Paralympics, defectors, and… virginity cream

Fireworks explode at the Paralympics opening ceremony.

Just for clarity, the title of this post refers to three topics I’ve covered separately, rather than all at once (although that sounds like a great, if unlikely, piece). Thought I’d share some links to some of the things I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks.

First up, continuing the sex and morality theme of my last post, I’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream by writing an article for a national newspaper about vaginas. It’s for the Guardian and discusses the controversy caused by the launch of a “vaginal tightening and rejuvenation cream” in India. You can read it here.

Last week, I also co-produced a second show for NTS radio, this time focusing on the Olympic athletes who defected and are seeking to stay in the UK. The podcast isn’t online, but I wrote an article on the same subect for Alternet. Somewhere between 12 and 21 athletes and delegates are still in the UK. While some of them have voiced their intentions to claim political asylum, such as the Ethiopian runner Weyney Ghebrisilasie, other cases are less clear cut.

While most of the Olympic athletes have returned home, the Paralympians are just getting started. My interview with Paralympian and cross-bench peer Tanni Grey Thompson appeared in last week’s New Statesman. She talks cuts to disability living allowance, changing attitudes to disabled sport, and why she never wants to forget anything.

Have also been blogging both for the NS and for Middle East Monitor, including this post on the decision by an Israel court that no-one should face charges for the death of activist Rachel Corrie. She was killed in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer, and her parents have pledged to appeal the decision and continue their fight for justice. In my post, I argue that this verdict is problematic in more ways than one. Not only are there questions over the procedure followed in the original investigation, but the judge’s decision sits uncomfortably with Israel’s commitments under international law.

Sex and morality

Activists in India protest after three ministers in Karnataka were caught watching porn, February 2012.

Some links to last week’s scribblings. On Monday, I wrote about the Shafilea Ahmed case and whether it is time to reconsider the term “honour killings”. To an extent, it is a useful shorthand, but on the flipside, there could be something exonerating in the phrase: after all, murder is murder and there is no need for it to be a cultural issue. You can read the piece over at the New Statesman.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wrote (also for the New Statesman) about the porn industry in India and how the internet is bringing it into the mainstream. It also looks at how homegrown porn stars, a relatively new phenomenon for India, negotiate that shame culture and the dishonour that goes with being open about sexuality.

Elsewhere (and on a completely different note), I wrote a couple of blogs for Middle East Monitor. The first discussed the attack on border guards in Sinai and the effect that might have on Gaza. The other looked at how Riyadh and Tehran are vying for the loyalty of new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

Policing the Olympics

Policemen patrol near the Olympic Park in Stratford.

Just a quick post to flag up a few things I’ve been working on over the past week or so. In typical British fashion, we complained intensely about the Olympics until the very moment it began and then promptly banned all cynicism. But Britain winning gold and mass enthusiasm for for the Games doesn’t mean we should totally ignore all the social ramifications.

On the day of the opening ceremony, I wrote this piece over at my New Statesman blog about the huge policing operation in Newham, and how the imposition of wide-ranging dispersal zones are likely to affect – as always – young people and ethnic minorities.

Last week, Stephanie Hegarty and I co-produced/presented this show for east London radio station NTS, looking at social cleansing, police and the Olympics. On the show, I interviewed Taher Gulam Hussein, who volunteers with Newham Monitoring Project – an organisation I mentioned in my New Statesman piece. Interestingly, he said that stop and search and dispersal powers weren’t actually affecting young Asian or black kids as much as expected – because they weren’t around on the streets. It appears that the huge police presence has meant that local young people have been effectively pushed out of their own area; probably one of the desired effects. Ethnic profiling is still in place, but eastern Europeans are being targeted instead. Olympic welcome, eh?

A much fuller account is on the show – as well as a discussion with Sarah Walker of the English Collective of Prostitutes about clampdowns on sex workers in Newham, and a contribution from Keegan Webb of the London Vandals website about the removal of street art across the city.


Two children wait at home as their mother visits the HIV clinic. Kisumu, Kenya, September 2011. (Photograph: Samira Shackle)

I’m a freelance journalist, based in London and specialising in social affairs, politics, race and South Asia. This website is where I collect my work. It took me about four years to force myself to sit down and actually make a website so please look around.