Conflict Chronicles

From The Heart Of Kosovo: Interview with Jamie Donoughue, Oscar nominated Director.

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Jamie Donoughue
Jamie Donoughue is an Oscar-nominated British film director, producer and writer. He is best known for directing short-film Shok that earned him critical appraisal and multiple international awards including Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film nomination at the 88th Academy Awards. In 2016, he directed two episodes of the critically acclaimed BBC / Netflix drama The Last Kingdom. Here is an interview with Jamie, focusing on his moving short film, Shok.

[This interview was originally published by the Red Elephant Foundation and can be read here]

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your growing years, education and professional trajectory, perhaps? 

Ever since I was young my true passion was actually Judo and for many years this is what I wanted to do professionally. The first bit of filming I ever did was to film a local Judo contest and I guess this is where I got the bug. After finishing school I worked for a production company in my year out and then went to University to study TV & Film. During this time I worked at a local TV station, camera operating and directing. After leaving Uni I set up a production company making music videos. We were fortunate to grow quickly and had a lot of success working with some incredible artists around the world. However, my true passion was always in drama. So after a (very early) midlife crisis, I decided to move in that direction, starting with my first short film ‘Shok’. Shok has since provided me many incredible opportunities. I have just finished directing on season 2 of the BBC/Netflix Drama ‘The Last Kingdom’ and am currently in development of my own TV show with NBC Universal. 

What inspired Shok? 

Back in 2010 I randomly visited Kosovo to shoot a commercial as a favor for a friend. It was planned as a three-day trip. Then the Icelandic Volcano erupted and I found myself stranded there for five weeks. I say ‘stranded’ but the truth was it was the most incredible time of my life; I didn’t want to go home. I met some amazing friends and was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the Kosovar people. Over time they began to tell me their stories and I could not believe what had happened less than ten years ago on my doorstep. It’s only when a person looks you in the eye and tells you their story that you fully understand the true meaning of the word ‘war’. What inspired me most, however, was that there was no anger, rather just a desperation for their stories to be heard. I wanted to give something back to them and tell as many people as possible about what I had learnt. 

A Still from the Film “Shok”


What kind of preparation went into dealing with something so nuanced and painful? 

I knew very early on that I wanted to tell a true story based around people not events and most importantly relate to an audience by exploring the lives of the children during this time. One of the biggest challenges however was choosing what story to tell. Literally ever person in Kosovo had been affected by the war and each of their stories are as painful and inspiring as the next. One key story I landed on was of my good friend Eshref Durmishi. He survived the war and became an actor and actually ended up playing the part of his aggressor in film. My main concern however was to create a film that was true to the people of Kosovo, but yet appeal to an international audience. I did not ever want to be seen as a foreigner coming over and ‘using’ the country for its stories. The only way to overcome this was to truly understand the culture and the people. I therefore spent the next four years learning and researching everything possible about the country. I stayed with many families, meeting and interviewing hundreds of people. I ate, drank and lived Kosovo, even learning the language (granted very badly). Only after all this did I feel the time was right and I could represent them in the most honest and respectful way. 

A Still from the Film “Shok”

What was your experience filming like? Do you have any particular anecdotes to share? 

It was an extremely difficult and logistically problematic to get us to the production stage. No one in the UK wanted to fund us and producing a coproduction between the two countries was not easy. I have to thank my amazing producers Harvey Ascott and Howard Dawson for making it possible. However, once we actually got to the stage of filming it was an incredible experience. I had a mixture of UK and Kosovo crew and everyone involved had either been directly affected by the war or had spent time in Kosovo to truly understand what we were trying to achieve. The film had many difficult scenes but the truth is we kept the shoot light hearted and most importantly for me was that we all had fun. We were attempting something that had not really been done before and most people were working for very little money. It was a passion project for everyone. However, one particular scene will stay with me for the rest of my life. When filming the raid on the house I first ran a rehearsal with just the actors in order to work out the camera movement I wanted. The entire crew plus the hundred or so onlookers were outside waiting. We rehearsed the raid of the house and removal of the family. I was in the midst of it and it was so real I was physically shaking. I walked outside to find everyone else in tears, traumatized from hearing the sounds alone. It was at that point I questioned everything I was doing and whether I was wrong to be playing with people’s emotions in this way. Then the neighbor from upstairs came over. She too was in tears. She said to me that the exact raid had happened here in that property. She then told me as and hard as it was to believe she wanted to thank us all for taking on this story and enabling others to know the truth of what had happened. 

What have your biggest challenges been? How have you dealt with them? 

Trying to make it in the Film & TV industry is incredibly hard. People always tell you this but you have no idea. Probably my biggest challenge was after leaving my company. I had spent years building it up and now had to start again from scratch. I risked everything on making Shok and put every last penny I had into the project. I had to take a job with a friend laboring on building sites. In fact I found out I have been long-listed for an Oscar whilst constructing a garden shed. All this was great training though. It allowed me to stay humble and realise patience, persistence and hard work is key. Also that once in a while it’s good to take a risk. 

As a filmmaker, you are a storyteller who takes fact out into the world through an observer’s lens. When you deal with difficult subjects, how do you retain your objectivity? 

Normally with Film or TV there is an understanding of using ‘creative licence’ i.e. manipulating facts and reality in order to benefit and enhance the story. However with Shok this was not something I ever wanted to do. These were people’s lives, and indeed deaths. The film dealt with war and atrocities and by its nature could appear extremely one sided. I was therefore very conscious of keeping my objectivity. I spent time in all other areas of the Balkans including Serbia, speaking to locals and hearing their experiences. I learnt that the truth is war is complicated and dirty and there is rarely a simple answer to who is right and wrong. However this film was never about the ‘events’; it was about the people and the true victims of war, whoever they are and wherever they are from. 

You’ve been the voice of those that are otherwise not heard, considering how information on the situation in Kosovo is relegated only to a statistic. How does that feel?

When I set out to make this film I gave myself an objective; if just one person watches this film and decides to find out more about Kosovo then it will have been worthwhile. We have been incredibly fortunate that due to the success of this film Kosovo has been put on the world map. As well as its nomination for an Oscar®, over a million people have see the film along with vast international press exposure. We have done Q&A’s across the world, presentations in schools, been discussed at the United Nations, met the Royal Family and even our two child actors were invited by the Pope to perform at the Vatican for the consecration of Mother Teressa. This is not only proof of the power of film but also the power of people. How do I feel? Honoured, humbled and extremely grateful. It’s incredible to think that although Shok highlights the negativities in this world, its success has highlighted the positives.

What goes into making your creative process what it is? What inspires you? 

I spend a lot of time researching a subject and finding out as much as possible. It’s about the little details that you put into a film. Grated many of the audience may not pick up on these but overall it creates a richer and more impacting viewing experience. I have a clear idea of what I want but at the same time I realise most of the creativity is done ‘in the moment’. I like to empower the actors and crew and all work together to create something unique. For me inspiration can come from anywhere but I guess I am mostly drawn to true stories. This is especially the case if the subjects of these stories are still alive and I am able to talk with them. I think we have become desensitized to war and violence. Words such as refugees, displacement, famine, etc have become just that… words. I like to try bring meaning back to this by putting a face and personal story to these events. If an audience can relate to it then they can see in fact we are all actually not too dissimilar.

More on the film

Twitter – @shokshortfilm

20 years on, revisiting the Uphaar Tragedy – How the System failed its people

By | Conflict Chronicles, Featured, INTERVIEWS., Uphaar Fire Tragedy | No Comments
(Prakash Singh/ Hindustan Times File photo)
The Uphaar cinema tragedy that took place on June 13, 1997, claiming the lives of 59 people and injuring over 100 was one of the worst fire incidents in Indian history. The incident that took place in the midst of the matinee show screening of ‘Border’ has also gone down the annals of legal history in the country as being the cause behind the filing of the landmark civil compensation case by the families of the victims through their organization, AVUT (Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy). 
In this exclusive interview, Sourya speaks to the President of AVUT, Mrs. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, whose 17-year-old daughter Unnati and 13-year-old son, Ujjwal, were also among the victims of the incident. 

Sourya (S): Please paint a word picture for us of the fateful day of 13th June 1997 and how tragedy broke out.

Ms. Neelam Krishnamoorthy (NK): It was the month of June 1997, vacation time for the children. On Friday the 13th June, Unnati and Ujjwal planned to go watch a movie. They were very excited about watching the much-awaited and controversial new movie “Border”. The tragic day started off normally. Unnati asked me to book tickets for the matinee show of Border on the day it hit theaters. The four of us had lunch together. Naturally, none of us knew or imagined that it would be the last meal we would have together as a family. After lunch Unnati planted a loving kiss on my cheek; I forgot to wipe off the mark her lipstick left on my skin. I had no clue that this would the last time Unnati would ever kiss me. Soon we also left for work. After work, we went to look up my brother –in – law who was admitted to the hospital. I gave a call at around 7.30 pm, to check if the kids had reached home, but there was no response.We rushed home, to check if the kids had returned, but they had, not. The house was in darkness and I quickly went to my puja room and lit a lamp and prayed to god asking for the well-being of our children. I tried calling up Uphaar Cinema but could not get through to their number. I also tried AIIMS but the number did not get through. Just then one of Unnati’s friend called us and inquired about her. When I told him about our predicament, he informed us about the fire in the Uphaar cinema. We rushed to Uphaar cinema and on the way informed all our friends about the fire. Throughout the way we were praying for the well-being of Unnati & Ujjwal. We could not enter the Uphaar cinema as the entire area was cordoned off and we were asked to check at AIIMS or Safdarjung hospital. On reaching AIIMS neither we could locate our children nor were their names in the list of injured. We were taken to the OPD where we saw the bodies of Unnati & Ujjwal lying on a stretcher. Our lives came to a dreadful standstill. This nightmarish turn of events destroyed us completely and changed our lives forever. 

The fire had originated from the Delhi Vidyut Board transformer at 4.55 pm, which was located in the parking area of the cinema complex on the ground floor. The “B” phase cable detached from the bus bar and fell on the fin of the transformer as result the oil from the fins leaked and caught fire. The fire came in contact with a car parked illegally right in front of the transformer room. The fire spread to the other cars parked in the area. The smoke entered the hall due to chimney effect through the staircase and air-conditioning ducts. Soon the cinema hall turned into a gas chamber.

