Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?

 

(Photo Credit: Times Live)

In India, school girls go on strike for education and respect … and win!

On May 10, 86 school girls decided to upset the sleep of the “sleepy hamlet” of Gothra Tappa Dahina in the Rewari district of the Haryana state, in India. Fed up with administrators and parents who thought less than nothing of the sexual harassment the girls endured every day on their way to and from school, the girls decided to go on strike, with 13 of them going on hunger strike. A week later, the administration gave in to the girls’ principal demands. Since then, other school girls have started similar strikes. As with the school girls in Malawi, the school girls of Rewari know that they deserve a decent education, and that that includes the trip to and from school. With that knowledge, they may have started a school girls’ movement that will do more than disrupt the sleep of many. It may be an awakening.

The story is straightforward. The local school stops at 10th grade. That means for 11th and 12th grades, the girls must walk about 3 kilometers to the next village. According to the girls, they complained about the abuse they received on their walk to and from school. They petitioned the administration to upgrade their local school to include 11th and 12th grades. They received no response. They urged their parents to push for upgrading the local school. Some told the girls it’s better to be quiet; sexual harassment of girls and women has been going on forever. Others were more supportive but couldn’t offer much else. And so, the girls took action. As Sheetal, one of the hunger strikes, explained, “Almost every day, we face eve teasing. Should we stop studying? Should we stop dreaming? Are only rich people and their children allowed to dream? The government should protect us or open a higher-secondary school in our village.” Parents joined the strike, laying down their work tools and protesting outside the school. On May 17, 10 of the hunger strikers were sent to hospital, as the Haryana state government agreed to upgrade the school.

In the subsequent days, this big win for the Rewari girls has been followed by similar strikes by school girls in Gurugram and Palwal districts, both in Haryana state. Sapna Kumari, one of striking students in Gurugram, explained, “Some girls have to drop out after Class 10th because their parents do not want to send them to school afar, fearing their safety. Those who manage to convince them face problems of eve-teasing everyday. Be it buses, autos, the problem does not end.” Her school is 4 kilometers away. Anjali, one of the striking students in Palwal district, asked, “How can daughters study when there was no government school up to senior secondary level in their village?”

These school girls know the meaning of education, and they know they deserve it. Period. They know that a state that creates unsafe conditions for girls on their way to and from school has no commitment to girls’ education. They also know that they have the power to move the State and change the world, and now the school girls of Haryana are teaching that lesson to the rest of the world.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hindustan Times) (Photo Credit 2: Times of India)

Where are women prisoners in Obama’s community college plan?

In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo, and Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, and the Constitution of the United States, not to mention sociology, psychology and comparative religion. The room is a room in Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor. On Monday, The Seattle Times reported that college classes “are starting to creep back, operating on shoestring budgets with private money.”

This college program arose out of women prisoners’ demands and dreams. Women prisoners heard that the vocational education program certificates didn’t open employment opportunities, and so they pushed for college courses. After organizing and pushing, they succeeded, no thanks to the State.

Alyssa Knight is a student in this program. She’s in her early 30s. She anticipates leaving prison in 2025: “The fundamental question is, what do we expect from our justice system? Do you expect it to rehabilitate a person? If you are just basically warehousing people, then you are not going to get a change.”

Why must college programs in prison creep? Why are they privately funded? Why are they on shoestring budgets? Because 21 years ago, in 1994, the United States Congress eliminated Federal student Pell Grant aid to prisoners. In 1995, Washington State legislators banned the use of tax money for post secondary education for prisoners.

At the time the Pell Grants were cut, across the country, public colleges and universities were running somewhere around 350 degree and certificate granting programs in prisons. That number quickly dropped to almost zero, and the prisons were formally declared warehouses of the abandoned.

Predictably, the deepest cuts were to women’s prisons.

Last night, President Obama proposed “a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.” Want boldness? Take that plan to women’s prisons, and open community college programs there. The President says he wants education to be “free and universal”. Women prisoners are at the heart of higher education’s “free and universal.” Turn their warehouses of abandonment into community colleges. End 21 years of educational war against women. As President Obama said, “Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.”

As Alyssa Knight said of the impact of education, “It pervaded our existence in here — it started to transform what people were thinking about.” Another woman prisoner Tonya Wilson puts it this way, “Who would you rather live beside, a person that’s just getting out of prison who just sat in her cell and stewed, or do you want somebody who has transformed, who is educated, who will not be a drain on society?” It’s time to choose and support transformation.

