Make Caste History – International Conference on Dalits and Caste Discrimination – London February 2014 – 2016 Catholic Church document.

 

“Long overdue statement and a very welcome one. It is abhorrent in the 21st century that any human being should be seen as an untouchable.” -Alton

Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability, admits Indian Catholic Church – Firstpost

www.firstpost.com

A policy document released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) contained admissions of the Indian Catholic Church accepting for the first time in history that Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability

http://www.firstpost.com/india/dalit-christians-face-discrimination-and-untouchability-admits-indian-catholic-church-3157454.html

 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/church-says-dalit-christians-face-untouchability-discrimination-4427658/

 

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DALITS & CASTE DISCRIMINATION: February 2014, London.

Also see article (page 30 ) Justice Magazine, Spring Edition:
http://www.justicemagazine.org/jm/index.php/read-the-magazine

The London Conference - Make Caste History

The London Conference – Make Caste History

It's not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

It’s not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

David Alton – Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Make Caste History

Cast out Caste - Make Caste History

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

On a visit to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi I spoke about the plight of India’s untouchables, the Dalits, and the forms of exploitation and slavery which stem from the caste system. Dalit is a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”.

200 million Dalits in India make up one sixth of India’s population and one thirty fifth of the world’s population. Dalits live in 132 countries, including countries like the UK, where South Asians have migrated.

Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror perpetrated against the Dalits.

These are just some of stories taken from the Indian newspapers in the last seven days: Dalit woman burnt by employer for resisting rape in Bulandshahr- India Today; 5 held for gang rape of dalit girl near Dindigul- The Times Of India; Dalit woman assaulted, stripped in Hassan village- The Hindu Dalits, death and the fight for dignity – DNA; Dalit women in Haryana to march for redressal of cases of atrocities committed by upper caste men- Two Circle; Dalit Beaten Up for Touching Caste Hindu- The New Indian Express; Children protest against discrimination at school- The Hindu; No clean water for Dalits?- Kashmir Times; Sorcery slur on Dalit family- The Times Of India; Over 39,000 cases filed under Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act in 2012: Business Standard

Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

He said that the caste system,

“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.

Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.

India's Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has trenchantly and rightly argued that, “untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

Today, I would like to pay particular tribute to some of those who work tirelessly to combat caste, especially the work of Voice of Dalit International and the Dalit Freedom Network, particularly its international President Joseph D’Souza – whom I first met after he had joined forces, in 2006, with other Christian leaders after five Dalits were lynched for skinning a dead cow.

Dr.Joseph D'Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

Dr.Joseph D’Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

In New Delhi those leaders joined a protest, met the parents of the victims and provided their families humanitarian assistance. Dr.D’Souza said: “The statement we were making was that these Dalits were human beings, and that it was the caste system that consigned them to work with animals—a statement in direct contrast to that of a Hindu nationalist leader, who said that a cow was more valuable than a Dalit.”

In my study at home in Lancashire, I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr D’Souza. Such pots must be broken once a dalit has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes. This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.

It's not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

It’s not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

Dr D’Souza rightly says:

“If we are not intentional about bringing change and transformation in lives and society it will not happen. To love people is to act on behalf of them”.

As Parliament considers the new Bill on modern slavery, reflect that the Global Slavery Index, published in October last, confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most of them are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation.

Global Slavery Index 2013

Global Slavery Index 2013

Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the ‘modern slaves’ in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals.

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else. Much of this is brilliantly documented in Dalit Freedom Network’s booklet, “Half the World Slaves?”

Half the world slaves?

Half the world slaves?

According to CNN, India’s former Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, “remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India”, whether for sex or for labour.
The head of the Central Bureau of Investigation said that India occupied a unique position as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, and that it has more than 3 million prostitutes, of whom an estimated 40 per cent are children. These statistics are hugely significant: the situation in India simply must be at the heart of the global fight against trafficking
Caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

To prepare me for this conference, Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.

Nehru with Ambdekar

Nehru with Ambdekar

Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution once remarked that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.

In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.

Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India's untouchables became a central political question.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.

Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.

“the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

He believed that “the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes. Do not underestimate the power of good quality, English-medium education taught from a worldview that emphasises values such as dignity, equality, acceptance, human worth, and self-esteem. I say English-medium because this is the preserve of high castes, and it is still the language of opportunity – the language of higher education, government, and commerce.

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

India is to be admired for providing near-universal education, and there has been a rise from 7 per cent to 13 per cent in those entering higher education, but many agree that teaching remains poor and only 20 per cent of job seekers have any vocational training.

Even these opportunities tend to be denied to the dalits and the 84 million tribal people, who suffer discrimination and marginalisation. This vast expanse of humanity, trapped in a time warp, appears wholly unconnected to and at variance with India’s sophisticated economic and technological advances—and is certainly at variance with the advertising slogans, “Amazing India” and “Incredible India”.

Incredible India

Incredible India

Amazing India - but not incredible or amazing for dalits.

Amazing India – but not incredible or amazing for dalits.

What is truly amazing and incredible in this day and age is that “the cruel shackles” of the caste system, this “detestable expedient … a system at war with truth and nature” should persist in 2014.

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”

He supported Britain’s war effort against the Nazis because he said it was a war between democracy and dictatorship. He linked it to the battle for the removal of caste: “the battle is in the fullest sense spiritual…it is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.” He told his audience to “educate, agitate and organise.”

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.” He said dalits should

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”
He said dalits should “educate, agitate and organise.”

Ambedkar rightly perceived the negative effects which caste has on economic development – and in his booklet “Annihilation of Caste” he argued that caste deadens, paralyses and cripples the people, undermining productive activity by frequently denying opportunities to those with natural aptitude and through the entrenchment of servitude. Caste amounts to the vivisection of society.

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

Ten years ago the deadening effects of caste were recognised by the Department for International Development (DFID).

In a Policy Paper they stated that ‘Caste causes poverty’, and ‘gets into the way of poverty reduction’; that caste ‘ reduces the productive capacity and poverty reduction of a society as a whole’; and that ‘poverty reduction policies often fail to reach the socially excluded’, Dalits ‘unless, they are specifically designed to do so’.

David Cameron with Manmohan Singh

David Cameron with Manmohan Singh

Yet these clear and coherent priorities scandalously failed to make any appearance whatsoever in the Millennium Development Goals and although the post-2015 High Level Panel Report, chaired by David Cameron, does include a section on “Other Vulnerable Groups” and the one group mentioned by name are the dalits, we need to say and do far more. The Panel was right to argue that there is a need for “Legislative and institutional mechanisms to recognise the indivisible rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, dalits and other socially excluded groups must be put in place” but how is that reflected in our day to day priorities, diplomacy and policies?

Dalits constitute 40% of the global poor and are denied of DFID Funding, because they largely live in India, which simply doesn’t make the policy priorities. This becomes a new form of untouchability.

One development worker, with 14 years experience of working among Dalits, says that “95% of development time, energy and resources are wasted on combating … a ‘general Caste mindset’…stipulating how different segments of caste based society should live as touchables or untouchables, humans or sub-humans. The whole life of more than 50% of the population, from morning till night, from birth to death, is predetermined.”

In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. As we examine what has been achieved through the MDGs and the plight of the global poor the professional development agencies need to take a long hard look at the way they target poverty. As they think beyond 2015 they need to listen, rather than impose, and develop a cross thematic framework for addressing the curse of the caste system.

The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

Some of these agencies need to radically rethink their mindset and priorities. They will be far more effective in tackling poverty if they tackle social exclusion. The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

Ambedkar also saw the role which religion could play in shaping attitudes and behaviour. He repudiated Marxist atheism and refused to be forced into a repudiation of religious faith because of its distortions. But he was scathing when he saw religion as a cause of human suffering.

He attacked Hindu priests who refused admission to Dalits to their temples and was scathing about those Christian churches which had imported the caste system into the segregation of believers. And of Islam he said:
“The brotherhood of Islam is not the brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. For non Muslims there is nothing but contempt and enmity.”

He said that from his study of comparative religion there were two personalities who could captivate him – the Buddha and Christ.

Towards the end of his life he would convert to Buddhism as a protest against the failure of Indian religious leaders to reject the caste system and insisted that the spiritual dimension of mankind is bound up with 1) the sanction of law and morality (“without either society is sure to go to pieces”) ;2) that religion must be in accord with reason; 3)that religion must recognise the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and 4) that religion must not ennoble poverty.

Pope John Paul II said:

Pope John Paul II said: “Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality”

In considering their response to caste and the Dalits any Christian from the Catholic tradition, or those running Church agencies, should ponder carefully the words of Pope John Paul II:

“At all times you must continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest castes, especially the Dalits. They should never be segregated from other members of society. Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality, and a serious hindrance to the Church’s mission of evangelisation.”

Let them also reflect that violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years.

Violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years. In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh

Violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years.
In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh

In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh. The village leader ordered the act after the women’s husbands refused to renounce their Christian faith. On January 16, 2006, Christian homes were set on fire in Matiapada village, Orissa. Instead of the arsonists being brought to justice, the Christians were imprisoned for nine days under the state’s anti-conversion law.

dalit women exploited and abused
Through Dr.Ambedkar’s colossal labours caste began to decay but even now it has not died. On April 29th 1947 the Constituent Assembly of India declared “Untouchability in any form is abolished and the imposition of any disability on that account shall be an offence.” The New York Times compared it with the abolition of slavery and the freeing of the Russian serfs. The News Chronicle in London praised it as one of the greatest acts in history.

Although untouchability was barred by the constitution, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice.

This point was made repeatedly in the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in May 2007.

“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

A damning verdict was reached also by an in-depth report by the Robert F Kennedy Centre, entitled Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1,589 Villages. It describes,
“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

Some individual dalits have reached high positions in Indian society, not least Justice K G Balakrishnan, who rose to become the senior judge of India’s Supreme Court, and Ms Meira Kumar, who became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower House of India’s Parliament. But these are exceptions. As I heard first hand from dalits I met in India even where they are securing some kind of elementary education the opportunities for educational progress later and employment opportunities are all to frequently still blocked to them.

Consider for a moment what must be one of the most appalling and disgraceful forms of labour anywhere in the world, known euphemistically as manual scavenging. It involves cleaning human excrement from dry latrines and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Manual scavenging involves cleaning human excrement and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Manual scavenging involves cleaning human excrement and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.

Caste perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape

Caste perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape

At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.

“The idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. Britain and India are democratic nations with many shared values as well as significant common economic and security interests. Bilateral trade is worth more than £13 billion annually. Our cultural, sporting, linguistic and historic links—some of which have required colonial ghosts to be laid to rest—underline the values that bind us together.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. It unites us in so many things - including a love of sport.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. It unites us in so many things – including a love of sport.

