Friday, October 22, 2004

Bollywood Always Betrays

What kind of film can we make that will attract the masses, yield entertainment and generate cash? Shall we go for the fusion experience? You know the one with a catchy chant-along-a-tune with a cross-cultural racial theme. While we are on this subject lets consider the average portrayal of a Sikh in a Bollywood movie. Often their images are linked to storylines that involve, hotel door staff, construction, transportation, military/police, alcohol, highly short-tempered, the object of humour and coarsely spoken Punjabi.Personally I can only remember one movie where a Sikh took a lead role. Interestingly, the family consisted of mixed Sikh and Hindu faiths. This representation seems to have a habit of repeating itself. Is Bollywood suggesting that this integration of Sikhs and Hindu’s is a norm? For example, movies feature the lead girl’s father with a turban but the offspring is Hindu and by the end, the relationship is religiously sanctified at a Hindu ceremony.

Critics may say that when watching Bollywood movies the viewer has to ‘buy’ into the surreal/melodramatic fantasy. I believe we need a perspective that shows who Sikhs really are. We need to ensure that historic references and storylines images are not distorted.Gaddar was clearly offensive.I will admit on sheer entertainment value Bollywood provides a mix of melodrama, action and romance. However, I am confident that there are audiences that wish to see a reflection and perspective on social reality. It would be great is Bollywood movies could respect the language and religious conviction of any religion it features.Currently, Bollywood movies certainly contain outside (foreign to India) shoots (footage). One minute you will find yourself in Glasgow, the next minute the lead girl will be standing within trip distance of Indian Ocean on a cliff edge in the Maldives. Let us also not forget the proceeding wedding reception dance with Sikhs Dholling the night away behind the lead actor. For the final scene you will find the happy couple dancing on the snowcaps of a Swiss mountaintop. The scenery may have changed but the old formula seems to stay the same. We need a change but I am afraid too many people continue to endorse the industry. We need to stand-up and complain against the violence, poor treatment of servants, portrayal of caste, the image of subdued women, inter-Indian racism and very negative discriminatory humour against the disabled. What an embarrassing list!

How can we do this? Firstly, idolising actors must stop. Secondly, let us support short movies and social movies that show talents of great filmmakers. As Sikhs we also have a role to play to develop our own documentaries, short-films, animation and stories. We should also feature international communities (see Mistaken Identity). I am sure we have the money, just look at what we can build! I believe we need a greater presence and feature in the media to educate who we are. We have a great religion and we have the financial power to fund worthy movies. Remember if it was not for Sikhs we would have all be ethnically cleansed and the ‘free India’ movement just would not have happened.Next time you watch a Hindi movie and see the poor portrayal of a Sikh ask the question, ‘Why is this happening?’ then shout aloud ‘Get real’! Let us unite fuel and make movies with stories that show who we really are not what Bollywood wants us to be.

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Finding Peace

Recently on BBC (UK) Radio 4 I heard an Israeli spokesperson repeatedly justified his country’s claim to defend itself against Hamas. Hamas is not an abbreviation but a nickname. It comes from the Arabic word for 'zeal'. The full name, Harakatu l-Mujawamati Islamiya, translates into English as the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, from a branch that was active in Gaza with religious, social and educational work. Gaza is a city in Palestine with 600,000 inhabitants (2003 estimate), situated on the Mediterranean Sea. The economical base of Gaza are workers living in the city while working in Israel, though this has been made more difficult due to new Israeli regulations. Local sources of income are small industries, crafts, and food processing and fishing. Gaza is the main city on the Gaza Strip and at present hosts the headquarters of the Palestine National Authority. The Hamas can also be described as a radical Islamic organisation that became active in the early stages of the Intifada – i.e: the uprising in the Palestinian occupied territories from 1987 to 1993, in protest against the Israeli occupation and politics. The Intifada involved demonstrations, strikes, riots and violence, and was performed both in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank. What made the Intifada stand out from earlier and later forms of protests was its broadness, the wide support, duration and the involvement and organisation by Islamist groups. There were three principal groups behind the Intifada: the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Hamas (founded in 1988) and Jihadu l-Islamiyy. Hamas and Jihadu l-Islamiyy were both calling for a state in the entire former Palestine. The Hamas operate primarily in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank. They are described as playing a major role in violent fundamentalist subversion and radical terrorist operations against both Israelis and Arabs.

The news 50 another dead in the Gaza strip, with under half being civilians will continue to shock the world. The deaths were the result of Israeli forces admitting their attempts to flush out terrorists. The Israeli spokesperson on Radio 4 accused the terrorists of hiding behind civilians. He justified the Israeli attack by suggesting that it was in self-defence.

There is trouble and responsibility on both sides. Suicide bombings and rocket attacks continue to darken our news. We all appear to be watching from a rally sideline in a hope that a roadmap for peace can lead all sides to a brighter and peaceful co-existent horizon. However, who is holding the map and the essential torchlight? Where are the navigators? When will the race of self-destruction stop?

On my way to the office, I wondered how oblivious to the problems of our world we all are. We all want to get our bus or train on time and then return to our safe houses and controlled media. None of us appears to have the time or energy to push for solutions. It is as if we are cocooned in our goldfish bowls. If we are all living a so-called cushioned existence will there ever be a time when we can pull ourselves out? Unless both sides can see each other’s perspectives, it will be a long time before we can reach a nirvana of peace. Then I had an idea. What if we got the leaders of both sides together but this time change the context of their situation. For example: bring together victims and leaders (violent and peaceful ones). For example: fathers and mothers could ask for those present to realise the implication of their current strategies. Collectively they could achieve local peace zones. This concept would reply on compassion, forgiveness and the desire to accept that violence from vengeance is not resolving the issues at hand. Lets try to achieve common ground and solutions not through violence but through the communication of conscience.

