Kashmir; Why the Oppressed People are the World’s Shame.

Pakistan and India are two nations that have always been a great source of international news coverage, be if for terrorist-related issues, cricketing-related controversies or for being developing economies eaten up by Western capitalists. Whatever is currently going on around the World, the Indian-Subcontinent’s issues are never far from the writer’s pen and are the proverbial gold mine in the quest to fill column inches.

As a quick Google news search will verify, dramatic recent occurrences that have been the brunt of global focus include the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the Indus Valley floods, Cricket match-fixing claims and the Mumbai killings. What tends to be so conspicuously absent from most major news publications, unless one undertakes a detailed search, is the alarming atrocities that is taking place under both nation’s domineering governship. The people of Kashmir are an afterthought in the eyes of the western world and unlike equally oppressed peoples in nations such as Afghanistan, Libya and Southern Sudan there doesn’t appear to be an intervening resolution in sight. No “White” Knight appears to be riding to the rescue of the Kashmiri’s, pun intended.

So why is the Western World so ignorant to the plight of the people of Kashmir and what hardships are those courageous and inspiring people undergoing on a daily basis in the world’s longest ongoing conflict? To understand the present situation, one must analysis the historical basis from which death, displacement and despair has become a regular occurrence in everyday Kashmiri life. As with much of the world’s current flashpoints, the ongoing Kashmir conflict originated in the aftermath of the colonial break up of the British Empire and the aftermath of World War II.

With an infamous and ultimately successful non-violent campaign for independence from the British Raj, Mohandas Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawarharhal Nehru’s dream became a reality in 1947 as the occupied nation was split along religious lines and freed from British involvement. What followed was mass migration amongst the nations people as they moved from their ancestral homelands to areas more suited to their religious beliefs, the escape from possible religious persecution and intolerance the reason. The Muslim dominated west and east of the state became the Dominion of Pakistan (West and East sections) whilst the Hindu and Sikh populated middle section became the Union of India. Whilst not universally popular due to the displacement and even separation of some tribes the move was accepted by the vast majority and both nations began the growth into two distinct nations.

One issue that was not resolved by the Indian Act of Independence 1947 and has yet to be resolved in the present day is the Kashmir solution. Who has control and who does it belong to? An unanswered and unresolved dilemma 60 years has led to a lifetime of strife and struggle for generations of Kashmiri’s for whom noone seems willing to help. After the British left India in 1947 they gave up suzerainty of the many “princely states” of the region upon which they were expected to join either of the new nations or remain de facto independent. The issue of Kashmir was made more difficult by the religions of the region. In general Pakistan was created as a Islamic Republic and with the vast majority of Kashmiri’s being Muslim it was expected to annex to the new Dominion. Sceptical and worried about what would become of his nation, the ruler, the Maharaja Hari Singh signed an “Instrument of Accession” to accede his state to India on the primary condition that it retains its own constitution, autonomy and would be allowed a referendum for the people of Kashmir to determine their own future. Being a Hindu himself, the Maharaja no doubt believe that safeguarding his country in the short term against Islamic revolutionaries for long term stability was the preferred option but once the nation came under Indian jurisdiction they didn’t wish to let go. And so started the oppression of the luckless people.

To this day Pakistan and India have differing views on the status of Kashmir, both of which has left the people themselves as the victims of barbaric human rights abuses. India resolutely believes that Kashmir is an integral part of the nation as verified in the 1947 Act if Indian Independence and confirmed when Hara Singh signed the accession act, regardless of the Maharaj’s request to hold a referendum. To this end they refused to negotiate any compromises and demands that Pakistan withdraw all support and military with immediate effect to integrate the region fully into the Union of India, regardless of the people’s wishes. Pakistan naturally take the opposing view from their neighbours and although intrinsically adhering to the belief that as a muslim-majority state Kashmir should have been a part of Pakistan from partition they have at least agreed to support a referendum for the people. The Islamic Republic also rejects the actions of the Maharaj by stating he only agreed the act under duress and the popular and ongoing Kashmiri insurgency clearly displays the will of the people against Indian occupation. Essentially India believes it has full sovereignty over the region whilst Pakistan acknowledges the area as a disputed territory. With no agreement over 60 years and outside intervention slow in coming due no doubt to the nuclear capabilities of both nations, it has left the Kashmiri people susceptible to human rights infringements in particular on the Indian side.