 

(Photo Credit: Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Mix it

Mix it

Mix it
your metaphors
images and symbols
professors of doom
demoralizing our people

(whosoever our people
might be this time round
matric results under scrutiny
on the horizon)

Mix it
like anti-majoritarian
liberal critics
(a dangerous elitism)

(making hay
on a scrabble board
with big words)

So says the guardians
of our selves
keepers of the keys
to the democratic project

(the democratic project
led astray by mixing it
some folks might say)

Mix it
twitter and tweet
even twerk your way
to the dustbins of history

Pass one pass all
(suffer our born-frees)
recite from your songbook
peddle your election-wares
in Mandela’s name

Mix your metaphors
and I’ll blend mine

Our red-blooded spokespersons counsel…. “all our people not to be demoralised by professors of doom and anti-majoritarian critics” (“Serious challenges face education system despite matric pass rate rising”, Cape Times, January 8 2014); and “Dangerous elitism a worry, and no dustbins should await failed Grade 12s” (Cape Times, January 10 2014).

 

(Photo Credit: eNCA / Bafana Nzimande)

Schools developing best practices in Gauteng

As I go from province to province, I have become very familiar with being guided to a school step by step. “Take the exit, turn right and then call me.” And after the next phone call, “Go straight, turn at the t-junction, and when you see a primary school on your right, call me.” Then a third set of instructions.  A couple of weeks ago, in Katlehong, outside of Johannesburg, I missed a turn and the principal had to come get me and guide me to the school.

Some schools simply exist in a place, but for others, their space has meaning. I had read only a little about Katlehong, but this school’s founding, its history and its present are grounded in its space.

Phumlani Secondary School opened in 1993. “It was the last school formed in the area by the previous government,” Principal Shumi Shongowe told me. “There was a fight, a war between the IFP and the ANC, the soldiers that were deployed by the previous government… People were killing each other. There was blood all over. And there was no time even to bury those that were dead.”

Then he paused, looked up and calmly said, “And it is then that this school was started.”

It was a reminder to me of the painful history of this country and the trauma and chaos out of which so much, including this school, has been born.

Many people who work in schools say that uniforms help with discipline and focus, but I rarely hear that the blues and yellows and greens and maroons have any meaning. Surrounded by brutal violence in 1993, Shongowe consciously chose the school colors. Red for the blood that was spilled. White for the hope that remained. “To say,” he told me, “after some time, all this shall be over and life shall go back to normal.”

In 1994, that was a new normal.

The school has grown from 200 students and a 5 percent pass rate in 1993 to 1,783 students and a 94 percent pass rate in 2012.

These 1,783 learners also find meaning in the uniform. “I call it a uniform of success,” one learner told me. “People who are in jail, not that I’m criticizing, but people who are in jail, they are wearing a uniform of regret. So this is a uniform of success.” The nuance and generosity he extended to prisoners with the use of the word regret struck me. Not violence, evil or wrong, but regret.

My mandate here is to identify keys to success. I often find that while those keys are unique, they should be commonplace.  One principal only hires teachers who studied that subject in college or university. That seems fairly basic, right? How can a history teacher teach biology? How can an Afrikaans teacher switch to technology, as I saw happen at one school? This too often happens as teachers are moved from subject to subject to fill gaps, despite a lack of training.

In another example, at Tetelo Secondary School in Soweto, Principal Linda Molefe and his staff end the year with a two-day meeting where they create a comprehensive plan for the following year. Acknowledging that plans constantly shift and change once the year begins, he said, “We can start right away because we know where we’re going.”

I always ask about parent involvement because it’s a critical factor but often difficult to achieve. Both principals emphasized that getting the parents to show up wasn’t enough. It was their obligation to teach parents how to be involved, to be clear about what is expected of them.

One principal has created an easy way for parents or grandparents, regardless of their education, to check their children’s progress. It involves simple numeric indicators. “Some of these grannies, they have never been at school… it is your responsibility to try and school them. To say what role are you expecting them to play. And these grannies with the issue of indicators, they also become excited because they can now get involved and give support to their granddaughters and grandsons.”

