have family or friend in Kashmir with whom he communicates. The other person may be an expert on the history of Kashmir. A third may have read a report about the situation in Kashmir. If you feel that you don’t have a distinct role, you should not attend the meeting.

During the meeting, you should always submit an “Aide Memoir” (Briefing paper) on the current situation.

(i).       Be firm and persuasive but polite in your approach.

(ii).      You should always emphasize the peaceful political settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

(iii).     You must effectively address the issue of self-determination and the issue of human rights violations with documentation.

(iv).     Define your ‘Organization’, its objectives and activities.  Emphasize that your organization does not represent any particular opinion but over all sentiments of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

(v).      Briefly retrace the history of the conflict. Emphasize that Kashmir has always been an issue of international concern since the 1948 Security Council resolution. It is not an internal matter of any country.

(vi).     Discuss the current crisis situation, emphasizing the atrocities, disappearances, AFSPA, ceasefire violations and political prisoners.

(vii).    Point out that while tensions between India and Pakistan can be reduced, there will be no long term stability in the region until the legitimate rights of the people of Kashmir – right of self-determination is addressed.

(viii).   Urge them to persuade their governments to send a fact-finding mission to both sides of the Ceasefire Line to gather first hand information about the situation.

(ix).      Seek their support for inclusion of a statement on the situation in Kashmir in the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

(x).       You must elaborate the futility of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan which have proven barren for the last 67 years. Your demand must be tripartite dialogue between all parties concerned – India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership.

(xi).      You must develop a script that addresses all of the above issues within 30 minutes, the remaining time will be dedicated to question and answers in order to elaborate on previous points.

As a follow-up, you should sent a thank you note to the office and stay in regular contact with those in the meeting through correspondence and phone contacts.

Third Party Facilitation

The world powers are in quandary. They continue to support India because of its emerging commercial market while at the same time, they support the advancement of democracy in the world. It is therefore, only natural that they would like to give, at least an appearance of being tolerant to the situation in Kashmir.

A convenient way to side step the conflict is to suggest that India and Pakistan directly negotiate an end to the conflict. This permits them to be on record as neither supporting one side or the other. This evenhandedness, though, is working against the interests of the people of Kashmir.

“What worries me is not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” (Martin Luther King)

The recent rhetorical volley between India and Pakistan at Ufa, Russia provided the backdrop for heightened concern of US, Russia and China over the recent tensions between India and Pakistan. That prompted a direct involvement of those world powers in supporting a lowering of hostilities between two disputants. Call it mediation or facilitation or deeper engagement, it really does not matter. In reality, it was the third party involvement that brought India and Pakistan together at Ufa, Russia.

Responsibility of Kashmiri Leadership

Efforts underway at this point demonstrate that the world powers are looking for a vehicle (Mandela) for dialogue. Can that vehicle be APHC? Let us think over it.

Please remember that the success of your efforts depends on your ability to demonstrate that effective leadership does exist in Kashmir. Without a united leadership, it will be impossible to move the Kashmir debate from the subject of human rights violations to the ultimate goal of self-determination.

A difficult concept for the world powers to understand remains the deep division within the Kashmiri leadership and the resulting confusion over who speaks for Kashmiris. This suggests that a plan of governance needs to be drafted that articulates the objectives of the leadership that the world powers can support.

Imagine, if on July 21st, 2015 the Kashmiri leadership could have shown collectivity and togetherness to either attend or not to attend the Iftaar party in New Delhi, the impact would have been unimaginable.

Conclusion

In summary, the various elements of your strategy – foreign embassies, NGO’s and media – are integrated segments, each of which effects the other to move your strategy forward. Each section of the strategy is as important as the other in progressing toward our ultimate goal of self-determination for the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

Dr. Fai can be reached at: 1-202-607-6435   OR   gnfai2003@yahoo.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 295 other followers