Ustiben Report
By Grattan Puxon

Of all this year's events marking Roma Nation Day in the UK - and it was the biggest package yet - the most poignant for me was the sight of actor Michael Collins, over here from Dublin for the Red Wheels Festival, shovelling away an earth barrier at Five Acre Farm.

Along with thirty others, including Dublin Corporation councillor Mick Rafferty, he was there to make the point that Basildon council (or I should say its ruling Tory faction), is so hell-bent on ethnic-cleansing, it's been cutting a few legal corners.

What about the right of landowners to access onto their own property? Don't Come Back the local headlines ran. But on Saturday we were back and, at least in gesture, chipping away at the barriers of prejudice and far-right racism.

In the afternoon, Collins was holding all spellbound with his one-man play Traveller In Progress at nearby Laindon. Opening the night before alongside ensemble Romani Rad at the Brentwood Theatre, this agitprop-style production covering forty years of life, love and the fight for liberty, is certainly winning new converts and supporters.

They signed up in droves at Laindon, despite or perhaps because of the riot police parked outside the hall. It made you feel like you were in Birmingham Alabama in the l960s, rather than Basildon Essex in the here and awful now.

Comforting words came from the Irish Embassy representative Alma Ni Choigligh who assured us that Ambassador O Ceallaigh had lately become well aware of the plight of Travellers and what was happening to them down in darkest Essex.

Quote of an eventful week must be that of Father John Glynn, who stands to lose many parishioners. In an 8 April article in the influential Economist magazine entitled The Siege of Dale Farm he says: "I'll be up there at the site if they evict the travellers. And my poster will say This is ethnic-cleansing."

Meanwhile, Father Glynn took away with him for presentation shortly to council leader Malcolm Buckley a world-wide petition backed by Italian-NGO International Alliance of Inhabitants calling on Basildon to back off from its five million Euro plan to destroy some 120 homes at Dale Farm and nearby Five Five Acre Farm.

The 8 April euphoria continued into the night with an after show party at Dale Farm, which brought together Travellers, Roma and a young Pakistani contingent from the newly formed Panjabi Human Rights Monitoring Team, which like several other groups, including Corin Redgrave's Peace & Progress Party, are ready to be there should the bulldozers be sent in.

The Red Wheels Festival was largely sponsored by the Travellers Aid Trust and the post-performance party by PakiTV and Veerendra Rishi of Kingfisher Beer. It was, incidently, his father, Indian diplomat Dr W.R.Rishi, who proposed during l971 lst World Romani Congree that our national flag be henceforth embossed with the red wheel, or Ashok Chakra, similar to that on the Indian flag.


And was this ancient link with India, so neatly symbolised by the participation of Panjabis in this year's Roma Nation Day, that Romani journalist Jake Bowers emphasised in the opening programme yesterday in Luton of the BBC's first Gypsy-oriented broadcast Rokker Radio (info: 01582 441111).

Opening with the national anthem Gelem Gelem Bowers spoke of the long migration of Roma from India and the lack of acceptance of a minority, now 350,000-strong, in present-day Britain. Over those initial two-hours the calls came in thick and fast, indicating that this unique programme promises to become, like 8 April, a permanent institution.

Importantly, another long-term fixture was made on the eve of Roma Nation Day, when Cliff Codona, chair of the UK Forum, led a delegation to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. They included European Roma and Travellers Forum representative Kay Beard, and Dale Farm spokeswomen, Kathleem McCarthy and Nora Egan.

Codona said afterwards, addressing the festival audience, that it was the first time the subject of evictions and the clearance of private-yards by specialist companies like Constant & Co. had got onto the agenda.

"We've had a lot of pussy-footing around in the past by the so-called experts, voluntary and professional," he said, adding to much applause, "Now we're representing ourselves - and I believe we're going to get somewhere."

He said the ODPM had shown a willingness to take a fresh look at the way some councils were conducting evictions. Officials had invited the Forum to present evidence of what has been going on, especially in respect of adherence to health and safety regulations when heavy machinery is used.

Extensive video film, already in the possession of the Forum, bears witness to the careless disregard of human life and limb, as well a property, during eviction operations that have rendered thousand homeless in recent years. Some of this film has already been seen in Brussels and Strasbourg, and has gone to leading human rights NGOs in Geneva, Vienna and Washington.

"I hope they are really listening this time," said Kathleen McCarthy, a school governor."Our children stand not only to loose their education but to be traumatised for life by the terror of riot police and bulldozers."

Basildon sees the ploughing up of yards at Five Acres as a prelude to the assault on Dale Farm. This week (12 April), the result of the Five Acres judicial review will come through. For those with homes at stake this can be hardly less frightening than judgement day itself.

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