Sunday, January 30, 2005

Free Parking

One of the terms or adjectives that I’m personally uncomfortable with is the word ‘disabled’. Instead, maybe the term should be replaced with the phrase ‘differently abled’. The courage and determination of ‘differently abled’ athletes has to be admired – that latter statement alone could be deemed to be patronising but it is not meant to be. For example, in the field of road racing, adapting equipment such as wheelchairs, exhaustive training and getting used to a range of different terrains is where the challenge starts.

The other day I was visiting the Gurdwara. I’d parked my car and was proceeding to the entrance. I was impressed by the disabled parking zones that have been set-up close to the entrance. However, I noticed a car quickly ‘pull in’ and park in one of these spaces. For some reason I had a suspicion that the person who had just parked in the zone had ignored the disabled markings of the space, albeit faded. I walked past the space and checked for a disabled badge / timer card - for what do I know, maybe there were issues that I was unaware of with the family. I searched the dashboard but was unable to locate one. Then, in a manner that I considered friendly, I jogged up to the driver and his family as he approached the entrance of the Gurdwara and asked him if he was aware that he had just parked in a space that really was reserved for the disabled. His reply was swift and nonchalant, ‘don’t worry I’ll only be 5 minutes’. I then suggested that in this case time was irrelevant and that he should consider the needs of those that would find difficulty in walking or unloading their wheelchairs. He repeated his reasoning and then suggested that there were never/no spaces in the back.

At this point I felt a sense of frustration settling in. With careful restraint I repeated my point. As we walked in parallel and then turned to entered the Gurdwara he asked me what my problem was. He repeated these words but as he uttered them his hand proceeded to gentle push against my chest. I warned him not to touch me.

After five minutes had passed, the illegal parker walked past me. I rather daringly looked at my watch and then with a gaze and a smirk said, ‘your five minutes have past’!

Over the next few minutes I tried to find a member of the Gurdwara management and when I found someone who vaguely looked like he may be on duty I asked him about the official policy. Interestingly, the illegal parker was lurking in the background. I asked the apparent official about the whereabouts of any car patrol, the policy on parking on a disabled space and what I should do. Unfortunately the answer was not what I was expecting. Instead I was embarrassed on two counts. Firstly by the official’s declaration that the car park is on private land and that no official motor rules apply but mainly because of the illegal parker comments – he basically approached me and became rude and abusive suggesting that the Gurdwara had blackened my face.Isn’t hindsight great! I wondered if I should have bothered, not been such a ‘moaning-mini’ and really found a cause worth fighting for. After all, its not like there was anyone waiting for the space. I had nothing personally against the illegal parker but maybe he thought that I did.

Maybe I should have approached the right official or written a letter.Although the result was not what I expected, I believed it was important to take a stand. Writing a letter and take a suggestive approach could also help. My stand is against those who disrespect the need to help people and abuse facilities that have been set-up to help those that have different needs. In recent years too few laws have been passed to provide greater access for differently abled people. Instead what continues is the misuse of disabled parking badges and restricted access to buildings and shopping facilities.The day entered in some irony. In the evening I decided to ‘head’ for the gym to vent some anguish, a result of the situation. Upon leaving the gym I noticed a car in the gym car park that had parked in a disabled space. A single bright yellow wheel lock was firmly positioned on one of its rear wheels!

Read more!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Throwing insults is different to ‘freedom of speech’

The word ‘Blasphemy’ comes from a combination of the Greek words, blaptein meaning ‘to injure’ and pheme meaning ‘reputation’, The Catholic Encyclopaedia defines ‘blasphemy’ as ‘gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem.’ Thus, when anybody mocks the Catholic religion, he or she is blaspheming against God Himself. Any attempt to deface any world religion does not deem itself to be within the context of the right to ‘freedom of speech’. An insult is an insult, in any language. In late December 2004 the Catholic church succeeded in achieving the removal of advertisements for the morning after pill as the strap line used was clearly blasphemous. The writer of the play, Behzti, or Dishonor has clearly committed an irreverent act, i.e: By basing her play on questionable themes within an apparent backdrop of Sikh Temple, her actions should be considered inviolable or sacrosanct. The stubbornness of the Birmingham rep to defend the writer of the insightful play is based on a lack of understanding of key world themes of respect and understanding. ‘Behzti, or Dishonor is offensive to their religion’ - an opinion shared by a Roman Catholic archbishop who said the play ‘demeans the sacred place of every religion.
When I was 10 years old the child neighbours on my street rode around on bikes with plastic bags full of stones that they had collected from their gardens. As they rode past at speed throwing their stones at us, they coupled each aim with racist taunts. Were they defending their right to ride on their bikes? No, they were exercising their deliberate ignorance and lack of respect of their fellow human – born and bred in the same country but into a different religion.
How can we live together in a multi-cultural society where we learn the importance of interfaith understanding and peace when those that should be helping are counteracting the mutual respect that has been built-up over the years? We certainly do not wish to give racist based organisations such as the BNP any more arms. We certainly do not wish to return to the days of riots in Southall. Remember Blair Peach?

