TheRED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION A Civilian Peacebuilding Initiative

Image (c) Robert Markey

Robert Markey’s first act of defiance was in school in 1965 when in his graduation speech he advocated the use of civil disobedience to bring about change. Today, Robert is an artist whose work focuses on questions of conflict, violence, protests, peace and human rights. Having witnessed the civil rights movement in America as a child, having participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War while in college, Robert has worked with well-known names including Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. He is a versatile artist with exposure to living and working with spiritual communities, playing the sitar and engaging with children in conflict zones. Nidhi Shendurnikar met Robert last year in Nepal as part of the CONTACT South Asia programme organized by The SIT Graduate Institute. There he mentored South Asians participants to explore their artistic skills to further peace in the region. Here, he talks about his involvement with peace work, particularly his use of art to help end violence.

You have experimented with various art forms like paintings, mosaics, sculpture and theatre. What motivates you to invest in art as a tool for peace advocacy?
This is a difficult question, I have been working for peace in various ways ever since I was a teenager and there is still so much war, violence and brutality. Artists and musicians have worked in so many ways to stop governments from starting wars, but it has never worked. The main thing art can do is raise awareness and help people understand the violence present in different situations. Many people are totally unaware of the amount of domestic violence that exists or the dangers of child trafficking. What they often ask is, “what can I do to stop this?”
Even when people know about something, seeing a work of art can make them take it in, understand it, feel it in their hearts. If this can happen then they will do more to end it. In my art work, this is what I try to do.

I am sure using art to talk of peace is a challenge. How have you, in your creations, dealt with peace?
Actually peace has often been an inspiration for my work. When I become aware of something violent that has happened, I use that to create a work of art. Sometimes this work just represents my anger at the people who inflicted this violence and sometimes it is more of a push to get people to understand it and work to end it.
Some of my political paintings were inspired by real life incidences of violence. For example, I painted ‘Collateral Damage’ after the missiles sent to kill Saddam Hussein went off target and killed a wonderful Iraqi artist and her family. Another one titled ‘Grieving Mother’ was inspired by a newspaper photo of a Vietnamese woman crying. I wanted to convey the personal horrors that war brought. ‘Trail of Tears’ depicted the brutal killings of Native Americans back in the 1830s. I also did an exhibition on 9/11 which depicted the history of US terrorism in the world. Other than these individual pieces of art, my extended installations have been inspired by meeting children who were trafficked. ‘Superbowl Scoreboard’ and ‘Witness to Violence’ were inspired by the need to stop violence against women here in the USA.

While not everyone may understand a piece of art, yet a subtle connection is possible in some way
Collateral Damage
or the other. Is it easy to use art to communicate peace, because both art and peace represent simple things of life?
This is an interesting question. I don't know if you have had a chance to start reading the book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, but it is basically about this. Fighting, power and logic are all left brain focused. Art, music, creativity and caring for the community are right brain focused. So seeing art, hearing music creates a more peaceful society. Historically when the most brutal governments take over, they destroy art, censor and kill artists and musicians.
There are a lot of ways to work for peace. In working for peace, much of the work is trying to stop violence. Much of my earlier work focused on showing the impact of violence. But also in working for peace we need to show people the beauty of peace. In my very recent installation, ‘See the Beauty, End the Violence’, the attempt is to show the beauty of peace. I don't think it is easy to spread peace with art, I think it is one of the many very good ways to create peace.

I want to learn about your experience of working in conflict zones around the world, using art to heal wounds.
My first experience in a conflict zone was in Nicaragua during the Contra war in 1986 where I worked with Witness for Peace to document the horrors of war there. I then spent time in Guatemala (1988), worked in an orphanage for indigenous children, many of whose parents were killed by US supported and trained death squads. I set up a carpentry school for the older boys and played with the younger kids. I didn’t do much art, only experienced conflict from an outsider’s perspective. It was in 2003 that I started working on mosaic mural projects with kids in Brazil. It was not a conflict zone, but the kids I worked with had difficult lives. Since then I have worked with street kids in Cambodia, orphans and handicapped boys in Sri Lanka, street kids and a gypsy community in India and a Palestinian girl’s high school in Israel.
When I do such projects, I don't think a lot about the conflict or healing wounds, I just do art with the kids and see that they love doing it. The theme of the art is never about the conflict; it is usually about fun things like animals, dancers, flowers or whatever they want to create. Children especially take a liking to working with mosaics because they have led difficult lives, which leave them with a feeling that something damaged/broken can never heal. The art of mosaic lets them express their inner feelings, creativity and shows them that it is possible to heal even broken pieces.

Can art become a bit disturbing when it tries to communicate peace?
Yes, much art is disturbing, which is often the point - to force people to see the horrors, the brutality that is happening. It is one thing to read about something that happened and it is easy to skim over it and not take it in. To see it as a large painting, photograph, sculpture, film is much more difficult to ignore, so these things can move people in ways that nothing else can.

