No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms
Emmanuel Jal was born in Southern Sudan c. 1980. By the time he was seven, his father had left to fight with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and his mother had been murdered by government soldiers.
After that he was recruited by the SPLA and trained as a soldier. For five years he fought with the army, but as the fighting became unbearable Jal and some of the other children ran away.
They wandered for three months, many of them dying on the journey until they reached the town of Waat. Emma McCune, a British aid worker who was married to a senior SPLA commandant, insisted that at 11, Jal was too young to be a soldier and adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya. There Emmanuel went to school and even though McCune died in a road accident, her friends continued to help him.
Jal began singing to ease the pain of what he had experienced, he also began to work at raising money for street children in Kenya and his first single, “All We Need is Jesus” was a hit in Kenya and received airplay in the UK.
Jal tries to unite young people through his music – he believes that music can help overcome ethnic and religious divisions. His first album – Gua – is a mix of Arabic, English, Swahili, Dinka and Nuer. The title – Gua – is a symbol of the unity for which he is striving as it means ‘good’ in Nuer and ‘power’ in Sudanese Arabic.
His second album, Ceasefire, is a collaboration with the well known Sudanese Muslim musician Abd El Gadir Salim. The collaboration between Jal and Salim demonstrates their vision of unity. On the album they emphasize their musical differences as a symbol of co-existence.
Jal dedicates his life to the wellbeing of children, believing that music is a vehicle for uplifting the spirit and surviving tragedy. The commonest theme of his songs is the campaign for peace – particularly in his native Sudan – and his condemnation of using children as soldiers.
A documentary about Emmanuel Jal called War Child was made in 2008 by C. Karim Chrobog. It made its international debut at the Berlin Film Festival and its North American debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Cadillac Audience Award. An autobiography under the same name was released in 2009.
Jal’s charity, Gua Africa, builds schools and tries to help children and Sudanese war survivors.
Those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative peace should never underestimate the suffering caused by war or give up working to eliminate it.
In their book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn tell the story of an Indian neighbourhood – Kasturba Nagar – a place where the inhabitants are Dalits (Untouchables) and the lanes run with sewage and desperation.
For almost fifteen years, Akku Yadav and his gang ruled the slum with weapons of terror. They robbed, tortured and murdered at will – much of the time choosing rape as their preferred method of controlling the people. In this area rape is so stigmatizing that the victims often remained silent, which allowed Akku Yadav to act with impunity. The few that reported the crime were ignored by the police.
The slum-dwellers say Akku Yadav once raped a woman right after her wedding and that he and his gang dragged another woman – who was seven months pregnant – into the street where they raped her in public view. They also gang-raped another woman just ten days after she’d given birth – that woman was so humiliated she killed herself by dousing herself with kerosene and setting herself on fire.
In addition to the rapes, Akku Yadav once stripped a man, burned him with cigarettes and made him dance in front of his sixteen year old daughter and tortured a woman by cutting off her breasts and cutting her to pieces in front of her daughter and neighbours. One man, Avinash Tiwari, planned to go to the police, so Akku Yadav butchered him as well.
The inhabitants were terrified of Akku Yadav. 25 families moved away but most had no hope of escape, so they took their daughters out of school and hid them in their houses to try to protect them. And the police didn’t help – as long as Yadav targeted Dalits they didn’t interfere.
Usha Narayane is from this neighbourhood but her parents struggled and saved all their lives to educate her and her siblings. She has a degree in hotel management and was due to begin work when she went home for a visit.
Akku Yadav was rampaging as usual. He raped a thirteen-year-old girl and then he and his men went to the neighbours of the Narayanes to demand money. The gang broke up the house and threatened to kill the family. The neighbours were too terrified to act, so Usha went to the police to file a complaint for them.
The police told Akku Yadav what she had done and he and 40 men surrounded Usha’s house. Yadav had a bottle of acid and he shouted at Usha to back down. She barricaded herself inside and called the police – but they didn’t come. So Usha turned on the gas in her house and told Yadav if he came in she’d blow them all up.
The neighbors were unsure what to do but when they saw Usha fighting back it gave them courage and they hurled sticks and stones at Yadav and his men. The gang ran off. The Dalits were ecstatic – for the first time ever they had defeated Akku Yadav and his men. The slum-dwellers burned down Yadav’s house and he was arrested for his own protection.
