In Sudan, “this revolution is women’s revolution!”

In Sudan, on December 19, 2018, people took to the streets to protest a precipitous rise in bread prices. Since then, protests have persisted and grown. As so often in food uprisings, the price of food was the visible spark that revealed an undergrowth of fire, and, as so often, women of Sudan set and sustained the sparkOn June 3, freedom loving, democracy building people, `civilians’, `protesters’ were butchered by the so-called Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, also known as Hemeti, also known as the Frankenstein of Khartoum.The RSF are also known as the Janjaweed, the group that terrorized Darfur for years, with particularly brutal violence against women. Killing at least 128 people, brutalizing everyone, raping women en masse, was meant to intimidate the masses, especially the women, into silence and submission. It didn’tOn June 30, in response to a call for a “millions march”, hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets. Eleven people were killed. On Monday, a call was issued for mass civil disobedience on July 14. Your news media may or may not be covering these events, but, in Sudan, the revolution continues, and, in Sudan, this revolution is women’s revolution: “Throughout Sudan’s ongoing revolution, women have led the chants for freedom, justice and peace.” Women have led and women are leading.

While Sudanese women attach a multitude of meanings and aspirations to freedom, justice and peace, they are united and uniform in their insistence that the military step down and turn over power to civilian authority. To that end, the women are united in their determination that the movement in Sudan for freedom, justice and peace is a revolutionary movement. That means that those who committed atrocities, and particularly those who used rape and other forms of sexual violence and intimidation as a weapon of State, will be held accountable. While many women differ on what sorts of freedom they want, for women, for everyone, they are clear and united in the determination that this is the moment to broaden and deepen the space(s) for freedom, for women and for everyone. 

For 30 years, Sudanese women have organized and mobilized to end the dictatorship and to establish a just, egalitarian, democratic, free society and nation-State. For 30 years, women in Sudan have refused to sit down, shut up, disappear. When the current regime shut the internet, women opened windows and doors, as they have done for the past three decades. In Sudan, today, women are organizing, mobilizing, chanting, singing, refusing to be shut down or shut out, demanding freedom, chanting, “Long live the struggle of Sudanese women!” “This revolution is women’s revolution!”

(Photo Credit 1: Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

From February 2018 to May 2019, four women have died at HMP Styal. Who cares?

“In the United Kingdom, forty per cent of sentenced women serve three months or less, and yet somehow manage to `harm themselves’ at a rate of three incidents per inmate. Women prisoners’ self harm is neither epidemic nor outbreak. It’s life. It’s part of the harm of being a woman in a neoliberal political economy. The Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the U.K. criminal justice system, said as much in March, 2007. Behind the Corston Commission Report sits HMP Styal, `one of the largest women’s prisons’ in the U.K. Between August 2002 and August 2003, six women died at Styal … That was then. This is now. February 27, 2009:  `The chief inspector of prisons has warned of more deaths at Styal women’s prison if services for vulnerable inmates do not improve…. John Gunn, brother of Lisa Marley, who died at Styal in January last year, asked: `How many more women have to die before something is done?’” That was then, ten years ago, to the day. This is today: From February 2018 to May 2019, four women have died at HMP Styal: Nicola Birchall, 41, February 2018; Imogen Mellor, 29, June 2018; Christine MacDonald, 56, March 2019; Susan Knowles, 48, May 2019. None of the deaths was treated as suspicious. BBC News reports, “The latest HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ report, in May 2018, was positive.” 

Here is what “positive” looks like: “95% of women said that they had problems on arrival. 53% said they had a problem with illicit drugs on arrival and 27% had an alcohol problem. 72% reported having a mental health problem. There were 735 incidents of self-harm in the six months to March 2018. Four women were transferred under the Mental Health Act in the six months to March 2018. 65% of women released who were not on home detention curfew did not have sustainable accommodation. Some women had been in and out of custody up to 11 times in 12 months.” Positive.

According to the most recent Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales, the general picture for incarcerated women, including remand prisoners, is equally grim: “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender, with a rate of 570 incidents per 1,000 in male establishments (with incidents up 25% on the previous year) compared to a rate of 2,675 per 1,000 in female establishments (an increase of 24% in the number of incidents from the previous year). In the 12 months to December 2018, the number of self-harm incidents per self-harming prisoner was 4.0 for males, and 8.3 for females, increases from 3.5 and 7.0 respectively in 2017.” The majority of self-harm happens to those who have been in custody 31 days to 3 months. 

The latest Inspectorate report on HMP Styal was positive concerning the prison’s attempt to follow recommendations from earlier reports, but the situation remains dire, and that’s the point. The individual deaths of Nicola Birchall, Imogen Mellor, Christine MacDonald, and Susan Knowles are suspicious, as are the high rates of self-harm. 

In 2007, Baroness Corston noted, “There are many women in prison, either on remand or serving sentences for minor, non-violent offences, for whom prison is both disproportionate and inappropriate. Many of them suffer poor physical and mental health or substance abuse or had chaotic childhoods. Many have been in care … I have been dismayed at the high prevalence of institutional misunderstanding within the criminal justice system of the things that matter to women and at the shocking level of unmet need … There can be few topics that have been so exhaustively researched to such little practical effect as the plight of women in the criminal justice system.”

That was 2007, sparked by conditions in HMP Styal. It’s 2019, and still few topics have been so exhaustively researched to such little practical effect as the plight of women in the criminal justice system. Every death, injury, harm, unmet need, vulnerability is suspicious and should be treated as such. What happened to Nicola Birchall, Imogen Mellor, Christine MacDonald, and Susan Knowles? Nothing. There is nothing celebrate here.

(No More Prison)

What happened to Tanya Day? Nothing. Just another Aboriginal woman died in police custody

Tanya Day and her granddaughter

In Australia, for Aboriginal women and their families, the wheels of justice do not turn at all, but they do try to grind the people into dust. On December 22, 2017, Tanya Day, a 55-year-old Yorta Yorta grandmother, “died of traumatic brain injuries” in police custody, in the Castlemaine Police Station, in Victoria, Australia. Next month, the coroner is expected to release her report. Tanya Day’s family and supporters have asked the coroner to consider systemic racism. as a cause of death. If the coroner agrees, a new standard may have been set. Whatever the coroner decides, Tanya Day – like Cherdeena WynneMs Dhu, and scores of other Aboriginal women– did not “die” and was not “discovered”. Tanya Day was killed in police custody. Harrison Day, Tanya Day’s uncle, died in police custody, also in Victoria. Harrison Day died, or was killed, June 23, 1982, 37 years to the day. From 1987 to 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody met to discuss Harrison Day’s death and those of 99 other Aboriginal women and men. They issued a raft of recommendations, of which more than 30% have never been implemented. After Ms. Dhu’s death in custody, in 2014, promises were made but Western Australia has not introduced a single law emerging from the circumstances of Ms. Dhu’s death. From Harrison Day, in 1982, to Tanya Day, in 2017, to today, the line of murders of Aboriginal women and men in custody is direct and genocidal.

By all accounts, Tanya Day was a vivacious, lively, politically engaged woman. She was an activist who campaigned to stop the deaths of Aboriginal women and men in prison. At the time of her death, she was actively helping the family of Tane Chatfield, a young Indigenous man who died in police custody. She was also on what her family calls a health craze, involving regular exercise and healthy diet. On December 5, 2017, Tanya Day boarded a train to Melbourne. According to her family, she had not been drinking regularly, but on that day, she had. She fell asleep on the train. When the conductor awakened her for her ticket, she was confused. There is no report that she was aggressive. The conductor called the police. The police took her off the train and took Tanya Day to the Castlemaine Police Station. The charge was public drunkenness. The police called the family to come fetch her. By the time they arrived, Tanya Day was hospitalized. She died seventeen days later. 

Tanya Day fell in her cell in the police station five times, which caused traumatic brain injuryShe lay, alone, on the floor for hours. Tanya Day should never have been in that police station. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody strongly recommended doing away with public drunkenness laws. Subsequent scholarship and experience have supported that recommendation, pretty much uniformly. The laws that criminalize public drunkenness remain on the books. As one human rights advocate noted, “Most Victorians have committed the offence of public drunkenness.” If Tanya Day had been White, she would have been allowed to stay on the train and sleep it off. Even if not, someone who needs assistance to stand belongs in an emergency room, not a police station cell. Australia has known all of this for decades, formally, and has done less than nothing. That kind of inaction is a key ingredient to genocide as to femicide. What happened to Tanya Day? Australia. 