Grieving Mother
What challenges have you faced as an artist and as a human being to spread the message of peace through art?
One major challenge has been to understand and research the subject that I work on. For instance, while creating a piece of art on trafficking and slavery, I read a lot on the horrors that child victims underwent. It was brutal, and after a couple of months I had to stop reading any more. The other challenge is often the response. I have had my work censored and threatened, especially when it involved challenging the government. It is also very difficult to find a place to show work that is political. During the Contra war in Nicaragua, the city where I was showing a piece about the war, threatened to forcibly remove it. They backed out when I threatened to sue them and their lawyer agreed with my right to do so. After 9/11, it was almost impossible to show any political piece.

Any particular art work or artist who has inspired you?
Kathe Kollwitz, is one of my biggest inspirations. And Picasso's ‘Guernica’, which I used to go see in New York as a kid before it went back to Spain when the dictatorship ended. Picaso did very little political work, but the Guernica is extraordinary. And Francisco de Goya is also an inspiration.

Art is multi-faceted. Is it okay to expect artists to consciously strive for peace through their work? Or rather, let peace flow naturally from an artistic creation?
Artists can contribute to the world in many ways and striving for peace is one of these ways. I think artists who are not political in their work often become so when they see or come in contact with an issue that moves them to face it and work to stop it.
I do a lot of street art that is seen by thousands of people every day and hopefully make their day a little happier. Is a happier world the same as a more peaceful world? I don't know, but I believe that there are two ways to help a person who is suffering. One is to decrease their suffering and the other is to increase their joy. As an artist, I think I can increase people's joy, so hopefully I am helping to alleviate their suffering a little.

The world needs more beauty. The world needs more peace. Both are so important and connected.
Stronger Tomorrow, through its lyrics, establishes the fact that women are the makers of their own future, and the process begins with girls. The underlying message of the song for girls world over is that the world is theirs, and no one can take it away from them. Rendered from the perspective of Life, the song is a powerful assertion through art advocacy that women and girls, who hold up half the sky, have a rightful place under the sun, and that this is the foundation of a stronger future built on gender equality.

The song implores girls to break out of the shackles that bind them with assertiveness. Encouraging girls to speak up, speak out and speak against in their own way, the song alludes to the beautiful message of peace encapsulated by Mahatma Gandhi: In a gentle way, shake the world. It suggests a beautiful undercurrent of strength and inner power.

Lyrics: Ashay Abbhi
Composition, Vocals and Programming: Gilli (Nrithya Maria Andrews, Vivin Kuruvilla and Vinay Ramakrishnan)
Produced by: The Red Elephant Foundation

----Lyrics ----
Lift that hand a little higher,
move your legs a little faster,
talk when you talk a little softer,
don’t be happy girl be happier
And you stay through the dark, get a hold of the light
if you look hard enough, it will be bright
it could be happiness, it could be sorrow,
there’ll always be my arms for you to borrow,
to hold you through today to a stronger tomorrow,
to a stronger tomorrow,
to a stronger tomorrow
Lift that chin a little higher,
smile a little wider,
why don’t you sing a little louder,
why! why!
And you stay through the dark, get a hold of the light
if you look hard enough it will be bright
it could be happiness, it could be sorrow,
there’ll always be my arms for you to borrow,
to hold you through today to a stronger tomorrow,
to a stronger tomorrow,
to a stronger tomorrow
Dream tonight about the ‘morrow you want,
dream with your eyes open to have no want,
work a little more tonight, make your own way
just walk with me, walk with me into the day
And you stay through the dark, get a hold of the light
if you look hard enough it will be bright
it could be happiness, it could be sorrow,
there’ll always be my arms for you to borrow,
to hold you through today to a stronger tomorrow,
to a stronger tomorrow

Little girls from all over the world share their thoughts on what 'being a girl' means to each of them, and what they take pride about themselves for.

Image: Razia Jan (c)
In a little village outside of Kabul, a bunch of girls are gregarious and happy, walking along, chattering as they go to school. A lovely, pleasant lady welcomes them at her doorstep, ushering them into the school for their classes. She stands tall, as the lady who effected change in a nation torn by war. She stands as the ray of hope that she saw, in the future of the nation. The lady is Razia Jan, the founder of the Zabuli Education Centre and her allied initiative, Razia’s Ray of Hope. A CNN Hero, Razia shares her story.

I am a native Afghan, and lived in Afghanistan until the 1970s. I went to the US in the 1970s for my education. I couldn’t go back to Afghanistan, though, because of the Soviet invasion and the civil war, then the Taliban, and 9/11.  After 9/11, I rallied in my adopted New England Community to send over 400 homemade blankets to the rescue workers at Ground Zero, and slowly, to send care packages to the US troops in Afghanistan. I was involved in the military’s Operation Shoe Fly, coordinating the delivery of over 30,000 pairs of shoes for needy Afghan children. The US started bombing  Afghanistan right away, and I would spend time watching and listening to the news, thinking of how many innocent people – especially women and girls, were being affected by this.

I went back in January 2002, and visited a few orphanages with some gifts for the children. I made it a point to gift both, girls and boys with toys. I noticed, though, that when I gave a boy a toy, and gave a girl a doll or a toy, they would take their gifts and walk away – and a short distance later, I’d notice the boy snatching away the toy from the girl. She couldn’t do, or say a thing in response. I felt bad for the girls, and decided that I would start working to protect them, and give them the route to the self-respect and understanding they needed to stand for themselves.

I served as the president of the Rotary Club in Duxbury, Massachusetts, for over 20 years. I served as
Winning the CNN Heroes Award
the President of my club in 2007. My Club raised the funds to build a girls school in 2008, when I arranged for money from Massachusetts to build a school in an area in Afghanistan that had never had a school. I made it a point to search for a safe area, where the school won’t be destroyed and where the students won’t be mistreated for attending the school.

It took me time to persuade the community. There were about seven villages, and it is outside Kabul – I won’t name the villages out of concern for the security situation there. There were about 101 girls in 2008, from the Lower Kindergarten to Grade 4. Now, we’ve grown to a powerful strength of 491 girls, and the first class graduates this fall. The community refuses to let them go outside to study further, and so these girls got together and asked me for help. I am now building a midwifery institute next door to the school. A lot of women who studied with me, and from other places and are now sitting at home after marriage, or are forced to sit at home and not leave outside for their higher studies are eager to be part of this institute. I have about 57 girls who are going to join the institute. It is a great opportunity for them. I’m happy to say that the school has been privately run entirely, and I have had absolutely no government funding or dependency on the government. It has been a non-profit always.

When I started the school, after beginning the construction of a building, I needed money to complete furnishing it. An Afghan doctor in Massachusetts told me that the wife of the late Abdul Majid Zabuli – the man who pioneered economics and banking in Afghanistan only to be uprooted by the Soviet invasion – ran her foundation. She was a German lady, and said that she wanted me to name the school after her husband, who had done so much for Afghanistan, but had never been given the recognition he deserved. That was how it came to be known as Zabuli Education Centre.

I have many stories to tell, of my girls. But I’ll go with one that is closest to my heart. The oldest student of our school is about 23 now. Last year, her father wanted to remarry – he already has seven kids. His arrangement was with a girl in another part of Afghanistan. She was sixteen. He had given his word that he would give his daughter's hand in marriage to the 70 year old father of the 16 year old that he was about to marry. His daughter refused, fought tooth and nail – and was beaten, burned, her ribs were broken, she was brutally injured – but she stoutly refused. Six months passed this way, and eventually, her father resigned to her demand. But since he had given his word that he would marry the 16 year old, he could not go back on his word. He went ahead and married the girl, paying $20,000 as a bride price. She had a son, recently.

In Afghanistan, as is perhaps true in India and other countries, girls are married off while they are still young. Families live on the money they get, and so they bear many girls so that they can get a bride price for each of their daughters to get by. I encountered this as a bit of a resistance, as I had to negotiate with families to make them see sense in educating their girls. I began to tell their fathers the benefits of having an educated daughter at home. A man who was illiterate would have to go to ten different places just to have a notification he received, read out to him. An educated daughter in that setting would help ease out a lot. Many families saw sense in it, and it was a unique opportunity for their girls, indeed. Some of the girls are engaged to be married though still young, but they do continue to study. There are times when I try to persuade families to educate their girls, but I fail. When I fail, I realise I have to deal with it – because there is only so much I can invest in a family affair. I try my best.

I’m happy to note that my school is a safe place for the girls to come to, every day. There are seven villages, and my school is in a central location that allows girls from all the villages to come to study. We have a good support system in the village in that they act as vigilant guards for our school – so much so that they stop outsiders and strangers, question and verify credentials and then let people in only if they can be sure of their credentials. We keep checking the premises everyday for gas before we let the girls in, and we also check the well that supplies water to the school, to ensure that there is no poison.

Earlier, the girls used to walk about 4 or 5 miles to reach the school – and it was difficult, because the older girls would be teased and misbehaved with. Now, we have a bus that brings and drops the girls off. We do our best, and give our girls the best we can. Our school is the number one school for girls in Afghanistan. We have computers, and an internet connection, and we teach the girls English, for an hour, each day. It is a part of the curriculum. We have 19 teachers right now, one administrative head, one headmistress, a gentleman who oversees certain elements of the administrative process, three guards and two drivers, all of whom are on payroll. The teachers are very devoted, and travel from the school and to Kabul, spending 1.5 hours on the travel.

We have a program where we welcome people to sponsor a girl’s education. It costs $300 each year to educate one girl. We welcome people to sponsor students – one, two, as many as they can. The cost of education includes books, uniforms, stationery and transportation. The sponsor receives a letter and a picture from the child, and over 200 children have been sponsored as part of the program. 

To support the program, head over to
Sweta Mohapatra
Sweta Mohapatra, the founder of DiversityVision, is all about looking at the world through an Equality Lens. Talking about her aspirations for a world built on the fount of equality, Sweta explains her vision and mission behind her initiative, and examines how gender equality can culminate in a world of peace.  

Let's start with you telling us a little about yourself!
I was born and brought up in Delhi. My father worked as a doctor in the Government service and mom is a housewife. A creative person who believes in making the most of her time on this planet by creating value for herself and others, my ambitious and adventurous spirit has kept me busy exploring, learning, moving and progressing. I have always been moved by the power of the human spirit and the potential that resides in each person. I love reading, writing, teaching and the outdoors!

What made you start Diversity Vision?
In my experience as a human resource leader, I was fortunate to get exposed to concept and practices around Diversity and inclusion in a few multinationals I worked with. Out of sheer interest and passion, I worked, read and researched more in the area of women leadership and Gender Diversity. Soon I started researching formally around these areas as a PhD scholar to build my expertise in this area. What really moved me was such little empirical research in India, a lot of lip service and very little deeper work to advance women, and the many stories I heard of very talented, qualified women struggling to make it to the top.  With the conviction that this sphere needs advocacy, integrated consulting and change management, I was driven to start off the social enterprise, DiversityVision. I believe that through expert knowledge, industry practices, and neutrality that DiversityVision would bring to the table for its clients, I could drive this agenda from outside more powerfully than I can ever do from the inside.

What are some of the identifiable gaps you've chanced upon in the field of gender equality in the workplace? Why are these differences still subsisting?
The biggest gap in this space is the understanding and appreciation of business case for having gender diverse workforce. And a fallout of that are the various gaps, like unconscious biases during the recruitment, performance management, promotions and rewards for women employees.Upcoming concerns are being tackled through standalone awareness, policies and training but what is needed is senior management commitment to have gender balanced leadership and drive that systematically like a change agenda with short, medium and long term goals.

How does your work aim to plug these gaps?
At DiversityVision, we understand and truly appreciate that Gender Diversity needs to be driven as an organizational change agenda and standalone trainings and legislative focus alone may not move the needle on gender diversity issues and concerns. Especially, not at the pace firms today wish to. We believe in a two pronged approach which looks at both sides of the gender diversity coin through our work streams. Our first work stream focuses on all interventions that would transform organizations to be a more supportive and enabling place to grow and nurture both genders equally. And our second work stream focuses on targeted leadership and personal development offerings for women to succeed at a workplace. I want to specially mention our host of executive and life coaching solutions for individual women like Coaching for emerging women leaders, coaching for life transitions, Maternity Coaching and Return to Work Coaching.

What are some of the challenges you've faced / continue to face in the field?
One of the top challenge is senior management commitment to drive Gender Diversity like a change agenda, is weak or invisible. There is a tendency to not talk about gender openly, and tuck it under broader Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, or there is a deep hesitation to have any differentiated benefits or trainings for women with the apprehension of noise from male colleagues. Secondly, the few firms who wish to work in this space largely want to work on developing women, but not on transforming their organization culture or creating more inclusive male leaders. This approach may be not as effective to retain talent even if you groom them as great leaders. Fortunately there are some top leaders who understand the importance and want to create a roadmap for an integrated Gender Diversity journey. However, they have to battle out getting internal buy in from key stakeholders within their firms or get sufficient budgets approved to work with expert partners to drive this agenda.

While these efforts are exceptionally important, there is also the fact that legislation or policy changes need to be implemented for there to be tangible impact. Do you agree with this?
I absolutely second that thought. It is heartening to see some base lining around the prevention of sexual harassment practices due to Vishakha Guidelines, and now the need to have on woman on the board of directors through the legislation passed in 2013. The currently proposed change in maternity leave to eight months, would be a pleasant modification, as well. However, what will differentiate the wheat from the chaff would be the spirit with which these are followed. Like we popularly say – Processes are as good as people who follow them!

Do you have any anecdotes / success stories that you would like to share?
I clearly recall an event where I was the speaker, and the audience was full of senior leaders. One of the gentlemen flatly asked “Why should we be promoting women into leadership? I don’t think they are good leaders. They are diffident, not ready to stretch and can’t manage emotions!” Hats off to this person for he spoke his mind out, and I could see smiles and nods from many more in the room, men and women equally.  This revealed to me where the needle currently is! So what needs to change is at a much deeper level. Where we are is where we are and it’s a fall out of complexly interwoven individual and societal factors but if we need to start the Journey – it would possibly be one at a time. One man who changes his mind set to become a strong advocate of women colleagues, One Woman who strives to reach the top despite all hurdles coming her way!
Flying Colors
An inspiring story of a young girl with a hearing impairment who leaves a village and makes it into a city comes alive in the film Flying Colors. The brainchild of Raja Krishna, Flying Colors is all about activism with a heart.  

1. Can you start by telling us something about yourself?

I am Raja Krishna, born and brought up in a middle class family in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. My parents worked very hard, and took us from a poor financial life to a middle class lifestyle. I saw how my family had transformed from the poor to the middle class. From childhood, I was fascinated by rags to riches stories and stories of sincere and hard working women like my mother. Being happy and funny all the time was not my style. When I was in the 12th Standard, I began realizing what my parents had gone through to let us study in college. It motivated me and I got through to a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science at the National Institute of Technology in Warangal. During my college days, I used to be unique and different. I never fit into any group. I personally tend to be more individualistic than belonging to any group. I used to be an average student in NITW. But then again, come Campus Placements at the end of the 3rd year, I was motivated to get into a big company. That was my family’s dream, and to some extent, mine too. I prepared for the interview in my own style, found some innovative ways to tackle the written test and three rounds of interviews. I was the only one to get selected for the Software Development Engineer position in the world's biggest company, Microsoft IDC from my class. I worked there for one year and three months, didn't like the job or the mechanical work I had to do, so many limitations, heavy work load which don’t need your creative abilities, so I resigned from Microsoft, applied for Design courses in the US and all universities rejected me. I then learned Design on my own, sitting at home for 18 months, got placed in Clarice Technologies in Pune, worked there for a while, and found limitations in the company again, they didn't want me to explore new ways of designing software though I found glitch in their design process, so I resigned from Clarice and moved to Mumbai to become a filmmaker on September 4, 2013 with no experience, not much knowledge, not even a single known face in the industry. So I like to be free you see and do some exciting work. That's my journey.
Image (c) Raja Krishna

2. What inspired Flying Colors? What inspired the theme of women’s empowerment?
I was working in Clarice Technologies in 2012, and the Delhi gang rape incident happened that December. I was planning to move to films as a career. I was moved by the Delhi incident and in January 2013, I decided to make a short film centred around the issue of rape. I wrote a short story and moved to Mumbai with the story. I narrated the story to a Bollywood cinematographer (through my roommate in Mumbai then), he criticized the story a lot and said it was bad. After giving it some thought, I realised that I wanted to inspire women to move ahead in life. I decided to make a feature film, so I started with some research on the current status of women in India. I gathered data from the internet, and after analyzing the data, I found that 90% of Indian women wanted freedom. They didn't want somebody to judge them or tell them what to do or not to do. That was the genesis of Flying Colors. I began writing the script. I was fascinated by the rags to riches stories, so I designed the girl's character that way, as a girl from an underprivileged background in challenging conditions. The story evolved to showcase how an underprivileged girl in challenging conditions fights her way to freedom. If, despite all the adversities life throws her way, she could do it, then it is easy for girls to see that they can do it.

3. What went into making the film?

First, I started a Kickstart crowd funding campaign to gather funds. It was a failed attempt. Then my brother came forward to finance the film. Initially I thought I could make the film within the budget of Rs. 6 Lakhs. I was not ready for the shock. I had Rs. 6 Lakhs and then went onto putting the cast and crew together. I knew that I was a beginner and couldn't make a film in the mainstream way. I needed a cinematographer who would listen to me, who would understand my raw ideas and translate it into a shot. I started looking up people on Facebook and on YouTube. After a lot of time searching, I found Vishal on Facebook. I saw some of his photos and I liked the way he thought about a visual and how he captured it and what that visual conveyed. Casting was a big challenge. The character was unique, never seen before in Indian movies. Just 10 days before the shoot, I came across Bhavna Mali's profile. I contacted her, met her in Infiniti Mall Andheri, narrated script, she liked it, done. Bhavna had no idea about acting, so we both watched Girl Rising (2013) documentary film together and I explained her each and every shot. Why a character did something in a shot... She understood the basics. I also explained a bit about Method Acting which I had learned during my software days (I wanted to be an actor first), and she was ready for the shoot.

The shoot started and the first day was a nightmare for everybody! The real non actors except Bhavna were not able to perform, so it took us 4 hours to capture 3,4 min scene. My cinematographer and sound recordist looked at me like what is going on? I knew it was not happening but I pushed my crew and cast to do more, and managed to finish some part of the shoot on first day. It's always challenging to shoot with non-actors. It was very challenging. Bhavna was able to act really well, and that also gave me confidence that well we can do it with her. The first day taught me one thing, you can't have set of plans for this kind of film. From the second day, I changed the working style, we shot in a beautifully chaos way, improvised everything on location. Then I could see the improvement, everybody enjoyed shooting. We had fun doing something creative and exciting every day. Most of the shoot happened outdoors. We covered most parts of Western and Southern Mumbai. On the last day of the shoot, unfortunately, we lost our camera and sound equipment. It was a big blow. Rs. 3 Lakh worth of equipment! I finished the shoot by hiring new equipment. Minimal crew is a boon and a problem if you are not active all the time. We were beginners, so I didn't blame anybody. I was happy at finishing the shoot in 22 days, and a bit let down by not controlling everything properly. 

Post production was the biggest life changing experience for me. I wanted a genius editor who could understand my thoughts, how I shot the movie, and how we improvised each shot, my vision and all. But the budget was very less. So, I took matter in my own hands again. I edited the movie myself. I showed the movie to some Bollywood music composers and sound designers. They criticized the movie length. Again, I don't blame them. After giving some thought, I understood what editing, what pace was, what storytelling is. The process of making the movie was very enriching.     

4. What were some of your key challenges in portraying some of the realities your film shows?
I had written a scene, the protagonist girl struggles with Periods one day, she had no shelter, how she copes up with it all alone with no money and all. We shot the scene, I edited it. During sound work my sound mixer told me that it didn't look like she had periods, something else. I think I didn't execute it properly, somewhere in conceiving and executing the scene I lost it. A female filmmaker could have got it right I guess. So I had cut it out of the movie. There are two segments that portrayed attempts of rape in the movie. The people portraying the molesters were very shy on location. They couldn't even be serious, so I had to invent new editing style to get the right experience. One day, when we were shooting a scene in a somewhat less developed area, a large crowd gathered around us to see the shoot. It was challenging to guide them to a particular position and capture the shot so that the camera wouldn’t capture the crowd.  

5. In a day and age where there is so much value in storytelling and filmmaking, how does Flying Colors fit in, to tell truths that the world should know?
I believe that a great director can make a terrible movie if the cause of the movie is bad. A struggling storyteller can make a cult movie if the cause of the movie is great. How about the basic idea of a poor 15 year old village girl's fighting life in a big busy city? Can it do something good for the audience? I think yes. Can it do anything bad? I think not!

6. What are your plans for the film?
The first would be a theatrical release. Next, I am at showing the movie to underprivileged girls whenever I get a chance after the release. After the release and during my future career in films, whenever I get a chance to meet such girls, I will show them the movie in Laptop or mobile or in any way I can. It will go on forever as long as such girls exist.

Kanchibai was to be married off to a cousin, but she couldn’t stand the idea. The proclivity for her family to force on her an incestuous bond in matrimony was far too much for her to accept, far too wrong for her to tolerate. Kanchibai was educated at the volunteer school that some city-people had set up for her village. Though she was not as educated as her brother was, she still understood the wrong in allowing the marriage to take place. Kanchibai’s heart was with another, anyway, and marrying him was the only prospect she was willing to consider.
So she devised a plan - she would run away on the eve of the wedding. A trusted friend would be her aide, and help her escape the pockmarked fate that was awaiting her. But even the truest of friends can be forced to turn foe, circumstances forcing her to be a tattle-tale.
That night, Kanchibai was killed by her brothers, uncles and father.


Because the family’s honour is of utmost importance; Because a runaway bride is a prospect about a thousand times worse in comparison to a dead one; Because they can.

In the past year alone, scores of Indian women were killed, all in the name of honour. They allegedly shamed their family, and by bringing their family disrepute, death was their decided punishment. India has reported over 1,000 cases of honour killings every year. And 900 incidents of such honour killings are reported from three Indian states alone: Haryana, Punjab, and U.P.

But what is the honour in killing?

How could these men justify the killing of their women, all in the name of “honour”? Rather than to live a life with stigma, the insinuation of such logic in the hope of quelling any plausible dishonour stemming from a woman’s choice of standing for herself, or from a woman’s pursuit of a relationship with a man of her choice, is absurd. Outrageously so, at that.

Honour killings are a reflection of a society that is steeped in an uber-conservative mindset, and deeply entwined an ego-centric misunderstanding, wherein women are construed emblematic of their familial honour, through their behaviour and conduct in the public eye. Any ‘misconduct’ therefore, is a depredation of the family’s honour and pride, and needs to be prevented at any cost. The dishonour can be dispensed with, and honour can be restored only if the offending female is tossed off the cliff.
There is no doubt that a mentality that precedes t
he perpetration of such an act is a product of misguided and ill-gotten values. The confluence of a politically liberal environment coupled with misinterpretation of religious texts as sanctioning the act by a couple of zealots is an unholy, heady mix. You cannot hope to be politically or religiously liberated if you fail to understand that social liberation goes alongside the both.

Honour lies in respect, in perseverance, in honesty and in humanitarian conduct. And when you kill, there’s nothing more dishonour than that.

Thair Orfahli
Thair Orfahli, a refugee from Syria, has faced a horrific ordeal. From the heartland of conflict torn Syria, right up to finding a space in Germany as he waits for the declaration on his application for asylum, Thair has gone through a difficult series of events. In a world that often tends to see refugees either as "people in need" or as "vulnerable people", and not as friends, Thair’s story is a reminder of how valuable perceptions are in fostering peace. It is exceptionally important to break these illusive social stratifications that separate the privileged and the unfortunate. Thair’s story is a beautiful example of how when you make friends and empathise with the other, this happens immediately. Here’s his story, in his own words.

My story begins in Damascus, where I met Sara. I was 19 and had just finished high school; she was 24 and was doing a summer school on International Politics at the Arab International University organized by her university, the Free University Berlin. We had the best time ever; we were always laughing and looking for the next adventure. We have spent every day together during her program in Syria. We went to visit all historical sites in the old city and in Bosra. When I think about Palmyra I want to cry. I cannot believe the temple of Baal Shamin is now gone forever. Sara became like a sister to me and we stayed in touch over the years… I can’t believe my country has entered its 5th year of war. My dream is for the conflict to be over and be back soon in Damascus, the city of jasmine, with my family and friends.

In September 2009, I started attending law school in Beirut, Lebanon. I kept going back and forth between Beirut and Damascus like most other students and workers who came to Lebanon from Damascus. It was the easiest and most common commute ever. By July 2012, Syria began to full up with tension and fighting. Thousands of people have been killed and injured, and millions have been displaced. In this time, countless homes, hospitals and schools were either damaged or destroyed.  It was no longer safe, and I had no choice but to leave for good. I took a shared car one night to Lebanon. In three hours, I reached Beirut.

By September 2012, the situation in Lebanon worsened, and became very dangerous – there was a massive influx of refugees from Syria, and my mother encouraged me to go to Egypt so that I could complete my studies. I moved as she said, and was able to continue my studies in law. I had found a room in a shared apartment with other Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, Sara was working in Egypt, and together with many other friends, we supported refugee families and communities from different countries through a solidarity organization called the Sina Network.  

In November 2014, after I had spent two years in Egypt, I graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Alexandria and tried to obtain authorization to work as a lawyer in Egypt. According to Egyptian law, I needed to have a permit from the Arab Lawyers’ Syndicate of my country of origin, Syria! They wanted me to travel back to Damascus, in the midst of war, just for a piece of paper! In addition to that, sadly, my passport was stolen and that made things very difficult for me. The Syrian Embassy refused to issue me another one. They said that they would only give me a travel document that would allow me to travel back to Syria in order to serve in the Syrian Army and put my life in danger. Without any hope of getting a job and at the serious risk of being detained or sent back to Syria, I had no other choice but to flee once again. This time, I had to go to Europe.

On May 18 2015, in great despair like several other refugees, I paid a smuggler US$2,000 for the very expensive crossing from Alexandria to Sicily, Southern Italy. The news spoke about these boats sinking without any survivors and all my friends were telling me not to go, but I knew within that I simply had to try to reach the other shore of the Mediterranean Sea so that I had a chance to build a new life. Maybe I was making the wrong choice… I said bye to everyone, I left my computer and my belongings with my dear friend Jakob and I told him that had I not arrived, he should have given everything to my family. I then took on a little food and water, and a life vest and I was ready to go.

Thair with Sarah and members from the refugee community
(c) UNOCHA / #ShareHumanity
Four days later, we were packed like sardines – about 100 of us, and we were hidden in the back of a truck to reach the dock. It was dark, hot and we were all very anxious. We had to swim a bit to reach the boat. As we got further away from Egypt and we reached international waters, more people would arrive in smaller boats coming from Libya. It was very cold at night, and we had run out of food and water. The waves were 3 meters high and our boats, which were tied together, would be pulled apart and crash back together. I’ve never been so afraid. Many of us became sick, especially the children. I remember there was one little girl from Somalia who could not stop crying. I had run out of medicine but I told her I would give her some, instead I gave her honey and I held her in my arms. After a bit she stopped crying and felt better. I will never forget her scared eyes… We were on this tiny, crammed boat for ten days... 234 of us from Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Syria and Iraq. Each story is more touching than the next. The strength they were showing was unbelievable.

After spending 10 days at sea, on May 28, 2015, the Italian Coast Guard rescued our boat. They saved us. We could not believe it! We had NO passport, NO money, NO clothes, nothing! But we were alive! In 2015 alone, over 300,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach safety in Europe. 2,500 people of them died trying crossing this sea. If it costs 300 US dollars for a flight to Europe from North Africa, why are refugees being forced to board very unsafe boats and risk their lives for 2000 dollars?  

I was overjoyed when I reached. I had messages from my loved ones and it made me feel so grateful to life. We were very well-received in Sicily, but it was not our final destination. Pretty soon, we were pushed to Northern Italy – it was dangerous, of course, but we knew that we could make it. On May 30, 2015, I was welcomed by wonderful Italian volunteers at the Milano Central Station, joining thousands of refugees sleeping in the train station and other overcrowded facilities.  I could only stay for five nights at the Refugees’ Centre in the city and after that, I nowhere to go. And so, on June 4, Sara’s family welcome me at the train station of their town Modena, where I spent a few weeks with wonderful people that became like my second family.  

It soon came to light that Italy was suffering a severe economic crisis. So, Northern Europe, with its higher employment rates and strong social systems became my final destination, and the one of many others. It was hard to say goodbye to Italy and all my new friends, but I had to move on. Britain was my first choice, because my mother is a British Overseas Citizen, but reaching England from France is extremely dangerous. Each night, to cross to the UK, many people attempt to rush over barricades blocking the entrance to the Eurotunnel, through which cars, trucks and the Eurostar Bullet Train travel. They try to either walk through it or board trucks and freight trains, risking being struck by them. Therefore, my friends suggested Germany instead. Soon enough, I was on the road again.  

June 20, 2015 marked the International Day of the Refugees. Ironically enough, I embarked on what
Thair, playing cards with other
refugees on their boat
would be the final leg of my long journey by crossing the Austrian and then, the German border. Since the authorities were controlling everyone on trains and buses that cross these borders, I had to travel by car to avoid being caught and sent back to Italy. The trip was long and dangerous trip but in the night I finally arrived in Munich. Sara and Jakob were waiting for me there. That was the best and most joyful moment of my journey. I could not believe my eyes. Together we started to discuss how my future in Germany would look. I approached Berlin, and I applied for political asylum. I was very grateful to Germany. But, for me, the UK still remains my home away from home.. My grandfather was British, my mother is a British Overseas Citizen. She had not seen me in 4 long years and her biggest hope is to be reunited with me in the UK! However, at the moment, there are no legal avenues for reaching the UK..

I am now in the city of Bielefeld where I am waiting a court hearing on his asylum petition. Insh’allah it will happen! Though I have a law degree, I do not speak German (I am learning, though!). I am still without money or a passport. I must navigate an immigration system that is complicated. My fellow refugees and I are placed in a mass housing space that is far outside the main cities, and that makes it really hard for us to integrate in the German society… but I remain positive!

I couldn’t have made it through this journey without my friends, especially Sara and Jakob. They would never say to me, "What can I give you?" or “What do you need?” Instead, they would say to me, “Let’s do this, let’s go there together!” I really believe that in life, only two things define you: your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything. If everyone in the world could extend such a helping hand across borders, colours, nationalities and religions, just to one more refugee, we can find ourselves in a much happier place.

Thair Orfahli is the symbol of resilience. At this point in the world, there are many conflicts around – and there is a burgeoning number of refugees even as you read this. As a global community of humans, we need to empathise with them and understand the fact that they had no choice but to flee because just overnight, their houses were bombed and they were caught in the middle of war, violence and persecution. It's not their fault that such things happened to them. Even when they find safety in our countries and apply for asylum, they’re still faced with the question of how to live with dignity and purpose, like the rest of us! As long as refugees are seen, treated and considered a burden, they will always be the unfortunate targets of racism, discrimination and horrific violence. Even as policy remains where it is, a massive force of volunteers, such as those at the France-UK Border in Calais and at the Italian-French border in Ventimiglia help migrants find safe, empty buildings to live in, while also those that visit detainees in immigration prisons and form support groups in Italy and Greece to help new arrivals. Solidarity exists every day – but it is time to build on it and create a sustainable future. We need to grow to become citizens of the world – and redefine our ideas of legal and illegal.  

Follow Up:
Thair’s Story was made into a video by the UNOCHA for the campaign #ShareHumanity

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By Ashay Abbhi

Ammi said we will find what we didn't have. 
Image: "Sorry, Aylan" by Kirthi Jayakumar
As soon as we reached the shore
She even dressed me for freedom today
I could not have asked for more

I understand now what she meant
When she said we will soon know no pain
No tears will dry on abbu's face
And ammi will be happy again

Sitting in the boat I was thinking
What I would become when I grew
Doctor, soldier or a lawyer I thought
But dead body was an option I never knew

I breathe in the rough salty air
I drown my eyes in the blue sea
Oh look how big it is from here
And how tiny will look the washed up me

As I am tossed by the waves for the last time
I have finally found what we were looking for
I smile as I close my eyes forever
I have found peace on the shore
(c) The Red Elephant Foundation. Powered by Blogger.