A United Nations report states that there have been approximately 1.5 MILLION Kashmiri Muslim refugees who have left Indian-occupied territory to seek refuge in Pakistan itself and Pakistani-Kashmir, escaping persecution both perceived and real. The main bone of contention surrounds the actions of the Indian Armed Forces and their affiliated paramilitary groups who regularly swamp the towns and villages and commit murder, kidnap and rape amongst the inhabitants. Indeed, some studies amongst Kashmiri’s state that 64% of people hold the IAF responsible for human rights abuses. Numerous reports display alarming figures. In the last decade of the 20th century, it was reported that there were 4,501 civilian deaths in Kashmir and in the same period of 1990-99 there was the despicable figure of 4,242 rapes committed on women aged 7-70. The figures tally with Medicins sans Frontiere’s claims in a 2005 study that the women of Kashmir are also amongst the highest victims of sexual abuse, with 11.6% of those studied conceding they were victims of violation.

Despite being roundly condemned in particular by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, there doesn’t appear to be any change in sight and new cases appear regularly. The Public Safety Act is the latest condition that is causing concern along with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The PSA grants the forces the power to detain any person or persons “in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order”. The act has led to estimates of up to 20,000 men, women and children being detained and imprisoned without charge and in some cases on dubious reasoning. The Armed Forces SPA is also another implementation of the Indian Government that is designed to bring upheaval and distress to the lives of the Kashmiri citizen, the act empowering the forces to adopt the ever-controversial “Shoot to Kill” policy and to destroy or occupy any property they wish with dubious reasoning. An infamous episode occurred in 1996 which drew the ire of Amnesty International when Armed Forces personnel forceably entered the residence of a Kashmiri woman and raped her four teenage daughters in an all too familiar scene. Whilst in Pakistani Kashmir the situation is not as dire or desperate there is also instances of religious intolerance for non-sunni Muslims as well as the worrying and alleged presence of Al-Qaeda cells in the area inciting fundamentalist teachings.

Whilst this multinational tug of war continues with no end in sight (China also posseses a small part of Kashmir as well) what about the people? What is that they want? Depending on the source that you get your information from you will read a triumvirate of opinions. There are those that favour joining Pakistan, there are those that favour joining India and then there are those who favour independence. The only thing that varies between each report, study and poll is the percentages. Another google search using the terms “Kashmir independence” provides examples, one Reuters result stating that as many as 87% of people in the region support independence over an allegience to either side. With the Insurgency and battle for freedom (from India at least) amongst the muslim-majority it would seem to be the favoured option for peace and stability in the area but without intervention Pakistan and India will not budge. Indeed India will not even consider discussing the issue wit any foreign powers as it feels a 1970’s agreement with Pakistan has ensure the issue can only be discussed amongst each other and ensuring the military might of the United States does not impose itself into the argument. For all the condemnation of the human rights abuses taking place throughout the Kashmir valley is appears the people have no one to turn to and their continuous struggle will continue for the near future. A nation of people left to rot? It’s the world’s hidden shame in one of nature’s most beautiful surroundings.

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Save Brynaman Lido and Stop Our Past Being Eroded Away

Isn’t it a curious footnote of the current capitalist era that we live in that whilst new businesses and stores open continuously around us with huge fanfare, the staples of our childhoods are quietly eroded away.

A simple walk through any unnamed town will reinforce this point. National, and in some cases multinational, organisations are everywhere to be seen whilst small, privately-owned businesses or services remain on the ropes and attempting to avoid the knock-out blow. Many a local cinema, video shop or petrol station has succumbed to the likes of Odeon, Blockbuster and Tesco’s as the people we buy our products from move from friendly locals to faceless, corporate robots.

With the summer now at an end and the school holidays over, the shocking decision to keep Brynaman Lido closed for the duration of the holiday’s has sparked controversy in the area. Located deep in the heart of the South Welsh valley’s a stones throw away from the Brecon Beacon National Park, the “baths” now remains as Wales’ last outdoor pool (a Lido) and has become a popular icon in the locality.

Opened on 11th August 1934, the pool has kept school children entertained almost every summer since. Complete with a snack shop and lifeguards, the river-filled basin has served many generations since its creation. Primarily an important factor in its ongoing popularity was the fact the Lido was built and paid for by the sizeable local Mining communities who also provided the labour themselves. Built by the residents, for the residents.

The 2010 summer season was expected, as has been the case traditionally, to run as normal. The plan was spectacularly skewered by Carmarthenshire County Council’s decision to close the landmark due to the £20,000 cost to bring the site up to standards after what they state has been a rough winter. Although the sum is fairly sizeable, it is still a meagre sum for such an important place for the citizens of the county when funds are freely leaked through a myriad of government policies. The hard-working as well as unfunded volunteer organisation The Brynaman Swimming Pool Association even offered to part fund the repairs but this was rejected. To further infuriate members of the BSPA and others, the council have now stated the estimated repair costs would be £100,000, a 5x rise on the original statement.

The council has been aware for some time of the issues surrounding the need to implement some repairs and maintenance to the Lido yet have inexplicably delayed all action until it was too late to salvage the pool for the summer. Jackie Bird of the BSPA as well as local MP Jonathon Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas feel the council should have made the situation public earlier to allow other avenues of funding to be attained. It was reported by Watchdog that Carmarthenshire County Council wasted the staggering sum of £12,328 in 2009/10, with the consensus that the money would have been better used to maintain one of its constituent’s historic tourist destinations. Critics of the council’s decision have also pointed towards the face that £138,000 was spent for the bi-monthly “Community News” publication, barely read by the community is was created to serve. The council have also publicised via the Community News paper in June that they have pledged £9m for regeneration within the county, from which seemingly £20,000 would be a minuscule donation.

Whilst the debate between the council and users of the pool intensed, Hollywood has even entered the fray. With new production “Hunky Dory” wishing to shoot with at the baths before being turned away by the Council then finally allowed to shoot at the 11th hour, Minnie Driver posted a message on Twitter of the need to save the pool which has served to publicise the plight of the pool. Uploaded on August 19th, Ms Driver stated “we are on a mission to save the last Lido in Wales! Its in Bryn Amman and it is FANTASTIC. Need to raise $ as the council would rather…build car parks than preserve it”.

Whether one feels the council is in the right or the wrong on this issue, the tragic decline of yet another local historical landmark is yet another long list of similar scenario’s across the nation. When are the leaders of this nothing put an end to this continuing rot and stop selling off or destroying our past in the pursuit of the pound. As much I would like to see something change, unfortunately in this new god forsaken world, the big corporations will always beat out little man.

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Facebook and Social Ignorance

Facebook is a wonderful site, easily the biggest and most popular networking site on the globe. I should know, being just one addicted disciple of the website’s estimated 200million users. Primarily used to keep in contact with long lost loved ones, to chat and interact with friends or even to play games, the site has quickly grown to unimaginable levels and rendering college student creator Mark Zuckerberg a multi-millionaire many times over.

A new phenomenon has begun to rear its head lately however, one that has been getting greater amounts of mainstream media attention. The Facebook campaign. With its scores of users all in one place, people power has finally found a suitable forum on which to flex its considerable muscle, particularly taking full advantage of the sites ‘group’ section.

Whilst most of the groups are innocuous nonsense, sports related or personal in-jokes between friends, a greater number than ever before are political in nature and campaigning for or against certain objects, people or policies. A famous example of such power being executed was the re-introduction of the ‘Wispa’ chocolate bar into UK circulation a decade after declining sales caused its withdrawal. Cadbury’s stated that the unprecedented demand in a ‘Bring the Wispa back’ group was a valid enough reason for the move, instant sales suggesting the move was an inspired one.

Lately however more and more groups have come into the public consciousness for more nefarious reasons. There has already been protesting in the United States against Holocaust denial groups full of neo-nazi’s and Italy recently saw motions put forward in the parliament concerning pro-mafioso groups. The UK has not escaped this trend either, with a wide range of discriminatory groups full of hateful and in many cases illegal comments being shared. Despite Facebook claiming they have stringent laws against offensive groups, the fact remains the sheer numbers of users defeats them and the self-reporting tool is ineffective.

A quick search will bring up, in some cases, hundreds of results. Homosexuals are a popular target for no discernable reason with users spouting off endless insults, who when challenged admit they have never met a gay person yet still claim to hate them. The growing rise of the far right can also be attributed to its fanbase on Facebook, a breeding ground for racial discrimination. The far-right have always existed in the UK but have spent the majority of their time underground so to speak, away from the public eye and very hard for the random man on the street to get involved unless they are a thug, football hooligan or a jailbird. What Facebook has essentially done is bring Far-right politics and its controversial messages directly to the homes of susceptible people who otherwise would never be infiltrated with the vile messages of the fascist organizations.

A fine example of a group growing exponentially thanks to this new form of direct marketing is the English Defence League, who have powered into public consciousness in the last twelve months thanks to their public protests and subsequent crowd trouble at inner city demonstrations. What would have previously been a private, secretive group mindful of outsiders is now plastered across Facebook, using ‘groups’ and ‘events’ to directly recruit members. Many other groups have become breeding grounds for online racial warfare between various races attacking others, each lie and myth spreading around the country like an extreme game of Chinese whispers and become fact in the eyes of an ignorant, uneducated generation that can only foster further hate and division in the community.

A greater worry is the camaraderie that is being built up on these groups of hate, contacts and friendships being created between like-minded people amazed to find an outlet for their controversial and previously shunned opinions. I’ll end with a word of warning which Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, stated to the Telegraph on April 23rd, 2009; “Websites like Facebook have unfortunately allowed people to come together in one space and say ‘there are people out there like me’. That is something that worries me greatly. For all the good social network sites do, they also allow people to express prejudice that in a civilized society should be kept under lock and key”. Well said Sir.

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Capitalism: Good For The Human Race?

