Malalai Joya Visits! Our Food For Thought Event and Our New Work Together!
Two weeks ago we were profoundly honored with a visit from Roots Activist Malalai Joya. For those who do not know her, Malalai is one of the most important Peace and Justice Activists working in Afghanistan today. She tirelessly resists the War and Occupation, attacks on Womens Rights, violence, corruption and warlords who have been handed authority over townships and Communities in Afghanistan. As many know she has survived 7 assassination attempts not to mention a constant wave of aggression coming from those that she stands against. It would be easy to caricature her as fierce and fearless, a mythical Super heroine, after all , she is called the bravest Women in Afghanistan. That she is. However, Malalai
Joya like so many Activists is more than just her Activism, she is a Mother, a member of her Family and Community, and a citizen of Afghanistan. She worries, faces many fears and feels the weight of a path that is chosen but very difficult. I feel very lucky and honored to call her a friend.
She is profoundly kind, gracious, loving, likes to be silly, and yes she is fierce, strong, and profoundly effective at moving mountains. We spend a lot of time checking in about the challenges when I see her but also we laugh a lot. She amazes me. I feel exhausted from doing 5 events in a couple weeks while she speaks in a different state every night for months at a time. When she is at home she must stay in a different safe house every night because of the danger to her and to her Family. Can you imagine her concern for them? For her son?
Malalai Joya addresses Roots to Resistance
Local Peace Activist Francis Crowe with Malalai and Roots to Resistance Founder and Artist Denise Beaudet
Malalai Joya and Denise Beaudet hashing out the details of a new Postcard Campaign
When she was here Malalai Joya and I had some time to talk about and work on the details of an additional Postcard campaign that will support her aims. We currently send Postcards that we created with Malalai demanding an end to the war and occupation in Afghanistan, around the World. The Postcards are pre-addressed to President Obama and the White House and a stream of them are sent each month from many corners of the Globe. Malalai and I are now creating an additional Postcard and Street Postering campaign to raise funds for a film she is working on called, A Woman Among Warlords. The film is a very important one, as it will be informing a World Community about the real truths and realities of the past and present Afghanistan through interviews and conversations with Malalai and with spoken experiences of the People, Families and Communities inside of Afghanistan. The film is important for many reasons but the ones Malalai sites have to do with bringing attention to Afghanistans forgotten People and bringing their true realities, their truths, to all.
The new Postcards bringing support for this Film, will be available this week so please be in touch if you would like to disperse some.
Malalai Joya is someone who deserves profound respect and the consideration of your support , and I pass on her gratitude to you for that.
HERE you ca n directly support Malalai and her new film:
HERE you can learn more about how to support Malalai Joya by visiting the site of her Defense Committee:
The First Demand of My People Is Justice! // Malalai Joya comes to Food for Thought Books - a great article written about the event by local media Organization Orangeink:
Learn more about the Roots To Resistance Project HERE
Issue 984 - Wednesday, October 16, 2013
1. Afghanistan: Violence against women on the rise
By Lynette J. Dumble
Scroll down to also read related items:
- 2. Report on VAW in Afghanistan by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
- 3 Is Afghanistan heading towards a society without women? by Carol Mann
- 4. We Are Not Afraid Of Death: Lieutenant Nigar's last interview before her assassination with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- 5. Trailblazing Afghan Female MP, Noorzia Atmar, Forced to take Shelter also via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- 6. Amnesty International Australia reporting that Afghanistan's 2009 enacted Elimination of Violence against Women law is still not fully implemented, while some have attempted to scrap the law altogether
Afghan women raise banners during a march to protest violence against women in Kabul on September 24, 2012. Rashida Manjoo, the expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council with investigating and reporting on violence against women recently stated that “The failure of States to guarantee women’s rights to a life free from violence allows for a continuum of violence which can end in their death."
Back in October 2001, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan adopted an humanitarian face, professing that the defeat of the Taliban would rid girls and women of an infamously cruel brand of misogyny.
But the Taliban’s violent oppression was not alone in denying the country’s females of their basic right to education, health, inheritance, and physical and emotional safety inside and outside of their homes.