The 750 patrons sitting on the first floor of the auditorium escaped immediately thanks to the properly spaced exits. The staff in the basement and the tenants on the ground floor, those closest to the fire, along with those in the third and fourth floor, all escaped.

As smoke and carbon monoxide engulfed the balcony, the patrons began to suffocate and there was complete pandemonium. Despite the fact that a fire had broken out, the projector operator was not instructed to stop the film; neither were the patrons informed of the accident nor were they given instructions on how to leave the auditorium and the balcony. When the electricity failed completely it became even more difficult for those in the balcony to make their way out. 302 patrons in the balcony were trapped due to non-availability of gangway and exit. 

The gangway was blocked to accommodate additional 52 seats in violation of the statutes to make extra profit. The exit gate on the right side was blocked by erecting an eight seater private viewing box for the comfort of Ansal’s family. The basic fire safety provisions such as exit light, foot lights, emergency lights and public address system were non-functional. The cinema management abandoned the patrons and ran out of the cinema hall. 59 people were asphyxiated to death due to carbon monoxide poisoning and, over 103 were grievously injured.

(S): When did you decide to, gather all other victims and their relatives and form the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy (AVUT)

(NK): After performing the thirteenth day rituals for our children, Shekhar and I went through each and every paper that came out on 14 June, and then every single day after that, to try and figure out what exactly happened. As per the newspaper reports the deaths occurred only in the balcony due to violations and deviations of the statutes. Additional seats in the balcony were accommodated by the management by blocking the gangway and exits. We decided to take legal recourse. We were advised by a good friend to seek a legal opinion from senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi. Mr Tulsi had strong views on those who seemed responsible for the tragedy. He told us that since the Ansals were part of the powerful builder lobby, we should fight this legal battle collectively. He suggested that we contact other affected families and form an association.

We did not know any of them personally. We took the initiative and contacted members of the victims’ families. Some were downright dismissive of our efforts, but a few of them listened to us very patiently. Ultimately, nine families responded positively to us and we proposed a meeting. The Association was formed on 30th June 1997 . AVUT was born out of terrible rage and endless grief.

(S): There were charges against the family of the accused, of trying to cover up the matter during the initial investigation. How reliable had you found the initial investigation conducted by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police? Was the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy’ (AVUT) relieved when the investigation was handed over to the CBI instead? 

(NK): The initial investigation into the Uphaar Cinema fire was handled by the Hauz Khas Police Station. The First Information Report (FIR) was lodged on the basis of a complaint made by the security guard of the hall. The Delhi Police lodged the FIR under section 304 (II), i.e. culpable homicide not amounting to murder with a punishment of up to ten years in prison. Considering the gravity of the incident, the investigation was then transferred to the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police. Initially, the investigation conducted by the Crime Branch seemed to be reliable. After almost over a month Sushil Ansal and his son Pranav Ansal were arrested from Mumbai on 22nd July 1997, but however, Gopal Ansal was absconding. We were assured by the Crime Branch that they would file the charge Sheet by August 1997. The Association was satisfied with the progress of the investigation that was being conducted by the Crime Branch, Delhi Police. But, to our utter shock and disbelief, the Government of India took a suo moto decision to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 23 July. AVUT never made any representation to the Government to transfer the investigation to the CBI. 
It was our belief that this was done with the motive of delaying the filing of the charge sheet and, in the process, making it possible for the accused to seek and obtain bail. Our apprehensions were proved right when CBI filed the charge sheet on 15th November 1997, charging Sushil & Gopal under a lesser offense i.e 304 (A) death caused due to rash and negligent Act, contrary to what Delhi Police had charged them.

(S): The Prosecution, the Judiciary or the CBI – who among these would you blame for the unreasonable delay caused in this case despite, in your instance, the Delhi High Court rapping the lower court for the slow proceedings in the case.

(NK): I would blame the defense counsels who sought frequent adjournments and moved frivolous application which delayed the proceedings considerably. The courts too accommodated the defense counsels by giving frequent adjournments sought by the defense counsels. Since I was present in the court for each and every hearing, I ensured that the Prosecuting agency does not delay the proceedings by seeking adjournments.
AVUT had to approach the High Court thrice during the trial to expedite the proceedings. But for the intervention of the higher court the case would have been still in the session court.

(S): What was your reaction when you heard that the initially Delhi High Court had granted compensation of 18 crores? At that moment did you have hope that the Justice would ultimately be served and the accused sent to jail for a long time?

(NK): After going through the judgment pronounced by the Delhi High Court on 24 April 2003 wherein the court held that the fire had originated at the DVB transformer due to negligence in its maintenance. The fire would not have been so tragic had the cars not been parked right outside the transformer room and the exits not blocked to create a private box for the owners. The court also observed that had exits been located on both sides of the balcony, precious lives might have been saved as the patrons could have made their way outside the theater quickly. The licensee (the owners) had committed statutory violations in order to obtain illegal profits. The licensing departments of the Delhi Police, Delhi Vidyut Board and Municipal Corporation of Delhi were all found guilty of contributory negligence due to their apathy and indifference to the critical matter of public safety. After such detailed and comprehensive judgment, we were hopeful that in the criminal case Ansals would be convicted and would be incarcerated for a long time.

(S): What was your reaction when on 19th August 2015 the Supreme Court let off the Ansals directing them to pay Rs 60 crore for a trauma center and the subsequent order in the review filed by AVUT & CBI?

(NK): The Ansals were convicted on the 5th March 2014, the bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court differed on the quantum of sentence after concurring on their guilt under Section 304A of Indian Penal Code for negligent acts.The bench referred determination of sentence to a three-judge bench.

The matter was listed after seventeen months that too after AVUT & CBI had moved applications for early hearing. The matter was finally listed on 19th August 2015.

The SC verdict of 19th August 2015 left me distraught and disappointed. The Judgement was pronounced without giving the Petitioner or the Special Public Prosecutor any chance of meaningful and effective hearing. We were appalled when the judges pronounced the operative portion of the verdict, sentencing the Ansals to the period undergone and directed them to pay Rs 60 Crore to the Delhi Government for a Trauma Centre in lieu of a sentence.

Aggrieved by the judgment a review petition was filed by both CBI &AVUT since it suffered from serious errors which were apparent on the face of the record. The review petition was heard in an open court on 14th December 2016 and the judgment was pronounced on 9th February 2017. The court sentenced Gopal Ansal to one-year imprisonment; however, Sushil Ansal was allowed to walk free. His sentence of imprisonment was reduced to the period undergone.The court also held that there is no provision under the IPC for substitution of the sentence by fine. Hence Sushil & Gopal Ansal were sentenced to a fine of Rs 30 Crore each for a Trauma Centre.
With this judgment, the message was loud and clear that the law of the land is not the same for the rich and powerful. I realized that I had made a mistake of going to the courts to seek justice for my children. I should have rather shot those responsible for the death of my children. By now I would have finished serving the sentence as well. Such a judgment will only embolden the owners of public spaces to violate safety rules and compromise on safety, with no thought of endangering human lives.

(S): What according to you, would be been Justice?

(NK): Looking at the gravity of the offense the Ansals should have been convicted u/s 304 (II) IPC (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder). But since they were convicted u/s 304 (A) (Rash and Negligent Act) the Supreme Court should have given maximum sentence of 2 years to send a strong message to the society.

(S): Despite the system failing you, do you have hope that the evidence tampering case pending against the accused might bring about some redemption?

(NK): The conviction in the evidence tampering case will bring some redemption unless the same magnanimity is shown to Ansals as in the main Uphaar Case taking their age into consideration. After all, they are growing older and not younger anymore.

(S): Throughout the last 20 years you have faced some of the worst’s sides of litigation and judiciary in the capital. You have also faced a lot of trauma, harassment, and hardships from the Counsels of the accused. In the opinion of a citizen and a victim, do you belief that lawyers have any moral right to consider themselves to be a part of a “noble profession”.
(NK): The behavior and the attitude of the defence lawyers representing the Ansals has been a cause of great pain and agony for us. While we hold no malice towards them for representing the Ansals, and we also understand their professional commitment towards their clients, we cannot forgive them for the personal attacks they made against us repeatedly. 

Lawyers are expected to be the guardians of rule and law. They are the officers of the court and hence, cannot play its spoilers. It does not behoove members of the bar to glorify themselves over hapless victims and litigants who are constrained to visit the court on the dates of hearing, hoping for justice.

The entire legal fraternity cannot be painted with the same brush though. We have also come across some deeply committed lawyers who have shown immense conviction in the case and have stood by our side in this epic battle for justice.

(S): You, along with your husband, wrote a book “Trial By Fire” detailing your experiences during the trial. Did somewhere, the process of writing the book, lessen the pain and the burden?

(NK): The process of writing “ Trial By Fire” was challenging. We had to come out of our comfort zone to narrate the personal tragedy we had undergone. It neither lessened the pain nor the burden. 

(S): Beyond this case has AVUT gone beyond into policy making sphere to make sure such a horrible incident never happens again. Could you please tell us about that.

(NK): We at AVUT could not comprehend how man-made disasters could be treated merely as a rash and negligent act. Hence we made a representation to the government to bring about a new law to deal with man-made disasters. AVUT presented the petition for a proposed legislation to prevent man-made tragedies in public places to the then President, Pratibha Patil, the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi, and the then law minister, Veerappa Moily. In 2009, the law ministry forwarded our petition to the Law Commission, directing it to come out with a law to deal with such disasters on a priority basis. We had several meetings with the chairman of the Law Commission and gave him many inputs, illustrating how such cases were dealt with in other countries. In 2012, the Law Commission published a consultation paper dealing with man-made disasters, which we are sure is collecting dust in an obscure corner of the ministry.Maybe the Government will bring in a law when a VVIP’s kith & kin are victims of such a man-made disaster.
(S): Does AVUT have plans to file a curative petition against the discharge of one of the accused? And what action is AVUT planning to take to counter the mercy petition filed before the President for the other accused? 
(NK): Yes, AVUT would be filing the curative petition at the appropriate time. As regards mercy petition filed by Gopal Ansal, the same was forwarded by the MHA to Lt. Governor and the Delhi Government for their opinion. AVUT gave representation to both Lt Governor and the Chief Minister not to consider the mercy plea filed by Gopal Ansal since using discretionary powers to provide mercy for the rich and powerful is sure to send a wrong signal to other wrongdoers who will doubtless be emboldened by any mercy shown. Hence, we requested to reject the blatantly undeserving mercy plea filed by a convicted mass murderer.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi Government have given their recommendation to reject the mercy petition.

[From Arguendo: We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Advocate Kinnori Ghosh for coordinating this interview and making the same possible.]

Narmada Bachao Andolan – The tale of non-existing Compensation, Rehabilitation, and lives of 40,000 Families

By | Campaigns; Public Awareness; Your Voice, Conflict Chronicles, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Newsupdate, YOUR VOICE | No Comments

Via a Press Release dated 17th June 2017, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has cleared the final raising of Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) in Gujarat by lowering of gates and impounding of water in the reservoir upto its Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of EL 138.68 mts. The NCA which under the Chairmanship of Dr. Amarjit Singh, Secretary (WR, RD & GR) considered all aspects of environmental and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) issues.

Fifty-six years after the foundation stone for the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada was laid the Gujarat government got permission from the Centre to shut its gates. While 30 gates of the dam have been closed, it will open the gates of misery for more than 100,000 people, whose houses and land are likely to get submerged.

Besides the statement issued by noted activist Medha Patkar (viewed above) Narmada Bachao Andolan also issued a statement on 17th June. 2017 stating that;
“The level of falsehood involved in the decision taken by NCA on the closure of Sardar Sarovar gates is unprecedented.” Even the media has been spreading such lies about resettlement of Narmada affected families, even the the government cannot claim this: “A total of 46,840 PAFs have been resettled in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.”

On the 19th June 2017, supporters of Narmada Bachao Andolan laid siege to the entrance of Ministry of Water Resources protesting against the undemocratic and unjust decision of Narmada Control Authority to close the gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam, in its June 16th meeting. The decision paved the way for imminent submergence of 192 villages and one township of Madhya Pradesh this monsoon season when the full reservoir level will be achieved. 

In past two months, despite many assurances from NCA, NVDA and govt. officials, including citing the Supreme Court order of February 2017, the decision had been taken without verifying actual ground conditions in Madhya Pradesh. The Andolan supporters strongly pointed out that the claims of the almost complete disbursement of the compensation, as per SC judgment, is not at all true since a number of applications are still pending infront of the Grievance Redressal Authority in Madhya Pradesh. 
In these matters, the claims of the project affected families for disbursement of the appropriate amount for the land lost hasn’t been settled yet. It also needs to be noted that those who have received cash compensation, are yet to receive their due R&R entitlements for the loss of their houses and other common facilities, simply because 88 R&R sites in Madhya Pradesh are not complete. In such a situation, it is impossible for nearly, 40,000 families to move to these sites, which lack even most of the basic facilities, including drinking water.

Graphic: Raj Kumar Singh

The Supreme Court order while bringing down curtains on the legal battle had brought relief to the 2,039 displaced families. However, those facing displacement to allow the dam to function at its full capacity say they have nowhere to go

Down To Earth, an on the ground organization which has spoken to many locals shared a grim picture of those trapped on the ground with no place to go. 

“In 2003, I was given Rs 40,000 and a plot on the floodplains of the Khooj rivulet ( a tributary of the Narmada) in compensation,” one Iqbal Reyaz from Dharampuri, who works as a daily-wage labourer, told DownToEarth. Five years ago, Reyaz decided to relocate to the rehabilitation colony, aptly named Dharampuri Basahat, literally Dharampuri resettled. He was the first one to build a house there. But it got submerged the very next year, during the floods of 2013. “No one compensated me for the loss of the new house, and I had to return to my old house,” Reyaz stated. “I was a fool to go there. Since the colony is in the floodplains, no one from my town dares to shift there,”.

But going by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award guidelines, the authorities should also provide a primary school for every 100 families, a drinking water well for every 50 families, a seed store for every 500 families, before initiating the eviction process. Barely a month left to meet the apex Court’s deadline, it is unlikely that the requirements would be met. 

The South Asian Network on Dams, Network, and People wrote a detailed article questioning the legality of the lower of the gates of the Dam. 

[Story to be updated. Last updated 20/06/17]

MP, Gujarat Police Stop Narmada Bachao Andolan – Protesters Arrested.

By | Conflict Chronicles, Newsupdate | No Comments
On the 3rd day of the ‘Rally For The Valley’, which is a campaign of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, leaders of the rally, Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Soumya Datta, Dr. Sunilam, Jasbir Singh (All India Kisan Sabha, MP), Nita Mahadev (a noted Gandhian, Gujarat) along with hundreds of protestors have been detained at Kavta check post, kavta village of Chhota Udaipur district.

Police check post at Katva Village

As per reports, the rally was going to visit the Jeevanshala (a school run by Narmada Navnirmaan Abhiyan) of Chimalkhedi, Maharashtra when police officials stopped them from crossing the Gujarat border. The police officials failed to produce any written order. Even the vehicles with Gujarat number plate and local buses were stopped from crossing the border.
The protestors, under the leadership of social activist Medha Patkar have been detained by the Gujarat Police while they were moving from Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra via Gujarat. The protestors have been stopped at the Gujarat Border and are not allowed to cross the Gujarat border.

