Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My brother was held as a slave for 26 years

Alan drifted away from home in his 20s and, for 26 years, we didn’t even know if he was alive. Then we discovered the awful truth – for that whole time, he had been kept in modern-day slavery.

I was at work when I got the call from the human trafficking unit. I work for the health service and occasionally need to carry out database searches for the police. This call was from an officer who asked if I could search for a possible former patient who used to live locally.

A receptionist had taken the original call and I remember being slightly irked as she had interrupted me as I was interviewing for a new staff member. But thank God she did. What happened next was extraordinary and still feels like something out of a film.

The name the officer gave was that of my brother, whom I hadn’t seen for more than a quarter of a century. But I still assumed it was a coincidence as it was such a common name. It was only when I asked for the date of birth, and it matched Alan’s, that I felt as if my heart had stopped.
Snapshots, such as this one of Alan, aged three, were all that the family had left of him.
I knew in that instant that we had found Alan. Desperately trying to stay composed, I blurted out his middle name, and asked whether it matched.

“How did you know that?” she asked.

“I think this is my brother. He has been missing for 26 years.”

Both of us were stunned. What were the chances of a professional call about a missing person coming through to his own sister? But the real shock was still to come – the reason that Alan, my big brother, had disappeared for all that time was because he had been held by a slavery gang. It was beyond comprehension.

My maternal instinct kicked in. More than anything, I was desperate to see Alan.

But it would be weeks before that wish was granted. The officer explained that she would speak to Alan and call me back, but also warned that she might need to talk to my mum.

I drove straight to Mum’s flat. As soon as she saw my red, puffy eyes, she knew something was wrong. And that is how I had to tell her: Alan wasn’t dead, he was alive, but had been held captive as a slave for 26 years. The blood drained from her face. Like me, she struggled to take in this monumental and distressing news.

It was all so far from the years when we were children, running through local fields, playing hide and seek, without a care in the world. Back then, I thought our endless days of playing in the sunshine would last for ever.

I know now, though, that life is never that simple and uncomplicated, but not for one minute could I have envisaged the way our lives would change beyond anything we could ever truly understand.

We grew from kids to teenagers and while my life and that of my other brother continued on a fairly normal route towards establishing careers and buying our first homes, Alan started to stray from the path. He had always been such a happy boy, the joker of the class and always smiling, with a huge affection for animals. In many ways, he was quite gullible but we always put it down to his sensitive and caring nature.

However, we soon learned that his easy-to-love persona masked problems. Not long after having the whooping cough vaccine at four, Alan had started having seizures. Consequently, his education suffered and, despite Mum’s desperate pleas to health professionals that Alan had been left with mild learning difficulties, she was told she was being over-anxious and there was nothing wrong.

The people enslaved by the Rooney family lived in basic caravans with no running water or toilet facilities. Photograph: Lincolnshire police/PA
While Mum could protect him as a child, it was very different when he became a teenager. Easily manipulated, he got in with the wrong crowd and what started as dabbling in substance abuse quickly escalated to much harder drugs.

We were all devastated. When did we lose the little boy who would run up to us all for cuddles? He would turn up to the house so high that Mum often feared for her own safety.

He drifted away from us, coming home less and less. It was in the days before mobile phones, so we relied on the odd sighting from friends – he was spotted at soup kitchens and drop-in centres. As much as it left us empty and incredibly sad, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Alan had made a lifestyle choice, and we all just hoped that one day he would turn his life around and come back to us.

But by the time he was 25, the sightings had stopped. There was the odd rumour had moved to Brighton, but, in reality, none of us had any idea.

By the time Mum was 76, we had all but given up hope of ever learning what had happened to Alan, or that we might one day get a knock on the door from the police with news of his death. What I could never have envisaged was the way in which I got that call in June 2015, and what we would subsequently discover.

After the initial contact, we gradually learned the truth – that Alan had been kept as a slave by a family in Lincolnshire who targeted homeless people and men with learning difficulties, taking them off the streets with the promise of work and shelter. In fact, he was held captive the longest.