(Photo Credit: ABC News Australia)

In Cambodia, woman farmer Hoy Mai says NO! to the theft and devastation of her land and life!

Hoy Mai

This week, Cambodian woman farmer Hoy Mai has appeared in a Thai court, where she has filed suit against Thai sugar company Mitr Phol, Asia’s largest sugar producer. Hoy Mai, now 56 years old, has been waging a mighty campaign against the Goliath corporation for two decades, a campaign for land, life and justice. This week’s court case is considered a landmark case. If the court decides in Hoy Mai’s favor, thousands of displaced farmers could benefit. The story begins in October 2009, in the northwest province of Oddar Meanchey, in the throes of the Khmer Rouge violence. In one of the most violent areas in Cambodia, Angkor Sugar Company, a subsidiary of Mitr Phol, evicted 119 households. Since that day, Hoy Mai has fought for restitution, first, and justice, for herself and her neighbors.

According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Hoy Mai’s family and 118 other households in Bos village, Oddar Meanchey province, were forcibly evicted in October 2009 as part of an ELC [Economic Land Concession] granted to Angkor Sugar Company. Their homes were burnt down and they lost all their belongings and farmland. Despite promises that she would receive another plot of land, she received neither land nor compensation, leaving her and her children homeless and destitute. Hoy Mai, at the time five months pregnant, was charged with violation of the Forestry law and jailed for eight months after trying to appeal to the authorities in Phnom Penh. She went into labor in the prison where she was forced to stay for three days and two nights until she was taken to the hospital. Only a few hours after she gave birth to her baby she was taken back to jail. For two months, she nursed her son in the prison with terrible sanitary conditions and sharing the cell with seven other women. Eight months after her detention, Mai was brought before a judge. Instead of a fair trial the court told Mai that she would be released only when she signed an agreement to with- draw all claims to her land in Bos village and accepted replacement land.”

The Khmer Rouge is gone, but the damage remains, as does Mitr Phol. From 2009 to today, Hoy Mai has refused to accept that situation: “We want compensation so we can rebuild our homes and farm our land. We hope the court will give us justice.” Hoy Mai and her attorneys have hit upon the idea of going to Thailand, where Mitr Phol is based, and instituting a class action suit there. Hoy Mai demands compensation, restitution, recognition, acknowledgement, truth and justice. It’s that straightforward.

In 2014, Hoy Mai explained what she and her neighbors wanted and expected from the State: “We want them to help us get our land back so we can live like before.” In 2016, Hoy Mai explained that she and her neighbors planned to return to their own lands: “Whether the governor allows us back or not, we will still go to our land. We are scared, but we have to struggle. We experienced being evicted. So we are not afraid.” This week, Hoy Mai said, “They took our land. I lost everything. My children did not go to school and I had no farming land … I survive by the day … For us, it [the land] is our life.”

In Cambodia, for the past twenty years, woman farmer Hoy Mai has said NO to the theft and devastation of her and her community’s land and lives. Hoy Mai joins rural women and women farmers in PeruIndiaEcuadorLiberiaGhanaMalawi, and around the world in demanding justice not only for herself and her community, but for women farmers and rural women everywhere. Mitr Phol may be the fifth largest sugar producer in the world, but Hoy Mai knows that justice is larger, wider and deeper than any corporation. “For us, it is our life.”

(Photo Credit: Leonie Kijewski / Al Jazeera)

Migrants in Custody at Hospitals Are Treated Like … Felons?

Sometimes a headline says it all, the whole reported story and a great deal more: “Migrants in Custody at Hospitals Are Treated Like Felons, Doctors Say”. The New York Timesreports, today, of the now familiar and yet still jarring brutality the Trump administration, the Nation-State more generally, visits on the bodies and souls of those courageous enough to seek asylum. In this instance, the focus is the abuse directed at “a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman who had been found late last year in the desert — dehydrated, pregnant and already in labor months before her due date.” The treatment by ICE agents is vicious, mean and often illegal. Horrible. But the doctors never actually say the migrants are treated like felons. What is to be made of the phrase, “treated like felons”?

