A tribute to Rohith Vemula, Dalit socialist & champion of human rights: may he Rest In Peace

Rohith Vemula (from FB) Jan 21 2016

We should take a moment to honor & pay our respects to Rohith Vemula, a 25-year-old graduate student in Hyderabad, India, who committed suicide by hanging last Sunday. Rohith was a Dalit activist who fearlessly fought caste oppression & a socialist student activist involved in protests against the discriminatory beef bans, the death penalty, communal violence against Muslims, & against the growing rightwing, nationalism in Indian politics. He was persecuted by the rightwing university administration & a month ago he & four other Dalit students were evicted from university housing & had their monthly research stipends suspended, allegedly for subversive activities.

According to the powerful tributes of friends & co-thinkers, Rohith was a deep, gentle fellow, a political activist & teacher. Suicide is often a political act common among the oppressed & persecuted who develop a profound sensitivity which can be difficult to sustain & manage. Being thrown out of the university must have evoked in him all the outrage & indignities of caste oppression.

To his survivors, the death of such a beloved & respected man must feel as if the world has shifted on its axis because of his role in the struggle against caste oppression. Even in death, officials feared him & took no chances his death would be commemorated since they kidnapped & burned his body in secret–to efface his memory & obliterate his spirit of defiance. But there have been protests around India & his life & death are being memorialized by thousands.

It should not need to be said that we cannot unfavorably judge someone who takes their own life. The grief & psychic pain such sensitive people feel is so profound that they are able to overcome the human instinct for survival. We are not asked to judge but to understand. In the case of young Rohith, we regret the choice he made in death but honor the choices he made in life to resist human degradation & injustice & spend his life trying to end it.

Our deepest respect to his memory. Our most heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, & co-thinkers. We will remember him around the world as a champion of human rights. May he Rest In Peace.

Photo is Rohith Vemula from his FB wall which the university closed down.

Jordan’s barbaric refugee policies

Jordanian soldiers & Syrian kids (Khalil Mazraawi:AFP:Getty Images) Jan 20 2016

Such a touching photo! Jordanian soldiers helping Syrian children cross the border in flight from massive bombing–nothing at all like those mean soldiers on European borders beating back refugees with tear gas. In fact, this photo is an exceptional moment in time that does not represent Jordan’s refugee policies which are as barbaric as those of the EU, Israel, & US. It’s border is now mostly shut down & completely militarized–although it previously accepted refugees from Palestine, Iraq, Syria, & other groups like Kurds.

Jordanian officials publicly boast of their open border policies & portray the country as a refugee haven. The development of Jordan rests on its refugees, beginning in 1948 when it accepted & gave citizenship to Palestinians fleeing Zionist paramilitary death squads. As Israel expanded its colonialism of Palestine, there have been successive waves of Palestinian refugees to Jordan. In 1948 they were integrated but by the 1967 war they were registered as displaced persons. Half the population of Jordan is now estimated to be Palestinian but over 2 million continue to live in ten registered refugee camps.

The tensions now between the Jordanian monarchy & Palestinians is entirely related to the development of Palestinian political resistance to Israeli ethnic cleansing among those refugees which puts them at odds with Jordan’s alliance with the US & collusion with Israel. As part of that alliance, the Obama administration pledged over $1 billion a year in foreign aid to Jordan. In return, Jordan is part of the US-backed, Saudi-led bombing destruction of Yemen & doesn’t lift a finger to support Palestinians against Israeli aggressions. One stark example is that a Jordanian trust administers Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem & doesn’t make a peep of protest to Israel’s incursions & destruction of the mosque.

The political incompatibility of Palestinian Intifada with the monarchy’s political perspectives explains why Jordan has been refusing since 2012 to accept Palestinian refugees living in Syria who are now fleeing for their lives. Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been denied entrance to Syria. If they get through with false papers they are soon deported. But Palestinians aren’t the only refugees from Syria being denied entrance. According to UN officials, Jordan has closed down all but two of its border crossings from Syria. The two crossings remaining open are in hard to reach, God-forsaken desert areas, devoid of water, shade or vegetation. To reach the open crossings at Hadalat & Rukban (both near Jordanian military bases) requires several more days of travel through areas controlled by the Syrian military where refugees report coming under fire.

Jordanian military officials at the border claim refugees trying to cross at the two locations grew overnight from 3,000 in September 2015 to 17,000 now.That belies not just UN reports but lengthy investigations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which has been monitoring the situation since 2012. According to Jordan, it’s admitting 5,000 Syrians a day; according to the UN, it’s 50 to 100 refugees a day–excepting all Palestinians. Jordan boasts it has so far accepted 1.6 million Syrians; UN officials claim it isn’t even half of that at 600,000. Many of those who cross are denied registration & immediately deported back to a war zone.

But it gets worse. After Jordan closed most of its border crossings, it continued to allow entry to the war-wounded–many of them suffering injuries from barrel bombs used by Syria & Russia. In 2014, Jordan began requiring every wounded person have a valid ID card regardless of the severity of their injuries. Children under 12 & many whose documents had been destroyed as a result of bombing (or who didn’t think to get their passports after their legs were blown off) were denied entrance for medical treatment. Jordan also began refusing entry to family members accompanying injured minors. That cut the number of war-wounded allowed entry right in half.

The 17,000 people stranded at the border with inadequate shelter, food, water, & medical care include pregnant women, elderly, disabled, those with special needs, many who are sick with leishmania, scabies, & other infectious diseases. According to HRW, 16 lactating mothers had no milk, & 200 women were reported as being in their last trimester of pregnancy.

The situation isn’t going to get better without political opposition because Abdullah II (the man who calls himself king of Jordan) told CNN this week: “Part of the problem is that they have come from the north of Syria…which is the heartland of the Islamic State. We know there are Islamic State members inside those camps.” How does that distinguish itself from EU arguments equating refugees to terrorists? Not in any way. The refugee crisis is exposing Jordan for the bastion of reaction it has been since it threw in its lot with Israeli apartheid & US militarism.

Immigration is a human right. Open the borders.

(Photo by Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)

Behold EU refugee policy & weep!

Refugees in winter (REUTERS:Marko Djurica) Jan 20 2016

Behold EU refugee policy! And weep. But don’t spend too much time with that since this must be actively & politically opposed. This parent is carrying his/her suffering child–who is not light & clothed in heavy winter garb–through a frozen field in Serbia after crossing the border from Macedonia. What kind of criminality is this that European countries can send bombers to Syria & Iraq but can’t come up with buses & special trains to transport refugees with children, elderly, disabled, infirm in the middle of a bitter winter?

If this is the best neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, can do, it ain’t good enough. And it’s time to rethink the system we live under.

Immigration is a human right. Open the damn borders.

(Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters)