Today, the United Nations released a report on Human Rights violation in North Korea (the killing machines of humanity I say) recommending strong action against one of the living laboratories of the Holocaust. The report says ‘the world must act’, yet it has been a long, dead spell of geopolitical games allowing people to be butchered, by the idiots like Kim Jong-un or his predecessors.

I am sharing here, today, my book review of ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ that I had written last may after reading the book, a book (a rare, authenticated, firsthand account – there have been very few cases of prison-camp survivors of North Korea) that reflects on what the report says, on what is happening in North Korea.

It’s straight. No colours. Single-point concentration and just one message!

And it hits sharply.

Family, father, mother, brother, sister, friends – all these words were just faceless, nameless heaps of flesh, devoid of any philosophical meaning of the term ‘soul’, competing for that ‘always’ meager amount of the foodstuff given twice a day (and that, too, irregularly). The survival of every nameless was mortgaged to the pervert decadence of the savage indoctrination.

He knew no emotions. Getting somehow the daily dose of that meal, which we, in the ‘civilized’ world can never think of even touching, was the only motive to live the next day. The best survival instinct was betrayal – betray everyone, no trust – get your share of the rotten meal anyhow – midst abuses, whippings, isolations, rapes, sodomy, and killings.

All for no reason – or something that your ancestors or relatives had done!

He was not alone. There were tens of thousands of them – the book puts it 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners – in the labour camps of North Korea.

Blaine Harden’s ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ is a strongly worded, emotive book, running high on the zero-emotion quotient of the central character, written in a provocative language, detailing out the life history and escape from the labour camp 14 of Shin Dong Hyuk who was born and brought up there.

escape-from-camp-14-fc2Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

The biographical memoir makes you squirm; breaks you into thoughts; kills you by the absence of the thoughtlessness; pins you on the inaction of ‘thinking civilizations’ across the world.

Unlike the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, North Korean camps have survived for over five decades now. Content of the book is indicative of thousands of murders in these camps every year and yet the prisoner count remains the same. It directly tells us the reign of state terror in North Korea has fed on killing millions of its famished population.

But like the Nazi camps, the ‘Selection’ process of the Nazi mentality is very well alive in the North Korean labour camps. In these camps, only two categories exist – prisoners and guards. Most of the prisoners don’t know why they are here. Guards treat them as animals – killing them, for reasons like stealing some grains of corn to getting pregnant after being raped by the guards.

Rooms for inmates are worse than prison cellars. Schools extend just one focused training – indoctrination of limited feelings, extreme fear and utmost devotion to the jokers Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (and now the next crook on the block – Kim Jong Un); schools where teachers kill small girls and boys by beating with blackboard pointer to release their anger.

The only skill imparted is learning to work in the labour intensive prison factories. The etiquettes manual tell never to look into the eyes of the guards and teachers and never question them.

‘Snitching’ is a word that dominates this narration; defines the underlying theme of this book. Every camp inmate is indoctrinated to snitch on others, even the family members that led Shin pass the information of escape plan of his mother and brother to the guards resulting in their public execution. He hated them. He hated his father.

And Shin was not alone. Almost of the camp inmates who had never seen the outside world were the same creatures as Shin was – animals with pervert survival instincts.

The way they had been raised, nothing could change their destiny until they found a way out of the hell – an impossible prospect.

And that is why ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is an extraordinary tale of escape of an animal Shin from the invisible North Korean concentration camps on the journey to become the human Shin.

He feels guilty for his act now that led to the execution of his mother and brother. He regrets that he didn’t say any word to his father on the eve of his escape in 2005. He now knows the feeling behind emotive words like ‘family’. One way to begin life afresh is probably changing your name, that is what Shin In Geun, the North Korean refugee thinks. So he is now Shin Dong Hyuk.

Yet he is still a broken persona living layered lives. It will take a long time for him to lead a totally normal life, if he can, in leaving behind the 23 years of his life in the land of the ‘Great and Dear’ leaders.

The multiple layers of secrecy and an insensitive international community have allowed the North Korean government to continue with the camps. These camps exist nowhere in official records of any country. There has been significant amount of work done by activists and journalists like David Hawk and Blaine Harden but why the international community is not acting is frustrating when tens of thousands are being killed every year.

The book is not about Shin; it is about life in the North Korean gulags; it is about the absolute cruel run of the North Korean regime; and it is about demeaning everything that is human.