As the article explains, “In many cases, doctors say, their patients are newly arrived asylum seekers, like the Guatemalan woman in Tucson, who had fled violent abuse from her baby’s father back home. Such patients, who are in custody only because of their immigration status, are often subjected to security measures meant for prisoners charged with serious crimes.” Dr. Patricia Lebensohn, a family physician, thinks that constant supervision in a patient’s room “makes sense if you have a prisoner that’s convicted of murder, but this is a different population, especially the asylum seekers. They’re not criminals.”

They’re not criminals, they’re not felons, and so they deserve to be treated as … human beings with Constitutional, legal, civil, and human rights and protections? Is that the implication? This is the common sense that emerges from decades of mass and hyper incarceration. This is a reason that shackling pregnant women, women in childbirth, “makes sense”. They’re criminals, felons. It makes sense for agents to be present during medical examinations, to listen in on conversations with doctors, to watch ultrasounds, to intentionally interfere with sleep, to harangue and harass. It makes sense because they are criminals. It makes sense because they are women, people of color, poor, fleeing violence, begging for mercy and demanding assistance, seeking justice. Criminals and felons, each and every one. This is our common sense, but it doesn’t have to be. Imagine if we treated migrants and felons like people, like ourselves. Another headline is possible.

(Image Credit: ACLU)

Where is the global outrage at the massacre of the innocents in Sudan?

As of this writing, freedom loving, democracy building people, `civilians’, `protesters’ have been butchered by the so-called Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, under the leadership of Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, also known as Hemeti, also known as the Frankenstein of Khartoum.The RSF are also known as the Janjaweed, the group that terrorized Darfur for years, with particularly brutal violence against women.Forty bodies have been pulled from the River Nilewhere they were dumped. Members of the RSF raped protesters, beat up clinic doctors and volunteers, and plundered and looted hospitalsMembers of the RSF violently kicked the injured and wounded out of hospitals and clinicsAll along, the pro-democracy freedom movement has been steadfastly non-violent. The RSF has locked down Khartoum. The atrocities continue, the massacre continues. The world largely stands by, watches passively or looks away and murmurs, “Oh shame.” Where is the global outrage at the massacre of the innocents in Sudan? How many murdered Africans does it take to draw the world’s attention and to promote supportive action? We may never know.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues, the struggle that was sparked by women years ago, and then again last year and thisProtesters have set up their own barricades across Khartoum and beyond, and are engaged in peaceful civil disobedienceProtesters have rejected any talks with military while the RSF is wandering the streets, wreaking havoc. This most recent wave of State violence lays bare the heartless evil at the center of Bashir’s regime, which continues to this day. We share in that heartless evil, through our complicit silence and avoidance. Where is the global outrage at the massacre of the innocents in Sudan? Where are the lead articles in major newspapers, rather than articles buried where only the usual suspects will read them? Where are the mass demonstrations and protests across the world? Where is the “Je suis Khartoum”? Nowhere to be seen.

(Image Credits: Enas Satir / follow the halō)

What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley? Just two more deaths in America’s jails

Michelle Bewley

Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley never met each other, and yet they are mirror-image sisters in the wasteland that is the criminal justice system in the United States. Both died, or were killed, in a Clay County Jail. Abby Rudolph died November 3, 2016, in the Clay County Jail, in northwest Minnesota. Michelle Bewley died March 5, 2019 in the Clay County Jail, in northeast Florida. Abby Rudolph was 19 when she died; Michelle Bewley was 35. Both were arrested for shoplifting. Both were addicted; went into withdrawal while in jail; asked, begged, for help. None came, or, better, help was refused. In both cases, the local agency decided the staff was professional and did what they could. In both instances, family, friends and sister inmates disagree. Both Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley died in excruciating agony, begging and pleading for help. Both, in their deaths, became `newsworthy’ in the past couple weeks. This is who we are.