All 18 vulnerable victims were denied access to money, beaten into submission, given false identities and stripped of all their dignity. While their captors, the Rooney family, lived in luxury on a Traveller site, the people they held captive were made to work seven days a week laying drives, and lived in basic caravans with no running water or toilet facilities. They were paid in cheap cider, which promoted alcohol dependency, giving the Rooneys another way to control them.

The judge at the trial of 11 family members, Timothy Spencer QC, described their behaviour as “chilling in their mercilessness”.

One of the caravans in which the Rooney’s victims lived. Photograph: Lincolnshire police
After being rescued, Alan had been kept in a safe house, then a hostel, where he had received medical attention and support to help him readjust back into society. With the sketchy family details Alan could recall, the police had been trying to find us.

Two days after the initial call, we spoke to Alan on the phone. Initially, he was monosyllabic and talked in a monotone. I knew that victims were left extremely withdrawn after years of being institutionalised. But when I handed the phone to Mum, Alan said: “It’s so good to hear your voice.” Somehow, we all managed to stay composed, but once we had said our goodbyes, the tears came.

Over the following weeks, we spoke more and more and I emailed Alan, filling in him on the years he had missed. I even created a photo album of his childhood to try to help him reconnect to his roots.

I thought my heart would break, and I felt an overwhelming guilt for not trying to search for my brother sooner. But despite our regrets, Alan never appeared to hold it against us.

Two months after that first phone call, we finally got to see him. My husband and I, along with Mum and our other brother, drove to a pub for the meeting. It was an agonising journey. My stomach churned the whole way and all I could do was gently grip Mum’s hand – none of us had any idea what to expect.

As Alan was led into the pub, it took every ounce of energy I could muster to stop myself falling to my knees and sobbing. That is not how I wanted him to remember the reunion – I wanted it to be a happy occasion; a new and positive start. So, instead, as I held him in my arms, my face crumpled into his shoulder. I never wanted to let him go again.

Once we had all had as many hugs as Alan could cope with, we talked and talked – mainly about our children and the rest of the family. But it was very evident that Alan’s time in captivity had only added to the problems he had had when he vanished all those years earlier.

He ate a salad with his hands, laughed inappropriately and too loudly and was not in very good shape physically. He had missing teeth and the few he had left were rotten, and he was extremely gaunt with greying skin.

The Rooney family who were jailed for 79 years in total for modern day slavery and fraud. Photograph: Lincolnshire police/EPA
I wanted to fix him, to make him better and to smother him with love.

That Christmas, Alan came to stay at our home and we soon discovered another problem when we found the bin full of empty beer cans.

In January last year, Alan agreed to come and live with us. I yearned to mother him, to give him a life he had missed out on, but I had to respect his need for independence and accept his way of living. He still drank too much and his learning disabilities meant he had many childlike attributes – he would laugh nervously and get very excitable.

Psychological testing revealed that Alan also had Stockholm syndrome. He saw his captors as “nice blokes, who looked after me and stuck up for me”.

In the six-month trial that began in November 2016 at Nottingham crown court, it soon became evident that was part of the ringleaders’ modus operandi. The Rooney family may have beaten their victims and left them to live in squalid conditions, but they gave them a place to live – something many of them had previously lost.

The Rooneys themselves lived a life of luxury in palatial homes, holidaying in Barbados and driving high-performance cars, using drugs, alcohol and violence to entrap their victims. Judge Timothy Spencer QC told the head of the family, Martin Rooney Senior, that the gulf between the lives of his relations and their workers was “akin to the gulf between medieval royalty and the peasantry”. He said the victims had been “stripped of dignity and humanity, and confined to a life of drudgery” that they had no way of escaping.

In total, the perpetrators were jailed for 79 years for modern-day slavery and fraud.

Was it any compensation? In some ways, yes. The case brought modern day slavery to the forefront. I hope it means people will now be more aware that human trafficking does exist.

