brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

November 26, 2006

Facing an uncertain future

Filed under: bangladesh,global islands,india — admin @ 5:11 pm

According to a report by Human Rights Watch Asia in June 1995 probably more than a million women and children are employed in Indian brothels. Many are victims of trafficking through international borders, mostly Nepal and Bangladesh. Bombay has an estimated 100,000 brothel workers. Twenty percent of Bombay’s brothel population is thought to be girls under the age of eighteen.

Trafficking victims in India are subjected to conditions tantamount to slavery and to serious physical abuse. Held in debt bondage for years at a time, they are raped and subjected to other forms of torture, to severe beatings, exposure to AIDS, and arbitrary imprisonment. Many are young women from remote hill villages and poor border communities who are lured from their villages by local recruiters, relatives or neighbours promising jobs or marriage, and sold for very small amounts to brokers who deliver them to brothel owners in India for anywhere from Rs.15,000 to Rs.40,000 [$500-$1,333]. This purchase price (Human Rights Watch Asia report, 1995) becomes the “debt” that the women must work to pay off — a process that can stretch on indefinitely.

According to an AFP report at least 20,000 Bangladeshi women and children are trafficked to India and Pakistan and to Middle Eastern countries every year. According to a Times of India report an estimated 50,000 Bangladeshi girls are trafficked to or through India every year. The girls end up in brothels in India or Pakistan or in Middle Eastern or South Asian countries.

India shares a 4,222-kilometers border with 28 Bangladeshi districts. Bangladeshi traffickers have built up bases in the border districts of India. According to an Independent Bangladesh report an estimated 90 percent of trafficked women were forced to engage in prostitution. Reportedly, 400,000 Bangladeshi women are engaged in forced prostitution in India, and 300,000 Bangladeshi boys have been trafficked to India. According to one report, every day 50 Bangladeshi girls are lured across the Indian border and sold. Bangladeshi girls who are trafficked to India by organised networks usually end up in brothels in Kolkata or Mumbai.

November 25, 2006

Bangladesh put in category of ‘flawed democracy’

Filed under: bangladesh,global islands — admin @ 9:45 pm

Unb, Dhaka

Bangladesh ranks 75th among 165 democracies and is grouped in the category of “flawed democracy” in a global survey report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on November 24, as hassles hampered a smooth run of the past parliament and continued over the coming elections.

The EIU also put Bangladesh on the “negative list” with a caution that an unclear or disputed election result, to be overseen by the caretaker government, could trigger a political crisis and rollback of democracy.

Its democracy index is based on five categories: Electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture.

Bangladesh’s overall score was 6.11, out of maximum of 10 band scores.

“The condition of having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the basic requirement of all definitions,” the report noted.

According to the report, although half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies, the number of “full democracies” is relatively low (only 28). As many as 54 are rated as “flawed democracies”. Of the remaining states, 55 are authoritarian and 30 considered “hybrid regimes”.

According to the EIU ranking, the top ten democracies are Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. In the ranking, the US manages to come in at 17, with the UK following up at 23.

November 24, 2006

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 9:32 am

November 23, 2006

Baby auctioned for $351 to pay micro-credit debt

Filed under: bangladesh,global islands — admin @ 6:51 am

POOR parents of a newborn child in southern Bangladesh auctioned off their baby to repay a loan from a local micro-credit bank.

The auction took place in the impoverished hamlet of Farhadabad in Fatikchari sub-district, 290km south of the capital, Dhaka, over the weekend, said the daily, Ittefaq.

The announcement of the sale attracted more than a dozen bidders, many coming from outside the district.

The newspaper, quoting local reporters, said the baby was sold at a price of 20,000 taka ($351).

Chikon Mia and Humaira Khatoon, parents of the baby, said they already had two children who they were barely able to feed.

“We do not have enough money to feed the two children. How can I possibly feed a third one?” Ms Khatoon asked.