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What is fair trade?

On Friday 24 September the Fair-trade Foundation won the Charity of the Year award at the Fifth Annual UK Charity Awards ceremony. This year's winners included stories of personal courage and dedication in every field of not-for-profit endeavour.

The Fair-trade Foundation is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary reaching 5 million farmers and their families across 48 countries. Set-up in the early 1990s, the first product with the FAIRTRADE Mark appeared on supermarket shelves in 1994. There are now 300 Fair-trade products in product categories that include coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, snacks and biscuits, sugar, honey, fruit juice and fresh fruit. According to the latest MORI poll conducted in March 2005, 39 per cent of the UK public now recognise the FAIRTRADE Mark and sales, which are expected to exceed £100m for 2004, increasing by 50 per cent year on year.

What exactly is Fair trade? One definition suggests that it, ‘improves lives through fair wages, long term partnerships, environmental stewardship, democratic decision making and cultural connections’. Fair trade is a growing, international movement that can help to ensure that producers in poor countries get a fair deal. This means a fair price for their goods, covering the cost of production, guaranteeing a living income, establishing long-term contracts (which provide real security) and for many, support to gain the knowledge and skills that they need to develop their businesses and increase sales.

The ethics sound great and sincere. There is certainly more we can do. For example, it gives consumers like us an opportunity to use our purchasing power to tilt the balance, however slightly, in favour of the poor. However, Fair Trade cannot solely address the crisis faced by millions of small-scale farmers and producers whose livelihoods are threatened by low commodity prices and unfair competition from rich countries. This can only be achieved by changing unfair rules of world trade so that they work for small-scale producers and rich multinationals.

I once wrote about the unfairness of workers based in greenhouses (producing low UK supermarket flower bouquets) in Africa that have no access to health safety, yet consumers want to pay a low price. There appears to be no sacrifice or compromise amongst richer nations to help developing economies. It is as if we are all conditioned to ‘fight’ for low inflation and high debt, instead of balancing the needs of world communities. We need to ask our parliaments: why is there a reluctance by world banks to free debt from developing countries yet endorse purchasing of arms?

To encourage fair-trade at your supermarket do not be afraid to voice your opinion on the non-availability of fair trade products. If you cannot locate any on the shelves leave a comment in a comments box or book, and/or speak to a manager. Be specific about what you want, and let them know you shop there regularly.Visit: to discover fair trade products. Remember, you have the power to help others.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

2005 will be 20 years since Band Aid

Twenty years on from the 1984 famine, chronic poverty is still widespread in Ethiopia and will continue to rob children of their future unless donations help to commit to more long-term aid that invests in development. This is the vivid message from the charity, Save the Children. Ethiopia may have changed in the last 20 years. However, it still has a multitude of problems. Today Millions are worse off and even more vulnerable. Four million people every year remain dependent on food aid. Almost half the children in Ethiopia never go to school. Many die from illnesses related to malnutrition before their fifth birthday and those who survive have few opportunities for earning a living.

During Xmas 1985 record sales of ‘Do they know its Christmas’ achieved 50million worldwide copies sold, the Band aid charity helped to spawn £90million for Ethiopia and saved up to 2million lives. However, today the risk of failing rains and growth of aids sufferers (including over 1Million-orphaned children) still pose a threat to continued progress. Let us also not forget that the Ethiopia’s government is still £6.5Billion in dept.

Solutions are in front of us but limited actions result. Countries and the World Bank could free their (Ethiopia’s) debt situation. Governments keen to continue shipments in arms should halt this type of trade immediately. I believe that the old adage about ‘teaching a person to fish’ is extremely patronising – The situation is not as obvious as clearly in some countries variable climates impact their economies. Therefore, alternative economies have to be developed.

Charles Darwin wrote, ‘If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.’ The implication here is one of corporate responsibility. Its great to see the Voluntary Services Organisation (VSO) offering opportunities for secondments however, little is done by multi-nationals to encourage similar corporate schemes. Even if corporations cannot spare their workers, I believe there is still a level of responsibility for corporations to negotiate fairness in their global pricing strategies. This area of fair trade is a related subject, compounding the negative situation. Corporate greed unfortunately results in self-perpetuating selfishness.

Maybe an immediate action point to help is for all of us to work towards reading and learning more about the in-balance of the distribution of global wealth. We have enough food to feed the world (approx 5Billion people) five times over. We must accept recycling strategies and at the same time write to our MP’s to point out the in-justice of current world economics and the benefits or harmonising our natural resources.

When you wake up each morning, think about what you can do to help someone survive until midnight.

Read more – consider yourself as a global player or citizen not inclusive to your country
Understand the concepts of Fair trade – what products are available and who can they benefit – then swap your traditional products to fair trade items. For example, think twice about what you’re buying at Supermarket.

Recycle more – to reduce greenhouse emissions and wastage. Researchers suggest that this could help the turbulent climate change we are now witnessing.

Write to your MP to help them prioritise the government’s agenda – for example raise the issue of arms sales – remember you voted for them so you need to make them accountable.

Write to your MEP (European) to understand what the EC are doing in terms of global initiatives.
Learn more about existing UN schemes and if you have children, suggest to them what they can do to help at local charity events.

Don’t think twice about contributing to campaigns, consider the impact they make and GIVE.Finally, miss out on a night out; instead contribute to a world cause.

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