Yet, in 2014, while India is a rising world power and is rightly gaining a reputation for innovation and excellence in many fields, what its Prime Minister calls a “blot on humanity” disfigures India’s reputation and has become one of the world’s greatest human rights challenges.
Millions of people remain imprisoned by the bondage of what Wilberforce described as “the cruel shackles” of the caste system. Those shackles inevitably lock their prisoners into the most menial forms of labour, trap them in servitude and leave them susceptible to innumerable forms of exploitation.

And consider the people who are represented by the statistics.

Dr.Ambedkar wanted dalit women to receive education. It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside.

Dr.Ambedkar wanted dalit women to receive education. It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside.

It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 60 million dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work;

Segregated and oppressed, the dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.

India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a dalit, Dr.Ambedkar, wrote the constitution; a female dalit became a powerful politician; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.

However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the dalits, the caste system, or the extremism which feeds off ostracism and alienation and which threatens modern India.

Although Dr. Ambedkar was able to have India’s Constitution and the laws framed to end untouchability, for millions and millions of people, many of those provisions have not been worth the paper on which they are written.

Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Ambdekar's own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

On Line Safety Bill debated – suicide sites, cyber bullying, and protection of young children.

 

Subject: On Line Safety Bill Second Reading Friday December 6th 2013

 Read the full debate at:

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/131206-0001.htm#13120659000674

1.40 am

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Howe for introducing this much needed Online Safety Bill. She has been dogged and determined and deserves our admiration, support and thanks.

I warmly welcome the Bill’s clauses but in my remarks I shall particularly focus on the problem of children purposefully seeking out or stumbling accidentally upon inappropriate material on the internet. This crucial challenge is addressed by Clauses 1 and 2, but I shall also say a word about Clause 5 and the role of parents.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester reminded us that Nelson Mandela once said that a civilised society will always be judged on how it treats and protects its children. Mandela also proclaimed the African idea of ubuntu“umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: a person is a person because of other people.” It is worth pondering on that thought in a debate that is reflecting on virtual worlds where screens may often take the place of people or personal interaction.

In considering how we treat our children, surely we must all be disturbed that a UNICEF report ranked the United Kingdom bottom out of 21 developed countries for child welfare.

It begs the question of what sort of world we are bequeathing to our children, a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few minutes ago.

Economists point to what they call intergenerational theft when they talk about the debts which our children will inherit as a result of our fiscal profligacy, but there is another kind of intergenerational theft. It is our failure to protect the innocence of childhood itself. The landscape of Britain is littered with the consequences. Let me give some illustrations.

The British Association of Perinatal Medicine says that over the past decade there has been a 67% increase in the number of children born addicted to drugs, with one in 500 babies needing treatment for withdrawal. More than 50,000 of our children are listed on child protection registers or are the subject of child protection plans. Worldwide, 218 million children—that is one in seven—are working, and 14% of all children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Lest we think this is not an issue for us, we should recall the BBC report of Romanian children, some as young as nine, found working in freezing fields in Worcestershire. Today’s Oliver Twists are living in London and all over the world.

In the past year, National Health Service hospitals treated more than 18,000 girls and 4,000 boys aged 10 to 19 after they had deliberately harmed themselves. The figure was up 11% on the previous year. Among 10 to 14 year-olds, admissions rose from 4,008 to 5,192, an increase of 30%. It is estimated that 7% to 14% of adolescents will self-harm at some point in their life. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged between 15 and 24, behind accidental death.

Now, while all these ills most certainly cannot be laid at the door of the internet exclusively—as we have heard, it can be a wonderful tool—the presence of suicide sites and sites which encourage self-harm, create insecurity through cyberbullying or rob a child of innocence and that is not something about which we can be indifferent.

The human costs are phenomenal and sometimes even fatal.

Just two weeks ago, I distributed prizes at an excellent school in the north of England. It should have been a day simply to celebrate the achievements of last year’s leavers. One of the young people had composed a beautiful song to commemorate the memory of one of her year group. He had taken his own life after visiting suicide sites. Imagine the effect which that has had on his family and the school community. That his death is not an isolated example is underlined by the almost daily news reports.

One recent report in the Daily Telegraph said:

“Rising numbers of children are turning to the internet to self-harm by creating multiple social media accounts and ‘trolling’ themselves … They hurl abuse at themselves by setting up multiple cyber identities … even encouraging unwitting strangers to join in”.

 

Last month, the same newspaper reported the inquest into the death of Ayden Keenan-Olson, a 14 year-old boy who having told his family he thought he was gay, committed suicide after receiving physical and verbal abuse at school.

The police told the inquest that Ayden had bypassed settings on his computer to research suicide on the internet. The coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, said

“The court regrets the influence that such sites have on young people”.

That is putting it mildly.

Consider this report which supports the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a few moments ago. It is taken from the Times of 27 November and is about a hearing at Newport Crown Court:

“A 12-year-old boy was trying to play out pornographic scenes he had watched on a school computer when he repeatedly raped his younger sister, a court heard … Issuing a warning to parents, Judge Thomas Crowther, QC, said the internet could not be used as a ‘benign babysitter’”.

The Times reported that the boy had,

“watched hardcore pornography while at school after searching for explicit websites with a classmate. He would then go home and carry out the acts on his sister”.

The same day the Times also reported that Mold Crown Court had heard a case of a 13 year-old boy who,

“had raped a young girl after becoming addicted to pornography.”

This is not the centrefold of Playboy magazine. It is a million miles from that and, as we have heard, parents often have no idea of the influences at work in their children’s lives or how to guard against them.