The landless family fell into hard times and took out a small loan last year to tide them over an economic crisis. But the farming couple failed to repay the loan in time and plunged into deeper financial problems.

After the couple’s request to the bank to reschedule the unpaid loan was turned down, they put the baby up for auction.

Nearly 40 per cent of Bangladesh’s 130 million people live under the United Nation’s designated poverty line.

November 20, 2006

Soldiers shoot dead rare rhino in Kenya

Filed under: global islands,kenya — admin @ 4:01 pm

NAIROBI – British troops in Kenya shot dead a rare white rhino after it charged them while they were on night-time training, officials said on Monday.

“On the night of November 8 a British patrol on a training exercise had a close encounter with a rhino. When it charged towards them they opened fire and sadly it was fatally wounded,” said a spokeswoman at the British High Commission.

An official with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said the four soldiers strayed into a rhino sanctuary on a ranch. The British spokeswoman denied media reports the troops were lost.

She and the KWS official said both their organisations had launched enquiries into the shooting. KWS says there are only 235 white rhinos in Kenya where the British army has carried out training operations for decades.

White rhinos are targeted by poachers for their horns. These fetch high prices in Yemen, where they are made into dagger handles, and in the Far East, where they are coveted for their supposed medicinal qualities.

November 17, 2006

Andaman tsunami victims protest

Filed under: global islands,india,thailand — admin @ 7:18 am

Tsunami victims are not happy with the new houses

Victims of the 2004 tsunami in India’s eastern Andaman and Nicobar archipelago have rioted in protest against the new houses provided by the government.

At least 12 people have been injured in the violence after protestors burnt official vehicles at Hut Bay in Little Andaman islands.

They were protesting against the location and quality of construction of their new houses.

Officials say the tsunami killed more than 3,500 in the Andamans.

Tsunami victims in the Hut Bay area have gone on strike in protest against what they call inadequate and shoddy housing.

“The permanent houses the government is making for us are located far away from our workplaces,” resident Somnath Banik said.

“The houses are made of pre-fabricated material which will make them very hot. Also the houses are on a twin sharing basis which is not acceptable to us.”

Locals say Hut Bay residents have observed two strikes in recent weeks in protest against what residents describe as “the high handedness of the administration.”

Tsunami victims in the Andamans were first put up in tents in more than 200 evacuee camps, then shifted to nearly 10,000 temporary shelters made of tin roofs.

They are now being shifted to more than 8,500 new houses made for them with pre-fabricated structures that have been shipped from mainland India at considerable cost.

The Nicobarese tribes people in south of the archipelago , who bore the brunt of the tsunami, were the first to protest against the pre-fabricated housing.

They said it was far too hot, given the warm climes of the archipelago.

Last month, the Nicobarese stopped erection of these new houses in some parts of their islands.

Some Nicobarese were also upset when the Indian navy tried to evict six of them from their homes.

The navy said the six were encroaching on their land – the tribals dispute that.

Most houses in the archipelago are built cheaply using local wood.

Nicobarese leaders say the pre-fab houses are hugely expensive. The authorities say they have been designed “in consultation with the local people”.

Islamic extremism threatens Bangladesh

Filed under: bangladesh,global islands — admin @ 6:38 am

MADRAS, India — Bangladesh is the latest South Asian flash point where democracy stands threatened. Bloody street battles between two rival political parties — led by two women who hate each other — and other violence have swept the small country northwest of India in recent weeks. The military is now on the streets of major cities and towns.

Once known as East Pakistan whose Bengali-speaking Muslim majority had an affinity with India’s West Bengal state on the border, Bangladesh was born in December 1971 following political developments that had driven a wedge between West and East Pakistan. The two were already divided by language (West Pakistanis spoke Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi), culture and a huge distance.

East Pakistani feelings that the concentration of political power in West Pakistan gave it greater privileges led to the rise of Bengali nationalism, which West Pakistan tried to crush. The military murdered intellectuals and resorted to plunder, looting and rape, trying break the East’s morale. Even napalm bombs were used against innocent villagers. It was attempted genocide.

