From David Maughan Brown in York: of activists, artists and Human Rights

July 2nd

The selection process for York University’s Centre for Applied Human Rights ‘arctivist’ grants, which I wrote about on April 25th and May 13th,  has finally come to an end.  The intention has been to bring activists and artists together to produce a combined response to the Human Rights situation in their countries in the context of Covid-19, with a maximum grant of £3000.   Having had to call a halt to the flood of bids a fortnight ago, as we were running out of funding for the grants, we held our eighth and final Zoom selection-meeting this morning at which we discussed the last 43 bids.   When I volunteered to join the panel I thought we would be doing well if we attracted 100 bids.  In the event, the committee reviewed a total of 234 bids, and that was after an initial sifting by the inundated staff at the Centre who had eliminated a further 250 or so of the weaker bids before they got to us.  While the critical mass of the bids initially came from Africa, by the end of the process the spread was far more evenly global, with a slight preponderance from Latin America.  So the six bids I short-listed before today’s meeting came from India, El Salvador, Estonia, the Philippines, Chile and Ecuador.  The various artistic products their authors were intending to produce included a radio play, a puppet theatre, a photographic exhibition, a city-centre installation, a series of podcasts, and the production of a series of politically loaded Covid-19 face-masks.

As I suggested in my earlier posts, going through these bids constituted a very welcome and illuminating metaphorical liberation from the narrow geographical constraints of York in lockdown The overwhelming impression left by the 234 bids as a whole was, improbably enough, in equal parts depressing and encouraging.  It was depressing in the way it demonstrated the extent to which brutal and corrupt governments and police forces around the world have used Covid-19 as an excuse to tighten the screws of their oppression of the people in whose cause they are supposed to be governing.  So, to take just a few examples from the bids,  from India: ‘the State has used the Covid-19 crisis as a cover to crack down on protesters and to enforce silence’; from the Philippines:  using Covid as the excuse ‘the government is tightening its grip on our freedoms… injustices, human rights violations and repression of free press, free speech and free expression are at an all-time high’; from Kenya: ‘From the onset of the Covid-19 regulations, the National Police Service has been used by the government to limit movement and suppress public dissent: arresting, extorting, harassing, forcefully disappearing and killing residents.’   Reading through the bids has, at the same time, been encouraging in that it has demonstrated enormous reserves of resilience and creativity among the artists and activists who have come together to produce the bids, and has, via the links to the artists’ music and art, demonstrated the extent of the global pool of talent that is available and willing to be put to use in the cause of justice and Human Rights.

At a rather different level, this process has left me feeling grateful that I live in a country that, on the whole, has rather more respect for human rights than most of the other countries from which those 234 bids have come.  We may live in a country with a metaphorically world-beating government when it comes to stupidity and duplicity where critical issues like Brexit are concerned, and a literally world-beating incompetence when it comes to Covid-19 deaths per head of population, but, to take just one indicator, nobody in the UK has been beaten to death by the police for contravening lockdown regulations.   However, we have no cause whatever for complacency on the Human Rights front, as has been so amply demonstrated in recent years by the Empire Windrush scandal. To take just one specific example of this country’s human rights abuses, David Davis, a renegade Tory ex-cabinet Minister, pointed out in parliament yesterday that the UK is the only country in Europe without any limit on the length of time immigrants can be held in detention in UK immigration centres. One detainee, he said, had been held in detention for a total of 1,002 days by the end of last year.   That is not a distinction to be proud of.   Nor is this a case of an absent-minded overlooking of a gap in our human rights legislation:  Davis’s proposed amendment to yesterday’s Immigration Bill, which would have seen a maximum period of 28 days introduced to restrict the indefinite detention of immigrants, was defeated by 80 votes.   That bodes very ill indeed for human rights in UK for the next four and a half years of unaccountable Tory government. 

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Gratitude

May 1. Migration from rural to urban is reality in India. Millions of people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban areas and metropolitan lobour markets, industries and farms. It has become essential for them from the regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or they suffer floods, or where there are less or no opportunity for employment. There are other social, economical and political reasons also. It also adds burden on the urban areas in many aspects.

Many of these migrants do not bring their families along with them. Once a year they go to their native places to visit families. Among the biggest employers of migrant workers is the construction sector,textile, domestic work, transportation etc. They are poor people.

Sudden announcement of lockdown due to corona outbreak and because of the sealed borders they could not go back to their native places. When all others were staying with their families, these poor people could not. Under these kinds of situations everybody needs emotional support. They somehow tried to go back even walking several miles. They were stopped on the border of the district by the local administration  and quarantine them in schools, hostels or whichever place was readily available in that area. Their life became miserable. However, Government and NGO’s made some arrangements for their food free of cost as their income is nil in these days. 

Now the State governments are trying to make some arrangements to send them to their native places. The number of corona positive cases are increasing and therefore It is a challenging task for the government to send them safely. Now after 40 days various state governments talked with each other and made a plan to send these migrant labourers to their respective homes safely. Both the Government and these migrant workers faced problems because of the lockdown. But I must say that the Governments have failed in social intelligence before taking a decision of lockdown. There is a need to amend lobour laws for these kinds of situations about fixing the responsibilities of the respective governments.

But I have a story to tell about some sensitive migrant labourers even when they were suffering. Some migrant labourers who were provided temporary shelter in a school building during lockdown in a village Palsana, district Sikar, state of Rajasthan in India. As they were getting good food from the villagers they said we will go home when time comes, but we can not stay idle for long. We may get sick if we don’t work. They voluntarily offered to paint the building. We will not charge anything but give us paint and brush so that we can facelift the school building. Students studying in this School are like our children, at least they will speak good about us, will remember us. Villagers, administration, sarpanch and principal made all the arrangements and we are grateful to them. Hats off to labourers for showing gratitude to villagers for taking care of them in time of crisis.

I must say that they may be poor but rich in their heart!

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Slum Dharavi in Mumbai

Health Minister, Government of Maharashtra Mr Rajesh Tope in Dharavi

April 14. Dharavi is is in Mumbai, India. It is the biggest slum in Asia. It is has been founded in 1884 by during British rule. Approximately 300 thousand people stay here. It has an area of around 2 square kilometres. The number increased  by way of migration in search of jobs mostly from rural areas. Surprisingly it is astonishing to say that it has an active informal economy. Many of the household enterprises employ many slum residents. It is estimated that there are around 4,000 businesses and more than 12,000 single room factories. The products made here such as leather bags, purses, jewellery, accessories, textile etc has a market in US, Europe and Middle East. Annual turn over estimated at over US$ 1 billion.

It has not escaped from many epidemics. Plague in 1886 killed half of the population at that time. After 100 years they suffered from Cholera and now when the first case of novel Covid 19 was found, Panic button was pressed in the minds of Prime Minister to Chief Minister to Health Minister to Policy makers to general people in the country because of the type virus and the spread it may cause. How will they follow social distancing. In every small house measuring approximately 150-250 square foot on an average 7-8 people live. They are using common washrooms and many other problems. How do we quarantine them? It is the most difficult task. In addition there are 2-3 more such pockets but smaller in size in Mumbai where also the infection has entered. 

However I must appreciate the Health Minister of Maharashtra, Municipal Officials, Doctors, support staff have gone there personally to asses the situation and led the operation from front. The Chief Minister extended full support to the team. They are agressively following the strategy of CTRR (Contain,Test, Relief and Release). They all are brave people. They need a great congratulations. Young people came forward to volunteer their services.

God bless all those who are working to save them as well as the residents…

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Quarantine!

My daughter Janhavi Welukar, Consultant Skill Education            B.L.S/LLB, MA in Public Policy and Masters in Development Management added the following story.

April 9. QUARANTINE has become the new “it” word. Everything in our lives has started revolving around the “quarantine” issues. Memes about quarantine have been flowing in like biblical flood since the start of lockdown period; your WhatsApp, Facebook Instagram everywhere there’s just one thing trending. In this time of social distancing Virtual has become the new Real. Screen time has increased since personal interaction has reduced. If you scroll through your feeds on social media, you’re bound to run into many perspectives of people about this quarantine period.

Some people are looking at the optimistic side for mindfulness and are of the view that maybe we all should practice this for more days in a year to enhance mindful living. There are retrospective talks about missing one’s loved ones and missing important things in life like the growing up years of your child, children or parents living abroad, maybe a broken relationship or friendship which was worth much more and many such thoughts and feelings. Some people said it’s a great reminder of how important nature and environment is and we are nothing but small specs of a much larger system. Some even said that it is an humbling experience as one understands the true meaning of life itself and what it means to live. Whichever medium you use today, you’re sure to have come across one of these things. But in my mind, it’s just intellectualizing things.

I dedicate today’s article to my mother and many such mothers across the world. My mother was a housewife. Every day when I returned from school, she would greet me with an enormously enthusiastic smile like I had just made the discovery of the century. She would then proceed to feed me healthy food (for which she would have to find new ways of garnishing to make it more interesting for me). Then it would be the time for my homework, sleep and then sending me off to play time. By this time, it would be the time for my father to come home. She would greet him so very lovingly and chit chat about his day and share a nice cup of tea with him and move on for dinner. Then sleep then again breakfast, send child and husband to school/office and the same routine would continue. She went out once a week to get the groceries and would get about 5 hours per month to do her own thing. And yet I never heard her say I am bored, or life is too monotonous, or I feel caged, or I am depressed, or any those fancy things we discuss today in times of quarantine.

One thing to note is that my mother lived in the pre-social media age. Our lives today are nothing different than a regular housewife’s life every day. But see the hoopla around it. This comes from a life of privilege and luxury of spending our time on our own terms without any restrictions. I can’t imagine how my mother and many other mothers kept their morale, energies and creativity high every day of their lives. The only thing they strive for is a happy and healthy family, good education for their children and prosperous lives of their children. Now imagine having to do all of this on a tight budget. Today I pledge that I dedicate all my 21 days or more to all those housewives who imbibed the simplicity within the complexity that we know as “life”. And henceforth promise to keep my spirits high, help people around me and find innovative ways of keeping my mind active and healthy for as long as I can.