My teenage son and his friends know a great deal more than me or most of my generation about computers and the internet, but no parent in their right mind would knowingly allow a stranger into a young child’s bedroom, free to teach their loved ones how to kill themselves, how to self-harm or how to act violently against other.

We are not just talking about children viewing erotic, static images. We are talking about children viewing images of extreme violence and explicit pornography, often through videos portraying various forms of abuse.

I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said earlier in his remarks about the importance of setting out a useful first step in placing a duty on the Secretary of State to provide means of educating parents of children under the age of 18 about online safety.

However, education alone is not enough.

I am encouraged that, following the Prime Minister’s important speech to the NSPCC last July, which has been referred to throughout this debate, there have been some positive developments, and it is right to welcome his personal commitment and what the Government have done thus far.

However, as noble Lords on all sides of the House have said, there is much more to be done. Internet access is increasing all the time.

On average, one-third of 10 year-olds spend three hours or more on computers every day. An NSPCC report published earlier this year found that 91% of all five to 15 year-olds used the internet in 2012. When looked at by age, three in four five to seven year-olds, nearly all eight to 11 year-olds and all 12 to 15 year-olds have used the internet.

As I have made clear, I believe that the internet is one of the most profound inventions in human history. It has had, and continues to have, a phenomenal impact on so many peoples’ lives across the globe, developing awareness and understanding of the world around us. I have seen it used in remote villages in Africa, helping people to leapfrog educational disadvantages. I have also seen how young people in the UK have used this knowledge to respond generously and selflessly.

However, we are all acutely aware that there is another side to the story of the expansion of the internet, and that is what the Bill is concerned with.

The internet represents the biggest challenge ever in bringing up children.

As I have illustrated, children and young people are being increasingly exposed to negative influences.

In a country where 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers—men who have abandoned the mothers of their children—there are too frequently no voices to correct, to guide, to help navigate life’s choppy waters. That is why we have a duty as legislators, often in loco parentis, to challenge influences which include deplorable sexual and racial stereotyping, and the use of obscene language—things which diminish us all, not just children.

The advertisements on many sites, often targeted at young people, are equally aggressive and awful.

Many promote hedonism as a substitute for a happy life. It is not surprising that the Children’s Society says that 89% of parents think that these influences have made their children more materialistic—but who created these conditions for such nihilism and acquisitiveness in the first place? We did, and it is time that we did something about it.

The House should ask itself how we intend to act on the parliamentary inquiry which last year found that one in three children aged just 10 or under has seen sexual images online? Are we just going to allow this to gather dust?

As the House would expect, the cross-party inquiry concluded that children are suffering as a result. The inquiry noted:

“Overuse of pornographic material has been shown to desensitise children and young people to violent or sexually aggressive acts, diminish sympathy for victims of sexual assault and reduce children’s own inhibitions, making them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Moreover, a vicious circle of behaviour can develop where exposure to porn leads to early sexual involvement and an increased consumption of sexual media”.

The inquiry also maintained that the rise of internet pornography is leaving teenagers with an inability to develop normal relationships and is further increasing their susceptibility to grooming by sexual abusers—points made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham in his contribution earlier today.

The leading psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, says that there is a striking link between the consumption of sexualized images and,

“a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm”.

The deputy Children’s Commissioner commented in the introduction to research published in May:

“What is clear, however, is that children’s access to pornography is fundamentally different from that of previous generations because of the prevalence of these materials on the internet”.

Four out of five children aged 14 to 16 access online pornography at home, it said. That is a disturbing situation. Justine Roberts of the Mumsnet online forum gave examples of some Mumsnet users’ concerns. One parent said:

“My 6 year old searched for DISNEY FAIRIES and got HARDCORE PORN”.

Another said:

“My 10 year old son has found porn on the net help, help, help”.

Another wrote:

“My 7 year old son has just been looking at internet porn, what do I do?”.

Many parents are simply bewildered.

John Carr, one of the most prominent authorities on children and young people’s use of the internet recently said:

“In recent years there has been a very dramatic increase in child pornography images made by children and then distributed online or via phones …We have an exhibitionist, celebrity-dominated culture and it’s seen as normal and cool to be a porn star”.

 

Psychotherapist John Woods, speaking recently on Radio 4, drew attention to the way in which viewing pornography and other harmful material can have a considerable impact on how a child views others, how they view the world around them and indeed how they view themselves. The advertising industry in the UK has in the past 12 months spent £14 billion. They would not bother to do that if they did not think that what we see and hear has an influence upon us. According to research by Ybarra and Mitchell, children exposed to pornography are far more likely to be depressed and are far more likely to be less bonded to their care givers.

Children do not simply view these images and move on.

These images can cause real trauma for weeks, months or even years to come. For many children it is hard to compute what they may have seen. If the internet has no boundaries, if everything is open and accessible, many children will fail to distinguish between what is abusive and what is not, what is legal and what is not. If children are being fed images of abuse, many will invariably come to think that this is the norm.

Children should be able to enjoy their childhood and be protected from harmful and damaging online material.

We do, as a society, have a duty to protect children from harm. In response to this some may say, “I agree. This is all very concerning but we have a self-regulatory solution. We don’t need this Bill”.

In the aftermath of the killing in Liverpool in 1993 of the two year-old James Bulger by two 10 year-old boys who had been exposed to gratuitously violent video material, which was referred to by the judge when the trial took place, I tabled an amendment in the House of Commons, supported on all sides of that Chamber, to protect children from gratuitously violent video material.

At the time, the Home Office advisers said that we did not need such a provision because self-regulation was enough.

Parliament, I am glad to say, disagreed and when the Bill came to your Lordships’ House my amendment was incorporated and the law was changed.

The idea that self-regulation is an appropriate long-term tool for upholding child protection is bizarre.

In the first instance, it presents us with a complete inconsistency.

As a matter of law we do not allow children to buy R18 films. If a 14 year-old said that they wanted to go into a film that was full of explicit sexual and violent imagery, would you allow them? No. We rightly decided that legislators and parents have the responsibility of ensuring that children are not exposed to such material. What, then, is different about the internet?

There is a flagrant inconsistency in how the law treats children offline and online. My noble friend’s Bill provides us with the opportunity to put that right.

Self-regulation also seems a very odd solution, given what the Prime Minister has said on the subject. As we have heard, in his NSPCC speech he said that there are few things more important than this. I agree. How odd, then, that we should have countless laws about everything under the sun but not in relation to one of the most important subjects: online child protection.

I am not suggesting that progress cannot be made on a self-regulatory basis. What I am questioning is whether that progress can be as good or as robust as progress on a statutory basis.

We should do what we can to establish the safest, most secure approach to online safety. That approach is the statutory approach set before us in my noble friend’s simple and effective Bill.

I urge the Government to give their strong support to my noble friend in all her endeavours.

11.57 am

World War One – day of World War One Poetry in Liverpool – Remembering the First World War and 16.5 million deaths

Remarks made by David Alton at the launch of the “Merseyisde at War”  commemoration of World War One Poetry – hosted by Liverpool John Moores University on November 30th 2013 in Liverpool

Visit: http://www.merseyside-at-war.org/

Forthcoming Roscoe Lecture:

Thursday 13 November, 2014 2pm Bill Sergeant & Tony Wainwright “Two Stories of Heroism – Chavasse and the Liverpool PALS”  Tickets from Mrs.Barbara Mace: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk 

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

Every year in the month of November at cenotaphs up and down the land we say the words “We will remember them.” In this coming year we will remember the beginning of a war which has come to epitomise carnage and human sacrifice on a previously unimaginable scale. The war claimed more than16.5 million deaths, lives, both military and civilian. One and a quarter million of those who died originated from the United Kingdom and from what was then the British Empire. 230,000 deaths were among military personnel from countries now within the Commonwealth. 

Whist the conflict raged it was decided to build the Imperial War Museum and when it opened in 1920, Sir Alfred Mond, the financier and politician, described it as, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”.

 World War One

Beyond the national commemoration of toil and sacrifice, many will recall the personal stories which have been passed down by relatives who participated in that conflict. It was called a war to end all wars but at its culmination it was acerbically remarked that the hobbled peace agreement would be a peace to end all peace. And twenty years later, so it proved.   

 

As I child my grandfather gave me photographs which he had taken or collected during his own service – which saw him in action in Allenby’s army in the Middle East. Photographs of murdered Armenians, executed in Jerusalem by the retreating armies, still have a chilling effect on me. When I took my daughter to the genocide museum in Armenia I reminded her that the world’s indifference to the plight of the Armenians would lead Hitler to scornfully remark “Who now remembers the Armenians?”.

 

1915 Sussex Regiment - marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915 Sussex Regiment – marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah - and bathing in the River Jordan

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah – and bathing in the River Jordan

1917 Field medical card for William Alton - shrapnel wounds

1917 Field medical card for William Alton – shrapnel wounds

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00164)

We should always remember; and when we can bring ourselves to forgive we should never ever forget.

 

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00165)

Our memories of the Great War inevitably focus less on the events in Jerusalem, Mesopotamia, or Gallipoli and more on the trenches of Ypres and the Somme. For here was mechanised warfare on a scale previously unimaginable.

This was a war that saw millions go to their deaths – and which divided families and communities, churches and political parties.

 

Think for a moment of the conscientious objectors who opposed the war both on religious and political grounds. Many of them ended up in prison. Courage came in many kinds of clothes.

 

It was Alan Clarke who coined the phrase “lions led by donkeys”, to describe some of those who led the British Forces.

 

Accounts of hampers from Fortnum & Mason and  200 British generals driving their Rolls Royces behind the lines stand in stark contrast to the putrid stench of gas in the Flanders trenches – open graves which witnessed extraordinary bravery, courage, valour and suffering as more than 1.2 million allied servicemen lost their lives: 200,000 on one day alone at the Somme.  Over 2 million Germans would also die.

 World War One

In Westminster Abbey lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. He is there in memory of 100,000 men whose bodies are still unaccounted for at Passchendale and all those who have died on foreign fields in graves unknown and unmarked. The remains of several unknown soldiers were taken to a private room where a blindfolded officer chose the body to represent all those who had fallen but were unidentified.  An estimated 1,250,000 people visited Westminster Abbey to see the grave in only the first week.

 

When David Cameron launched the Government’s commemoration, he reminded us that in only 50 of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, were no deaths of parishioners recorded. Not a single parish in Scotland or Northern Ireland remained unscathed.

 

The Prime Minister identified 2014 as a moment “to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us”.

 

The twentieth century saw two wars which led to a calamitous loss of life. I doubt whether we have learned those lessons and in every generation we need to reflect on the failure which war represents. But there are other lessons for us to ponder during these commemorations.

 

The human spirit was assaulted but not crushed. Human endeavour matched the devastation and significant social and political change came in its wake. Patriotism, which was based on blind allegiance and acceptance of rigid social structures was replaced by a patriotism that yearned for a just and fairer society.