India intervened, defeating West Pakistani forces in the East, and the region declared independence. But a military coup in 1975 saw the murder of the nation’s father and first prime minister, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, and 15 members of his family. The military took over.

Although democracy was restored in 1991, recent political violence and gore have added a frightening dimension to the fragile peace of this nation of 150 million. There are fears that Bangladesh will once again slip into a military dictatorship. Many people are deeply disappointed with political corruption. The failure of mainstream politics has encouraged the extremist fringe in a land peopled by al-Qaida and Taliban sympathizers. Events in recent weeks suggest that the state is on the brink of Islamic radicalism.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamic allies ended their chaotic, five-year term Oct. 27. Their rule had been marked by a nonfunctioning Parliament, street battles and creeping poverty and diseases.

A partisan and ailing president, Iajuddin Ahmed, has become the head of an interim government with defense, foreign affairs and the military under his control. General elections are scheduled for January, but the present scenario indicates that it is unlikely that the 90 million eligible Bangladeshi voters will get a fair chance to elect a government. The judiciary is highly politicized, and the Election Commission is filled with political appointees.

The Awami League, the country’s main Opposition party led by Sheik Hasina had planned demonstrations when Ahmed took over, but when she got wind of a move by outgoing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia — who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — to declare a state of emergency, she called off the protests. Hasina realized that such demonstrations would only fuel the fire. (Prime Minister Rahman, killed in the 1975 coup, was Hasina’s father.)

Since Hasina’s Awami League has a fair chance of an electoral win, it has a lot to lose by political rashness. At least one important factor is on her side: Since democracy was restored in 1991, incumbents have not fared well in elections. In addition, the BNP has split: A new organization, the Liberal Democratic Party, led by former President Badruddozza Chowdhury, is campaigning on an anticorruption platform. He has managed to rope in some important BNP leaders. But if the Election Commission is not purged of pro-BNP elements, Zia may still manage to rig the polls. Hasina has been demanding the appointment of neutral commissioners.

There is understandable international concern that Bangladesh’s corrupt, power-hungry politicians have weakened the nation’s institutions to the extent that a free and fair electoral process is difficult. So the ground looks ideal for the emergence of violent Islamic extremism. Two possibilities are feared: military intervention leading to a dictatorship, or a takeover by Islamic radicals.

Although the Bangladesh military is not as politicized as its Pakistani counterpart, there are military leaders waiting in the wings, according to media in Bangladesh. Islamic radicalism appears to be the greater threat. Militancy has grown in recent years, targeting leftists, secularists and intellectuals plus religious minorities, such as Christians and Hindus. Bombings and suicide missions are on the rise.

The principal beneficiary of the political unrest has been the increasingly influential Islamist fringe, led by legitimate parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and extending to the violently militant Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and the Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh, reports the International Crisis Group, adding that “Islamic militancy has flourished in a time of dysfunctional politics and popular discontent.”

Perhaps what Bangladesh urgently needs today is a national government that will look beyond narrow, partisan politics. But where is the leader to head such a government? Neither Hasina nor Zia seems to have such a vision.

Rains lash Rameswaram, Mandapam

Filed under: global islands,india — admin @ 6:20 am

Rameswaram, Nov 16: Several parts of Rameswaram island and Mandapam panchayat union in the mainland are in knee-deep water following heavy rains last night.

Almost all fishermen colonies in Rameswaram, Pamban and Mandapam are surrounded by knee-deep water. Even main roads adjoining the sea are flooded in the island, officials said.

Panaikulam, Atrangarai, Perungulam, Uchupuli where an air-base is located, Vethalai, Pattinamkathan, Mandapam refugee camp, Pamban, Thangachimadam, Chinnapalam and Kundhukal have been inundated and people have to wade through the water even to go to adjoining houses.

Most parts of the highway between Ramanathapuram and Mandapam have also been inundated following torrential rains last night. Rameswaram and surrounding areas have been experiencing heavy rains for the past 10 days.

Meanwhile, the newly elected local body officials in Rameswaram and Mandapam claimed that there was a shortage of sanitary workers and they were also facing financial problems.

J Jaleel, Chairman of Rameswarm municipality, and vice-chairman M Rajamani claimed that they had to engage people and also lend a helping hand to them in draining out water from low-lying areas.

The road stretch between Tamaraikulam and Nochi Oorani, Raghunathapuram – Kumbaram, Raghunathapuram – Vazhuthur Vilakku; Sathapan Valasai – Ariyaman Beach are in waist deep water today. Local revenue officials said most coastal villages are not getting essential items, including milk, rice and vegetables.

The district administration had been requested to supply essential commodities and house people in flood-affected areas in some mandapams.

Officials said that efforts were being made to drain the flood water into the sea by forming channels and also maintain the supply of essential commodities. Many office-goers and students had been stranded in villages as there were no bus services to many coastal villages.

Work on strengthening the banks of big lakes, tanks and ponds is being taken up on a war-footing to preserve water for the summer, district officials said.

Sand bags were being used to prevent flood waters from entering residential areas. Cyclone relief centres had been opened in many villages in Mandapam and Rameswaram, they said.

The services of the Navy and Coast Guard had not been sought so far, but it would be done if required, they said.

Officials said they did not have sufficient funds as the new local body chief had just assumed office. They agreed that there was severe shortage of sanitary workers, but said that steps were being taken to provide temporary hands in all the affected places.

November 16, 2006

Garifuna Dictionary Goes Electronic

Filed under: belize,global islands — admin @ 7:00 am

In 1975, Jesuit priests John Stochl published volumes 1, 2 and 3 of the dictionary of Central American Garifuna. It’s considered the definitive work on the Garifuna language and now just in time for Settlement Day, it is being released in an electronic format on a compact disc. It’s the combined effort of the Belizean Studies Resource Center and the National Garifuna Council. They hope this new effort leads to the preservation and grater use of the language. The new digital work will be formally presented to the National Garifuna Council at the official ceremonies on November 19th in Dangriga Town.

India’s beaches are bellwether of Sri Lanka’s war

Filed under: global islands,india — admin @ 6:23 am

Some 16,000 refugees have fled by boat to India this year to avoid escalating violence.

TAMIL NADU, INDIA – Early one morning last week, K. Thangaraja, a tractor driver from eastern Sri Lanka, stood knee-deep in seawater fearing his end was near. Surrounding him was the murky confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean – the barrier between his home in Sri Lanka and a new life in India.

Five hours earlier, a fisherman pushed Mr. Thangaraja and 19 relatives, some of them young children, from his 26-foot wooden boat and onto a shallow sand bank. “Someone will be along shortly to take you to the Indian coast,” he had said, before hurrying off into the darkness.

No one came. Not until 4:30 the following afternoon, when they were nearly unconscious from exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration. An Indian fishing vessel happened to spot their improvised white flags and brought them ashore.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” says Thangaraja. “If I had to do it all over again, I would take my chances in Sri Lanka.”

Yet for ethnic Tamils now caught in the crossfire of an increasingly bloody civil war between the ethnic Sinhalese dominated government and armed Tamil rebel groups, staying can be an equally undesirable option.

Fighting since August in the northern Jaffna region – considered the heartland of Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils – has left hundreds of combatants dead in some of the bloodiest clashes since the government and rebels signed a 2002 cease-fire that temporarily halted two decades of civil war.

Many fear that the near-daily attacks and killings will drive Sri Lanka back to full-scale war, although the government and Tigers say they are committed to the truce.

Since January, over 16,000 refugees from Sri Lanka have fled to the shores of Tamil Nadu, India’s southeastern state, where they fan out in refugee camps across the region and receive basic support from the Indian government. The refugees who have arrived in India constitute only a small fraction of the nearly 200,000 people who have been displaced since April. But they represent some of the most desperate cases – those who have given up hope for a quick end to hostilities and are trying to start anew.

“It is an expensive and difficult journey to the Tamil Nadu coast,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, with New York-based Human Rights Watch. “These are people who are so terrified that they believe survival is impossible back home.”

The number of monthly arrivals has decreased significantly since August, when over 5,700 arrived here; so far this month, less than 200 have attempted the journey. That is partly because of the weather, with rough seas and thunderstorms making the crossing far more perilous in November and December. Many Sri Lankans had also held out hope for peace talks last month in Geneva. The talks collapsed, however, when the two sides disagreed over whether to reopen the major north-south artery that connects northern rebel-controlled Sri Lanka with the rest of the country.

With the recent surge in violence, aid workers are expecting an increase in the number of arrivals in the coming weeks and months ahead. The cost of being smuggled to India is anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 Sri Lankan rupees, or US$55 to $140. Refugees often sell property or family jewelry to fund the trip.

The recent surge is not the first time India has hosted Tamil refugees. Tens of thousands have come in successive waves since the war between the Tamils and Sinhalese majority began in 1983. The official conduit for new arrivals in India is the Mandapam transit camp in the town of Rameswaram, a fenced-off series of dilapidated one-story cement apartment blocks with communal water faucets. The camp was originally established and controlled by the British until 1964 as a transit site for thousands of poor Indians who were sent to sprawling tea estates in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the British Commonwealth. Today, they arrive from the other direction.

Mandapam has over 5,000 residents, the majority of whom have been there for months, waiting to relocate elsewhere in Tamil Nadu state, but a housing shortage keeps them in the camp for the time being.

Although conditions in Mandapam are substandard, its leaders are reticent to voice their concerns too loudly. “We do not complain about the conditions because just next to us there are Indian citizens who don’t get even what we get,” says S.C. Chandrahassan, an officer with the Organization for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (Eelam is a Tamil reference for Sri Lanka), which helps run the 130 refugee camps throughout Tamil Nadu.

The Indian government provides the refugees with 400 Indian rupees, or about US$9 a month per head of household and a little less for every other member, as well as cooking materials, a refugee ID card, and rice subsidized to 1983 prices, which comes to less than a couple pennies a kilo, far below what Indians receive on the dole. “We always have to keep that in mind and encourage people to work,” says Mr. Chandrahassan.

There is a close affinity between the Tamils in Tamil Nadu, and those in Sri Lanka. But it is to find work, and not just the flight from violence that many refugees cite as the reason for taking the perilous flight to India. Here, they can join the informal economy, taking undesirable jobs in rural areas as this country’s economy surges ahead at breakneck speed.

Vikram Raja, a mason who arrived in early September with his wife and three young children, sits by the highway each day looking to be picked up for a day’s work. He has worked two days in two months, but doesn’t regret the move.

“My life was in danger there,” he says. “The Army will arrest anyone without any grounds.” Mr. Raja’s home was destroyed in the 2004 tsunami, and he paid for the journey by selling his wife’s jewelry. His mother, father, and sister live in displaced persons camps in Sri Lanka, but Raja wanted the opportunity to provide for his family and not sit idly in a camp, which he considers unsafe.

Young men are often forcibly conscripted by Tamil rebels on both sides of the front line. In government-controlled areas they are also under constant suspicion by the Army and police for working or conspiring with the rebels.

Subramaniam Karisuthan, a teenager, arrived here last week with his younger sister. “We were afraid to leave the house,” he says of Sri Lanka. Twice he had seen tortured, headless bodies dumped along the side of the road near his home. He didn’t want to become another anonymous victim.

“The Army targets the youth,” he says. “They suspect that we support the [rebels].” He had heard stories of the rebels grabbing young Tamils off the street or snatching them from school. “I’ll stay here until the war is over,” he says.

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