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?

All Change…


On the 6th of December, 1992 racial riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Ayodhya, in India. More than 2,000 people died in the violence that followed. 

Forty kilometres away in the city of Lucknow, hundreds of school children – the students of the City Montessori School – and their parents took to the streets singing and carrying posters with slogans like: ‘We should live in unity.’ ‘The name of God is both Hindu and Muslim.’ ‘God is One, Mankind is One.’ ‘All Religions are One.’

The governor of Lucknow asked the City Montessori School to provide a meeting place for the heads of all the city’s religions. Every day while the violence raged nearby, these leaders of the religious community held public meetings at the school surrounded by children singing about unity.  And it worked. Lucknow completely escaped the violence.

Could it be that these simple, earnest demonstrations by schoolchildren and their parents stopped an outbreak of violence?

Well, it helped but the many years of work behind it probably deserve most of the credit.

In 1959, Mr. Jagdish Gandhi and Mrs. Bharti Gandhi borrowed $10 and founded the City Montessori School. For over forty years the school has focused not only on academic excellence but also on educating children to be better people. As well as academic subjects, the pupils also focus on defining values and learning about peace: students follow lessons in world citizenship, social responsibility, peace issues and religious values. Every CMS-event starts with a prayer for peace in the world.

Parents, grandparents and teachers all work together to teach the children respect for others, how to be of service to humanity and the importance of unity in diversity.

It’s a popular and successful idea.  On August 9th, 2010 there were 39,437 pupils enrolled for the 2010-2011 academic year, making the City Montessori School the largest private school in the world.

This incident in 1992 suggests something we often don’t realise – it suggests that the real power in the world lies in the commonplace. In the ordinary relationships of the home and the playground and the classroom and the community.  Places we all live and work. Places in which we all have power and influence.

Never think that small, seemingly insignificant actions of kindness and justice and love are wasted.  They may not seem like they can influence the world but they are all that can really bring about change.

If you doubt it, just remember that nobody was hurt in Lucknow in 1992, while a short distance away the neighbours were killing each other.

The best advice for how we can effect this simple, attainable and, ultimately, powerful change was given by the most famous Indian of all-time who said –

Be the change that you want to see in the world.*

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Butterfly Effects for Change


The kitchen table is piled with dishes.  Laundry flows like lava from baskets.  Bills glare reproachfully at you from their resting place on the fridge. So, what do you do? 

Well, you’d probably like to turn on your heel and begin a glamorous new life somewhere else.  Somewhere tidy, with fresh laundry and no bills, where you could tango until midnight instead of worrying about ‘stuff’.

That’s understandable but it’s also unlikely to be available to you as a real option, and even if it is, before long the dishes and clothes and bills will pile up all over again – unless you take charge.

Everything in the world obeys this principle – if we do nothing, the dysfunction grows and thrives and we become more intimidated and less able to see our way through any problem.

So – is there an answer?

There are a few.

How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time.

Little by little, day by day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.

They’re called truisms because they’re true I guess.

The thing is, most change happens in increments, slices, tiny, insignificant-looking events.  Which does make it annoyingly slow but it also makes it largely achievable by pretty much anybody.

And not just change in your life or kitchen or house but all change.  Including change that can alleviate some of the suffering in the world.

Most of us are ordinary folk and we don’t do much to create the wars, the unjust economies or the atrocities committed in our names.  However, we can do quite a lot to change these things.

I know it seems unlikely.  I know it seems like you or I couldn’t possibly alter the world in any really significant way.

But, maybe if we did everything we could do – whatever that was – to address injustice or alleviate suffering, our tiny, insignificant-seeming actions would start a ripple of change that could grow and swell until something happened for the better?

To take part in this experiment, all that’s required is that we each do whatever we can do – however small and useless that seems.

A ton of feathers still weighs a ton (I made that one up)

Butterfly Effects for Change, is a collection of real stories – true accounts of ordinary people doing just that – whatever they could – and the change that resulted.

I’m trying to collect these stories and while I already have some, I’d like to invite people to add their own stories – or stories they know – or even send them to me if that seems like a better option.  I’d love to read them.

So here’s story number 1 –

Standing Up for Each Other*

In 1992, thousands of people died in HinduMuslim riots triggered by the destruction of a mosque at Ayodhya by a group of Hindu militants, yet in the state capital of Lucknow, only forty miles away, there wasn’t even one casualty.

This was partly due to the influence of the largest private school in the world, the City Montessori School. Founded in 1959, the school has over twenty thousand students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

During daily reflection time, teams of students use stories and texts from the world’s religions to engage their fellow students in conversations about virtues like love and truthfulness.

Students also visit India’s holy places – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, and Jain – in order to learn understanding and respect for other faiths.

Classroom activities center around collaborative problem-solving and teachers go out of their way to commend and reward students for consideration of others.

The school actively encourages parents and grandparents to be involved in designing the school curriculum and to reinforce the principles of tolerance and cooperation at home.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, during the 1992 conflict, thousands of students and parents responded by marching through Lucknow, singing songs of unity and carrying posters with slogans like, “The name of God is both Hindu and Muslim” and “God is One, Mankind is One, All Religions are One.”

Meanwhile, all the city’s religious leaders met at the school and, addressing members of the community, spoke out for coexistence, surrounded by models of a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, and a Christian church. Such efforts helped Lucknow escape the violence.

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Story taken from The Third Side – *http://www.thirdside.org/stories_14.cfm

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