CHAT Despite being arrested over 60 times, peace activist Kathy Kelly does not shy away from calling a spade a spade
Anti-war activist from America and three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Kathy Kelly was recently in India with a group of peace volunteers. One of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness, Kathy is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She has travelled extensively to war zones in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Afghanistan and Nicaragua and written about the travails of war ravaged people in these places.
During her India visit, she accompanied Afghan Youth Peace volunteers Faiz Mohammed (22), Abdul Ali (16) and Ali (15), who hail from near Bamiyan, on a visit to Bhopal, Delhi, Gujarat and villages like Bhimkothi to learn how to mobilise villagers for non-violent protests. “It's very important for them (Afghan peace volunteers) in their particularly beleaguered situation to recognise what's happening in India, especially at the village level,” said Kathy, after a recent talk at the Jawaharlal Nehru University which ended at around midnight. She thinks it's important for people worldwide to learn and see how in a very grassroots and democratic way villages in India have continually claimed their land rights. “From 1857 onwards, they have stood up to overwhelming threat and force from middle-men agencies to government persecutions and have not given up, but persisted. Kathy sees war as essentially counterproductive and futile. “It accelerates financial decline while children are starving,” she said.
“When you are with children in war zones, you just see a very stark fear. When you see a little eight-year-old lose control over her bladder because the bombs are exploding or find children grinding their teeth day and night. Or even when you are in a hospital beside a child whose body has been ripped open and is filled with just shrapnel. I remember in Iraq, the aunt of a young child was going to have to tell her 16-year-old nephew that she was now his only surviving relative when he had just lost both arms. I mean these realities of warfare are so absent from the mindset of people who just watch explosion and go ‘oh, that was a big one!'”
With increasing civilian casualties in wars everywhere, she points to the dangers of accumulating more and more sophisticated war equipment. “The U.S. is developing a drone, unmanned aerial vehicle that can go with weapons on its belly over homes and just fire haphazard missiles and drop 500 pound bombs. It's become the Lady Gaga of the industry. There's not a single soldier who will be harmed or bruised.” Kathy described her moments in Gaza during the 2009 war when the noise of the drones kept getting closer and closer. Meanwhile, she said, there is great fear in North and South Waziristan over them. “Imagine 16-year-olds huddled in their beds, waiting, as the sounds get closer.”
Kathy has been to Pakistan twice and since then, twice in a row, been denied a visa. She is concerned that although U.S. is supposed to be Pakistan's ally, they fly across their borders and bomb them regularly. The U.S. gave a billion dollars worth of aid to the Pakistani military which now owns the pharmaceutical, sugar, textile industries and much of the land. “What we've created has been a nightmare for people in Pakistan,” she said.
Kathy cautioned about India's role as a U.S. ally stating, “I don't think any country should hitch its wagon to the vehicle of the U.S. We have accelerated our own financial decline by our war mongering.” Just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, India should tell people in the U.S. to wake up, she said.
Throwing light on how the mainstream as well as alternative press pick and choose the topics to report, she commented, “It's curious how they pay very little attention to the Naxalite movement. Most people in the U.S. may think you are talking about a light bulb company. They know nothing.”
In her opinion, the most terrifying arsenal “is when the U.S. manipulates, develops and uses stories. Instead of appointing scientists to work on stopping global warming, horrendous pollution, over consumption of resources and depletion of fossil fuels, people get all caught up with say, possibly 57 Al Qaida operatives in Afghanistan.”
All praise for the Occupy movement in the U.S., Kathy said it was not fluffy, but the real deal. “There is a lot of sturdiness in students who took the pepper spray, beatings and jail. It's amazing how they are developing new means of non-violence.”