Hearings, Conference & Welcomes

Following a week’s break in my Long Reads due to a busy Green Party Conference and Greens/EFA in London conference, there’s a lot to catch up on and I hardly know where to start! My week in Brussels before the GP conference was improved immensely by having 18 young women from the North West visit the parliament. The Green Party Conference was action-packed and wonderfully hosted by the Welsh Greens in Newport and followed again by the hugely demanding but very satisfying exercise in EU democracy that is the ‘Hearings’. Meanwhile, Brexit talks continue, UK politics continues to unravel and Extinction Rebels take to the streets in days of action to get the environment to be the priority that really should matter most. Rochdale and Manchester though were the best opportunities this week to engage with communities about their feelings on the current climate – in every sense!

Hearings in Brussels

The process of democracy in the European Parliament is fascinating to be a part of and these past two weeks the #EPhearings2019 provided the chance to question incoming Commissioners before their positions are confirmed. My question to the Commissioner-in-waiting for Innovation and Youth, concerned gaining clarity on her commitment to ensuring EU research and innovation funding properly meets the 35% guaranteed for climate-related research and came during a mammoth hearing that was nearly three hours long!

In the absence of our Green working group coordinator, I represented him in the cross-party deliberations before a formal meeting the following day. In effect, there is a now a question hanging over Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top team. As members of all 18 committees in the European Parliament have now completed the grilling of her nominees for the European Commission. The entire process ended with what was essentially a veto by the parliamentarians of three commissioners-designate, due to actual or potential conflict of interests or lack of suitability. This is the first time this has happened and how it is resolved remains to be seen in Strasbourg next week.

Green Party Conference Wales

During the conference, the Green Party committed to its member-driven updating of policy, including this time, our drugs policy. Broad support is gathering among police authorities for decriminalising the use of cannabis in order for the police to focus on much bigger drug-related issues such as the problem of county lines trafficking.

I personally attended two plenary sessions on agriculture food and farming policy. And it was great to see a member of the National Farmers Union warmly and good-humouredly agreeing with much of Green Party policy. At last! The Greens and farmers should be natural allies in taking policies forward that prioritise stewardship of the land. There is now common agreement that the ‘agri-business’ model designed around large-scale corporate businesses isn’t working for people nor planet and we need to move instead towards an agro-ecological model which supports smaller farmers, biodiversity and moves subsidies towards those public goods that benefit everyone.

On Saturday evening, I was honoured to co-host the Green Party Awards Ceremony giving recognition to our members for amazing achievements. People and local groups nominated to the final three from the North West included newly-elected Councillor Judy Filmore from Ulverston; Liverpool and Trafford Green Parties and our wonderful anti-fracking sisters in Lancashire, Julie and Tina, nominated as Green Heroes for their amazing anti-fracking work. I love this part of the conference, when we take time to celebrate all that we achieve as a Green Party given our limited resources and despite the first-past-the-post electoral system.

#NotLeavingQuietly

As light relief between meetings, my colleague Ellie Chowns MEP for the West Midlands had organised the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble to play in Brussels. This huge gathering of professional musicians created two hours of music attended by many staff and MEPs which turned into joyous sounds and dancing for staying in the EU. I don’t think the European Parliament has ever seen anything quite like it before!

Back in the NW

A packed Saturday started with a return visit to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester for a discussion on Faith and the Environment (inspired by a conversation I had back in July) with among others, founder Nassar Mahmood and Bishop David of Manchester. We recognise that all three Abrahamic faith traditions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam – accounting for nearly half of all the world’s populations – share the common values of reverence and respect of the natural world and the role of man and woman’s responsibility as stewards of it.

Good discussion among attendees followed for taking forward some joint actions in the locality, for example in tree protection, as well as further afield. We agreed to send a message from us all welcoming and thanking the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion in London.

Then for a delightful meeting in Rochdale where I spoke on a panel which included local Vicar Mark Coleman, who had been arrested that week in London as part of the Extinction Rebellion actions and some very concerning thoughts from Sami Mir about the situation in Kashmir and the potentially horrendous implications of any further escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations Pakistan and India.

4th Largest Party in EU in London this week

Genuinely excited to welcome the European Greens/EFA in London this week – makes a change to bring the whole party here! All 75 MEPs agreed to come to show solidarity with British Greens and to celebrate the incredible efforts of environmental activists. Speakers at events included George Monbiot, Natalie Bennett, Green Party Member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones plus a video link to speak to Youth Climate Strikers.

Meanwhile this week

Good

The #GreenSurge in Europe continues to rise with the recent win in Austrian elections, this from Politico:

“The Green Party, which will return to parliament swinging with about 14% of the votes. The Social Democrats came second, but fell to a historic low of under 22 per cent of the votes. Still, Social Democrat leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner conceded that at least one goal was achieved, whether that was her party’s doing or otherwise: Another coalition between the ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ doesn’t look particularly likely. The latest mood in the wider European Peoples’ Party network, to which Kurz will soon return as a leading figure, is all about hugging green voters and courting Green parties, offering them a way into executive power at the national level. Green leader Werner Kogler has, of course, requested “signs of conversion.”

Bad

Rude, ineffective and detrimental to decent politics; during the plenary session, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party voted against stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation. The resolution also criticised Facebook, accusing the social media company of not following up on most of the parliament’s demands to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where at least 87 million people had their data harvested without permission for use in targeted advertising campaigns in the 2016 US presidential election. The Brexit MEPs cast their votes against a European Parliament resolution calling for an upgrade of the EU’s anti-propaganda unit East StratCom, as well as support for public service media. Thankfully their action made no impact and the text passed comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s Party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.

Where hope lies

Visit by Aspiring Young Women leaders of fabulous young women from all parts of the constituency to the European Parliament. My team had arranged for them to attend sessions on women in leadership and politics, and they were very inspired by the women leading them. Hearing personal stories and tips from Alice Bah Kuhne, one of our two Swedish Green MEPs and her personal story and again from our South East England Green MEP Alex Phillips, added to sessions with women in NGOs amongst others. Like the young climate strikers on the trip before, there is a passion, honesty and a genuine desire to work for a greater good. As one woman noted: “Even the seating arrangements in Europe promote better discussion via the ‘hemicycle’ rather than as oppositional benches face-to-face”.

Keep an eye on my website for updates on their stories (you can also sign up for the newsletter there).

Onwards

 

 

PUTTING THE ‘ART AND SOUL BACK INTO BURNLEY

14 October

For immediate release

PUTTING THE ‘ART AND SOUL BACK INTO BURNLEY

Thursday 17 October 0930-13.00hrs, will see the North West Green MEP, Gina Dowding, visit Burnley’s new flagship digital hub – The Landmark – to lead ‘art and Soul – an engaging seminar, highlighting the relevance of art in the town. This event is in conjunction with a project from Girona in Spain which has been selected as a twinning scheme to enhance community cohesion through arts in schools.

The event will be a showcase from local professional creatives, Jai Redman and Ian Brownbill, talking about the strong cultural heritage of Burnley and how art is a potential for revitalisation of the town. 

A section of the event will be delivered by the Spanish group, ConArte, to explore the “Planters” [1] project in Girona and the positive results the programme had in terms of achievement, wellbeing and community cohesion from facilitating art in schools.

Gina Dowding MEP said:

“The idea behind the seminar is to create a space for stakeholders to explore the important role art has to play in community cohesion, cultural regeneration and economic development, and that those things are inextricably linked. Our suggestion is that art and culture should become intrinsic to a community cohesion strategy: high-quality arts education within schools can help facilitate community cohesion and growth.”

The event has been created by Gina Dowding MEP and funded by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

1.     The “Planters” project from ConArte International

 

Faith and the Environment

Saturday 12 October, Gina Dowding MEP will join a panel at The British Muslim Heritage Centre (BMHC) on a seminar talking about Faith and the Environment.

The panel will be the Bishop of Manchester, Dr Stuart Walker; Labour MP Afzal Khan; the Chairman, Nasar Mahmood OBE and Chief Executive Officer, Maqsood Ahmed OBE. Gina’s talk will centre on the Stewardship of our Natural World.

Please RSVP to the administrator, Mohammed, at administrator@bmhc.org.uk if you’d like to book a place

 

 

 

UK Green MEPs Welcome Extinction Rebellion Protests

Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of global demonstrations, demanding world leaders act now to tackle climate breakdown. The UK’s Green MEPs have welcomed the protests in a joint statement: [1]

“Our planet is on the brink of a climate catastrophe. At this critical moment in history, it’s truly inspiring to see so many people take to the streets and demand our government acts now.

“Our Prime Minister wants to treat protestors like criminals, yet he’s happy to wine and dine with the bosses of the corporations destroying our environment.

“It’s clear which is the right side of history. We urge the UK Government to open its eyes, face facts, and act now to safeguard all of our futures.”

Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West said:

“The sheer number of people involved in the Extinction Rebellion protests is heartening and I wholly support their efforts. I hope to stand with Rebels next week during a conference trip to London, and show solidarity with their mission to make the climate emergency one that the UK government acts upon with urgency.

“In the North West, we have been battling the climate-wrecking fracking industry, as they have tried and failed to frack in Lancashire. The industry has been so very deceptive when it comes to promoting natural gas as a climate solution. It is not a ‘bridge fuel’ nor a time to use fracking as a transition – fracking is another fossil fuel extraction technique, responsible for increased global methane emissions.

“The time to move to renewable energy is now and the UK government must drop support for dirty fossil fuels and back renewable energy and a Green New Deal.”

ENDS

 

[1]. Signed by: Scott Ainslie (London), Ellie Chowns (West Midlands), Molly Scott Cato (South West England and Gibraltar), Gina Dowding (North West England), Magid Magid (Yorkshire and the Humber), Alexandra Phillips (South East England) and Catherine Rowett (East of England).

 

 

Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir

The below unedited report: Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir (September 17-21, 2019) released by five prominent Indian activists, journalists and community members from the National Federation of Indian Women and the Muslim Women’s Forum India, on the grave human rights situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K), post-Indian actions of 5 August 2019. The team visited rural and urban areas across Kashmir and interviewed local men, women and children.

***********

A five-member team of eminent activists, journalists and civil society members recently returned from Kashmir. The all-woman team has now shared its findings on the situation on the ground in the region that still remains by-and-large cut off from the rest of the country, the communication blackout enabling unspeakable excesses against the local population by the military.

The team comprising Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer from National Federation of Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Syeda Hameed from the Muslim Women’s Forum India visited Kashmir between September 17 and 21. Apart from Srinagar, the women visited several villages in Shipian, Pulwama and Bandipora to take stock of ground realities. They have now released their report based on eye witness accounts and case studies of those who have actually suffered.

These are lines by Comrade Abdul Sattar Ranjoor. We held these as a beacon during our four-day sojourn in a locked and shuttered land called Kashmir.

Spring buds will flower
Nightingales’ pain will abate
Lovers wounds will start healing
Sickness will leave the ailing
Heart’s longing of Ranjoor will be fulfilled
When the poorest will rule
Wearing the crown of glory

(Ranjoor was killed in 1990)

A team of 5 women visited Kashmir from September 17th-21st 2019. We wanted to see with our own eyes how this 43-day lockdown had affected the people, particularly women and children.

The team consisted of Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer from National Federation Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Syeda Hameed from Muslim Women’s Forum.

Besides spending time in Srinagar, we visited several villages in the districts of Shopian, Pulwama and Bandipora. We went to hospitals, schools, homes, market places, spoke to people in the rural as well as urban areas, to men, women, youth and children. This Report is our chashmdeed gawahi (eye witness account) of ordinary people who have lived for 43 days under an iron siege.

Shops closed, hotels closed, schools, colleges, institutes and universities closed, streets deserted was the first visual impact as we drove out from the airport. To us, it seemed a punitive mahaul that blocked breathing freely.

The picture of Kashmir that rises before our eyes is not the populist image; shikara, houseboat, lotus, Dal Lake. It is that of women, a Zubeida, a Shamima, a Khurshida standing at the door of their homes, waiting. Waiting and waiting for their 14, 15, 17, 19-year-old sons. Their last glimpse is embedded in each heart, they dare not give up hope but they know it will be a long wait before they see their tortured bodies or their corpses… if they do. ‘We have been caged’ these words we heard everywhere. Doctors, teachers, students, workers asked us, “What would you do in Delhi if internet services were cut off for 5 minutes?” We had no answer.

Across all villages of the four districts, peoples’ experiences were the same. They all spoke of lights, which had to be turned off around 8PM after Maghreb prayers. In Bandipora, we saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp lit to read for her exam on the chance that her school may open soon. Army men angered by this breach of ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning. ‘What questions?’, no one dared ask. The two have been detained since then. ‘We insist that men should go indoors after 6 PM. Man or boy seen after dusk is a huge risk. If absolutely necessary, we women go outside’. These words were spoken by Zarina from a village near Bandipora district headquarters. ‘In a reflex action, my four-year-old places a finger on her lips when she hears a dog bark after dusk. Barking dogs mean an imminent visit by the army. I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet. Light shows from far and if that happens our men pay with their lives’.

The living are inadvertently tortured by the dead. ‘People die without warning or mourning. How will I inform my sisters about their mother’s death?’ Ghulam Ahmed’s voice was choked. ‘They are in Traal, in Pattan. I had to perform her soyem without her children’. The story was the same wherever we went. People had no means of reaching out to loved ones. 43 days were like the silence of death.

Public transportation was zero. People who had private cars took them out only for essential chores. Women stood on roadsides, flagging cars and bikes for rides. People stopped and helped out; the helplessness of both sides was their unspoken bond. ‘I was on my bike going towards Awantipora. A woman flagged me. My bike lurched on a speed breaker. She was thrown off. I took her to the nearby hospital. She went in a coma. I am a poor man how could I pay for her treatment? How and who could I inform?’ These daily events were recounted wherever we went. At a Lalla Ded Women’s Hospital in Srinagar several young women doctors expressed their absolute frustration at the hurdles that had been placed in their way since the abrogation of Article 370. ‘There are cases where women cannot come in time for deliveries. There are very few ambulances, the few that are running are stopped at pickets on the way. The result? There are several cases of overdue deliveries that produce babies with birth deformities. It is a life long affliction, living death for parents”. Conversely, we were told that several women are delivering babies prematurely due to the stress and khauf (fear) in the present condition. “It feels like the government is strangling us and then sadistically asking us to speak at the same time,’ a young woman doctor said as she clutched her throat to show how she felt.

A senior doctor from Bandipora Hospital told us that people come from Kulgam, Kupwara, and other districts. Mental disorders, heart attacks, today there are more cases than he could ever recall. For emergencies junior doctors desperately look for seniors; there is no way of reaching them on phone. If they are out of the premises, they run on the streets shouting, asking, searching in sheer desperation. One orthopaedic doctor from SKIMS was stopped at the army imposed blockade while he was going for duty. He was held for 7 days. Safia in Shopian had cancer surgery. ‘I desperately need a check-up in case it has recurred. Baji, I can’t reach my doctor. The only way is to go to the city, but how do I get there? And if I do, will he be there?’ Ayushman Bharat, an internet-based scheme, cannot be availed by doctors and patients.

Women in villages stood before us with vacant eyes. ‘How do we know where they are? Our boys who were taken away, snatched away from our homes. Our men go to the police station, they are asked to go to the headquarters. They beg rides from travellers and some manage to get there. On the board are names of ‘stone-pelters’ who have been lodged in different jails, Agra, Jodhpur, Ambedkar, Jhajjar.’ A man standing by adds, ‘Baji we are crushed. Only a few of us who can beg and borrow, go hundreds of miles only to be pushed around by hostile jail guards in completely unfamiliar cities.’

At Gurdwaras we met women who said they have always felt secure in Kashmir. ‘Molestation of women in rest of India about which we read is unheard of in Kashmir’. Young women complained they were harassed by the army, including removal of their niqab

‘Army pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20000 to 60000’. So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. ‘We hope and pray they will spare a buzurg. But their slaps land on all faces, regardless whether they are old or young, or even the very young. In any case, Baji, we keep our doors lightly latched so they open easily with one kick’. The irony of these simply spoken words!

Boys as young as 14 or 15 are taken away, tortured, some for as long as 45 days. Their papers are taken away, families not informed. Old FIRs are not closed. Phones are snatched; collect it from the army camp they are told. No one in his senses ever went back, even for a slightly expensive phone. A woman recounted how they came for her 22-year-old son. But since his hand was in plaster they took away her 14-year-old instead. In another village, we heard that two men were brutally beaten. No reason. One returned, after 20 days, broken in body and spirit. The other is still in custody. One estimate given to us was 13,000 boys lifted during this lockdown. They don’t even spare our rations. During random checking of houses which occurs at all odd hours of the night, the army persons come in and throw out the family. A young man working as SPO told us. ‘We keep a sizeable amount of rice, pulses, edible oil in reserve. Kerosene is mixed in the ration bins, sometimes that, sometimes koyla’.

Tehmina from Anantnag recently urged her husband, ‘Let us have another child. If our Faiz gets killed at least we will have one more to call our own. Abdul Haleem was silent. He could see the dead body of his little boy lying on his hands even as she spoke these words. ‘Yeh sun kar, meri ruh kaanp gayi,” he tells us.

A 30-year-old lawyer from Karna was found dead in his rented accommodation. He was intensely depressed. Condolence notice was issued by Secy Bar Association. Immediately after that, he was taken into custody. Why? We spoke to a JK policeman. All of them have been divested of their guns and handed dandas. ‘How do you feel, losing your guns?’ ‘Both good and bad’ came the reply. ‘Why?’ Good because we were always afraid of them being snatched away. Bad because we have no means now to defend ourselves in a shootout. One woman security guard said ‘Indian government wants to make this a Palestine. This will be fought by us, Kashmiris’. One young professional told us, ‘We want freedom. We don’t want India, we don’t want Pakistan. We will pay any price for this. Ye Kashmiri khoon hai. Koi bhi qurbani denge’.

Everywhere we went there were two inexorable sentiments. First, desire for Azadi; they want nothing of either India or Pakistan. The humiliation and torture they have suffered for 70 years has reached a point of no return. Abrogation of 370 some say has snapped the last tie they had with India. Even those people who always stood with the Indian State have been rejected by the Govt. ‘So, what is the worth in their eyes, of us, ordinary Kashmiris?’ Since all their leaders have been placed under PSA or under house arrest, the common people have become their own leaders. Their suffering is untold, so is their patience. The second, was the mothers’ anguished cries (who had seen many children’s corpses with wounds from torture) asking for an immediate stop to this brutalisation of innocents. Their children’s lives should not be snuffed out by gun and jackboots.

As we report our experiences and observations of our stay in Kashmir, we end with two conclusions. That the Kashmiri people have in the last 50 days shown an amazing amount of resilience in the face of brutality and blackout by the Indian government and the army. The incidents that were recounted to us sent shivers down our spines and this report only summarises some of them. We salute the courage and resoluteness of the Kashmiri people. Secondly, we reiterate that nothing about the situation is normal. All those claiming that the situation is slowly returning to normalcy are making false claims based on distorted facts.

Poets speak for humankind. We began our report with lines from the Kashmiri poet Ranjoor, we end with lines from Hindi poet Dushyant. Both indicate the way forward for Kashmir:

Ho gayi hai peerh parbat si pighalni chahiye
Iss Himalaya se koi Ganga nikalni chahiye

We Demand:

1. FOR NORMALCY Withdraw the Army and Paramilitary forces with immediate effect
2. FOR CONFIDENCE BUILDING Immediately Cancel all cases/ FIRs and Release all those, especially the youth who are under custody and in jail since the Abrogation of Article 370
3. FOR ENSURING JUSTICE Conduct inquiry on the widespread violence and tortures unleashed by the Army and other security personnel.
4. COMPENSATION to all those families whose loved ones lost lives because of non-availability of transportation and absence of communication.

In Addition:

• Immediately restore all communication lines in Kashmir including internet and mobile networks.
• Restore Article 370 and 35 A.
• All future decisions about the political future of Jammu and Kashmir must be taken through a process of dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
• All army personnel must be removed from the civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
• A time-bound inquiry committee must be constituted to look into the excesses committed by the army.

[Kindly note. To protect the identity of the people we met, all names in the Report have been changed. We have not named the villages we visited for the very same reason]

The report is available here.

 

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