Capitalism – Survival of the fittest or simply the root of all evil? I have recently spent a lot of time reading and studying certain historical figures and their political leanings, which combined with my own natural inclinations have recently forced me to see the world in a new light, and question the practices of certain governments.

Growing up in the UK, a country which has been heavily influenced by its ‘special relationship’ with the United States, capitalism and its dog-eat-dog nature is all around us. We laud and praise professional persons who have risen to the top in their chosen fields, whilst bemoaning the working class folk as idle, not possessing the drive and will, the ambition to better themselves and become a success.

We can walk down the local high street and see large national conglomerates dominating the buildings, companies such as Specsavers and Tesco’s a constant sight. Every town centre is now beginning to resemble each other and if we refuse to cooperate, we get left behind. Capitalist Globalization seems to be stronger than ever.

Whilst it can’t be disputed that this ideology is what has made the USA the most powerful and richest nation in the world, is this ‘American Dream’ scenario actually an irresponsible creation that is contributing to the overall downfall of the majority of the human race. An implementation that is to the benefit of the minority, yet overwhelmingly a stifling disaster for the majority.

Let me expand. Those in support of this imperialistic view can argue a man makes himself, and deserves the success he achieves through hard work and sheer determination. I would agree with this, yet why can’t the same be applied to help each other achieve success to create a more successful and prosperous community as opposed to an ‘every man for himself’ scenario.

Due to external factors, not every man has the opportunity to better themselves regardless of will or ambition. Social classes are tend to be rigid and capitalism reinforces this, evidenced by the great dearth of rags-to-riches stories. The myth is that a capitalist economy ensures the cream of men rises to the top (and in isolated situations this is true I.e. Richard Branson) however this economy more often than not simply perpetrates the well used cliché of making the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

Capitalism is not a policy I consider patriotic or humanist. It can be argued it is a success because America and to a certain extent Britain are dominate the world in financial and gross national product terms. But if this economy is such a success why is the world in general awash with poverty. Why do children go days without food. A whole continent can starve whilst a couple of directors in New York could easily solve this crisis. Dog-eat-dog, forget about everyone else. It is a tragic philosophy. Even in nations such as the UK and the USA, a large percentage of the population, including a growing number of elderly pensioners, survive around or below the poverty line. These people are unable to alter their social status and surroundings to better themselves, a perpetual struggle to no avail.

Capitalism has created a society full of selfishness and greed with no concern for your fellow man. Why help the man next to you when you can trample all over him, take his money and elevate your own position by exploiting that same person.

As a passionate patriot who believes in his country (Wales by the way!) over personal progression, a true socialist state must be implemented before capitalism reaches the zenith of its growth and leads to a global financial crisis we cannot recover from.

The anti-socialists amongst you will cockily point to such failed or allegedly troubled socialist states as Cuba or the former Soviet Union, yet it is a fact that Cuba’s health system is in a greater state than the ‘flawless’ United States, where if you cannot afford health insurance, something a vast amount of citizens can’t, even major injuries can consequently be hard to treat.

The greatest 20th century implementation in the United Kingdom was the establishment of the National Health Service, a creation based on socialist principles. Treatment is equal to all regardless of social status. A person claiming benefits can get the same treatment a millionaire businessman can, a system that is the envy of the world. America’s for-profit non-universal system is self-defeating, to exclude your own citizens from care is barbaric, you wonder why these same people are so patriotic in a country designed to exploit them and part them from their money. Michael Moore, the Hollywood documentary director, mentions in his infamous Sicko film there are over 50m American’s unable to get treatment as they cannot afford Insurance.

The success of the British NHS service should surely lead to the country implement more socialist-based state run systems to the greater benefit of its citizens. The train industry for example, since going privately-owned has deteriorated greatly and needs to be sorted out before it becomes inadequate, especially as public transport needs to gain greater demand to solve the pollution issues mass-car use is causing.

There are too many people struggling to get by, unemployment levels are at record highs, debt is rising, wages are too low for a vast majority to survive on and people are thus being overworked to fill the gap. The power of a capitalist economy, Wall Street et al, has directly contributed to the current economic recession that has put an even greater strain on the long-suffering and exploited working class. An abolishment of capitalism would lead to the abolishment of the ruling upper classes who create the circumstances the majority of the population must live in. A millionaire bank manager or a major director can alter the markets to take full advantage of the majority of the working class, filling their pockets whilst emptying others.

It is time for countries to start taking care of its citizens, and to end capitalism to help the world’s suffering. 2% of the worlds population could eradicate the other 98%’s suffering. Socialism is the only way of putting everyone back on an even keel. Socialism is an humanitarian movement, helping yourself to help your fellow countrymen, offering equality for all. In these uncertain times we must help each other not oppress each other to get ahead. The American Dream? Tell that to the hundred million Americans living in ghetto-conditions trying to put a meal on the table. More like the American Nightmare.

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