In other ways, no. Alan will never get those years back – he has lost a huge chunk of his life. We are slowly trying to help him readjust. He now has his own flat, he cycles to see his friends and comes to have dinner with us whenever he wants. My mum got her son back, we have our brother, but Alan will never be the carefree spirit we lost all those years ago.

p.s. Names have been changed 

(Source: The Guardian)

Why a new bill by government is terrifying the Indian bank depositor

Ours is a deposit-driven banking system, so borrowing a clause from Western, credit-driven model is laced with difficulties. This bill gives power to a government entity to use depositors’ money to save a bank on the verge of bankruptcy. This government entity can declare the bank doesn't owe you any money though you have deposited your hard earned money with it. 

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017, first introduced in Lok Sabha in August this year during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, and currently undergoing scrutiny by a joint parliamentary committee, is in the eye of a political storm. A number of columnists and banking sector experts have red-flagged the “bail-in” clause – clause 52 of the draft legislation – to indicate that potential harm to deposits, in the form of savings accounts, might be in the offing with the Bill that will be taken up once again during the Winter Session of Parliament.

The FRDI Bill essentially proposes to create a framework for overseeing financial firms such as banks, insurance companies, non-banking financial services (NBFC) companies, stock exchanges, among others, and in case of insolvency, work out options. The “Resolution Corporation” which is supposed to look after the process and prevent the banks from going bankrupt, will be doing this by “writing down of the liabilities”, in others words, a “bail in”.

Though common in European and American banking systems, the bail-in clause in the Indian banking system that – for the ordinary citizen – is largely deposits-driven, and not as much credit-driven, could be laced with difficulties. Particularly at a time when the growing menace of rising non-performing assets (NPAs) or bad loans has hit an all-time high, with PSU banks writing off Rs 55,356 crore in the first two quarters of the fiscal year 2017-18, about 54 per cent higher than it was last year, the bail-in clause is alarming, to say the least.

What’s the bail-in clause?
A bail-in is different from a “bail-out”, wherein insolvency is averted by infusion of money from external sources, such as tax-payers money that government pours in to recapitalise banks, as happened during the 2009 trillion-dollar Wall Street bail-out, one of the first decisions taken by former US president Barack Obama. However, unlike a bail-out, a bail-in involves transferring the bank’s liabilities and assets – through different means and restructuring of its debt.

The bail-in clause in the FRDI Bill seeks to absorb the losses of the bank and insurance companies and prevent insolvency by prioritising the restoration of capital and asset of the bank over and above the safety of the depositors’ money. How? Clause 52 of FRDI Bill, 2017 empowers the proposed Resolution Corporation to cancel the liability owed by a bank, and/or change the very nature of a loss-ridden balance sheet by turning part of deposits into bank shares, or another security.

Modi government's FRDI bill may take away all your hard-earned money! Take a look!

The Bill says that in case of a bank failure, the proposed Resolution Corporation will “provide deposit insurance up to a certain limit”, which has not been specified. Under the existing (1962) law, all deposits up to Rs one lakh are protected by deposit insurance under the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, but that limit has been removed in the FRDI Bill.

How does it affect security of deposits?
In the wake of demonetisation, when citizens were cut off from accessing their own money in the banks with the daily cash withdrawal limit and long, serpentine ATM queues that proved fatal for about 140 odd Indians, the bail-in clause does send off the alarm bells. As per the FRDI Bill, the Resolution Corporation is entitled to convert a percentage of the deposits with a bank to bank shares and other forms of security, in the name of recapitalisation. This might end up cutting off the small depositors from their hard-earned money, since part of the amount in a savings account can be turned into a fixed deposit or rejigged to become part of bank shares, with the depositor given a miniscule stake in the bank’s doddering fortunes, effectively stalling him/her from withdrawing money as per one’s needs.

"FRDI has not yet been passed. However the draft bill contains a provision that would allow the Govt to “nationalise” our money to re-capitalise PSU banks.
This is both unjust & immoral and must be opposed and this provision deleted before the bill is passed."- @meerasanyal

Much like demonetisation, the bail-in clause wouldn’t really affect the wealthier sections of society, but for the poorer classes locking up one’s deposits in the name of bank recapitalisation after writing off lakhs of crores worth corporate debt is a stinging rebuke of the sprawling millions, who use the bank less for seeking credit and more as a safe-house for their meagre savings. While the banks can see influx of fresh capital with the little rearrangement, this is going to hurt the lower and middle classes, if invoked.

