Laxmi Saa



Writing in recent days about the siege of Madaya in Syria, where 28 people were deliberately allowed to starve to death, made me ponder on the dark shadow of human cruelty that always hangs over our daily lives.

A Starving Child in Madaya, Syria

What is it that makes a presumably intelligent, well educated couple like President Assad and London-born wife Asma, who have 2 healthy children of their own, stand back and let other people’s children 30 miles away die from malnutrition and lack of food?

The Assads had the power to change that in an instant.

They could have supplied medical assistance that would have kept the starving alive, but chose not to do that either, because of politics and religion – the victims all belonged to wrong (Sunni) sect.

By contrast Alawite/Shia, supporters of the regime, trapped by an opposition siege in Kefraya and Al Fuah have received fairly regular airdrops of food and other supplies.

Similarly, what makes members of the Islamic State in sickening acts of cruelty, behead people, burn them alive or suicide bomb innocent tourists to death?

The acts of cruelty in war are endless. It’s as though the state of war “gives permission” for common humanity to be completely and illegally suspended – though the boundary between war combatants and non-combatants is becoming increasingly blurred.

And it is not just in war that cruelty manifests, we see it around us almost every day.


Take the cases of acid attack victims. More than 200 in the UK over the last 2 years and an estimated 1,000 a year in India, many of them there never officially reported or treated.

They also occur in the USA and South America and across Europa and Asia. In Bangladesh there have been 3,512 people attacked with acid between 1999 and 2013 alone, though annual numbers are at last reducing.

Acid attacks melt distinctive facial features like noses and ears that most of us take for granted, disfigures bodies, take away sight, cause deafness and ruin lives. The emotional and psychological damage is immeasurable.

Iqbal – Victim of Cruel Acid Attack

Iqbal in Pakistan, a very handsome young man, was just 15 years old when he was attacked with acid.

He was a passionate dancer and danced professionally with his parents in wedding processions.

One night, Iqbal was approached by another man who sexually propositioned him but Iqbal said he wasn’t interested.

While sleeping at home along with his family, Iqbal had acid poured over his head.

He was left blind in both eyes by the attack and his lips and neck burned so badly that eating and drinking are extremely painful.

Iqbal is from a family of poor wood cutters, who dance to earn extra income.

Now aged 20 he is at last receiving treatment for the first time in 5 years.


It is not just our fellow humans that human beings are cruel to. It is also animals.

The reports of animals starved and beaten to death are endless on the Internet, including many animals that were supposedly “pets” or destined for our dinner plates.

And then you have the bizarre phenomena of people who lovingly care for their pets but starve or are cruel to their children.

All of which goes contrary to our natural instincts.

http://www.petercliffordonline.comFrom a biological point of view, newly born and young children and animals are “cute”, innocent and appealing precisely to trigger an affectionate and protective bonding response from those around them, particularly their parents.

We have all probably done cruel things to people, animals or insects at some time in our lives, however “good” we try to be.

I have to confess that I once worked in a zoo where we had to feed the owls and other birds of prey with day-old-chicks.

If we had put live chicks into the cages for the birds to kill there would have rightly been a public outcry, so every week a box of freshly hatched little miracles would arrive at the zoo – and one by one we killed them by breaking their necks and storing them in the fridge.

After a short while, a friend and I could no longer do it – every death felt like an emotional knife wound and eventually such cruel actions became impossible.


Human cruelty and lack of care, which in regard to the young or the elderly can also be cruel, is a result of a disconnect with our feelings to one degree or another. The less we truly feel, the more we can separate ourselves from and ignore what goes on around us.

And we stop feeling of course when we are so full of pain and distress ourselves that feeling it threatens our functioning. Depression, is precisely that, pressing down our painful feelings, but those suffering depression are more likely to harm themselves than be cruel to others.

The dangerous ones are those that are so disconnected from their feelings that they act them out without taking responsibility for those actions. Rage, jealousy, rejection, fear, feelings of inadequacy or other strong emotions can trigger acts of cruelty, often on the weaker and most vulnerable.

Facing up to cruelty of many kinds in our world is not an easy thing to do. It is noticeable with my blog that when I write about people “starving to death” for example, the views of the site immediately go down and when I write about “battles and victories”, the number of views goes up! (It will be interesting to see how this article fares)

Extraordinarily, at the other side of the human coin, sometimes out of cruelty, pain and suffering some good things come.

Laxmi Saa, one of the acid victims mentioned above, was attacked when she was 15 years old merely because she rejected an offer of marriage. Her attacker got just 3 years for disfiguring her for life.

Despite her injuries, Laxmi is well known in India for her campaign to get the sale of acid regulated, because it is far too easy to buy and misuse it.

Now a designer clothes company in India, Viva N Diva, is employing and empowering her as a model for its latest range. Kudos and respect to the company and to Laxmi for her bravery and determination. (You can read more at the BBC)

Finally, what can we do in our own lives to lift the dark shadow of human cruelty hanging over the world?

We can certainly challenge, report and remove cruelty from our own life in whichever form it appears.

