A Good Start is Half the Work


In the wake of WWII, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by nine people from around the world. On December 10, 1948, the the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Eight nations abstained from the vote but none actively disagreed.

Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, a member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote about this occasion:

“I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

This is the first time in human history that we all officially agreed that all human beings are entitled to basic rights, simply by virtue of being alive.

In Irish there is an expression – “Tus maith, leath na hoibre,”  which translates as, “A good start is half the work.”

It was a good start.

                          Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1.

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Beautiful


We are all convinced that our conception of beauty is natural. We think we like what we like, nobody teaches us what to like, either people are beautiful or they aren’t.

But is that really the case?

P.S. All of these girls look absolutely beautiful to me.

Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Girls


Rape is used to destroy not just individuals but entire communities. Rape is so commonly used as a weapon that Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander said –

“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

In 2008 the UN declared rape, ‘ a weapon of war’.  In the resolution, the UN Security Council noted that,

“…women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

Rape is a heinous crime, acknowledged as torture by the United Nations and yet apart from the physical, emotional and psychological scars that rape inflicts, there is another source of pain for rape victims – social exclusion.  In many countries the shame experienced by the victims after rape is as traumatic as the incident itself.  Many women kill themselves as it is seen as the only way to restore honour to their families.

How can this be true?

Surely the perpetrators of heinous crimes are the ones who should be ashamed?

And who are the people who exclude or look down on these victims?

Do these excluders and condemners include women?

If so – why?

What is it about rape that makes the victims ashamed and not the perpetrators?

When will men – and women – begin to speak out against this violation?

What sort of social conceptual framework exists to support this victimisation of victims?

If we could find it could we dismantle it?

All thoughts appreciated.

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(1) http://www.ohchr.org/en/newsevents/pages/rapeweaponwar.aspx

The Roots of Rights


On December 10th, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Nowadays, when we think of human rights, what exactly do we think?

Do we think that human rights are nothing to do with us?

That human rights are best left to activists?

Experts.

Professionals.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the UN Commission that wrote the UDHR, had a very different vision of human rights –

In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Butterfly effects for human rights?

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I am Spartacus…


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.

And yet…

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?

Really Human


Dr. Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery.  She and her organisation – Prajwala – have rescued and helped to educate, train and reintegrate thousands of victims of this form of slavery.  She is an inspiring, forceful and committed individual and she has some very specific requests.

She asks that everybody moved by the horrific stories she tells, takes it upon themselves to tell two people of the plight of children and women who are sold as slaves in the sex industry. She asks that we each tell two people and try to convince them to help.

That’s a pragmatic idea.

Her other request is even more heartfelt and if we all took it to heart it would probably change everything in the lives of all children, everywhere.

She asks that everybody give these victims acceptance, support and love.

Not because we are kind or altruistic.

Not as philanthropy.

Not as charity.

It’s nothing to do with us.  We should give them our love and support because they deserve it – as human beings.

As Sunita herself puts it –

Because no child – no human being – deserves what these children have gone through.

Simple truths are the best arguments.

(Be aware – this video is worth watching but know that it is also graphic and disturbing)

Blood-lines of action – Butterfly Effects for Change


BASTI MAHRAN, PAKISTAN

Before 2004, life in Basti Mahran was extremely difficult for everyone but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men, cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread – all of the time.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic.  She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion.  The doctors were helpless, they didn’t have any O-negative blood – until a local Hindu man with the same blood-type stepped forward and offered to give his blood to save this young woman’s life.

“I was afraid, for sure. But it was the right thing to do,” says Bachu Ram, the blood donor. (1)

In spite of his selfless gesture, Ram knew there would be objections to a Hindu giving blood to a Muslim.  And he was right. Word spread about his offer and before very long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram.  The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus.  For three years in the 1990s he had belonged to an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir, killing all Hindus who crossed their path.  Latif had previously tried to force the doctors at the clinic to have separate facilities for Muslims and Hindus, so that Muslims were never touched with the same instruments that had been used to treat Hindus.

As Latif and his gang approached the clinic they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.” (2)

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him.  This was another seemingly small event but it is said that it was the very first time that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran so the impact of this gesture was soon felt. In a short time, word of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s remorse spread and everything in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other, the rapes and attacks stopped and a huge shed was built to house all the local cattle.

“That was a big deal,” Ram says. “Before, you would not see the cows near each other at all. A Muslim would not have touched the milk from a cow owned by Hindus.” (3)

Nowadays everything in Basti Mahran has changed. In the past, everybody hated the members of the other community, now they not only like each other, they actively support each other even in their religious practice.  It is commonplace today for Hindus to attend Muslim celebrations and vice versa.  Latif and other local Muslims contributed time and money last year to refurbish a local Hindu temple and everybody, generally, makes efforts to help each other.

This change has turned out to be of just as much benefit to the Muslim community as to the Hindu locals, as now that they have stopped fighting each other they are using their collective energy to promote the common good.

Women from both communities have joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and nowadays are earning four times what they earned when they were selling separately.  Last year the village successfully lobbied the government to build power lines and they now have twelve hours electricity a day where previously they had none.  Now they are lobbying for new roads and water supply.

“We’ve been so wrong about the Hindus,” Latif says, watching his 7-year-old son Osama play alongside Ram’s 11-year-old boy Sindhal Ram. “The biggest surprise has been that they are just like us. They want to live their lives the same way we do.” (4)

It takes great courage to give, to accept and to forgive.  The people of Basti Mahran showed this courage and are, literally, an example to us all.

The video below is from the Toronto Star and gives a great overview of this amazing story.

TheStar Gift of blood ends Pakistani town’s bloody history.

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(1) Rick Westhead, Gift of blood end Pakistani town’s bloody history 

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1032541–gift-of-blood-ends-pakistani-town-s-bloody-history?bn=1

(2) ibid

(3) ibid

(4) ibid

Photograph from the same article.

Courtesy


Now here’s a misunderstood virtue.  

Courtesy.

It has come to be synonymous with pointless protocol or manipulative patter designed to delude.  It isn’t any of these things.

Courtesy is simply showing respect for others – even small children and people who have no power or influence.  Respect for their human rights. Their bodily integrity. Their views and opinions.  Their beliefs and ideas. Their homes and possessions.  Their existence.

Like all virtual virtues, virtual courtesy is worthless.  A courteous expression of respect must be just that – an expression of real and genuine respect.

Therefore, to really be courteous we must first have that respect for everybody – and then show it.  Because to be treated with real courtesy is our right, just as to show that courtesy to everyone is our responsibility.

…observe courtesy, for above all it is the prince of virtues…Who is illumined with the light of courtesy…hath indeed attained a sublime station. (1)

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(1) Bahá’u’lláh – Tablet of the World

Related articles

http://www.becauseitmatters.net/respect.cfm

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