Gandhi’s Followers: Barefoot Mahatma Followers Undermining Capitalism

Gandhi’s Followers: Barefoot Mahatma Followers Undermining Capitalism

RT (2019)

Film Review

This is an odd documentary that tours India “to hear from Gandhi’s modern day disciples.” The title is misleading. I honestly can’t see any way the groups the filmmakers visit are undermining capitalism, especially the group “Bikers Against Animal Cruelty.” The latter use Harley Davidson motorcycle tours to educate high school students about the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

In my view it’s more accurate to describe the activist groups depicted as working to undermine India’s devotion to global consumerism. All have a strong focus on voluntary simplicity and care of the poor – both heavily promoted by Gandhi.

I also question filmmaker claims attributing the British decision to quit India to Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign for independence. The nonviolent resistance practiced by Gandhi and his supporters occurred in conjunction with a parallel independence movement that included violent tactics such as bombing, targeted assassination, riots and looting. I suspect that latter were far more influential in persuading the British to leave.

Likewise the far majority of Gandhi followers in the film wear shoes.

 

 

Churchill’s War Crimes: The Bengal Famine

The World Today with Tariq Ali – Bengal Shadows

Telasur (2018)

Film Review

This documentary traces the war crime British prime minister Winston Churchill committed in 1943. In it, British historian and activist Tariq Ali introduces and narrates the 2017 documentary Bengal Shadows. His commentary includes priceless quotes from Churchill

. . . on learning of the Bengal famine:

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine is their own fault for breeding like rabbits.

. . .on learning the famine had killed millions:

Then why isn’t Gandhi dead?

The Bengal famine was clearly man made. By early 1942, the Japanese military occupied all of China to the East Bengal border. Fearing they would invade India, British authorities seized and burned all of Bengal’s surplus rice stocks and all their boats, bicycles and bullock carts. They were following a typical scorched earth policy – aimed at preventing the invasion of India.

This meant there was no way to transport grains from inland Bengal, where harvests were good, when a tsunami destroyed the 1942 coastal harvest.

Churchill adamantly refused to provide starving Bengali with food relief. When Australia dispatched ships loaded with food grains, British authorities in Bengal turned them away. Ironically US ships loaded with Australian grain refueled in Bengal en route to troops in the Middle East.

Three million people died in the man made famine. Many of the farmers who planted the bumper 1943 rice crop weren’t alive to harvest it.

Many in India (and modern day Bangladesh) believe the British owe them reparations for the 1943 famine.

 

Hidden History: French Nuclear Testing in the Pacific

They Went to Stop the Bomb

Francois Reinhardt (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a 1973 protest voyage from New Zealand to the Pacific atoll Mururoa. The aim was to prevent the French from continuing their atmospheric nuclear tests there. The tests, begun in 1966, contaminated the drinking water and crops of the Tureia 50 kilometers (0.62 miles) away. Large numbers of Tureia residents developed leukemia, thyroid and other cancers and experiences miscarriages and birth defects. Strontium 90 from the Pacific testing was detected as far away as Peru, Africa and New Zealand.

The films begins by exploring the birth of antinuclear movement in France and Tahiti (the military base for Pacific nuclear testing). Without approval from the French parliament, the tests (46 between 1966-74) were technically illegal. Although de Gaulle’s government publicly denied the tests were harmful to human health, defense documents declassified in 2013 revealed they were secretly monitoring the blood of Tureia residents for  radionucleotides and corresponding health problems.

The French government also engaged in “psych-ops” against Tahitian activists opposed to the testing. In addition to using the French and Tahitian media, they also framed and and imprisoned the former Tahitian president on false corruption charges.

The protest flotilla was led by the Fri, which means freedom in Danish. It was crewed by 13 antinuclear activists from the US, France, the Netherlands, Britain and New Zealand.

The Fri never reached Mururoa because the French Navy illegally boarded the vessel in international waters, arresting the activists and imprisoning them in Tahiti. In a symbolic act In a symbolic act of support, the New Zealand government send its Navy frigate HMNZS Otago into the test zone area. The latter broke the news of the activists’ arrest to the world press.

Beginning in 1977, Greenpeace undertook similar protest voyages to French Polynesia in the Rainbow Warrior. In 1985, French spies planted explosives on the Greenpeace vessel in Auckland Harbor and sunk it (see French Spy Who Helped Bomb Rainbow Warrior Tracked Down 32 Years Later). Although the French temporarily halted subsequent nuclear testing, they provoked international outrage in 1995 with another series of atmospheric tests.*

Residents of Tureia (interviewed in the film) are still waiting for their radiation-related health problems to be acknowledged and addressed by the French government.


*The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which bans atmospheric nuclear testing, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996. Technically it has not entered into force, as eight countries refuse to ratify it (US, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel and Iran).

Although the film can’t be embedded, it can be viewed free at the Maori TV website: They Went to Stop the Bomb

Invasion: Canada’s Ongoing Colonization of Its Indigenous People

Invasion

Unistoten Camp (2019)

Film Review

Invasion is about an incursion into Wet’suwet’en earlier this year by Canadian police armed with assault weapons. This followed an injunction a British Columbia court granting  petroleum companies authority to build a network of oil/gas pipelines across their land. Since none of the Wet’suet’en clans have ceded their land to European settlers, the injunction is illegal.