Deep-rooted tribal traditions, including the practice known as baad whereby young girls are traded as a commodity to compensate for crimes committed by their elders, have contributed to the suffering endured by Afghan females. So too have the well-documented crimes of warlords, and the abduction, rape and murder of young girls.
Twelve years down the track, Afghan girls and women are facing an upsurge of atrocities which fill their minds and hearts with terror.
Last year, 2320 cases of violence against women and girls were registered with the Ministry of Women Affairs from 33 provinces.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, however, argues that the national figure of reported incidents of violence against women and girls across the country actually reached 4500 last year.
Back in 2009, the Afghan government approved an Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law that criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, the selling and buying of women under the pretext of marriage, giving females away to settle disputes, forced self-immolation and various other acts of violence against women.
However, Ingibjorg Gisladottir, director of UN Women in Afghanistan, expressed concern that only a small percentage of cases under the law involved violence against women. Most such cases were neither registered nor investigated.
A joint investigation convened by the Independent Media Consortium Productions this year found there has been a dramatic rise in crimes against women, ranging from extreme domestic violence, to sexual assault and murder, to their increasing commodification in baad settlements.
As evidence of the spiralling violence, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that, compared with 89 cases of rape and murder in 2011, the number had escalated to 200 cases in the first nine months of last year.
Despite improved reporting rates, little to no progress has emerged with conviction rates.
In 40% of rape-murder cases, the accused have escaped without any degree of investigation.
In instances where police probes were undertaken, the suspects, more often than not with political clout, successfully bribed their way free.
As a case in point, 16-year-old Shakila was raped and fatally wounded with two bullets from a Kalashnikov gun in January last year in the home of Mohammad Hadi Wahidi Beheshti.
A member of Bamyan Provincial Council, Beheshti was present in the house when the incident occurred, but prior to notifying authorities of Shakila's death he disposed of her dead body at the local hospital.
By the time investigating police arrived at the scene, Beheshti had returned home to remove evidence of the incident. He accused his body guard Qurban, who was also Shakila‘s brother-in-law, of the crime.
Qurban was charged and faced trial, but was able to provide reliable witnesses confirming his alibi.
Beheshti became the main suspect, but escaped prosecution with a new story claiming that Shakila's death was a suicide. His second story, a fantasy in light of the forensic evidence of Shakila's rape and murder, was supported by his brother Fokori Beheshti, a member of parliament.
Flawed police investigations, including the failure to finger print Beheshti for comparison with those found on the murder weapon, led the penal division of the local court of Bamyan to shelve the case in May last year.
But, in light of emerging evidence incriminating Beheshti, the court recommended that a new investigation should be undertaken.
Typically, until August this year, and in the absence of any other suspect, Beheshti has not faced a single interrogation. As a result, a murdering rapist, whoever it truly is, enjoys impunity, while a poverty-stricken family devoid of political influence is deprived of justice for the brutal death of their 16-year-old daughter.
Latifa Sultani, the women’s rights program coordinator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, believes that such latitude is a key reason for the rising sexual aggression towards, and the subsequent killing of, girls and women.
Nafisa Azimi, a social and health professional and member of the Parliamentary Commission on Women’s Affairs, agrees, stating that the failure to prosecute the accused has contributed to the rise in violence against women.
Mohammad Bakhsh, father of slain rape victim Shakila, has written in vain to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, requesting an end to the impunity accorded the country’s politically well-connected rape and murder suspects.
Similarly, back in 2012, Ingibjorg Gisladottir had urged the Government to take the lead in ensuring that the EVAW law was fully implemented, stressing the prime importance of both ending the culture of impunity that prevails in Afghanistan and punishing the perpetrators of violence against women for their crimes.
In the interests of justice and human rights, it is past nigh for President Karzai to heed the calls of a grieving parent, and UN Women‘s representative in Afghanistan.
[Dr Lynette J. Dumble is the founder and director of The Global Sisterhood Network.]