The details for Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley are the same as those for  Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017, Kelly Coltrain, Nevada, 2017. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

On March 4, 2019, Michelle Bewley was picked up for having violated her bond on a shoplifting charge and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. There she went into withdrawal. According to Brittany Wink, who was in a nearby cell, “She was just screaming in pain. You could tell they were pain screams.” This is not a case of “no one came”; it never is. This is a case of they all refused to come. You could tell they were pains screams. Within 24 hours of entering the Clay County Jail, Michelle Bewley was dead … for the crime of having violated her bond. Her cousin, Amanda Snyder, reflected, “She was a very loving, kind person. And she didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this … I love her regardless of the mistakes she has made because that doesn’t define her as a person. Because she was a caring person. She loved her family. And I hope this never happens to anybody else’s family member.” Michelle Bewley leaves behind a husband and a young daughter

In her junior year in high school, Abby Rudolph  suffered a broken hip, which led to using pain medication which led to pain medication addiction. On October 30, 2016, Abby Rudolph, then 19 years old, was arrested for shoplifting and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. Soon after, she begin showing symptoms of withdrawal. Her fellow inmates wrote a note, delivered October 31, 2016, saying that Abby Rudolph was not eating or drinking, was in a bad way, and needed assistance. The inmates said they were worried; the staff refused to respond. On November 1, at 5 am, Abby Rudolph told the staff she could not eat breakfast. The staff did nothing. At that point she began vomiting. She continued to vomit for two days, until November 3. At 2 pm, November 3, the staff “noticed” something. Abby Rudolph was cold to the touch, and the staff took her to the showers. She couldn’t stand on her own, slumped to the floor, became spasmodic, and died within the hour. 

The family has filed a civil lawsuit. Their attorneys argue that the abuse showered on Abby Rudolph exceeds “mere negligence” and shocks “the conscience.” Does it? I ask you, directly, are you shocked? Jill Rudolph, Abby Rudolph’s mother, filled the lawsuit in the early part of 2018. In December 2018, Jill Rudolph, 52 years old, died. Her brother explained, “She died of grief. She could not go on.”

Is your conscience shocked yet? Have we suffered enough grief yet, enough to tell us that, if we want to go on, we have to stop caging and executing women? What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley, in their own private Clay County Jail hellholes? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

Abby Rudolph

(Photo Credit 1: Action News Jax) (Photo Credit 2: City Pages)

What happened to Kelly Coltrain? Just another death in Nevada’s jail system

Kelly Coltrain

On July 23, 2017, 27-year-old Kelly Coltrain was “found” dead on the floor of her cell in the Mineral County Jail, in Hawthorne, Nevada. This week, two years later, her family won a $2 million settlement and an agreement that a Federal judge would monitor the jail for the next four years. The family’s attorney noted that the federal monitoring was more important to the family than the money: “If we accepted just money, there was no guaranteeing that future situations for other prisoners would not occur and future tragedies would be around the corner.” What happened to Kelly Coltrain in the Mineral County Jail? The routine torture of women in jails across the country. Here’s a very partial list of women who have died in jails in the past few years, women whose death we have attempted to memorialize: Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017. Add Kelly Coltrain to this list. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Kelly Coltrain, from Austin, Texas, was on her way to her grandmother’s 75th birthday celebration, in Reno, Nevada. Kelly Coltrain was stopped, in Hawthorne, Nevada, for speeding, and police found she had unpaid traffic or parking tickets. Kelly Coltrain had no criminal record. Bail was set at $1750, and so Kelly Coltrain sat in the Mineral County Jail. She told the staff she was drug-dependent, suffered from seizures, and would need medical assistance. The staff refused. Mineral County Jail is across the street from a hospital. The staff refused. Kelly Coltrain vomited repeatedly, refused to eat, trembled or lay perfectly still. The staff watched on video and refused to help. At some point, a staff member brought Kelly Coltrain a mop and told her to clean up the mess. Less than an hour later, Kelly Coltrain died, in a seizure. Kelly Coltrain lay, dead, on the floor for six hours. Finally, a staff member walked in, found Kelly Coltrain cold and inert on the floor, nudged her with his boot, went out, called his sergeant. Kelly Coltrain lay on the floor for another four hours. The staff did not call a paramedic. Kelly Coltrain lay cold, inert, in a fetal position on the floor and “nobody called for medical assistance.” 

Kelly Coltrain did not die nor was she “found” dead. She was murdered. The staff did not “fail” to pay attention or to care for Kelly Coltrain. The staff refused to pay attention, refused to care for Kelly Coltrain. Kelly Coltrain’s death was preventable, avoidable and foretold. Staff refused to listen, see, monitor, engage, respond, care. Staff refused to follow directives and procedures, as they had so many times before, without consequence, and so many jail staffs across the country do every day, especially if the incarcerated person is a woman, a woman of color, a working poor woman; a women living with mental health illness, addiction, or pretty much anything, and the list goes on.

How did the local authorities initially respond to Kelly Coltrain’s death: “It’s just really difficult for a small rural county like this to handle what is just a massive problem. There are so many people addicted to substances who end up going through withdrawal in the jail.” It was Kelly Coltrain’s fault. She shouldn’t have ended up in a small rural county jail. It was Kelly Coltrain’s fault. She should have known better. What if Kelly Coltrain’s family hadn’t persisted? Who would have known? Our Great Refusal is built of an infinite number of grimy little refusals, and meanwhile, in jails across the country, women in agony beg and scream for help, then lie in fetal positions on cold cell floors. When they are finally found, they receive the toe of a boot, and nobody calls for medical assistance.

Kelly Coltrain

(Photo Credit 1: CNN) (Photo Credit 2: Reno Gazette Journal)

India votes and `suffers’ women prisoners and their children. And we call it democracy.

Elections matter. Australia voted, catastrophically, and immediately after suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm spiked among refugee and asylum seeker prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru. Elections matter. India voted, catastrophically, and the news for women inmates in prisons and jails across India is grim. The last five years of the Modi regime have meant ongoing and increasing violation of women prisoners’ rights, autonomy and well-being, on one hand, and a policy of increased opacity, on the other. In both instance, Australia and India, the State blames the women and children for the violence and torture the State visits upon their bodies and souls … and they call it democracy.

India went to the polls from April 11 to May 23. While it had little or no impact, the same week the elections began, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. That report came in after an unexplained years’ long delay. The Prison Statistics India 2015 Report was issued in a timely manner in September 2016. The 2015 Report opens: “I am privileged to release the 21stedition of `Prison Statistics India’ for the year 2015, an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau since the year 1995.” In 1996, the National Crime Records Bureau was tasked with publishing an annual report on the conditions in India’s prisons and jails. For 21 years, it did so, dutifully and faithfully. And then … it stopped. This silence concerning the conditions of prisons, jails and, most importantly, prisoners was matched by an equivalent “failure” by the NCRB to publish its annual Crime In India report for 2017. This was the first “failure” of this annual report since 1953. Taken together, the lack of reporting begins to look more like refusal than failure: “All this has happened on the watch of a government that is known for being less than forthright about official data.”

This refusal to provide detailed data continues throughout the Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. Most glaringly, the new report says nothing about caste or religion. Whereas earlier reports described, in detail, the situation and conditions in prisons and jails for Dalits, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, members of religious minorities, especially Muslim, this last `report’, the methodology of which is ostensibly the same as previous reports, says nothing. According to the most recent census, 16.6% of India is Dalit, while Dalits made up 21.4% of India’s prison and jail population. Likewise, Scheduled Tribes make up 8.6% of the Indian population and 12.8% of the prison and jail population. Many noted these discrepancies and strove to address them. The Modi regime has addressed them by erasing not only categories but whole sectors of the population. This is not failure to represent, this is refusal to represent, and it’s part and parcel of the caste and religion-based politics of the Modi regime and of his political party.

Where are the women in this picture? Everywhere and nowhere. Before the latest report came out, it was already known that prisons and jails in India are particularly damaging to women. First, they’re designed for men. Second, they have less access to facilities and resources within prisons and jails. Third, they have less access to resources outside of prisons and jails. For example, “a woman, nearly 70 years old, has been in jail for the past 18 months on kidnapping and rape charges … While five others, including two male co-accused, have been released on bail, she continues to be behind bars. Having lost her husband during her incarceration, she has no one to reach out to. What purpose is being served by keeping her inside?”

Further, over the preceding fifteen years, the rate of men’s incarceration has increased by 33%, while that of women has grown by 61%. Despite this growth of women’s incarceration, neither budgets nor infrastructure has increased. Thus, the women’s prisons are severely overcrowded and filthy; the food and hygiene are deplorable; and there is virtually no physical and mental health care. For Dalit and Adivasi women, the conditions are predictably worse. According to a recent study, “76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities.” None of this is in the most recent NCRB report.