Activist Medha Patkar (second from the right) with an injured boy
“A group of people, who were on their way to Chhota Udepur, were detained at Kavta check-post on Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border,” the police official from Kawant police station said to Newsd.
“They were detained as per the notification under section 144 of CrPC, which prohibits unlawful assembly or processions in the district,” district collector Vijay Kharadi said to Newsd.
According to Idrish Mohammed, a law student at Jamia Milia Islamia University took to Facebook and posted a picture of detained school kids from Kerala who joined the rally, the Gujrat Police assaulted protesters infront of the Madhya Pradesh Police. 
As seen above Idrish last posted on Facebook 11 hours ago painting a bleak picture of the administration stating, The kids who were beaten up by the police were sent to the hospital for medical examination. The medical officer is completely drunk and not in his senses. He SLAPPED the kids and harassed them badly. Another face of Justice System”

Local villagers gathered for Protest. 

The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been going on since 1985. 

Story to be Updated.
All Pictures are sources from the Facebook of Mr. Idrish Mohammed and are his property.

From Battlefields to Brazil: A look into the Refugee Olympics Team

By | Blogging, Conflict Chronicles, YOUR VOICE | No Comments
“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said when he announced the selected athletes last month.”
Rio Summer Olympics 2016 has already faced enough flak and controversies – The country’s political instability, the fact that Brazil’s government is on the verge of collapsing; Rio sure found itself amidst a lot of problems. However, this year’s Olympics have something that has quite possibly made history. Why? Well, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has handpicked a team of refugees giving them an opportunity to participate in the Rio Olympics 2016.  The Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) as it is called includes five athletes from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia.  The team will compete under the Olympic flag according to the decision of the International Olympic Committee to highlight the plight of asylum seekers around the world. In March, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced he would select refugee athletes to compete as a team for the first time at the Rio Games amid a worldwide refugee and migrant crisis.
The team comprises of six men and four women, who will compete in the sports of swimming, judo and athletics. Along with Yusra Mardini and  Rami Anis from Syria, both swimmers; runners Yiech Pur Biel, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, James Nyang Chiengjiek, and Rose Nathike Lokonyen (also the flag bearer), all originally from South Sudan; judokas Yolande Bukasa Mabika and Popole Misenga, originally from the DRC; and Yonas Kinde, a runner originally from Ethiopia.
 This year’s Olympics also houses a team from Kosovo (still a part of Serbia) making its official debut with eight members after the IOC recognized its bid for its independent status and a team from Taiwan (also known as Chinese Taipei) is bringing in 59 members. 
 On August 6th, 2016, Yusra Mardini – a member of the ROT won her heat in the 100-meter butterfly at the games. An admirable feat although she did not make it through the semifinals, she will be competing in the women’s freestyle on Wednesday.

But what needs to be addressed is that how potentially problematic bringing in a refugee team is, because although the refugee Olympic team represents the 65.5 million refugees and migrants around the world, it also quite sadly represents the failure of the international community by giving this long-term refugees a semi permanent status of the same name instead of solving the refugee crisis. Sure, a refugee Olympic Team is a step forward, but at the same time a step backward because the international community has tagged this team as a special refugee team – questioning if this will become an annual phenomena instead of helping these long-term refugees go home. What the Olympic team ultimately represents is not the discipline, and courage but the millions of people for whom the term refugee is now an unfailing term. Maybe the point of a ROT is to inspire more government officials/ politicians to let these refugees in their countries by showing these refugees’ talents and in a way showcasing what a credit having these refugees in their country is – the problem with this is that it’s a talent show game happening here. Is this ROT a business tactic to show what these refugees are worth so that the international community will let more refugees in?

Or is it a ploy to distract from the ongoing controversies in Rio? A ploy to gain sympathies from the international community and subtly distract them from the seeming dance of a political samba in Brazil?
The Refugee participants were already practicing advanced level ‘games’ before being selected – Yusra escaped Syria by swimming across the Aegan Sea with her sister. The South Sudanese runners talk of childhoods seared by violence. Their athletic skills became their survival ticket for them.

But one can only hope that this media attention that the ROT is receiving is not just some short lived attention forgotten in all the current events compilation of the year -fading away in time but will hopefully prompt the world leaders in taking in more refugees and sharing world responsibility – making the very essence of the creation of this Olympic Team a success for refugees around the world.

Conflict Chronicles: The Forgotten Genocide of Namibia

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      When I first become aware of the genocide of the Herero and the Namaqua in Namibia a few months ago, I was stunned. I had up until that point never heard of what some historians call the first genocide of the 20th century. I soon learned that this genocide perpetrated by the German government paved the way for another campaign of mass extermination (i.e. the Holocaust) on European soil some 30 years later. Under German colonial rule, the Herero and Namaqua people were subjected to some of the worst atrocities and human rights violations and were victims of crimes against Humanity. An official report of these heinous acts were meticulously recorded in a “Blue Book”. No-one was supposed to know what had happened.

This tragedy led to the murder of over 85 000 people.