Finally got a chance to go through the proposed The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017.

And holymotherofgod what the heck!

"This bill gives power to a government entity to use depositors’ money to save a bank on the verge of bankruptcy. This government entity can declare the bank doesn't owe you any money though you have deposited your hard earned money with it. Yes! Our hard earned money that we have saved for our children and for our future. That's why I have started this petition asking the finance minister, Arun Jaitley to remove the 'bail-in' provision from the FRDI Bill," says a petition by Change.org.

Trends in PSU banks worrisome
The financial jugglery of the FRDI Bill is already facing political heat and is likely to create a storm in the Winter Session of Parliament which starts from next week. Despite reassurance from Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, the trust in the government over matters economic is shaky at best. "The FRDI Bill is far more depositor friendly than many other jurisdictions, which provide for statutory bail-in, where consent of creditors / depositors is not required for bail-in. The FRDI Bill does not propose in any way to limit the scope of powers for the Government to extend financing and resolution support to banks, including public sector banks. The government's implicit guarantee for public sector banks remains unaffected," a government statement said.

Certain misgivings have been expressed in the media regarding “bail-in” provisions of the FRDI Bill. The provisions contained in the FRDI Bill, as introduced in the Parliament, do not modify present protections to the depositors adversely at all.

The FRDI Bill is far more depositor friendly than many other jurisdictions, which provide for statutory bail-in, where consent of creditors / depositors is not required for bail-in.

Hence, FM Jaitley has indicated that a rethink is on the cards, in which the bail-in clause is going to face a serious challenge from the joint parliamentary committee. Given that not more than 30 per cent of the NPAs from corporate defaulters, often wilful defaulters, is likely to be ever recovered, the humungous burden of bad loan on the PSU banks, to the tune of Rs 15 lakh crore, remains an albatross for the fiscal health of public sector banking.

However, coercing depositors to turning their savings to fixed deposits and/or bank shares and other forms of assets that becomes ready capital for the bank and returns its balance sheet to good health, is not the way to recapitalise banks.

(Source: Daily O)

Why Katappa killed Baahubali was a closely-guarded secret, even on sets

Director SS Rajamouli says that for a long time, very few people knew why Katappa killed Baahubali in the first film of the franchise.

Doesn't look like the Baahubali fever will ever die down. The first film, Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), created enough hype and mystery with its cliff-hanger ending, where Baahubali's trusted servant Katappa killed him, in a shocking twist.

Till the second film, there was one question in everyone's minds: Why did Katappa (Sathyaraj) kill Baahubali (Prabhas)?  Though they got the answer in the second film, Baahubali: The Conclusion , SS Rajamouli now reveals that very few people knew the real answer to the question.

In a recent interview, the director was asked, "How many people knew the answer to that question 'Katappa ne Baahubali ko kyu maara?' And was it hard to keep that secret?"

He answered, "When we talk about why Katappa killed Baahubali, it is not such a difficult question to answer. If you just look at the film twice and put a little bit mind to it, the answer is evident. Even when people were tweeting to me, there were many people who got it right. But the actual question is not why Katappa killed Baahubali, what they mean by that is how Katappa killed Baahubali, you know that is what people are actually asking. How could he do it? And that answer is not easy to guess."

The filmmaker said that it was a closely-guarded secret on the sets as well."Very few people, maybe around 10-15 people would have known the entire story," he said.

The Baahubali franchise starred Prabhas, Sathyaraj, Anushka Shetty, and Rana Daggubatti in the lead roles. The film broke all records on the domestic, as well as on the international front.

(Source: India Today)

Sri Lanka formally hands over Hambantota port on 99-year lease to China

Beijing to hold 70 p.c. stake in the strategic port; Opposition and trade unions dub the $1.1 billion deal as “a sellout.”

Sri Lanka on Saturday formally handed over the strategic southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease, in a deal dubbed by the opposition and trade unions as “a sell-out.”

The government’s grant of large tax concessions to Chinese firms have also been questioned by the Opposition.

Two Chinese firms — Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and Hambantota International Port Services (HIPS) — managed by the China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will own the port and the investment zone around it, officials said.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during a visit to China in April had agreed to swap equity in Chinese infrastructure projects launched by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his home district.

Sri Lanka owed China $8 billion, then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had said last year.

The Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka seen in this October 2012 file photo. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has allayed Indian security concerns over the strategic location of the port and the increased Chinese presence in the island nation.   | Photo Credit: R.K. Radhakrishnan

‘To be major port in Indian Ocean’
“With this agreement we have started to pay back the loans. Hambantota will be converted to a major port in the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said while addressing the handing over ceremony held in parliament.

“There will be an economic zone and industrialisation in the area which will lead to economic development and promote tourism,” the Prime Minister said.

The Sri Lankan government had signed a $1.1 billion deal in July to sell a 70 per cent stake in the Hambantota port to China.

Sri Lanka received $300 million as the initial payment under the 99-year lease agreement.

The port, overlooking the Indian Ocean, is expected to play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which will link ports and roads between China and Europe.

'Will not be used as a military base'
In order to allay India’s security concerns over the Chinese navy’s presence in Sri Lanka, Mr. Wickremesinghe had earlier ruled out the possibility of the strategic port being used as a “military base” by any foreign country.

(Source: The Hindu)

Why earning more means caring less

Science is conclusive: the richer you are the less compassionate you're likely to be, writes Jessica Stillman in Inc.com. Read on: 

Both because it's the season of giving and because it's, apparently, also the season for frantic but far-reaching tax overhauls, I've been thinking about greed and empathy lately. How much wealth should we accumulate and how much should we give away? How do we balance compassion for those less fortunate with justly rewarding innovation, risk, and talent?

If you're looking for definitive answers to these questions, look elsewhere (and good luck to you). But in the course of thinking about these things, I stumbled on one interesting truth. My answers to these questions are almost certainly affected by my bank balance.

Wealth, science has shown, may increase our ability to give to others but it also tends to decrease our desire to do so. Or, to put it more bluntly, being rich is an empathy killer.

How money kills compassion
This isn't the ranting of some (insert your least favorite political persuasion here). This is hard science verified by multiple studies.

Luxury car drivers are more likely to cut off other drivers and ignore pedestrians entering crosswalks. Poorer people tell researchers they think about others' suffering more often. When shown a video of kids with cancer, wealthier people physically react less. Wealthier and more powerful people are worse at reading emotions in other people's faces. Even thinking about your own wealth (however small or great it may be) has been shown to make you less willing to share candy with children (I am not making this up - here it all is laid out by Scientific American.)

And it's not simply that hard hearted people tend to become wealthy. Researchers believe that becoming wealthier actually makes you less empathetic. "Wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused," explains the same Scientific American article.

A season for self-reflection
Unless you own a yacht or two, the easiest knee jerk reaction to all this science is outrage. It's satisfying to shake your (metaphorical) fist in anger at those greedy rich people, mutter 'I suspected as much' and feel superior for your own commitment to caring for your fellow man.

But the fact is, if you take home more than $34,000 a year (or possibly a bit more depending on which expert you ask), you are among the top one percent globally. After all, around the world about three billion people make ends meet on less than $2 a day. Most Americans, by comparison, are rich, even if they really, really don't feel like it, surrounded as they are by way richer people and facing sky high cost of living.

So perhaps the better and more seasonally appropriate response to these studies isn't just outrage (though a little of that might not be entirely inappropriate); it's self reflection. What suffering has your relative comfort blinded you to? And have you struck the right balance between looking out for your own and remaining open to the worries, experiences, and joys of other people?

It's a hard question that people have wrestled with for millennia, but this science is a healthy if bracing reminder that if you don't continually revisit the issue, as you gain more wealth and success, you're likely to drift away from empathy.