As I always say, if you can’t be right, be kind. No-one, animal or human, deserves cruelty.

 Laxmi Saa

Laxmi Saa Modelling for Viva N Diva

About the Author Peter Clifford

Peter Clifford has worked for over 40 years as a healer, counsellor, psychotherapist, lecturer and workshop leader empowering people worldwide to be the best that they can be.

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  • Briant says:

    The SS Sergeant marches his new recruits down into a basement in Warsaw. Huddled in a corner are a number of women. He orders the recruits to line up in front of these poor women. Then orders the recruits to rape them. But the recruits remain fixed to the spot, as if not understanding,or comprehending what the Sergeant had just said. At this point the Sergeant becomes infuriated and while screaming he draws his lugger and puts the muzzle against the temple of the closest recruit. This time he repeats his order almost as a whisper. Little beads of foam can be seen at the corners of his lipless mouth. The recruits spring to life; and rape these poor women. They then proceed to batter them almost to death. The Sargent looks on smiling, after all these things are not human. They are scum, parasites, untermensch. On that fateful night humanity died not for the victims; but rather for the perpetrators of this terrible crime. Much later in life one of those recruits asked the following question. What would you have done in my position ???.

    In a term originally coined by Gabriel Marcein in his essay. “The Spirit of Abstraction” as a Factor Making for War” Abstraction can be defined as the practice of conceiving of people as functions rather than as human beings. This essay sets out clearly much of the psychology at work in the above story. It is well worth a read.

  • Jane Thompson says:

    In this insightful article you have posed a question that goes to the heart of the human condition. I would say that any of us are capable of cruelty without remorse whenever we can convince ourselves that another is truly other and NOT like ourselves, as in, cockroaches, women and Sunnis need to be put in their place. Why do humans so often refuse to recognize that we all bleed the same color and feel the same pain? I suspect we are afraid to recognize our oneness because we would have to change. I hope you will write more articles like this one and help all of us become more aware of the truth. Stay safe.

    Jane Thompson

    • Many thanks Jane for your kind and thoughtful reply. Good question that you pose too. We are at the end of the day all fellow humans with similar pains, troubles and emotions. Rest assured, there will be more articles like this one – it’s a direction of travel. PC.

  • John Sherry says:

    After witnessing the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, William Wordsworth in The Prelude remarked that we watch inhumanity every day with ‘careless eyes’, so, we give a penny to charity and soothe our liberal conscience. This piece was unexpectedly different from your usual – I do hope you are not feeling too down with all the bullshit surrounding you. Your writing informs the many – and your writing is never with careless eyes. Keep up the sterling work Peter and keep safe. John Sherry, safe and warm in Glasgow.

    • Many thanks John for your remarks. I do my best to be aware, give a voice to the unspoken and perhaps prick a conscience or two – otherwise much of what we read and are fed is just anodyne and ineffective. I also have a lot of experience at finding solutions and helping others change their lives – so why not use it?

      Not feeling down at all, in fact quite the opposite. Leapt into New Year and looking forward to new opportunities. PC.

  • Briant says:

    Hi peter I hope you are well, as usual an excellent article. i would ask some simple questions….where would isil be without western technology?.. How many people were murdered this year by Kalashnikovs and m16s. Yet even these simple weapons cannot be produced in the Middle East. ??? Are we in the west helping these people or just using excuses to hide our greed.?? The sale of weapons are great for our economy. Helping people win there struggles is a perfect excuse. Isil sees its cruelity as a means to an end, just the way the NAZI Germany seen the gassing of 4 million Jews; a means to an end. The west justifies its sale of weapons as a means to an end. There is no difference murder is murder.

    • Many thanks Briant for your comments. IS without western technology would, I expect, still be killing, but less well known like Al-Shabab. Without AK-47s etc, I suppose they would get the guns from someone willing to sell and make money – or resort to knives. As you imply, the west is greedily selling weapons to fuel these wars and the arms manufacturers are there to turn a profit. When each TOW anti-tank missile costs $50,000 and each Brimstone missile $150,000 and, how can they fail! You are right – they are all contributing to murder. PC.

  • walidaddas says:

    There is a thought in Syria that Assad is not a sane man. Even though he appears well on tv as a manipulative , evasive and outright lier, as stated in one of your well thought aricles, we believe that these qualities do not require much intelligence. all they require is some Chutzpah.
    His wife is an enigma.
    Both of them has so subserviated themselves to Iran, that now there is no escape from the clutch of the Iranians even if they wanted to.
    The Iranians dont really care how many Syrians are starved or killed.
    Somehow, they made Assad , without much convincing, believe that staying in power , does not only hide his incompetence and corruption but also hides the crimes committed by his deceased father.
    After he used his airforce and lost most of it , now he brings the Russian Bear to defend his midget throne.

    • Many thanks, Walid for your comments and analysis, which I go along with. Asma is an enigma, born and educated in the UK, worked as banker in London and presumably had some English values. How can she sit by and watch children like her own be deliberately starved to death a few miles away, different sect or not? Assad would have to be intelligent to train as an ophthalmologist – but then so are psychopathic serial killers usually! PC.

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