The NCRB report does provide some data, and the most salient fact is that 67% of India’s prisoners are “undertrial”, meaning awaiting trial … meaning officially innocent. From 2014 to 2016, the number of undertrial, or remand, prisoners rose 3.6%, from 282,879 to 293,058 in 2016. Close to 71% of undertrial prisoners are deemed illiterate or low literate. While among convicted prisoners, prisoners 30 – 50 years old predominate, among undertrials the majority are 18 to 30 years old. 72% of women prisoners are awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners are overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there are 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they all are cared for by their mothers, women prisoners. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers are awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. 

Elections matter. Information matters. Transparency matters. Democracy matters. The United States “discovered” this week that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody, last September, and that the State lied and hid that girl-child’s death. We are dismayed but not shocked or surprised. Refugee and asylum prisoners in Australia engage in increased self-harm and suicide attempts following the Australian national elections. Some are finally, in some cases after five-year delays, sent to the mainland for `care’. India cages more and more Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim young women and children, all formally innocent, and covers it in the civil equivalent of the fog of war. And we call it democracy.

(Photo Credit: The Tribune India)

Australia is not shocked by the torture of refugee children; Australia is shocked by their survival.

Sajeenthana

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Sydney, Australia, for one night only: “COMMUNE presents LIMBOLAND, an exhibition by Sydney artist Lachie Hinton and photojournalist Mridula Amin exposing the stories of refugees and asylum seekers who were detained indefinitely on Nauru.” At the heart of this exhibition, and project, is a Tamil girl from Sri Lanka, named Sajeenthana. At the age of three years old, Sajeenthana “arrived”, was dumped, on the island of Nauru, thanks to Australia. When anyone tried to engage with Sajeenthana, she had a simple, straightforward response: “I want to kill myself”. That’s what Sajeenthana said, and that’s what the other child refugees on Nauru said. Australis is not shocked by the pain, suffering, torture it has inflicted on these children. Australia is only shocked that they survived. Sajeenthana is now eight years old.

In February 2019, Australia emptied Nauru of its child refugee population. Many were sent to the United States. Sajeenthana and her father were rejected. In October 2018, Sajeenthana stopped eating. She spent 10 days in hospital on Nauru. Then she and her father were moved to a Brisbane hospital. From there they were moved to “community detention” in Brisbane. No one knows what will happen next.

What is known is this: Australia forced Sajeenthana to endure a childhood composed of suicide and self-harm. Leaving Nauru is a first step, but Nauru has not left Sajeenthana, nor all the other children who lived there, the ones who witnessed “successful” suicides as well as suicide attempts, who watched so many others cut themselves that it became a “natural” part of life. 

Australia has engaged in a decade and more of unrestrained, indefinite detention of migrant, immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker children. Why do the adjectives matter? Australia’s national policy has been to torture children. The torture of children has become ordinaryroutine, and while some may claim to be shocked, in fact the State has been proud of its routine torture of children and proud of its people, the true Australians, who are NOT shockedNOT SHOCKED, by the routine torture of children. That’s why, even if it looks like the camp on Nauru is closed, there are no plans to close the camps.

So, here is a poem for the children, the ones who were never meant to survive:

Detention Deficit Disorder
by Jane Downing

How do you write a poem about Manus and Nauru
We’ve seen the razor wire footage/ listened to the reports succumbed to Attention Deficit Disorder – look a celebrity died Will a well chosen image connect
Move someone to action (not me)
like poetry in the old days recited in the heat of revolution Does this need a personal anecdote
to give it a punch above lecture/harangue
a poignant quote*
A crisis point to bring into focus the human face
that reveals the inhumanity of our country of the Fair Go turning a willfully blind eye
and blaming the hypocrisy of smiling politicians
Will a reference to Hitler help any (no) 

How could the Germans not have known? It’s not as if we don’t 

History will not be kind
An Apology will be too late
Having written a poem will not have been enough 

* ‘Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance’. Robert Frost 

(Photo Credit: SBS News / Lachie Hinton)