Akku Yadav’s bail hearing was scheduled and rumour had it that he’d bribed the police and was going to be released. The hearing was set for a court miles away in Nagpur. Hundreds of Dalit women marched to attend. Akku Yadav strutted into court, confident and unrepentant. He saw a woman he had raped and called her a prostitute and said he’d rape her again. She ran forward and hit him with a slipper and then all the women came forward and surrounded him screaming and shouting. They threw chili powder at the police guarding him and then the women pulled out knives and began to stab Akku Yadav. They had agreed that each of them would stab him at least once. They killed him and cut off his penis and then marched back to Kasturba Nagar. The slum had a party – the monster was dead.
Everyone knew Usha Narayane had orchestrated the murder but she wasn’t in court that day and though she was arrested nobody could prove her involvement. The woman had decided if they all stabbed him no one wound – or one woman – could be said to have killed him. A public outcry followed the murder of Akku Yadav and the plight of Kasturba Nagar became public. A retired high court judge took the part of the women saying they’d sought help from the police and had been abandoned.
This is the type of story that clearly demonstrates to me the type of moral dilemma that plagues our world. Akka Yadav had clearly caused immense suffering and was no loss to humanity. The police were corrupt and the Dalits had no recourse to justice. One has to wonder if it is just to allow suffering to continue. Or to allow the tyrant to thrive.
Perhaps it’s the savagery of the attack but somehow the solution feels wrong as well. It reminds me of war. But having said that – what else could they do?
I don’t know the answer.
What do you think?
In the most wonderful and peaceful of worlds, completely free of war and violence and famine and prejudice, children will still die and be bereaved, people will become ill and have accidents, make mistakes – there will be natural disasters and unfortunate events. Suffering will still exist.
So. What is the point of suffering?
Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said that suffering should be alleviated whenever possible but when it isn’t possible it presents us with an opportunity for change.
When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. (1)
What does this mean? Perhaps it means that suffering changes us anyway and we can either be a part of that change or allow ourselves to be formed against our will by circumstances outside of our control?
The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes…Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (2)
Maybe the purpose of suffering is so incredibly individual that there is no one answer other than that its very inevitability suggests it does have a purpose – however hidden?
Maybe it exists so that we’ll question the things around us that seem real and permanent and important and learn to distinguish between them?
Maybe our suffering can soften our hearts so that when we see others suffer we respond?
I don’t presume to know.
(1) Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.
(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in “Star of the West”, volume 14, number 2, May 1923.
Many things are tragic – natural disasters, premature death, illness and so on. These are not caused by us. Tragedy will always exist no matter what we do.
Evil, on the other hand, is within our power to control. Evil is made by us, tolerated by us and causes scars in us that tragedy rarely does.
It is very important to be able to distinguish between evil and tragedy. Though both tragedy and evil cause suffering – that is their only similarity.
Tragedy is inevitable. Evil is avoidable.
*Photograph – National Library of Scotland, Dead soldier, near Flers, France, during World War I.
[Original reads: ‘A common scene in Flers.’]
In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo and his team at Stanford University conducted an experiment designed to understand the development of norms and the effects of roles, labels, and social expectations in a simulated prison environment. They recruited the most ordinary young men they could find and randomly divided the group into ‘prisoners’ and ‘officers’.
The experiment was to last two weeks but had to be abandoned after five days due to the distress of the ‘prisoners’ and the cruelty displayed by the ‘officers’. Absolutely nothing in the psychological tests undertaken by the boys beforehand suggested how they’d behave during the experiment. Zimbardo believes that the ‘institution’ they created was what caused these ‘good’ boys to turn ‘bad.’
He maintains that to say that evil is located only in the individual lets us off the hook as societies and, ‘…implies a simplistic, binary world of good people, like us, and bad people, like them.’ (1)
He says we need to see how our institutions – whatever they may be – contribute to human-induced evil, because,
While a few bad apples might spoil the barrel…a barrel filled with vinegar will always transform sweet cucumbers into sour pickles – regardless of the best intentions, resilience and genetic nature of those cucumbers. (2)
So what everybody needs to know about what makes good people do bad things is that the responsibility lies at the door of not only the perpetrators of evil within institutions, but also the individuals who create and support these institutions – namely all of us.
(1) Zimbardo, P.G. (2004). ‘A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators.’ In A.G. Miller (Ed.), The Social Psychology of Good and Evil, (pp 21-50). New York, Guilford Press.