Horror of the North Korean regime flows effectively, from one page to the other, from one chapter to the next – keeping you hooked to book, thinking, is there a limit to all this!

Try it to feel it.

May 16, 2012

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


Two 20-something, well in adulthood lovers, were duped and manipulated by the girl’s family after they fled to get married. The two from the same village and the same ‘gotra’ (clan), but from different families (with houses 1 Km apart), were made to believe that their families were ready to accept them.

Once in the trap, the butchers from the girl’s family, in the most horrible manner possible, hacked the couple to death, slicing their bodies in many parts. Everyone in the village knew it.

In fact, an elaborate spectacle of this butchery was made in the whole village with the severed head of the boy on display, warning others to think of the consequences before taking such a step as this couple had done.

And the spectacle was fully endorsed, highly appreciated, in a village that is in Rohtak, hometown of Haryana’s chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Mr. Hooda is a qualified lawyer and his son, who is Member of Parliament from Rohtak, Deepender Singh Hooda, is an MBA from the Kelley Business School, Indiana University, USA.

But do their educational backgrounds make any difference? NO! They are as backward as the villagers who endorse such killings. Villagers or the contractors of the communities do it in the name of social norms. Politicians like Hooda do it for the sake of their political interests.

Education can make you look and talk smart, can arm you to manipulate the System, can take you to the places, but it cannot make you a ‘humane’ human being when you are from the badlands of Haryana, Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh or any other place where honour killings have become an acceptable norm in societies like in Haryana chief minister’s hometown. Try a periodic Internet search for ‘honour killings in Rohtak’ and you will come across loads of results.

Both, the ‘educated father-son duo’, say there is no need for a ‘new or separate law’ on honour killings. Yes, they do condemn such incidents, but such knee-jerk reactions are more to address the pressure of media and the civil society activists, than to the issue itself.

And it’s the mindset that is to blame, a mindset that has become the System itself, and the people sick and paralysed from this mindset, have become its different appendages, elongating the run of horror.

Honour killings or ‘dishonour’ killings whatever we say, are the stark reality of this India that boasts of space-age technological sophistications.

Whatever we claim but education or civilization advancement tools like the technological achievements or economic prosperity have failed to fill the gap.

Places like the badlands of Haryana or anywhere else where the honour killings are rampant have proven how ineffective educational training have been in eradicating sentiments that push the butchers to kill their own sons and daughters in the name of family, village or community honour.

When someone as highly educated like Mr. Deepender Hooda, (a senior politician as well, even if his seniority is because of his political lineage) or someone entrusted with running a state smoothly on the principals of the Indian Constitution like Mr. Bhupinder Hooda, who is son of a freedom fighter, become party in extending support to the perpetrators of such heinous crimes in the name of honour, we can gauge how deep is the rot.

Yes, just putting butchers behind bars, butchers who feel proud in killing their own sons and daughters, is not going to change anything. Because, these butchers know they are not going to be hanged till death. Because, these butchers know, once back to their communities, they will be hailed as heroes.

They have to be ostracized. If their immediate society fails to do so, the law needs to do so.

A tough law is needed for the bunch that doesn’t know what humanity is.

A report on a TV news channel said in UK, every year, almost 12 honour-killing cases are registered and the perpetrators are Indians and South Asians.

See! Education or living in an advanced western civilization fails to make any difference. It’s about the mindset!

Use ‘honour’, ‘dishonour’ or any other phrase, these are plain killings, committed in the most gruesome ways, breaking all the norms of humanity. In fact, such killings must come under ‘rarest of the rare’ category. Courts need to finish such cases at the earliest, unlike December 16, 2013 Delhi gangrape case that took nine months. Nine months in a case that saw a massive public outrage forcing the politicians to enact a stringent anti-rape law. Nine months in a case when the policymakers sitting at the top had promised the result within 2-3 months.

Its not that the relevant laws to handle such ghastly crimes are not there in the Indian Penal Code. What is needed is severity in implementation.

Inhuman ways are needed to teach humanity to them who cut other human beings to pieces in full public view. And it has to be time-bound.

The mindset change is a long-term effort. But it is also urgently imperative that we, as a civilized society, do not bear the burden of such butchers, such criminals anymore.

And the immediate measure is the fear of the harshest punishment under the law. Yes, it is not going to change anything soon but the fear of death will be the first step on the process to the mindset change.

Education may come later on to build on the fear quotient.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –