Month: October 2016

Life of Thorka by Aisha K. Gill

In the US, the word pacifier is used to describe what we in the UK call a baby’s dummy. Yet, during the Vietnam War, pacification was the popular term used to describe the actions of soldiers entering villages, shooting domestic animals and rounding up all of the men and boys, killing any who resisted (its more official title was Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support). Similarly, the term collateral damage is meant to descale the actual impact of a violent intervention making it a more ‘acceptable’ price of war. The same goes for friendly fire and many other terms. Euphemisms abound when talking of war or violence. And they are not used passively; they have political purpose. As the Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict states: “This instrumental approach to language, detaches language from history and moral judgement, converting it to a mere technique in the assertion of political power.[1] And it gives the example of the “Final Solution” to make its point so powerfully.

Now think of the terms shame and honour; shame can be used in a quite benign way, e.g. “ah, what a shame,” when you just missed out on something. Whilst honour conjures up bravery and sacrifice, maybe for your country or a cause you believe in. But as with euphemisms of war, set in a different context they can mean very different things and Asian Women Awardstherefore have very different connotations. Our poet today, Professor Aisha K. Gill [] is an expert on violence against black and minority and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. In her work she has shown the link between honour and shame that leads to honour based violence (HBV), overwhelmingly against women. “…honour relates to the behaviour expected of members of particular community, while shame is associated with transgressions against these expectations” (Gill, 2014: 2). This HBV is driven by the expectation by men of how women are meant to act in their family’s honour, “by behaving appropriately through deference, fidelity, modesty and chastity” (Gill, 2014: 2).[2]

In her poem, “Life of Thorka” she speaks about her escape from violence. “Anxious for clues,/but, without a clear map/it’s the Midland Main Line that’s/doing the calling to bedsitter land./ Look over your shoulder, Asian woman in hiding / Keep searching, (and watching and hiding/from them).” Education is her aim but also her ‘crime’ and hence the urge to be free. However, many are not able to take this route and have their “aims ruined/robbed of ordinary experience / abandoned, starving in silence / their death even claimed. Found innocent of powerlessness.” And yet there is no sense of revenge in this story, even when completely aware of the wider political and social context, this ‘dance to sociological imaginations’. “But I won’t kill him off!/I’ll just leave him alone/in his unwise ageing/A bare old stick, let him/wither in pain.” The form of the poem is also beautifully rendered to reflect the train and the tracks taken in her escape.

What lies behind the use of seemingly benign or traditionally defined terms is critical to a basic understanding of power and how it is exerted; whether in the battlefields or in communities where patriarchy defines how a woman should act in ‘honour’ of her family.


Life of Thorka[3]

ਔਧ ਤੜਕੇ ਦੀ

Two cases stacked on the

          overhead rack.

I’d got my ticket

                  for the runaways’ train.

Anxious for clues,

          but, without a clear map,

it’s the Midland Mainline that’s

                  doing the calling to bedsitter land.

Look over your shoulder. Asian woman in hiding.

Keep searching,

(and watching, and hiding

from them.)


Under the brickworks,

(with help from Barnardo’s),

          education’s the goal  –

that’s the promise I’d made –

            the ticket to freedom

for thousands of others

          just like me!

A thousand others just like me…

          aims ruined

robbed of ordinary experience,

          abandoned, starving in silence,

their death, even, claimed.

             Found innocent of powerlessness,

sentenced for years and years

          under spiteful glares

to crisis, prisoner number,

            exposed, time for duty.


Put on the mask and

play the game.

                (Insanity pervades the

                spirit, schizo!)


(They say that the personal is political.)


So memories of make the thorka

[ਤੜਕਾ ਬਨਾ ਲਵਾ] -interlaced with a slap –

          play on

sarson ka saag banane ke liye

 [ਸਰ੍ਹੋਂ ਕਾ ਸਾਗ ਬਨਾਉਣੇ ਕੇ ਲੀਅੇ].

Intersectionality, critical conversations

          dance to sociological imaginations,

the symphony of living in Essex,

the “Masala Curry Queen”from DE23!


 Masala channa, punjabi masala, palak

                 paneer aloo, mooli, gobi or just plain



But I won’t kill him off!

          I’ll just leave him alone

in his unwise ageing.

A bare old stick, let him

          wither in pain.


author biography

Aisha K. Gill is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton, UK. Her main areas of interest and research are health and criminal justice responses to violence against black, minority ethnic and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. She has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women at the grassroots level for the past seventeen years and has published widely in refereed journals such as Current Sociology, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Criminology, Feminist Legal Studies, Feminist Review, Journal of Gender Studies, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Violence against Women Journal and Women’s Studies International Forum. [@DrAishaKGill]


[1] Source: Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict: Po – Z, index. 3: 308

[2] Gill, A.K. (2014) ‘Honour’, ‘honour’-based violence: Challenging common assumptions, in Gill, A., Roberts, K., Strange, C. (eds) ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] First published in Feminist Review, Special Issue of Food. Autumn 2016: Issue 114.  Reprinted with permission of Feminist Review


We tend to think of migrants as those who only cross borders. However, Internally Displaced People (IDP) are a huge issue facing countries experiencing humanitarian disasters and wars. All of which puts a great burden on a country’s resources when they are at the most strained. In Syria there is estimated to be 6.6 million IDPs. By the end of 2014, a record level of 38 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of violence; countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria making up 60% of the world’s IDPs.

tebbittIn more wealthy countries people are also pressured to move. For example, because of past policies of selling off council housing, people are being forced to move to a different part of the country if they need a home. Margaret Thatcher’s henchman, Norman Tebbitt, once infamously said, “you dirty worthless working class scum, I’m going to wipe you off the face of this country.” Okay, maybe he didn’t say that exactly, but he did once say in response to the riots of the early 80s, “I grew up in the 30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot, he got on his bike and looked for work and kept looking till he found it.” Setting aside the fact that he did as much to dismantle the bedrock of his heritage, and the fact that not everyone can move to find work, the internal migration, to which he is essentially referring is one driven by economic hardship and capitalist discrimination. People don’t generally move because they are happy with their circumstance, unless they may be going to University or have been offered a job they willingly applied for.

received_10206899908830065-1Nonetheless, whether a refugee who has left their country, or internally displaced person, the majority of people still call home the place they were born. Joe Horgan’s poem, “The Maps You Took With You When You Went,” tells of the place he was born, Birmingham and the situation facing many working class people during the 1980s. The irony being that many came to the city, as they did to my own home of Coventry, from Ireland and Scotland, only to see a number of their own children leave; some went back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger bubble, whilst others dispersed to various corners of the country and abroad. (more…)

all fall down by Reuben Woolley

children-aleppoI know that saying children are remarkable, is not a particularly remarkable thing to say. Nonetheless, I see it with my own sons; how they shrug off an argument they may have had, or in my older son’s case, how he recovered from severe depression. And I was reminded of this when seeing young boys smiling as they jumped into a water filled bomb crater, a splash pool of war, in Aleppo.

War is indiscriminate. In the past you could have said children were unintended casualties. But in modern warfare they are often the intended targets; “to kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats”, was the message on the eve of the Rwandan genocide. Even with the boy-sister-aleppoadvancement in technology and so called smart bombs, civilian casualties are always much greater in the type of modern warfare we see in Syria. Over 11,000 children were killed in the country between 2011, when the conflict started, and 2013; some of them being summarily executed. But tragically, even images such as that of the young boy covered in dust and rubble in a hospital in Aleppo (his sister was also with him but was kept out of the shot), don’t seem to make a difference on the ground.

It appears that Russia is heading for a finishing line adorned by young deaths and a uninhabitable country. In the final week of September it is estimated that over one hundred children were killed in Aleppo. The other powers, especially the US, wallow in impotency; more interested in leaving the baton on the ground whilst they decide who should be their next President.

me-at-newcastle-stanzaReuben Woolley’s poem ‘all fall down’ poignantly captures the tragedy of war, “where/children sang in cinders”. As Michael Rosen did previously in his poem, ‘Don’t Mention the Children’ about the situation in Gaza, Reuben has taken to highlighting their universal plight of being exploited and killed by those in power, leaving untold ‘invisible trauma’, “bring them to us now/we’ll have their eyes.” Yes, children have a great resilience, as demonstrated by the boys making play out of a bomb crater, as children did in London and elsewhere during the Blitz. But one can only imagine the terror they feel as they try to sleep, not knowing what the powers that be have in store for them during the darkness of night.

Here is Reuben talking about the poem and his site, “I am not a silent poet.”

“In November, 2014, I got fed up of the sickening reports everywhere in the media, bth the traditional media and the social media, of the human abuse of other humans and of the planet. Some of my poetry was written very much in protest against this abuse but I felt that something else needed doing. I was sure that I wasn’t the only poet affected by this so I set up the online magazine, I am not a silent poet, and its associated Facebook group page, as a site for bringing together poems about/against any type of abuse anywhere in the world. I invited a few friends and also begged people for poems to get things started. I must admit that I thought it might last for a few months before petering out. I was wrong. It has grown enormously from those small beginnings, but it still tries to provide a space for people’s voices and give a voice to those who haven’t one. It also tries to give a very rapid response so that the work is just as relevant when it is published as when it was written. Like most of the poems on the magazine written about Syria, my poem looks closely at those who suffer most in the conflict: the children.”


Reuben Woolley has been published in various magazines including Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House, Domestic Cherry, The Stare’s Nest and Ink Sweat and Tears. His collection, the king is dead was published in 2014 with Oneiros Books, and a chapbook, dying notes, in 2015 with Erbacce Press  Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Prize in 2015. Editor of the online magazines: I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind. A new collection on the refugee crisis, skins, has been published by Hesterglock Press, 2016.



all fall down

& all the story
children sang in cinders

we saw them
     clothed in tired skin
& dying

not meat enough
nor grain
there’ll be no
a game
a ring of posies
& blackened flesh

                    bring them to us now
we’ll have their eyes
& string
a dull
to show a rusty path. i’ll grind
a bone
an arrow head