With regard to the violence that has occurred in Birmingham, the national press appeared to have forgotten that 5 preceding days of peace protest had already taken place outside of the Rep. The national press have also misappropriated the blame for the violence. Instead during week-commencing 20th December, the national press had resorted to providing unfair coverage for theatre critics and misrepresenting Sikh organisations.
There also appears to be confusion as to what level of dialogue has taken place to calm and reassure all sides. Instead we see rival theatre groups misunderstanding the situation and both provoking and confusing the issue.

Having viewed some of the script I believe that the scenes proposed to be depicted are in violation of any sense of decency. You cannot have a scene based on a religious hymn / shabad being recited in a Sikh Temple post an act of indecency. This is clearly offensive!The Sikh community for hundreds of years have lead anti-ethnic cleansing and the freedom of religion and people. Sikhs have always fought for the defenceless.

Recently the author has claimed that her play has been ‘taken out of context’. If we stop for a second and consider the context, there is no doubt that it is clearly disrespectful to a place of worship.

Let us work together with the writer to understand her issues and engage with her intellect to make her understand that an insult is not art. Respect for God should be in everyone’s eyes and is paramount.

Read more!

Turning our current will into a sustained way

The unimaginable has become a reality. People on holiday and everyday communities in South East Asia in one day have bore witness life-changing personal losses. The tsunami calamity has hit us all ‘hard’. The areas affected are vast and varied in terms of infrastructure, economies and development. What these communities all have in common from Sunday 26th December is the following:

- Death - Destruction
- Disorder - Distress
- Despair - Deprivation

The latter is now at stake. Communities are suffering a lack of clean water, medication, sanitation facilities and food. Access is constrained to many locations due to flooding and eradication of basic logistical infrastructure. The threat of disease is looming.

The number of deaths and missing people resultant from the tsunami calamity unfortunately continues to grow. The worldwide response has been unbelievable and its shows that such tragedies ‘touch’ our souls.

Unfortunately, on an odd occasion recent tongue in cheek comments made by the national press about countries competing for who has raised the most for the tsunami tragedy is inappropriate. Instead, we should be endorsing Bill Clinton’s suggestion of adopting countries. ‘It is really important that somebody take the lead in this’ he said. ‘I think one of the problems is when everybody takes responsibility it's almost like no-one's responsibility.’ A co-ordinated and consistent approach will ensure efficient use of funds to avoid effort duplication.
The bottom-line is what is needed today is a concerted effort that fuses money to immediate provision (corrective) and long-term recovery (re-generation programmes). We also need to develop programmes to manage conditions such as emotional after shocks, posttraumatic stress disorder, loss of personal confidence and loss of community spirit. Clearly, disparate countries spread across a vast ocean will require managed and sustained aid campaigns if death and disease is to be minimised.

I have a personal fear that media attention of this disaster will diminish over the coming weeks. At a time when there is an unfortunate distinction between the rich and poor nations, we should collectively keep-up the initiative and motivation to give. By the UK government committing £100M this could be translated into approximately £2 per person – as a suggestion, lets allocate the lottery tax (12% of lottery revenue), lottery funds together with an Inland Revenue tax allocation into a worldwide development fund.

To date worldwide $ ½ Billion has been raised, yet it is suggested that this amount needs to double to help the victims. In addition to this money is the need for physical support and effective leadership – channelling and assuring both corrective and preventative strategies. The United Nations have a part to play but effective approaches are needed – ones that require fast-track processes, operational expertise that is not too process dependant for today’s immediate priorities. In other words, business adjectives such as flexibility and agility need to be applied. There is always room for setting-up operational procedures later for long term (immediately after the instant needs are fulfilled) recovery programmes. More corporations need to become involved.

Leadership through a new regeneration committee could be one approach to co-ordinate and manage local schemes. As I have suggested before, we need to move on from the twin city/town concept that many councils have adopted. Rich countries can implement development / regeneration initiatives for poor countries on a local adoption basis - once immediate needs are managed and settled. A worldwide harmonisation/regeneration committee can bring together both commercial and charity expertise to mount a sustained global change for the better.

