New Internationalist

Update

Issue 131

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New information on subjects covered in previous issues of the New Internationalist

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available from our on-line shopping site here.

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[image, unknown] COMMODITIES[image, unknown]

Tainted tea
British companies accused

NEW facts about low pay, malnutrition and leprosy on tea estates in Bangladesh controlled by British companies have recently come to light.

Researcher Mike Gillard, who ten years ago exposed the scandal of starving Brooke Bond tea pickers in Sri Lanka, discovered the problems on a visit to the Sylhet teagrowing district of Bangladesh for the British TV programme ‘World in Action’. He also found that aid to the country’s tea industry was not getting through to the estate workers.

On the Baraoora tea estate controlled by the Scottish company James Finlay, one child in three is malnourished - compared with an average level of malnutrition in Third World countries such as Bangladesh of about one in five.

‘The sort of figures you would expect in a bad refugee problem’, said Dr Tim Lusty, of Oxfam.

Last year profits on tea of over eight million dollars accounted for a third of the profits of James Finlay, which also owns the Lock Finance Group in Australia and New Zealand and has confectionery and North Sea oil interests in Britain. The Glasgow-based firm produces a quarter of the tea in Bangladesh.

Tea pickers in Bangladesh are paid a basic daily rate of Takka 8.50 or only 35¢ a day. Malnutrition and disease are common for the tea pickers and their families and much higher levels of diarrhoea, tuberculosis, intestinal worms and leprosy are found on the tea estates than in the surrounding areas.

Real wages for Bangladesh tea workers have dropped by a quarter in real terms since 1978 while profits have gone up by 205 per cent, says Edinburgh sociologist Roger Jeffrey. For Finlays the rate of profit from the tea estates was even more startling, at 28 per cent of turnover. This compares with an average return for Finlays as a whole of about 12 per cent.

John Tanner

A revised version of ‘The Unacceptable Faces of Tea’, price 80p,
is available from SEAD, 29 Nicholson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX

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[image, unknown] RELIGION[image, unknown]

Christian count-down
Worldwide religion survey

A comprehensive new survey shows some of the dramatic changes that have taken place in religious belief around the world. In overall terms, Christianity is just about holding its own but there have been substantial changes within the Christian churches.

While Westemers are ceasing to be practising Christians at the rate of 7,600 per day Africa gains 4,000 Christians a day through conversion and 12,000 through the birth rate. Christianity as a result now has a non-white majority for the first time in 1,200 years.

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World Christian Encyclopaedia by the Rev Dr David Barrett.
Oxford University Press, $74.50, £65.

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[image, unknown] HEALTH[image, unknown]

Hair-raising headache
Tribesman demands treatment

FOLLOWING our story from India on patients’ faith in injections (NI 123) readers may be interested in this account from the Sunday Nation in Kenya.

‘A man threw away aspirin tablets he had been given at hospital, and demanded that he instead be given an injection.

‘The man, a Maasai tribesman came to the hospital wielding his rungu.* He went past other patients in a queue. And his shuka properly smeared with ochre made some women vomit because of its bad smell. Sick children screamed as he stormed into the crowd. One child ran away when he saw the man adjust his shuka before entering the admission room.

‘The man went straight to the doctor and explained that he had severe headache and needed quick treatment. Touching the head, he showed-where the ache centred.

‘The doctor prescribed 20 aspirin tablets and told him to proceed to the pharmacy. A nurse told the man to join the queue. But he glared angrily at her, roared like a lion and jumped up in the air several times before a crowd of patients.

‘The doctor sensed danger when he saw the man coming back. He told the doctor he had been mistreated at the pharmacy. The doctor went to the pharmacy and wrapped some aspirin tablets for the man. But he refused to go away after opening and seeing the contents in the wrapper. ‘I cannot be cured by these white pieces of chalk’, he said, and demanded that the doctor inject him in the head wherc it ached.

‘Realising that the man would not give up his request the physician took a syringe and pretended that he was giving a medical injection. But the syringe was full of distilled water - a substance that cannot harm anybody or cure disease. The man thanked the doctor and walked out with a broad smile. He disappeared around a comer waving his rungu to the rest of the patients in the hospital.

‘We understand that the man took his aspirin tablets to a nearby primary school and asked the headmaster to use the tablets for writing on the blackboard.’

*A rungu is a large stick and a shuka is a loincloth.

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[image, unknown] OVERSEAS AID[image, unknown]

Guns under fire
Australian programme attacked

THE Australian Minister for Defence Support, Mr Brian Howe, something of an unguided missile so far as the centre and right of the Labor Party is concerned, has focused attention on Australia’s military aid programme. In a unilateral decision recently Mr Howe blocked negotiations on two ventures with the beleaguered Marcos regime in the Philippines.

Mr Howe, a former Wesleyan minister, is the intellectual leader of the Labor party’s left wing. Already under fire for speaking out on foreign policy matters in a way which went well beyond the middle-ofthe-road attitudes of the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, and the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, Mr Howe caused a furore in cabinet.

One of the blocked ventures was a proposal that about 120 Filipino navy guns be sent to Australian ordinance factories to be refurbished. The other was the transfer of Australian technology to the Philippines for a factory that would make propellants for rockets and shells.