When reading about the fate that befell the Herero and Namaqua, I couldn’t help but feel saddened that their testimonies and stories had been largely ignored from the history books.
How could this be? How could the massive extermination of a people be overlooked? How can anyone justify the killing, rape, torture, beating, and persecution of innocent people on the basis of “race superiority”? How can we be so blinded by hatred and ignorance that we allow ourselves to kill in the name of preserving our “race/ethnicity”?
While it was such a long time ago, my heart feels heavy to know that these atrocious acts still take place to this day.
Don’t we ever learn? I sincerely hope that one day this genocide will be acknowledged and the descendants of the victims will be provided with a platform whereby they can collectively grieve and move forward.
For further resources about the genocide,
1) you can read this excellent account (in French) called “blue book” by Elise Fontenaille-N’Diaye
2) Casper Erichsen, “The Angel of Death has Descended Violently Among Them, Concentration camps and prisoners of war in Namibia”.
3) Jan-Bart Gewald, Jeremy Silvester, “Words Cannot be Found, German Colonial Rule in Namibia: an Annotated Report of the 1918 Blue Book”.
There is also a documentary that you can watch that talks about the genocide of the Hereros .
To all the victims and the descendants of the genocide, please know that your voices will not be silenced. Your stories need to be told!
About the Author:

Lea Gabay is a French American graduate student who is studying for a Master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in San Francisco, California. She previously taught English as a Foreign Language for several years in various countries, particularly in Vietnam. She is passionate about interfaith dialog building, social justice, and human rights.

People Of Nowhere: Can Malaysia legally send the Rohingya refugees back?

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Malaysian officials have taken the position that they will be sending the existing refugees in Pulau Langkawi back to Myanmar. Malaysia also turned away further boats arriving at its shores. Although they were refuelled and resupplied, it was done with the aim of getting them back to Myanmar. Many people, including the Malaysian government, are under the impression that Malaysia can do so as it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Rohingya people as ‘refugees’
I don’t think it is possible to argue for a proposition that the Rohingya people are not refugees. These refugees are stateless people in Myanmar who have been denied their right to nationality, freedom of movement, access to education and services and many other fundamental rights. They have suffered grave persecution on grounds of race and religion. In fact, the United Nations (UN) have said that they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. 
Principle of non-refoulement
This principle basically states that a state cannot oblige a person to return to a territory where he/she may be exposed to persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
The purpose of this principle is to ensure refugees are protected against such forcible returns. It applies both to persons within a state’s territory and to rejection at its borders.
This principle has attained the status of customary international law. What does this mean? In essence, this principle has been practised widely by many states, where it is regarded as a binding rule of law. In other words, all states are bound by it unless they have strongly objected to it. Many people think that only written law in form of conventions and treaties bind states. However, customs such as this also binds states.
Malaysia has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on Territorial Asylum of 14 December 1967, both of which have codified the principle of non-refoulement. It would be grossly contradictory for Malaysia to say that it is not bound by this principle when it had taken a different stance in the UN.
Therefore Malaysia can’t send these refugees back to Myanmar or any other place where they would face persecution. However, can Malaysia do so if it is deplete of resources to keep or accept the refugees?
Policy considerations 

There are two general exceptions to this principle, ie. on grounds of national security or where the refugees’ criminal records constitute a threat to the community. Up until now, the Malaysian officials have failed to sufficiently address if any of the two grounds have been fulfilled (both of which are strictly interpreted). However, this is where I feel it would be unfair to solely blame Malaysia, or any other receiving country. Malaysia has its obligations as a receiving country, but it can only fulfil them to the extent its resources allow it.
This is not a Malaysian problem, an Indonesian problem or a Thai problem; it is a problem of the international community. It is appalling that Asean countries have failed to react promptly to come up with a solution to this humanitarian crisis. Instead, countries are more keen on washing their hands clean of any responsibility.
Even if a state does not have the space to keep these refugees on a temporary basis, it could still provide assistance in other forms. Other countries around the globe could offer to temporarily host these refugees pending a better solution. Instead, pointing fingers and blaming is the only thing States seem to be doing.
It is shameful that Asean countries can work together for economical purposes, but when it comes to the saving of human lives, all form of cooperation seems to have vanished.
About the Author:
Surendra Ananth is an alumni of National University of Malaysia, and the X-President of Asian Law Students Association. He currently writes for The Malaysian Insider. You can read his blog here

Originally Published on The Malaysian Insider HERE 

Staring Into the Eyes of Violence: A Kenyan Citizens Voice

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Kenya is one of the African countries most severely affected by violence. It is ranked among the most dangerous countries worldwide in global peace index, a multidimensional report of violence, security, and criminality. It has the third largest number of political and youth radicalization globally behind Syria and Nigeria respectively.

A 2012 survey on Kenya on crime and victimization by the Amnesty International found that, on average 5% of respondents had personally been victims of armed violence. In 2011, Human Rights watch estimated that over 15,700 people had been killed in in inter-communal, political and sectarian violence in Kenya since the country transitioned to multi-party democracy in 1992. Across the country, the most common forms of crime and victimization are burglary, robbery, physical assault and domestic violence. Disproportionate use of force by government authorities in response to outbreaks of violence has also been reported across Kenya.

It is therefore a painful truth that Kenya’s recent economic growth cannot be easily reconciled with high levels of armed violence and insecurity nor with the reality that there still is widespread poverty and inequality across the country. While the democratic government has remained in power since the transition from Kanu’s misrule, elections have been marked by spikes in armed violence, huge casualty numbers and subsequent population displacement.

