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Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

(First published in The Hindu Sunday magazine dated Nov. 18, 2018)

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Her hazel eyes have witnessed utmost suffering. Yet Kholoud Waleed remains stoic as she narrates the story of how her world turned upside down in March 2011, when the Syrian people started an uprising against the country’s dictatorial regime led by Bashar al-Assad. An English teacher in a high school in Darayya, near Damascus, at that time, Waleed witnessed the school being shut down as the regime saw the children studying there as a threat.

“The boys from our school used to hold demonstrations against the government. They wrote graffiti on the school walls demanding the fall of the government. After shutting the school down, many of the children were arrested and tortured by the Army,” she recounts calmly. Her youngest brother, who was a student there, had to drop out as a result. But what happened at the same time in Dara’a, in southwestern Syria, near the Jordan border, jolted her completely. “Twelve children, all under the age of 13, were tortured and two of them killed by the regime for writing wall graffiti against the regime. One of them, 12-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, was falsely accused of raping the Army General’s wife and shot dead,” she continues, anger welling in her eyes.

This was the precise moment when public rage exploded in Syria. In the city of Hama, for instance, half a million citizens demonstrated on the streets demanding change. In May, 2012, Waleed’s brother was picked up by the Army for voicing opinions in favour of the Arab Spring in college.

“They arrested my brother-in-law as well for holding opinions against the regime. As of today, there is no way for us to confirm whether they are dead or alive…”

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[Long version of essay first published in The Hindu’s blog THread]

Seventy years after it was founded, the United Nations continues to function on a budget lesser than that of New York City’s. Where is this global organisation headed?

Vidya Venkat

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When I was a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl preparing for my All-India UN Information Test, knowing the United Nations well enough meant remembering all the expansions for all the abbreviations that the numerous UN agencies stood for – UNICEF stands for United Nations Children’s Fund, UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and so on. Fifteen years on, when I visited the United Nations’ headquarters in New York in September, I got to see first hand what happened behind the closed doors of the organisation with those abbreviated agencies with their long and complicated expansions. And it was surprising to learn just how many people, both within and outside of the organisation, had begun to feel that the UN had perhaps become redundant; and this when all the euphoria about the UN turning seventy, on October 24, was already beginning to build up.

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[First published in Groundviews]

The choice of Sri Lanka as a venue for CHOGM 2013 has always remained controversial. 

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Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking at CHOGM 2013

Two weeks from now, the Heads of Government of 53 Commonwealth countries will congregate in Colombo’s Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall to discuss, among other things, the Commonwealth’s commitment towards the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in keeping with the Harare Declaration. Sri Lanka has consistently breached all three values. Two years have passed since the decision to allow Sri Lanka to host CHOGM was taken in Perth but little progress has been made by the island nation with regards to initiating accountability measures for credible allegations of war crimes.

On October 31, I had attended a meeting organised by the Human Rights Watch in New Delhi in which torture victims from Sri Lanka who have been brutally beaten, raped and abused by either the police or military personnel in 2012 gave testimonies over Skype from their hospital bed. These were a handful of people who have been fortunate enough to escape from the island nation and find refuge in a foreign land. Charu Lata Hogg, a London-based human rights researcher said that between 2006 and 2012, 75 cases of sexual violence against men and women from the Tamil minority community have been found and several of these victims hail from the camps for internally displaced persons. According to the Sri Lankan military’s own admission there have been 11 cases of sexual abuse against Tamils by military personnel in 2012, but this is a highly underestimated number, according to Ms. Hogg.

It is worth recalling the very serious violations of Commonwealth values committed by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has not implemented the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Add to this the consolidation of powers in the hands of the President and his family; the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in January which the Sri Lankan Supreme Court held unconstitutional; the killing and abduction of journalists resulting in suppression of free speech; excessive militarisation in Tamil-dominated regions which proved to be a “significant obstacle to a credible electoral process” according to Commonwealth monitors who oversaw the recent elections in the northern provincial council.

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[First published in Frontline magazine in October 2007]

Thousands of teenaged girls are exploited for labour in the textile mills of Tamil Nadu

sumangali scheme

Picture credit: Somo.nl

“Earn Rs.40,000. Work as an apprentice for three years,” said the bold print in Tamil on the colour pamphlet. This was “a unique opportunity for young women”, it said. There were other attractions mentioned: “We also give tasty food and comfortable accommodation in the hostel. Daily stipend Rs.50.” Lakshmi, 15, who hails from Kambam in Theni district, did not want to miss this opportunity. It would mean the end of drudgery for her family of agricultural labourers; the “modern facilities” and “kulu kulu vasadhi” (air-conditioning) were a bonus.

The agent advertising job opportunities in a Tirupur-based textile mill found one more potential recruit in Lakshmi. He showed her the pamphlet and suggested that the amount she would get after three years could take care of her marriage expenses. Lakshmi and her parents were convinced, and she set out to Tirupur. The three-year-period ended recently, but Lakshmi is yet to get the promised amount. And with every passing day she is losing hope.

In at least 17 districts in Tamil Nadu thousands of teenage girls have been lured by agents to work in private textile mills, which are estimated to number over 1,600, under what they call the “sumangali” scheme.

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