 World War One

The First World War dramatically changed Britain’s social structures. During the war an  immense contribution was made by around 1.5 million women in the workplace, not least the munitions factories, but they also ran government departments, public transport, post offices, and countless other jobs, paving the way for women’s emancipation in 1918.

 

 

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett put it like this:

 

 

“The war revolutionised the industrial position of women … It not only opened opportunities of employment in a number of skilled trades but, more important even than this, it revolutionised men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable”.

 

 

 

The War also saw a phenomenal contribution by countries inextricably linked to Britain through its Empire. More than 1.5 million people from the Indian subcontinent alone served with 70,000 fatalities. More than 9,000 Indian troops were decorated for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses.  More than 200,000 Irishmen voluntarily enlisted, and 30.000 perished.

The Supreme Allied Commander, Marshall Foch, would remark: “I saw Irishmen of the North and the South forget their age-long differences, and fight side by side, giving their lives freely for the common cause”. And it was a War which saw whole communities unite in sacrifice and grief .

Think of the Lancashire towns which produced the Pals who would all lose their lives . In Scotland alone, 26% of the men who enlisted never returned home.

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Think, too, of the courage of the non-combatants. Captain Noel Chavasse was the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. In 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross and in 1916 his first Victoria Cross.  As a doctor he went into no-man’s land to tend the wounded. The following day, ignoring shrapnel injuries, he brought back twenty men whose lives he had saved. A year later, at Passchendaele,  after carrying out a similar courageous act, he received  shrapnel injuries to his abdomen and crawled back to the trenches, dying of his wounds; receiving a second VC for his selfless bravery.

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

The horror of those events is captured in Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front – a story which originated on the other side of the trenches but tell the same story of  brutality and pain, or fear and terror, of a lost generation. Listen to these quotations from that remarkable book:

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

 “It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men.”

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.”

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
World War One

On the British side of the trenches our own writers were coming to the same conclusions.

Today we should especially recall the work of Wilfred  Owen who is regarded by many historians as the leading poet of the First World War. His war poetry records the horrors of trench and gas warfare.

Wilfred Owen - who was educated in Birkenhead

Wilfred Owen – who was educated in Birkenhead

Born on 18 March 1893, the eldest of four children, at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswesty in Shropshire, he was of mixed English and Welsh ancestry.

After the death of his grandfather, Edward Shaw, in January 1897, and the  sale of their family home the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while his father temporarily worked there for the railway company employing him.

In 1898, Thomas became stationmaster at Woodside Station and the family lived with him, at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907.

Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School.

He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire.

When war broke out, he did enlist immediately – and as he was living on the Continent he even considered joining the French army – but eventually returned to England. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment.

Once at the Front he quickly saw action and after falling into a shell hole, suffered concussion. He was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood, believed he was lying amidst the remains of a fellow officer.

Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent for treatment to Edinbugh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen’s life.

 Owen asked for Sassoon’s assistance in refining his poems’ rough drafts. It was Sassoon who named the start of the famous short poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth, “anthem”, and who also substituted “doomed” for “dead”; and added the famous epiphet of “patient minds”.  The amended manuscript copy, which is in both men’s handwriting, is still extant and may be viewed at the Wilfred Owen Manuscript Archive

 

Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth

Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth

In 14 short lines, in Anthem for Doomed Youth” Wilfred Owen takes us deep into the horror of the war…

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out3 their hasty orisons.4

No mockeries5 now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented6 choirs of wailing shells; 

And bugles7 calling for them from sad shires.8

What candles9 may be held to speed them all? 

Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes 

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 

The pallor10 of girls’ brows shall be their pall; 

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 

And each slow dusk11 a drawing-down of blinds.

 

  At the very end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front and on 1 October 1918 he led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt.

  However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, he was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents’ house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross. His poetry continues to challenge and to stand as a rebuke. Most memorably, at the conclusion of today’s readings of poetry we will hear his “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

World War One

Why are we having these readings? Why have we launched a living archive to record the memories of families whose loved ones went to war? It is simply that we owe it to that generation never to forget and to pledge ourselves anew in our own times and in our own generation to do all we can to avert the carnage and brutality  – the ultimate failure which war always represents. Although, one day,  we may be called upon to defend our liberties and our values, the events we will commemorate in 2014 should surely instil into us a deep and renewed commitment to work unstintingly for peaceful and rational solutions to man-made challenges and problems.

 Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

World War One 2World War One 2

world War One 3World War One 4

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Share this text …?

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 What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Share this text …?

·Twitter

·Pinterest

 

Egypt – A Second Revolution?

Last week saw the second anniversary of the seismic events which led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

It also saw the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution – which many fear could lead to a full scale civil war, plunging Egypt into the fratricide which has so disfigured neighbouring Sudan and which has erupted in Syria.

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Is this the beginning of a second Egyptian revolution?

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini - after the Italian dictator.

Mursi has been dubbed Mursilini – after the Italian dictator.

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

60 have died in the violence, many more injured and others held by the security forces

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

3 Coptic Churches were burnt down last week

Egypt's new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Egypt’s new Constitution discriminates against Christians, women, Shias, Buddhists, Bahais and secularists.

Having seen their ideals and dreams left lying amongst their abandoned banners thousands of demonstrators have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, attempting to rekindle their dream of a modern Egypt and a tolerant democracy.