Read more!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Tsunami generated losses in the Nicobar Islands...

According to reports, Nicobar Island and Campbell Bay have suffered infrastructural damages with the water having entered the landing strip at Nicobar Island. An estimated 10000 people are dead, missing or seriously injured. The fate of approximately 2,000 families of Sikh ex-servicemen from Punjab and Haryana, living in Campbell Bay, or Mini Punjab as it is popularly known, on the southernmost island of Nicobar is uncertain even as Navy and Coast Guard personnel continue rescue and relief operations.

Spread over a 1,500 square kilometer area, Campbell Bay is home to ex-servicemen who were settled there in the 1970s by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to protect the island from illegal poachers and to ostensibly maintain an Indian presence on the island. Accordingly, the government gave 10 acres to every ex-serviceman who was settled in Campbell Bay and money to buy tractor and other equipment for agriculture. In a few years’ time, the farming folk had established a Gurdwara on the island.

In terms of the status of survival of tribes of these islands, The Times (UK) on 31st December reported that groups of rare aboriginal tribes already near the edge of extinction in the Andaman and Nicobar islands survived the massive tsunami (stated by the coast guard).

Five tribes numbering 989 people were safe after Sunday's onslaught, including the 100-member Onge, 250 of the fiercely independent Sentinelese, 39 of the almost extinct Andamanese, 350 of the Jarawa and 250 of the hunter-gatherer Shompen. The origins of the endangered Andaman tribes, today only about 12 per cent of the overall population of some 350,000, still mystify anthropologists. Genetic evidence suggests the pygmy-like people with dark skin and tightly curled hair have lived on the Andamans for at least 60,000 years.They were located by helicopter and some were reached by boat and provided with supplies and medical treatment, director-general of the Coast Guard, Arun Kumar Singh, said.

Interestingly, the first person to establish contact with the Jarwa tribe inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was a Sikh; Bakhtawar Singh had great relations with the Jarwas and could speak their language. For many years he was the only contact between the administration and the Jarawa tribe. The contribution of the Sikh women to the island’s development was no less. An official has fond memories of a Sikh lady, an assistant engineer (electrical), who would climb electric poles and repair faults.

Let us all hope that many of the inhabitants of these islands made it to a higher elevation to avoid the turmoil the tsunami has brought.

Read more!

Our Backs to the future

As 2004 fades and a New Year starts we have an opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the last 12 months. A period where W has been returned to power, the Olympics have taken place and many a new song has arrived that we can hum to for an instance.
W’s election result suggested a 50:50 divide on opinion and approach to US and world stage policies and direction. The 2004 Olympics did yield a sense of worldly togetherness although their backdrop and departing legacies have become increasingly commercialised.

Let us also not forget those ‘unfortunates’ that have spent yet more time in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh. They are ‘unfortunates’ because today laws are being interpreted and adapted to restrain public or formal hearings. We need an opportunity to reveal the truth behind these cases.

Survivors of human rights abuses in Darfur are being denied justice while perpetrators remain free. Unfair emergency laws, which oppress the victims, must end and a system of justice rebuilt to establish peace in Sudan. This requires trust and partnership between supporting agencies and the Sudanese government. The United Nations must demonstrate the power to facilitate a solution.

As the violence in Iraq continues, there is hope for elections in early Jan’05. However, child mortality is still an issue of concern. Even before the current conflict began, many children were malnourished and one in eight died before the age of five.

Twenty years on, the Bhopal plant continues to ruin the lives of the surrounding communities. The effects of the leak and the contaminated environment continue seriously to affect people's basic human rights.

Twenty years on, there is still no justice for the Sikhs that were murdered in Delhi and throughout India, due to instigated communal violence. Instead known suspects have been promoted!

Despite the near universal embrace of standards for protecting childhood, a new UNICEF report shows that more than half the world’s children are suffering extreme deprivations from poverty, war and HIV/AIDS, conditions that are effectively denying children a childhood and holding back the development of nations. Richer nations can help by reducing crucifying debt situations.

There are many negatives but every year we start with optimism. This optimism is usually self-centred around New Year’s resolutions. What we forget is that what we have left behind will still be with us in the future unless we unite and in choose a cause. A cause that allows each of us to make a difference. This can be done by selecting a charity or working with your own locally based voluntary organisation.

It starts from our own attitude to life, to give selflessly and in our own way.
Only then can we build a future that we can look back on and be proud of. Its not too late to make the 21st century a generation where we all work together to make a difference.

Best Wishes for 2005 and beyond!

Read more!