*************

 I have a new word for moments in these journeys that surprise me. I now call them “a capella moments.” At Phumlani Secondary, a group of boys approached me and asked if I would film their singing group. I was blown over when I heard their harmony, the noises they created through snapping and percussive beats.  It was like nothing I had heard before at a school in South Africa. The Soul Singers (as you may have guessed) are an a capella group.

The a capella moment at Tetelo Secondary came at the very end of the day, during mandatory study time for grade 12 learners. Because of the heat, many brought desks and chairs outside. We found one group of about 10 learners sitting under a tree, intently studying physics, debating and teaching one another. They traded off being the teacher, chalk in hand, using the side of a Cell C container to write on.

The irony was not lost on me that these kids were choosing to learn under a tree in a country where for years children like them had been forced to learn under trees. I shouldn’t speak of it in the past tense, since this still happens in some rural schools.

When I flew back to Cape Town on Friday morning, there was an article in the newspaper about an Education Charter that was recently put forward by the South African Human Rights Commission. The charter offers rules and recommendations to the government on giving quality education to all children. It addresses issues like crowded classrooms, suggesting that pupil teacher ratios not exceed 1 to 40 for grades 1 to 12. It proposes ambitious deadlines to meet aims for everything from reduced class size to electricity and running water for all schools, to making sure schools have other basic and essential services needed to teach and learn properly.

The Charter is filled with incredible goals to improve education across the country.  I don’t understand how they are going to fix so much so quickly. At Phumlani, the 1738 students are based in an old primary school building. The principal says he is basically running two schools. At Tetelo, I saw students mopping out their container classrooms in the morning because it had rained the night before and the classrooms leak. In the midst of cleaning and mopping, some were polishing shoes and straightening ties.

How will the government build enough classrooms and buildings so these students aren’t packed 65 in a class and don’t have rain dripping on their books? To have actual libraries and labs rather than a lab on a cart that is pushed from class to class.

I remain somewhat doubtful, but hopeful and will wait and see. In the meantime, maybe the government should bring some of these principals to other schools to share their best practices. “There is no recipe for success,” Principal Molefe told me. But I think sharing ingredients would be a good start.

Molly Blank. This piece originally appeared, in slightly different form, here: http://mollydispatches.blogspot.com/2013/02/part-2-journey-to-johannesburg.html

(Photo Credit: Vimeo / Phumlani Secondary School)

Journey: Mafikeng is a small town in Northwest province

I disappeared in 2012, but I’ve decided to write again in 2013. This dispatch is the first in a series of reflections about education in South Africa. Over the next several months I will be visiting 14 schools in seven provinces across the country. The mission of the Schools That Work project is to create a series of videos that serve disadvantaged communities and are having academic success – or but are having academic success, depending on how you see it. When compared to other schools in South Africa that also serve poor children, these schools are excelling despite. Despite the hunger and poverty of the learners which negatively impacts their experiences in the classroom, despite struggles with parental involvement, despite lack of classrooms and toilets, despite sometimes unresponsive provincial and national governments, and sometimes, despite necessary resources.

Last year, in Limpopo, pupils were without textbooks for the first half of the year because the government had not delivered the books. And just before the beginning of Matric (school leaving) exams this year, the Minister issued an open letter apologizing to grade 12 students. In it she said, “I know 2012 has not been an easy year for you. I also understand that you may feel I, Minister of Basic Education, have let you down. I apologise unreservedly for all you have been through as a learner.”

It is likely that for many students it would have been a difficult year even if their schools had proper infrastructure and enough resources. They didn’t need school to make life harder. You know things are really bad when the government feels it has to apologize to learners for failing them, for not giving them the education they deserve. And this apology just devastates me. Kids deserve so much more. Governments, education departments, politicians should all be advocating on behalf of students. They should be the good guys. Unfortunately, they often aren’t.

So this week, I traveled to Mafikeng. Mafikeng is a small town in Northwest province. It is about a 20-minute drive from the Botswana border. The first language of most people is Setswana and there is also a significant Indian population. At one school a boy stopped me and asked, “Why don’t you film the Indian kids, we’re here,” and pointed to a group of his friends. I told him we were filming everyone. It was interesting to think about how he sees his place at the school – a school where most students are Black, the principal and one of the deputies are Indian and the staff is very racially diverse. I still haven’t found out why there is such a large Indian population in Mafikeng.