~ December 2012
2. Violence Against Women In Afghanistan
By Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Although there have been significant improvements in women rights issues, observations and findings from field research carried out by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) are alarming. More than 3’000 instancesof violence were registered by AIHRC in the first six months of the current Afghan year, which began on March 21, 2012 (hereafter, referred to as current year).However, the massive amount of cases is not only indicating widespread violence against women, but also manifesting a greater awareness of women’s rights that led to more reported cases and instances.
Violence against women is considered a widespread and undeniable reality in Afghanistan’s society.The present report covers different types of violence against women in the first 6 months of the current year. Besides statistical information the report also presents illustrative cases of violence that tell a horrendous reality.
3331 instances of violence were recorded and classified into four different types of violence, namely physical, verbal and psychological, economic and sexual violence. Some of the instances could not been assigned to one of these types and were regrouped under the category ‘other instances of violence’. The data shows that 1051 individuals have experienced violence in the covered 6 months; all of them experienced at least 2 types of violence. The gap between the number of victims and instances is, hence, due to the fact that in many cases a woman has experienced more than one particular kind of violence. Despite tremendous efforts by the AIHRC the presented data still underestimates the real number of cases of violence against women. This is due to various reasons that are often in relation to harmful traditional practices and, in particular, women’s fear to face continued violence when reporting the acts of violence.
Read full report: HERE
~ September 15 2013
3. Is Afghanistan heading towards a society without women?
By Carol Mann
Afghanistan is experiencing a spate of assassinations and kidnappings of women in a context of spiralling violence. So-called “honour killings” hardly make the news, nor do the countless deaths of child brides, teenage mothers in labour, or young girls who set themselves alight to escape marital brutality. But now a specific category is being targeted: women who have achieved a high level of education, respectability and recognition and whose fate will be commented in the media. Policewomen, social and medical workers, civil servants, parlementarians, journalists even a prominent Indian writer. Certainly this is not new, but what was (relatively) exceptional has turned into a deliberate tactic designed to terrorize ambitious girls and their families throughout the country. These are truly political assassinations.
The killers are generally called ‘Taliban’ by Western media, an umbrella term designating political Islamists who support a peculiarly biased reading of Muslim holy texts that specifically excludes women from any form of visibility and participation in society. These don’t just include the stereotypical bearded and beturbaned militants, but zealots of a modern kind, in Armani suits or slicked back hair and tight jeans fiddling with their smartphones. Whilst not sharing an identical agenda concerning Afghanistan’s future, these ideologues agree about the place (or rather lack thereof) women should occupy in their social project.
Let us imagine a society where such ideologies triumph (which is not excluded in view of the West’s negotiations with Taliban and their look-alike), a society without women, one that is deprived of 50% of its brains, capacities and potential. Gone would be the primary school teachers, nurses, police officers, provincial civil servants, – not to be replaced by male counterparts who neither have the qualifications nor the desire to work in these fields.
So public health, education- for boys as well as girls, not to mention unborn children- will plummet as it had in Mollah Omar’s day. Safety, security, the daily running of administration would flounder.
Furthermore, with the expanding economy of the last decade, new needs and standards have developed. Who in Afghanistan is still willing to be without a mobile phone or a TV, access to electricity? Much of these new-found material comforts have been contributed by income generated by women for their households. Apart from the traditional jobs linked to health and education, the many openings available for educated young women especially if they are fluent in English, are well-paid and indeed sought after. With all the young men rushing to Kabul to find work, there are many employment possibilities in the administration of the provinces open to women who tend to stay close to home base.
In short in a society where one half of the population could be excluded from the public sphere, the result can only be abysmal failure, misery and war. Let’s hope that the younger generation of Afghans realize that equal rights benefit men as much as women. The alternative would be disastrous.
September 16, 2013
4. "We Are Not Afraid Of Death:" Lieutenant Nigar's Last Interview With RFE/RL
Helmand police officer Lieutenant Nigar in an undated courtesy photo.
In July, Lieutenant Nigar (one name only) became the highest-ranking woman police officer in Afghanistan's ultraconservative Helmand Province when her predecessor in that position was assassinated.
In the days after Islam Bibi's killing, Nigar discussed the importance of Afghan women participating in the effort to establish security and shrugged off the dangers as being part of the job.
On September 15, Nigar was also killed after being shot by unknown attackers. Here are some excerpts from her early July interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
On the killing of Islam Bibi, her predecessor as the highest-ranking female police officer in Helmand Province:
"This is Afghanistan. Fighting has been going on for 30 years in this country. [Dangerous things] happen. Either you die or live on. We are not afraid of death."
On the recruitment of women into Afghanistan's police forces:
"My message to everyone is to come join the women's police forces. We are human beings and deadly attacks can happen. There shouldn't be any problems."
On the importance of having women officers present during house searches:
"Without the accompaniment of women, our police and the army cannot do anything. Women are needed, and they shouldn't be scared [to join]. We should take pride in the fact that our people are happy with the work we do and they thank God that we women police exist."
On the role women play in establishing trust with locals during search operations:
“Sometimes people are terrified when police enter their homes. I take off my veil and keep telling them, 'Don't be scared, we are women police.' We introduce ourselves to women and conduct our search operation and I find that they are very happy and satisfied with us."
July 21, 2013
5. Trailblazing Afghan Female MP Forced To Take Shelter
Noorzia Atmar, a former rights campaigner and lawmaker in the national parliament, has gone into hiding since she was stabbed and threatened by her former husband.
By Frud Bezhan and Fareba Wahidi
Noorzia Atmar is the human face of women's rights in Afghanistan, her unbridled and open enthusiasm now bruised and sheltered from the public eye.
As one of the country's first female lawmakers, she was a vocal and active force in carving out a bigger role for women in a society that had suffered for years under the hard-line rule of the Taliban.
Today her voice has been muted, and her existence in a home for battered women epitomizes the rapid unraveling of what advancements had been made.
Shortly after losing her place in the national parliament, Atmar ran into trouble at home. After divorcing her abusive husband, she was spurned by her own family and forced to seek refuge in a discreetly located shelter in Kabul for abused women and girls.
The 40-year-old's plight has cast a spotlight on the erosion of women's rights that has sped up just as international troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. As international scrutiny has waned, powerful religious and conservative circles have taken steps to undermine women's rights.
In the past decade, women have made significant inroads in Afghan society, with millions of girls attending school and women entering the workforce, including in the country's political realm. Yet despite the progress, domestic abuse is routine, forced marriages are the norm, and female suicide rates in Afghanistan remain among the highest in the world.
Shame And Duty
Atmar says her husband, Toryalai Malakzai, initially seemed open-minded about her political ambitions. The couple married in 2010, while Atmar was vying for reelection as a member of parliament from the eastern province of Nangarhar. But soon after she failed to win reelection she was confined to her home, and on the rare occasions she was allowed to venture outside, her husband forced her to wear an all-covering burqa.
Atmar fled home after Malakzai stabbed her and threatened to kill her six months ago.
"I was the victim of abuse. I had a very bitter life while I was with that man," Atmar says. "He was getting drunk and hitting me every day. That was his routine. It reached the point where he threw a knife and other sharp objects at me. [That's why] I'm currently in a women's shelter."
Atmar, who has lived in the shelter for several months, says that after fleeing from her husband she turned to her family for help. But she says her parents ordered her to return to her husband. She returned, but not for long. Atmar soon filed for divorce and left for the women’s shelter.
It was then, Atmar says, that her family disowned her.
"My family had one disagreement with me. They said divorce was a shameful thing and I shouldn't do it," Atmar says. "I have the feeling that my own family hated me. When my name is mentioned at social gatherings, my family curses me. This has been particularly hurtful."
Shelters Under Siege
Atmar now commutes between the shelter and her job in a vehicle provided by the government, for which she works as an adviser. She says she fears becoming the victim of a so-called honor killing carried out by her husband or her own family.
She does not know how long she will stay at the shelter, whose existence has been the source of controversy in Afghanistan. The country's independently run and funded women's shelters, once a symbol of women's progress, have been described by conservative lawmakers as "brothels."
