Feature, Old News

Knife Culture

Here is another old feature I had written while I was doing my diploma, it was apart of my coursework.

In Britain today, knife crime is responsible for six deaths every week – a loved one gone in a second, leaving pain, emptiness and anger in its place. Najmah Bibi finds out what are the root causes and what can be done to combat it?

Imagine a boy is walking home just as he’s done many times before. His name is Trevor. He’s listening to The Beach Boys on his mp3 player, when a hooded gang of five boys push him against the wall demanding all of his possessions. Trevor lashes out and punches one of them. In a fit of rage one of the boys pulls out a knife and stabs him. Trevor keeps fighting back, so to stop him the boy stabs him again and again. Trevor falls grimacing on to his knees, clutching his stomach; the last thing he sees whilst gasping for air are the boys running away and the blood on his hands. His vision blurs and all goes dark.

Trevor could be someone’s brother, son or nephew. More than 277 people died in 2007/2008 due to knife crime in England and Wales. How many more people will lose their lives in the years to come?

Youngsters nowadays think that they are carrying knives for protection but police say that if you keep a knife with you it’s more likely that you will use it. Damilola Taylor and Kodjo Yenga are just two victims who were at the wrong place at the wrong time; both cases were gang related.

A female paramedic who works on weekends in the ambulance service in Peterborough told how on February 21 – 22 two stabbing incidents occurred. In one, a man was stabbed in the buttocks.

She said: “Incidents centre mainly in Millfield and New England area. Tensions are running high where Eastern European and Asian gangs are resorting to violence and are carrying knives.” She also said: “There’s a definite knife culture in Peterborough.” She also said how the “staff are very concerned and need more police back-up” especially after a paramedic was stabbed as he tried to help someone whom he thought was injured.

Neil Franklin, who is a Senior Press Officer working at the Cambridgeshire Constabulary said: “A lot of work is also carried out to quell any tensions that arise between communities, so preventing any crimes from happening,”

As a precautionary measure the ambulance bosses have blacklisted 10 addresses in Peterborough where they feel the crew could be in possible danger.

Accident & Emergency (A&E) in Peterborough District Hospital has recorded 29 patients being admitted with knife or stab wounds in 2007 and 23 in 2008.

The latest figures have shown that knife crime has gone down, so have the media been scaremongering the public into believing that knife crime is on the increase?

Mr Franklin agreed, “I would say that media only reflects what is going on in society, however, it does have a natural tendency to concentrate on the more shocking or negative aspects of crime because that is more interesting to readers.”

There’s a certain glamorisation about gang culture that appeals to youngsters – you could say it’s a kind of fascination while playing violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row which revolve around knives, gangs and the mafia.

There is speculation that suggests a link between video games and knife crime although there’s no concrete evidence proving this. However one incident occurred last year in Croydon, South London where a fan was queuing up to the buy a new game, when he was brutally stabbed by a complete stranger. But instead of checking into A & E, he returned home armed himself with a kitchen knife and set out on a revenge mission similar to those found in video games. He failed only when he fainted due to loss of blood.

Some people believe the root of the problem is children/teenagers playing games which are certificated 18+. These sorts of games have small impact on a young growing mind as what they play, they imagine it to be real and this is why parents need to take responsibility to keep tabs on what they children play.

Research has shown that Dopamine is released when a person enjoys playing one particular game. Dopamine is a sort of adrenaline which affects the brain processes that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. This increases when one continuously plays a game over a long period of time which causes them to become addicted. However it is not proven whether this drug influences young people to commit more crime.

Richard Taylor, the father of murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, believes the attitude of some young people is appalling. He said: “It makes them feel that the law has no control over them, they just feel that they can go on the streets and do whatever they like.”

He believed that imposing new taxes on video games will deter fans from buying games.

Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is one major root cause for knife crime. This is when someone carries out aggressive, intimidating or destructive activity that damages another person’s life. In a way knife crime and anti-social behaviour go hand-in-hand, often those who commit knife crime have previously been involved in some form of anti-social behaviour.

Most young knife carriers are motivated by fear as they forget that in ‘tooling up’ they increase the chances of becoming victims themselves.  Anti-social behaviour occurs in school’s which is why getting to the root of the dilemma is crucial, whether it’s bullying, problems at home or just boredom.

To help with this issue the government has spent two million on the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP)  where 10 police forces are coming together to reduce death and violence amongst teenagers. Retail stores have also signed a six-point commitment to help tackle this matter. Some stores such as ASDA and John Lewis are already setting an example as they have stopped selling knives altogether.

“Police patrols are carried out in areas with a history of offending and individuals are stopped and searched where officers’ suspicions are aroused,” assured Mr Franklin. “We also try to nip any tensions or issues off in the bud by working in the community before they escalate into anything more serious.”

In Denmark, no-one can buy knives without signing some papers and showing some sort of ID. These papers are sent to the police station so the police officers have a record.

Officer Ibrahim of the Danish Police Force said: “We have security cameras installed in the areas where knife crime occur the most and guards patrolling 24/7. The statistics have shown positive results.”