Every time I visit a school, see a classroom, watch teachers and principals, I think about my own experiences. I think we frame how we see all schools through the lens of our own experience as students, as educators, as parents. My cameraman Felix and his soon to be wife are expecting a baby in a few weeks and all this time in the classroom led to conversations about where and how we would want to educate our children. This week after watching a trigonometry class, Felix, and I talked about our failed attempts at solving sine and cosine. I remember the teacher; I remember the class and some of you reading this might have been in it with me. Felix grew up in a small town outside Stuttgart, Germany and no doubt our school experiences were very different. But regardless of the country, trigonometry seems to prevail.

Each school has it’s own feel to it. Some feel warm, some chaotic, some very structured or disciplined, others a combination. The first school we went to has incredible academic success but felt very chaotic – more outside of the classroom than in. I was only aware when we arrived that the school did not fit into the mold of the project, as most of the students there are middle class. I don’t think I have ever been to a school here that is mostly middle class students. Where the challenges include things like Facebook and cell phones. I have been to very poor township schools and formerly all White more resourced schools, but never something like this.  South Africa is full of extremes and one doesn’t often see the middle.

The second school was a warm place. The buildings are physically spread out because it used to be a teacher training college before it became a high school in the 1980’s. The physical plant reminded us of a missionary school with long white buildings of classrooms and nice trees and flowers. But the school no longer has laboratories or a library because they were turned into classrooms for it’s 1441 students. There are 18 toilets for 800 girls and 16 toilets for 600 boys. When I asked the principal what his priority was, he chose classrooms over toilets.

When filming, I try to represent reasons why a school is so successful and often that comes through excellent teaching. In one English class, 9th graders were reciting Shakespeare’s sonnet Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds,
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove…

Many made it their own with tone of voice, body, energy, and humor. The teacher affirmed them, allowed the class the space to laugh and clap noisily, and before each student began grounded them by saying, “The stage is yours.” Some of excellent teaching is personality and after filming we talked about how his classroom felt different. Positive and full of joy, and that wasn’t just due to a love of Shakespeare.

At an economics class – if you’ll believe me – we found students almost equally excited. Who knew learning about land, labor, capital, and natural resources, labor could be fun? The teacher brought two students up to the front, had one take off his tie, roll up his sleeves and hold a bottle of water  — the laborer. The other one remained staid in his uniform, tie and all. He was the boss. Above the chalkboard were photos of Martin Luther King, Obama, Mandela, Malcolm X, Walter Sisulu and W.E.B. DuBois and quotes from Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. What was notable for me were the diverse notable people who he brought into the space. (It would have, of course, been nice to see a woman too!)

But just because a school has high Matric pass rates, it doesn’t mean that every teacher is going to show such passion and energy. I also saw teachers on the other end of the spectrum – one struggling to control students (as I once did), one who seemed barely interested and others who stood at the front of the class and talked at students rather than with them. I saw young teachers and older teachers, and I know that no matter who they were, they all try and they all care. But I keep thinking about how we define good teaching and what makes good teachers.

One moment in particular sticks in my mind. It was an 8th grade English class.  As the teacher called student’s names for presentations, she didn’t make an effort to pronounce them or seem to care which face belonged to which name. As she sifted through her cards, she even named the same kids twice. Many students were not ready which I know is frustrating as a teacher. But in the environment in the room was uninspired and felt negative. I wouldn’t have felt supported or wanted to try very hard in that classroom. Why is this worth telling? Well the teacher was white, her students Black and in a place like South Africa where questions of race are still so prominent, these moments are all the more significant for me.

I’ll close on a picture that will make you smile. Picture a group of girls on the edge of a field in funny hats twirling batons and flags. Behind them, on the big field, is someone mowing a lawn. In front them, a team of boys, in bright colored shirts, run in circles around the field. Amidst it all, if you look carefully, you’d find Felix kneeling and lying on the grass in an effort to capture it all.

I love those moments.

 

Molly Blank is a filmmaker based in South Africa. Her most recent films are Testing Hope: Grade 12 in the new South Africa and Where Do I Stand? This is the first of a collaboration. Thanks to Molly for sharing! “Journey: Mafikeng is a small town in Northwest province” originally appeared here.

(Photo Credit, Video Credit: Sol Plaatje Secondary School, Mafikeng, North West)

The ticket to ride

 

The ticket to ride

I now have the ticket
to improve my life and
one day be able
to take care of my family

So says Asanele Swelindawo
an orphan who managed
to get three distinctions
in our much-maligned Matric

She is an Ikamva Youth member
a by-youth for-youth
volunteer-driven initiative
just up your street

The ticket to ride
at the end of it all
a stairway to heaven
folks would have it

(Zero to hero turnaround
out at Peak View High)

Though experts have it
that our matric ticket is one
loaded with mediocrity

(quality over quantity
the new post-apartheid
standard grade of life )

The ticket to ride
in the context of
our country gone
to the (pampered) dogs

(our girl-child illiterate
and barefoot and pregnant
out here in darkest Africa)

The future is in our hands
says Ikamva Youth

Is it in yours

An email missive tells it all: “IkamvaYouth learners from township schools achieve 100% pass rate with 91% eligible for tertiary education” (www.ikamvayouth.org); and the Argus “Zero to hero turnaround” and its Comment “Quality over quantity?” (Friday, Jan 4 2012).

 

(Photo Credit: Jon Pienaar / Daily Maverick)

Read Study Work

Read Study Work

Read study work
(pardon my punctuation)
jailbirds all equal
in their prison-orange

(Adult education courses
will be compulsory
ABET from levels 1 to 4)

Read study work
pardon the spelling
and the homophobia
of a tweeting Hawk

Remember your Vaseline,
Jub-Jub, quips he,
unaware apparently
of sexual violence inside

A fresh-faced musician
hip-hopping his way
guilty on murder charges
(what example is he
to our fresh-faced youth)

Read study work
rehabilitate yourself
and the homophobes
wherever they masquerade
(befrocked, veiled and the like)

Rehabilitate yourself
so that you may join
the world outdoors
of your particular prison

Read study work
in prisons transformed
into schools (where matrics
go through the rites)

Like we didn’t know
of the school called prison
and their myriad graduates

Student of life – and French-speaking too – Hawks man McIntosh Polela says sorry for tweeting ‘in poor taste’; whilst Jailbirds to ‘read, study, work’ (Cape Times briefs, Friday Oct 19 2012).

 

(Photo Credit: Readucate)

 

Education cannot be stolen, handcuffed, or imprisoned

Tanya McDowell addresses reporters

Forty some years ago Paulo Freire argued against what he called the banking model of teaching and learning. That was then. Today, the bank  is gone, and a prison stands in its place.

Ask Tanya McDowell or Mireya Gaytan.

Tanya McDowell is a Black woman, a single mother, living with her 6-year-old son. She lives, officially, in Bridgeport. `Officially’ because in fact McDowell is homeless. Or she was last April when she was arrested, in Norwalk, for stealing education. Stealing education is a first-degree larceny offense.

McDowell registered her son in Norwalk, using the address of her babysitter. When this was `discovered’, McDowell was charged with theft. Two weeks ago, she pled out, and was sentenced to five years in jail and five years probation. That’s almost a year for each year of her son’s life.

The public story is `complicated’ by McDowell’s arrests and convictions for selling drugs. Thus, the trial in Norwalk, despite her attorney’s protest, was for both the sale of narcotics and the first-degree larceny, because, somehow, these have to be taken together. That way, it can be demonstrated that Tanya McDowell is not a woman trying to get a decent education for her child. No. She’s a bad mother. She must be. She sells drugs. And she’s not only a bad mother and a drug dealer. She’s Black, homeless, unemployed, underemployed.

The story hearkens to that of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Black woman in Ohio who was found guilty of stealing education. The story is complicated by the ongoing narratives of the national and regional campaigns to criminalize Black women, and women of color, more generally.

And to criminalize their daughters as well.

Yajira Quezada is eleven years old. She lives, and goes to school, in Colorado. Earlier this week, she got into some trouble with the administration in her schooling, mouthing off or not showing proper respect or deference. So … they called in a counselor. That didn’t work. So … they called in “the school resource officer.” He handcuffed the eleven-year-old girl, took her into his squad car, and delivered her to the juvenile holding facility. As explained by the local sheriff, this is standard operating procedure for `transport’ of juveniles.