In 2011, Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempted to bring the shelters under government control. A draft law that was abandoned following a flurry of Western media attention would have required women to obtain government approval and even virginity tests before they would be granted access to shelters.
Atmar, a former journalist, says shelters for abused women must remain open for women who would otherwise be forced to fend for themselves on the streets.
"I'm worried that if these shelters close, my sisters [Afghan women] and I who have suffered from domestic violence won't have anywhere to go. This is our worry," Atmar says. "If a woman has had her arm or leg broken or has had her nose or ears cut off, should we throw them on the street? In the current situation in Afghanistan the shelters are the only places of refuge for women."
Atmar's own plight comes as a string of controversies threaten to undo progress on women's rights in the country.
Afghanistan's lower house of parliament has proposed revisions to the criminal code that would effectively reverse measures designed to protect women from domestic violence. Those proposed changes, to the criminal procedure code, would prohibit a criminal defendant's relatives from being questioned as witnesses for the prosecution. If the provision became law, it would effectively silence victims and their family members.
In addition, the upper house of parliament is currently debating a revised electoral law whose draft text omits passages -- enshrined at the urging of the international community -- that set aside 25 percent of the seats on provincial and district councils for women. That draft has already been passed by the lower house of parliament and, if enforced would essentially deprive women of posts in parliament and in government at the provincial and local levels, where conservative and male-dominated elements tend to prevail.
That came after lawmakers in May halted indefinitely a debate on legislation outlawing rape and forced marriages. Female lawmakers had wanted to cement the law -- passed by a presidential decree in 2009 -- through a parliamentary vote. But it received stiff opposition from conservatives, who have threatened to scrap it.
In what appears to be a response to recent developments, Western nations and aid organizations have moved to reaffirm their commitment to protecting women's rights in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched a program with an aim to educate, train, and empower at least 75,000 women between the ages of 18 and 30. USAID says that the goal of the five-year program is to strengthen women's rights groups, increase female participation in the economy, and raise the number of women in decision-making positions in government.
The United States is providing nearly $200 million for the program, with another $200 million expected to come from international donors.
17 September 2013
6. Australia must champion Afghan women’s rights, after killing of prominent woman in Afghanistan
Yesterday’s killing of one of Afghanistan’s most senior woman police officers is another tragic reminder of the urgent need to advocate for the rights of Afghan women during discussions about the UN mandate in Afghanistan (ISAF), said Amnesty International.
In its role as President of the UN Security Council, and for the remainder of its term on the Security Council, Australia should prioritise the protection of civilians and the promotion of human rights of Afghan women, men and children.
Lieutenant Negar, 38, died on Monday morning in hospital after two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike shot her in the neck on Sunday near police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the capital of restive Helmand province. She had been an outspoken advocate for the protection of women who challenge the use of violence against women and girls.
Other women in the public eye – including her predecessor, an Indian writer and two representatives of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs – have been killed in Afghanistan in the last year, and a woman MP was recently held hostage by the Taliban.
“Women’s rights have come a long way in recent years, and may have reached a tipping point. There are more women in positions of authority, increased access to education, and welcome new laws to protect women and girls from violence. But as Afghan women gain voice and power, they face new and increasing threats. Some defenders of women’s rights say they are once again beginning to self-censor, fearing new reprisals,” said Polly Truscott, Deputy Asia Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“At the same time we fear that Afghan and foreign leaders are becoming inured to sheer numbers of attacks on high-profile women, combined with the every day violence against women and girls, but there is so much more that can be done to protect and promote women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
President Karzai passed the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law by decree in 2009. However, not only are many of its provisions still not fully implemented, but since then some have attempted to scrap the law altogether.
“The Afghan authorities must do everything in their power, with international assistance, to protect women’s rights,” said Truscott.
“This must include the full implementation of the 2009 law to eliminate violence against women, and the training of authorities at all levels to ensure it affects public policy in practice.”
According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, in recent years, violence against women “is a widespread and ever increasing phenomenon” across the country.
For well over a year, there have been many reported cases of beatings, kidnappings and killings of women and girls across Afghanistan – particularly in rural areas.
Women and girls are attacked by their partners, relatives, some security personnel, and armed groups, including the Taliban, sometimes in broad daylight.
“Violent crimes against all women, including the shooting of Lieutenant Negar must be swiftly and fully investigated, and whoever is responsible brought to justice in fair trials and without the death penalty,” said Truscott.
Thursday October 10, 2013
Feticide and dowry real killers of women in western Uttar Pradesh
By Ashish Tripathi, TNN
LUCKNOW: The threat to bahu-betis (women) in west UP is actually from their families, not from 'Love Jihad', a term coined by right wing groups to describe a holy war waged by Muslim boys to trap and convert Hindu women.
Love Jihad is said to be one of the factors that has provoked communal passions in the area for the past one year, eventually triggering the blood bath, killing 62 innocents and turning over 50,000 refugees in their homeland. The starting point was the killing of three youth at Kawal village in Muzaffarnagar over harassment of girls. Even after riots, every incident of harassment of a Hindu girl involving Muslims, even with a remote link, is hyped up as Love Jihad.
But, there is no evidence to support the Love Jihad theory but female foeticide, poor maternal care and dowry, together kill one bahu/beti every four minutes in these areas.
In the past 10 years, almost all major political parties have ruled UP but, no movement or campaign, as the one which stoked communal flare-up, has been witnessed to address the real threat, which has now acquired monstrous proportions.
Sample this: Every day, foeticide kills 330 unborn girls in UP, poor maternal health 46 women and dowry six women-total 382 per day. This amounts to one killing per four minutes. The same applies to west UP.
Several government and non-government studies, including one by United Nation Population Fund, have revealed that the female foeticide is rampant in UP and the situation is worse in the western parts. The studies gain credence from the rising number of ultrasound and in-vitro fertilisation centres and decline in child sex ratio (number of girls against 1000 boys in 0-6 age group).
While the centres where sex determination can be done have increased in UP from 400 in 2001 to over 5,000 in 2013, the CSR has declined from 916 in 2001 Census to 902 in 2011, a 14-point drop. This means, in UP, only 902 girls take birth and survive till six years against 1,000 boys.
The national CSR is 919 and natural 945. This means in the past six years 7.2 lakh female foetuses were killed, which comes to 1.20 lakh every year, 10,000 every month and 330 daily.
The west UP, particularly the riot-hit area, has lowest CSRs in the state and have earned the dubious distinction of being called as 'killing fields for unborn girl child'. The CSR of Muzaffarnagar, for instance, is 863, which means 82 girls less than normal ratio. Similarly, the number of 'missing' girls in Meerut is 91, Baghpat 104, Bijnor 62 and Saharanpur 58.
"The betis are losing right to take birth and life because of highly patriarchal mindset which prefers boys over girls," said gynecologist-turned-activist Dr Neelam Singh, also member of several national bodies formed under the PCPNDT Act to check female foeticide. "The skewed sex ratio also reflects in the child population in Census 2011. The number of boys in 0-6 age group is 1.56 crore, whereas girls 1.40 crore (total 2.96 crore)," she added.
Dr Singh warned "The imbalance may lead to dangerous social and economic repercussions. Studies have revealed that it is a major factor for the rise in sex crime against women. Already, bride-buying has started as girls are not available for marriage in some west UP districts."
The warning does not seem misplaced. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, rape cases doubled in UP from 911 in 2003 to 1963 in 2012. Of 1963, in one third (679) offenders were close family members, relatives or neighbours. Similarly, molestation increased by three times from 1098 in 2003 to 7661 in 2012.
If betis are being massacred, bahus are not safe either. The NCRB data shows around 187 bahus are being killed every month for dowry in UP. Dowry deaths in 2003 were 1322, which increased to 2244 in 2012, a 70% rise. And, the cases of cruelty by husbands increased by 2.5 times from 2626 in 2003 to 7661 in 2012.
UP ranks first in the country in dowry deaths and third in cruelty by husbands. The situation in western parts is no better. In 2012, around 108 cases of dowry deaths and cruelty were reported every month from the six districts (Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bijnor, Saharanpur, Baghpat and Shamli)."Such crimes are reported from all communities and there is nothing substantial to suggest that one is targeting the other," said a senior police officer.
When bahu and betis are under threat, how can mothers be secure? According to the latest Annual Health Survey the maternal mortality ratio of UP is 300, among highest in the country. In comparison India's MMR is 212. The MMR is the number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth, per 100,000 live births. This means every year 16,500 mothers die in UP while giving birth to their child, which amounts to 46 deaths per day. And, the average MMR of Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Meerut, Baghpat and Bijnor is 240, which amounts to 1,100 maternal deaths every month and 37 per day.
While madness continues, said Rakesh Rana, a Bijnor-based activist, instead of sensitising people against social ills, which is their duty in a democracy, the political parties and the government are exploiting patriarchal mindset and indulging in communal politics for electoral gains.
Sunday October 13, 2013
Every grain of sand
By Kaavya Pradeep Kumar
Jazeera V., with her children, protesting against illegal sand mining in Kerala, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (The Hindu File Photo)
“If there’s a nexus working that wants the blatant exploitation to thrive, it has to be met with equal force”
She calls herself a ‘daughter of the sea’. It’s not a borrowed label, but one that Jazeera Vadakkan believes in with passionate conviction. She builds literal ties to the description, “I was born at home, right on the Neerozhukkumchal Beach in Kannur (north Kerala).”
Clad in a burqa, surrounded by her three children, Jazeera makes an unlikely sight on the pavement outside Kerala House in New Delhi. As unlikely as when she was protesting outside the Secretariat in Tiruvananthapuram in her home state. But this is no home-maker accidentally caught up in the public sphere. Get closer and you will see that she is conviction personified.
Jazeera’s is a lonely battle, but she is the face of an amazingly courageous defiance against the all-powerful sand mafia that rules the coastal hamlet where she was born. Her zeal is in many ways incredible. Her battle is not built on academic research or environmental laws. It is a personal and intuitive battle. Returning to her village a short while after her marriage she found the landscape virtually unrecognisable, altered by the relentless mining of sand. “Why is it so difficult to see? If the miners can inflict so much damage on one beach in a few months, what will we have left to pass on to our children’s generations?” she asks.
The 31-year-old has been threatened countless times and even physically assaulted. But nothing seems to dent her mission to prevent even a grain of sand being shifted from ‘her’ beach. As she says, the sand being removed in tonnes to building sites has caused severe damage to Kerala’s fragile coastline.
Criticism of Jazeera, an auto driver by profession, ranges from dismissing her as a fake seeking media attention to vilifying her as an irresponsible mother and wife. She protests with her three children in tow, the youngest barely two. When Jazeera moved base from her hometown to the Kerala capital in August this year, her children came along. Her husband, Abdul Salaam, a madrassa teacher in Kochi, is not with her but is a source of support, she says.
The unending monsoon, the harsh heat wave, the criticism, the threats nothing seems to affect Jazeera and her children. They had become permanent fixtures near the north gate of the Secretariat building. A huge demonstration organised by the Left Front had even veteran vendors a little worried because of the sheer numbers. But not Jazeera, who refused to budge. Her two girls, Rizwana and Shifana, seemed more preoccupied by their colouring books than the crowds and red flags all around.
Finally, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy met her on the third day of her protest. He promised her that action would be taken, but Jazeera wanted a written statement. When this did not happen, Jazeera went to Delhi. “There are laws that prohibit this sort of activity. But when the local people, the police, local leaders are all part of a nexus that wants the blatant exploitation to thrive, it has to be met with equal force,” she says.
None of the attempts to frighten her into going back to her hamlet have worked so far. Jazeera continues to protest, asking for a written assurance from the Kerala government to rein in the sand miners, something the authorities have strangely refused so far. Here is one woman fighting organised mafia, but with enough courage to beat the odds.