Despite the arrest of 14 clan activists, the standoff continues, as the local clans complete construction of a four-story healing center near one of the proposed pipeline routes. The arrests have triggered support protests by indigenous people and environmentalists across Canada and in the US.

 

How a Small Group of Activists Helped Bring Down Corrupt Government In Malaysia

Borneo Death Blow

Directed by Erik Pauser and Dylan Williams (2017)

Film Review

This is a fascinating documentary about an activist group that campaigned hard to bring two major Malaysian corruption scandals to international attention – including one involving former Prime Minister Najib Razak and 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The story starts in the early nineties when Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmentalist, and Mutanga, a Penan tribesman in Sarawak, paired up to protest wholesale rainforest logging on the island of Borneo (Malaysia). After successfully blockading the logging trucks for more than nine months, the activists and their supporters were imprisoned and torture.

In 1992, they undertook a world tour to bring the plight of Borneo rainforests and the Penan. They visited 24 cities in 13 countries, including the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the UN. The response they received was underwhelming.

In 2000, Manser returned to Sarawak and was “disappeared” in the jungle. Fearing for his own life, Mutanga went into exile in Montreal.

Fifteen years after Manser’s death – – concerned about a controversial dam project that  permanently displace an additional 50,000 indigenous Penan – Mutanga linked up with activists running Radio Free Sarawak shortwave station from London

Meanwhile the founder of the radio station Claire Rewcastle Brown partnered with the Bruno Manswer Foundation in Switzerland to research the $15 billion in private wealth the Malaysian forestrt minister Taib Mahmoud accrued for allowing foreign companies to illegally log Bornero’s pristine rain forests. It was an extremely complex scenario involving money laundering, off shore accounts and holding companies, as well as Goldman Sachs, UBS, HSBC and Deutsche Bank.

The went public with their findings at a Deutsche Bank shareholder meeting. Their presentation instantly focused international and social media attention on Malaysian corruption for the first time.

Taib was forced to resign, with the new forestry minister committing to ban both logging and new palm oil plantations.

Thrilled by the outcome, Brown subsequently undertook an investigation of the corrupt relationship between Malaysia’s prime minister and 1 MBD. In July 2015, she published a  report revealing that personal bank accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held nearly $700 million tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The attention her report received led to a prolonged mass protests in Malaysia and the defeat of Razak in the 2018 general election.


*1MDB was a fund set up to finance various Malaysian development projects: Malaysia Corruption 1MDB Scandal

 

 

Economic colonization: Gold mining in the Philippines

Golden Gamble: Gold mining in the Philippines, a dirty business

RT (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns rural Filipinos who scavenge abandoned goldmines in a continuous struggle to feed their families. Because the old mines are submerged in up to 30 feet of water, the operation relies on divers to scoop up mud from the bottom. Others treat the nuggets with mercury to extract the gold, without face masks or protective clothing. The gold is sold on for $16-32 per gram to local gold merchants.

Although this informal mining is illegal, the government turns a blind eye. The scavenging operations generally produce 10 grams per 24 hours of operation. Children as young as eight can earn about $2.30 per day to buy food for their families.

Mortality rates are extremely high, from collapse of the mine walls, failure of the divers’ breathing tubes and lung and neurological disease from mercury and other toxic exposures. Other participants in the operation develop debilitating skin rashes and ulcers.

There is pressure on the government to fence off these unofficial mines – something local Filipinos oppose as the region offers no other source of employment.

Economic Colonialism: Who Really Pays for Your Tires?

Rubber Tires: A Dirty Business

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines the brutally exploitive and unsustainable conditions in which tires are produced.

The filmmakers begin by visiting rubber plantations in Thailand, the world’s largest rubber producer. On one of the largest rubber plantations, Cambodian immigrants (Thai workers refuse to work for the starvation wages offered) receive approximately half the minimum wage ($140/month), despite working everyday and four nights a week. They are also exposed to Paraquat, a deadly herbicide causing severe liver and kidney disease and banned in 32 countries.

Pay and working conditions in Thai rubber processing plants are somewhat better. There workers earn $150/month ($250/month in the busy season), plus free accommodation and electricity and 20 kg of rice a month. Unlike plantations workers, they live in shacks provided with kitchens and bathrooms.

The filmmakers also visit Cambodian rubber plantations, where they speak with villagers who have been illegally driven off their land to make way for rubber plantations.

The final segment of the film investigates the tire retread industry, which recycles old tires by putting new tread on them. Studies reveal that modern retreaded tires are just as safe and reliable as new ones, despite using 80% less new rubber than new tires. With global demand for tires increasing by 7% annually, there needs to be a much greater effort to market retreaded tires to sustainability conscious consumers.

The tire manufacturers DW contacted about the atrocious working conditions on their rubber plantations and in their processing plants (Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin, and Continental) declined to be interviewed.