This public story is `complicated’ as well.  Children across the United States are subjected to such treatment regularly. School `resource officers’ routinely handcuff children; routinely take them off to juvenile `facilities.’ Children across the country are routinely dumped into `seclusion rooms’. Solitary confinement.  In Georgia, in Wisconsin, children have met their deaths in school-based solitary confinement.

Yajira’s mother, Mireya Gaytan, is outraged. She doesn’t want her daughter to be allowed to misbehave or show disrespect … to anyone. But she also doesn’t want her daughter to be treated as a criminal. In short, she wants her daughter to receive an education.

Tanya McDowell, Mireya Gaytan, two women in America who want their children to receive an education. Not a prison sentence. Not a death sentence. Not a criminal record. Not a trace memory on the wrists. Not a sense of overwhelming vulnerability. Not an indictment based on the color of skin, not a conviction based on where you live … or don’t.

An education.

Education is not merchandise. Those who seek education are not `clients’ or `customers’. They are human beings who know that education is always shared, always social. They are women and girls, and especially women and girls of color, who know that education cannot be stolen, handcuffed, or imprisoned.  Education is a human right, a civil right, a women’s right. Period.

 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Rourke / Stamford Advocate)

Soni Sori haunts more than India

Soni Sori

Sometimes the colonizer becomes the colonist. For some, this is what has happened to India, specifically as regards land grabs in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

But the transformation doesn’t stop at “colonialism”. Colonialism is more than settlers and mass and brutal extraction of other peoples’ natural resources. Colonialism involves imperialism, empire building, and not only abroad. Welcome to Chhattisgarh … again.

Chattisgarh has been in the news the last few years for a series of “curious adventures” on the part of police, security, and military forces, responding to a purported Maoist “crisis”. Binayak Sen spent three years and some in prison, for no real reason. Earlier this year, Ilina Sen, a prominent feminist scholar and activist, was charged with organizing an international Women’s Studies conference without proper registration of “foreign nationals.” Kopa Kunjam, a Ghandian human rights and development worker, has also been in prison for years for similarly spurious reasons. Himanshu Kumar worked for almost two decades in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, teaching the poorest of the poor how to vote, how to access better food and any health care. His reward? His ashram was burned to the ground, two years ago. As is so often the case, when security forces occupy a zone, they bring sexual violence as part of the package. For women, the price of national security is high.

And so is the price of national “wealth”. Ask Soni Sori, recently arrested last week in Delhi, shipped back to Chhattisgarh, interrogated there, and sent to hospital yesterday, unconscious and with back and head injuries. Police claim she slipped in the bathroom There’s no real evidence against Soni Sori, nothing that actually links her with any Maoist group or identifies her as a Maoist. Instead, there are “suspicions.”

What is going on in Chhattisgarh? The State would tell us that these stories are part of the larger “security” narrative, that there is a Naxalite, or Maoist, emergency in Chhattisgarh that necessitates the infamous state of exception. Dangerous times require dangerous men … with even more dangerous guns and techniques, including torture.

This is not a story of “poverty”. Rather it is a story of wealth. Chhattisgarh is rich in resources, has an extensive forest, and a large tribal population. The women of Chhattisgarh historically have enjoyed a unique position in India … and beyond. The population is more or less equally divided between women and men. Women have participated in every aspect of agricultural production, of labor, and of public life. Chhattisgarh is a place in which gender equity and female subservience have always been in tension.

With the arrival of the global market, that tension has increased. The areas women dominated, in particular that of food security and food sovereignty, don’t carry the same value in a global economy. Both multinationals and the national government have given men positions of authority in the new economies.

Soni Sori is a primary school teacher. Thanks to “security” campaigns, Chhattisgarh has one of the lowest literacy levels in India. State security forces and their paramilitary brethren occupied schools. Then they were attacked by Maoists. The State then closed the schools and moved them to State-controlled areas. For village children, those are impossibly distant areas, both in miles and in culture. And so, literacy levels, never high, plummeted. And what is the shining solution? Build a residential complex, even further away, for the few high school students who are preparing for engineering and medicine.

The rest, and especially the girls, can simply work the fields, build the roads and bridges and malls, watch the distance between rich and poor grow greater and greater, and more and more violent. This is the crisis in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh doesn’t need more troops. It needs more teachers, more schools, more women like Soni Sori. Soni Sori haunts more than India. Soni Sori haunts the world economy.

 

(Photo Credit: Tehelka / Garima Jain)