He also said: “At the moment there aren’t there aren’t any security cameras in town so guards are carrying mobile phones and the moment they sense trouble – police are there straight away.”

Having workshops might be just what teenager’s need. The Gun and Knife Crime workshops in London are designed to support youths and parents. This would help raise awareness about the consequences of their actions. The 2020 Dreams is a specialist project which has different programmes to help re-motivate and encourage young people to take control of their own lives.

Danny Gardiner (48) – a prisoner in Bristol who was jailed for 18 years for stabbing Alan White, said: “The only thing I can see working to stop people carrying a knife is a massive drive around what will happen if you take another human life. They need to be terrified by that – because it’s reality.”

The government has already begun to give out double prison sentences to anyone caught with a knife whether it was for protection or not.

Justice Minister David Hanson said: “Harsher penalties for knife carriers – criminals convicted of carrying knives will have to work five days a week to carry out their community punishment.”

Mr Franklin Senior Press Officer of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary said: “Our advice is never to carry a knife as it is an offence. You are not safer if you carry a knife. In fact you are more likely to be the victim of a serious assault if you do. We should advise people, if they possibly can, never to put themselves in a position where they may become a victim of violence.”

Cultures, Feature

Widows

On and off I tend to tune into various Indian shows, though a lot of the time I can expect to see the usual melodrama and over the top acting. A story which has no logic and the females actresses are continuously crying every episode.

But this idea of writing about widows came to me after I saw my younger sister watching a daily Indian drama called Na Bole Tum…Na Maine Kuch Kaha – which is translated into “Neither you spoke…nor did I say anything” in English. The show is based in the city of Indore (India). It is a love story about Mrs Megha Vyas – a single widowed mother (Akanksha Singh) with two kids, and how her life changes when she meets Mohan Bhatnagar – a bachelor (Kunal Karan Kapoor), in his early twenties who is a crime reporter in a leading newspaper.

So initially two points got me interested:

The guy was playing the character of a journalist, and

The woman being portrayed as strong even though she is a widow – this is rarely shown on Indian television.

After some research I discovered that India has been found to be the worst G20 country to be a woman, according to a new survey, polling 370 gender specialists by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The G20 (group of 20 countries) includes 19 country members and the European Union, it is the premier forum for international cooperation on the most important aspects of the international economic and financial agenda. Canada came in first with Britain coming in third in the top 19 economies of the world.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of the world’s leading provider of news and information and is committed to empowering people in need around the world. From all the different issues, I’ll be focusing more on widows.

The issue of widowhood is a sensitive one which I have not heard or seen being discussed much in the media. Living in the UK, generally the Asian society here is more open-minded than their counterparts in India meaning widows are able to live their lives more freely.

Widowhood is defined as the state or period of being a widow or widower. Losing a spouse is difficult for any individual whether you are the husband or wife, however mainly women are mostly effected. Losing her husband is devastating enough but compounded with cruelty and injustice; it is a life not worth living for some.

According to Hindu customs, widows have three options: to marry their husband’s younger brother;  throw themselves on their dead husband’s funeral pyre; or lead a life of self-denial. Generally in India, the women are respected up until their husbands are alive, but when the husbands die they lose their social status and importance in their families. Some widows are then dictated what they can or cannot do. They are subjected to degrading ‘cleansing’ rituals; ejected from her home; her wealth taken by the deceased husband’s relatives; banned from wearing jewellery or coloured clothing; and left without any means of supporting herself or her children. Furthermore they are unable to work or remarry.

Widows in Vrindavan

Numerous homeless widows (both young and old) only hope is go to the city Vrindavan, India when they are abandoned or shunned by their society and families. Vrindavan is known as the place where all widows go to die. It is believed that death will bring them salvation. They live in ashrams (monasteries), awaiting their turn to die. Many young widows face a threat to their safety, due to sexual abuse and human trafficking. In the case of the show, Mrs Megha Vyas is shown to be working to help her family make ends meet and in this she is supported by her in-laws. This is something new as not many widows receive this sort of love and support from their family members.

Remarriage is still a no-no situation for widows in some places in India, this is another topic being tackled in the drama, Na Bole Tum…Na Maine Kuch Kaha (Neither you spoke…nor did I say anything). The current high point is where the female protagonist Megha has decided to get married again due to her in-laws wishes. Forgetting the fact that she in love with the male protagonist Mohan, the society she lives in will not accept a widow to marry a bachelor. Under the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act 1856, widows are legally permitted to remarry but not all agree with it. In many villages, some are not even given the option of remarriage.

In a study done on remarriages in 1991, stating that generally men had a higher probability of remarriage, according to a Demography journal (1991) published by JSTOR. Whilst females were found to have a lower probability of ever remarrying at all ages, and the probability of remarriage declined more substantially with increasing age. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that enables discovery, access, and preservation of scholarly content.

Today India is a country which is gaining influence at the global level due to its economic strength, however seeing the plight of widows will come as a eye-opener for many. The show Na Bole Tum…Na Maine Kuch Kaha (Neither you spoke…nor did I say anything) has become a hit amongst young and mature audiences and I would like to commend the makers of this show as they are bringing awareness to a issue which is still not considered a major problem in India.