But many other factors are also in the dangerous mix and eruption of widespread violence and discontent – with sixty left dead over five days. A State of Emergency has been declared in several Egyptian cities with the chaos triggering disastrous economic consequences – a collapsing currency and confidence. Sweeping and draconian powers have been given to the police to detain citizens for up to 30 days without any judicial review and to hold trials before special courts.

Economic collapse is the last thing Egypt needs. 87% of the Gross Domestic product is debt; 65% of the population cannot read or write; around half the population live on the poverty line; and 30% of young people are unemployed. If ever you wanted proof that the devil makes mischief for idle hands it can be seen on Egypt’s streets – and if ever there was a time for a government which understood economics and social justice this is surely that time.

Instead, with this melt down of Egyptian society we may well be on course for a military coup.
Offering a taste of the pretext which the army would give for seizing power, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Chief Commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and Defence Minister issued a dire warning that “Egypt is at risk of collapse”.

As the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the security forces and the Opposition all reposition themselves, what has brought Egypt to the brink of civil war?

The key is the sense of betrayal felt by many Egyptians as they watch radical Islamic Salafists increasing their grip on President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Demonstrators have begun to refer to Morsi as “Morsilini” – a play on the name of Italy’s fascist dictator.

Their anger is particularly directed at Egypt’s new constitution which institutionalises discrimination against women, minorities and secularists. One of those who drafted it, Sheikh Yasser Borhamy proudly announced that the new constitution would usher in wholly unprecedented controls and “place restrictions on freedom of thought, expression and creativity.”

It is a paradox that the Mulsim Brotherhood is a strong and well organised movement but is a weak a wholly ineffectual government. Adding paradox upon paradox, it is Morsi who, having precipitated the cataclysmic fissures which have brought Egypt to this sorry pass, is now calling for dialogue.
And does he not have the eyes to see that all over the world vibrant, thriving, societies function and succeed precisely because of their diversity and tolerance not because of the suppression of freedom of thought, expression or creativity?

Bishop Kyrillos William, Administrator of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate of Alexandria, says that the new constitution threatens human rights: “We were waiting for a constitution that represents the whole of Egypt, but instead we have one that only represents one group of people.”

Bishop William joined Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor and Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza in warning against the constitution and voiced concern about its impact on women. It will force non-Muslim women to wear Islamic headscarves and allow women who are “sexually mature” to marry – a clause to legitimise the arranged marriages of young teenage girls. A young Coptic woman said :“I can no longer stand the insults and the spitting in my face because I don’t wear hijab. I have become a stranger in my own country.”

The new constitution implicitly allows child labour and Shiite Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists and others are not even recognised as existing.

This further entrenches the unrecognised state of war which exists between Shia and Sunni Muslims and which is being played out across North Africa and the Middle East. If unchecked, that inter-Muslim war will manifest itself in Europe too.

Egypt and Iran represent those two opposing positions and Egypt is in real danger of becoming a mirror image of Iran.

The tightening of Sharia Law, the imposition of restrictions on the media and the judiciary and the curtailing of many civil liberties would put Egypt on course for Iranian style theocratic dictatorship. As in Iran, the radicals have begun an all out assault on secular values and on the Christian minority. Last week alone, Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian community, who comprise around 10% of the population, saw three of its churches attacked and burnt and homes and shops destroyed.

Around 1,000 Islamists were reported to have attacked the predominantly Christian village of el-Marashda in Upper Egypt. The Christian families were ordered not to leave their homes – although, in a hopeful sign, the village Imam expressed his solidarity with the Christian community and called on Muslims to protect their Christian neighbours.

The West has been hopelessly indifferent to the plight of the minorities in the region and wide-eyed and naive in characterising the Arab Spring as a relentless march towards democracy and pluralism. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s remarks in Libya Last week, from Iraq to Syria, the Lebanon to the Gulf, the reality has been a horror story for the besieged Christian communities.

For years the west has turned a blind eye. It has sold arms and courted the dictators and regimes who govern countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia while showing complete indifference to their violations of human rights. In Syria, the UK is aiding and abetting groups who have targeted Christians – in one grotesque incident beheading a Christian man and feeding him to the dogs. Will this be an improvement on Assad?

And what is life like in those countries which are now ruled by Islamists?

Last week in Iran, the prosecutor for the mullahs’ regime in Sari announced the amputation of the fingers of a person charged with robbery. Two days earlier, in Shiraz, they publicly amputated the fingers of a 29 year old man. Ali Alghasi, Shiraz public prosecutor, called the amputations a “serious warning” to all who “cause insecurity”. He emphasized the importance of: “decisiveness and intolerance”. But amputations are only a part of the story in a country which specialises in crushing dissent and fomenting an atmosphere of fear.

Earlier in the week, State media reported that a 27 year old prisoner was publicly hanged in Kerman along with two prisoners in Ilam and Shahroud, one prisoner in Khorramdarreh and three prisoners in Qazvin – all of whom were executed.

As Egypt’s Morsilini tries to emulate Iran, and a second revolution unfolds, the West should be very wary of the company it keeps and not rush to legitimise regimes whose values are inimical to our own.

Hillsborough: twenty three years of cover up

The Scandal of Hillsborough.  

Twenty three years ago one of my saddest duties while I served as a Liverpool Member of Parliament was visiting families of those bereaved in the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster.

Several constituents had died, including a child. One, a young man, Andrew Devine, aged 22, was left in a persistive vegetative state .   Andrew was caught in the crush, deprived of oxygen, and following the resultant brain damage his parents were told that he would die within months.  Ever since, his extraordinary parents, Hilary and Stanley, have lovingly cared for Andrew, who emerged from his coma in 1994.