There are also very distinct (and important) regional violations in Kenya armed violence. These include discrete incidences of militant activity, violent criminality, gang related violence, and gender based violence, religiously motivated conflict and non-combatant targeting by armed groups. For instance, Kenya’s watch data indicates that crime is the second highest cause of violent death in Kenya after accidents, but this crime is heavily concentrated in the Coast, Northern Kenya and parts of Nairobi.

In the Northern Kenya, security situation is particularly bad. It is dominated by the presence of armed groups and organized violence (i.e the presence of Al-Shabaab). Despite these, there have been improvements in the past few weeks due to government’s response to the latest Garissa University terror attack.
In the northern Kenya, the number of attacks and bombings by Al-Shabaab has risen sharply. According to the Kenya Police report, more than 10 attacks have been witnessed in Northern Kenya in the last one year. Al-Shabaab’s violent agitation has continued to destabilize the North Eastern part of Kenya while the government’s efforts to quell the insurgency have so proven unsuccessful, including most recently the killing of 147 university students. This was not only a blow to the Country’s top leadership but a show of weakness in Kenya’s intelligence and military prowess.

In Northern Kenya also, religious and sectarian violence has risen since 2010. In Mandera and Garissa, religious violence between Muslims and Christians has flared up on several occasions resulting in selective killings by the terror group. Inter-communal violence has also ravaged the country especially in Nairobi, Coast and Northern Kenya. It is important to point out that, Northern and Coastal parts of Kenya have always agitated to secede from Kenya and form the country of their own. The Northern Kenya has always wanted to be a part of Somalia but the Kenyan government has remained firm and fierce for decades now. Similarly in the coastal part of Kenya, genuine reasons have been raised for secession but the Kenyan government has waged brutal war against the Mombasa Republicans and its lutenists. It will be remembered that there are silent voices which the Kenyan government is not addressing particularly that of youth. The Bulging youth population in the country in light of mega government and private sector jobs is nothing short of a ticking and social time bomb. The government’s approach of suppressing and postponing problems of yester days is the greatest undoing looking to the future.

About the Author:

Diphus Kiprop Nge’ny is a youth development & policy enthusiast and a social media buff. His experience spans across project incubation & execution, developing social media campaigns for social causes and policy development for youth organizations & government agencies in Kenya. He is the Founder of Vijana Umoja Pamoja Foundation and an Alumnus of the prestigious Commonwealth Youth Development Program. Diphus is currently the Youth Ambassador in the World Youth Movement for Democracy representing Africa and also crowned the Young African African achiever of 2013 

Ukraine Crisis: What it could mean for the rest of the World.

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The current on-going battle between Russia and Ukraine over the accession of the Crimean Peninsula has inarguably become one of the most controversial matters of the year. But is this a conflict which is only constricted to the Crimean Peninsula or could the Russian Accession of Crimea through its contentious referendum bring about a renewed Cold War? The Cold War immediately brings to mind the intense American soviet rivalry that plagued the better part of the 20th century. Ever since 1991, with the dissemination of the Soviet Union, we have seen the taming of the Russian federation as such, the United States has widely been regarded as the sole superpower and NATO as an unquestionable military alliance. While Russia still remained a potent power, with a powerful nuclear arsenal at its disposal, even an untrained observer knew
Putin has been widely criticised for this and one cannot help but wonder if Russia’s actions in Crimea and now its intentions towards Ukraine are in the larger picture actually aimed at bringing back the Russian supremacy of old, reminding the international community of what the Russians are capable off and showing the United States that they alone cannot intervene, unquestionably. 

Is what Russia doing however acceptable by any means? While most will quote the 96% Majority Referendum, was it actually fair? Think for a Minute, There is a puppet government in Crimea that seized power almost literally at gunpoint and is run by a party that won 4% of the vote at the last election. The streets are filled with menacing militia given arms but no training, supported by a variety of lethal-looking paramilitary groups and thousands of Russian soldiers Add to that the closure of critical television channels, the beating of a few journalists, the intimidation of opposition activists, the lies about “provocations”, and you get some of the backdrop to Crimea’s vote
With large brigades of the Russian Army deployed along the Russia-Ukraine border, Russia’s intent to invade southern Ukraine is all but certain. Given the presence of the huge Tartar population in the region, It is almost certain that Ukraine will not yield.
The NATO has taken its first step in the matter, by asking Ukraine to host the NATO war games. This action of the World’s strongest Military Alliance shows that it will not sit by and watch quietly as Russia continues it actions and has clearly picked a side in the conflict. India has openly advocated its support for its age-old ally and while the Chinese stance has remained ambiguous and remained pro-Russian at times, It will always remain anti-US and by extension anti-NATO  
The coming months may see Ukraine as a battlefield which could see active engagement of two of the most powerful military powers in the world for the first time this century. Is this something the International Community can deal with and come-back from? What will happen to more than half a century of the United Nations efforts for World Peace? How will this affect existing conflict-prone areas likes Iran and Syria where Russia and the United States already have differing views? Can diplomacy solve what may be the biggest and most engaging conflict of the 21st century yet? Or will the Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have to resort to armed conflict?

About The Author:-

Sanjit Ganguli
Symbiosis Law School, Pune.