  The deaths of 96 people, and the long term trauma, was compounded by the outrageous, infamous aftermath.  There was vilification, condemnation, and procrastination.

Agony was piled upon agony with the insulting and wholly fallacious attempt to smear and blame the victims.  They had, it was suggested, brought the calamity of Hillsborough on themselves.

Twenty three years later, thanks to Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, and his Independent Panel’s Report, that calumny has finally been laid to rest.

For me, the most shocking aspect of the tragedy was that it could have been averted and that it had been predicted. 

  In the month before the match, which was played on April 15th 1989, a Liverpool fan had told me that staging the semi final at Hillsborough would be unsafe.

I wrote to the then Sports Minister, Colin Moynihan, registering my concern and this correspondence is referred to in a parliamentary reply which appears in Hansard:

The hon. Member wrote to me on 22 March about the arrangements at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough on 15 April. No other representation was received. The arrangements for the match will be among the matters to be considered by Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry.”

 

No-one has ever been able to say that the ground’s safety and ticket allocation had not been an issue before the game.

 

Immediately after the tragedy Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun branded Liverpool fans as Liars (for which he has now unreservedly apologised) and, acting on information given by the Police, alleged that that drunkenness was to blame. In Parliament I questioned Ministers about the fans’ behaviour, asking the Home Office Minister, Douglas Hogg, “at what level the publication of statements on 18 April by South Yorkshire police concerning the conduct of Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough semi-cup final was authorised; if he will publish a copy of that statement and the name of the officer who made it; and if he will make a statement.”

He replied:

“Statements made by officers of the South Yorkshire police are a matter for the chief constable. It would not be helpful for me to publish statements or counter-statements which have been made about the circumstances leading to the tragedy, or to name those who made them. It is for Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry to establish the facts.”

The names of the officers who gave the authorisation were not made known. The falsehoods were allowed to stand.  Taylor didn’t establish the facts, nor did he discover the truth. It was left to the grieving families to continue to demand answers and to insist that justice should be done.

As the years went by I made repeated requests for the legal cases to be re-opened.

In June 1992 the Solicitor General, Sir Derek Spencer, responded that the Attorney General would “take a decision on an outstanding formal application for consent under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 as soon as possible.”

I wondered whether the Minister had any understanding of “the sense of grief felt by many people, including my constituent Philip Hammond, whose boy was tragically killed at Hillsborough, and their sense that no line can be drawn on the issue until every legal remedy has been exhausted?”

I urged him to “assure the House that that announcement will not be long in coming and that he will try to understand the feelings of the relatives involved, who do not feel that the inquest process has been exhaustive?”

Twenty years ago, the Solicitor General replied that he was “conscious of the continuing grief and anxiety of the many individuals affected by that tragedy. For that reason, the decision must be carefully considered—and it will be. We shall make a decision as soon as possible.”

Three years had then elapsed since the tragedy – and a further twenty now. If Ministers had acted in 1992, telling the Coroner to reopen the cases, it would not now be possible to hide behind the excuse that “the passage of time” impedes accurate recall of the details of what occurred.

It’s not just the passage of time that is shocking: it is the institutional failure and corruption which has been exposed – and the craven failure of Ministers and officials. 

In the House of Lords, in 1998, I again challenged the failure to re-examine the Hillsborough deaths, and asked what account the Home Secretary and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith had taken, “in deciding against a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy, of missing video tapes, changed statements by police officers, conflicting medical evidence and complaints of lack of impartiality in the original coroner’s process and in the granting of immunity from prosecution to police officers upon taking early retirement.”

The Minister, Lord Williams of Mostyn, replied:

“Lord Justice Stuart-Smith considered all the material evidence submitted to his scrutiny about the Hillsborough disaster. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary (Jack Straw) accepted his conclusion that there were no grounds for a fresh inquiry.”

The Minister told Parliament that “there was no new video evidence”; that “the only missing video tapes were two tapes stolen on the day of the disaster, which remain missing. They were not police tapes and the judge was satisfied that they would not have shown anything significant.”

He added that the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered whether Police Officers should be prosecuted but “concluded that no officer should face prosecution” and because one officer had retired on ill health it would “have been unfair to pursue what was, in essence, a joint charge against one officer only.”

Imagine that you and I were involved in a bank robbery, a fraud, manslaughter, or a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, would the Police deicide that, because one of us had retired, they would take no action against the other? What nonsense is this?

The Minister was clear that “allegations of irregularity and malpractice are not substantiated” that they “found no grounds to suggest that the original inquests were flawed or that complaints of bias against the Coroner were justified.”

No substantial irregularities? No malpractice? Well now we know otherwise.

At last, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has told Parliament that the Liverpool fans had suffered a “double injustice”, both in the “failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth”. In offering a full apologyhe also admonished those who had denigrated thedeceased and suggested that they were “somehow at fault for their own deaths”.

His Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, says he will make a decision in the next two months about whether to apply to the High Court for the original verdict of accidental death to be quashed. He should get on with this without any further delay.

This time, the words need to mean more than the ones previously uttered – and, in seeking justice, our institutions need to examine how and why this scandal was allowed to fester and to be covered up for so long.

Andrew was left in a in a persistive vegetative state . His parents, Hilary and Stanley, were told that he would die within months. Ever since, they have lovingly cared for Andrew, who emerged from his coma in 1994.