Mr Howe questioned the adequacy of the guidelines on foreign military sales, particularly where they touch on countries where there is ‘civil insurrection or something of that nature’.

Australia supplied the Philippines with $1.5 million worth of defence assistance last year, mostly in the shape of maintenance support for 12 Australian-made Nomad aircraft (belonging to the Philippines’ Airforce) and support for Australiansupplied Dart target ranges.

It is not only Australia’s military aid which comes under fire from aid agencies and the wider community. There is growing concem that non-military aid is frequently used to prop up unpopular regimes and even - in the case of road-building for instance - to facilitate oppression.

There is concem that a review committee, set up by the Labor Govemment ‘to ensure that aid reflected Australia’s interests and values, was effectively and responsibly administered and made a real contribution to the economic and social advancement of the people of recipient countries’ will produce conservative proposals on aid-giving. Defending the fact that non-govemment aid agencies were not represented on the committee, the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, made the strange suggestion that he believed this would have lead to a conflict of interests.

In a submission to the committee, Australia’s top aid agencies have called for radical changes to the govemment’s aid programme.

Cameron Forbes

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[image, unknown] FOOD[image, unknown]

Crippling seed
Labourers paid with poisonous grain

The lethal food.
Photo: Ray Bellisario

IN many villages of Madhya Pradesh in Indiayou will see men stumbling awkwardly, usually with the aid of sticks, their feet dragging in the dust as they attempt to walk with a collapsing gait as if of acute drunkeness. They are, or were, farm labourers and are crippled by an horrific illness.

They have eaten khesari (lathyrus sativus) a plant bearing pea-like pods. In the Rewa and Satna districts of the state alone there are over 32,000 victims of ‘lathyrism’, an incurable nervous disease that paralyses the legs.

The national government has banned the possession or use of khesari as a food ingredient. But the state govemment in Madhya Pradesh, which is said to have 75 per cent of its farming areas growing khesari, has ignored this ruling.

Drought and monsoons in the unirrigated Rewa and Satna districts for example regularly ruin all crops with the exception of lathyrus. It flourishes without water and is sturdy enough to withstand the monsoon rains.

The illiterate peasant finds khesari tasty and filling. With a protein value around 30 per cent it is much more nutritious than other pulses - and is usually included in all meals. The peasants disregard warnings of danger, aware only that it provides a good meal.

A victim of lathyrism.
Photo: Ray Bellisario

A diet consisting of about 40 per cent lathyrus is sufficient to cause lathyrism. Clearly when the seed is the entire staple diet it is at its most lethal. Daily consumption can, within two to six months, bring about a sudden attack of pain around the knees and ankle joints as the muscles stiffen. The stiffness increases until the patient is unable to walk.

Much has been learned about lathryism since it first became known over 200 years ago. The disease was originally recorded in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Syria and Ireland. But only in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and especially in India does it still persist.

Politicians maintain that, with so many people consuming khesari and remaining perfectly fit, there is insufficient evidence to require them to act further and thereby damage the nation’s already feeble economy.

In an attempt to force the issue, one social welfare organisation, the Gandhi Peace Foundation, has instituted proceedings in the Supreme Court for the enforcement of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

Detoxification plants to remove the poison from the seed are also a priority for the campaigners. By par-boiling and drying, a safe 90 per cent toxin-free khesari is produced. But politicians claim that seed collection costs would be monumental and that the programme is impracticable.

Ray Bellisario

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[image, unknown] NUCLEAR WAR[image, unknown]

Argentina’s big bang
S. American bomb on its way

ARGENTINA is South America’s premier nuclear power - at least in energy terms. Now it looks as though she may be moving into weapons.

Over 1,000 scientists are employed in the Atomic Commission’s three research centres and Argentina is the developing world’s largest exporter of nuclear technology.

Perhaps even more importantly she has extensive reserves of uranium ore - some 30,000 tons of proven reserves, so outside powers will be unable to halt production by cutting off supplies.

This is of crucial significance because of Ezeiza - Argentina’s soon-tobe-completed unsafeguarded nuclear reprocessing plant. Once Ezeiza is in production, Argentina will have a complete indigenous nuclear programme from ore to reprocessing plant. This plant not far from Buenos Aires airport, is the key link to Argentina’s oftstated plans to join the exlusive nuclear bomb club.

And recently the US Central Intelligence Agency believed it had uncovered a secret Argentine plan to do just that. The alleged plan is to use a book-keeping error to ‘lose’ one ton of spent fuel from one of Argentina’s heavy water reactors. The fuel would be diverted to Ezeiza and enriched with bomb-grade plutonium. Commented US nuclear expert Walt Patterson: ‘From that point it is only about two weeks before the Argentines have a bomb’.

The CIA report has been making the Washington rounds since last May. Many American nuclear experts are, however, dubious about its conclusions and the report appears to have had no effect on Administration policy because in July Washington, together with Bonn and London, authorised the sale of 143 tons of US-origin heavy water to Argentina.

In doing so the Reagan administration reversed Jimmy Carter’s policy of refusing to sell to Argentina any nuclear-related materials until it agreed to throw open all its nuclear installations to inspection by the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Patterson said: ‘I just cannot understand why the Reagan Administration approved this sale. It just doesn’t make sense. Once the Ezeiza plan is completed - and that should be in about a year - then the spent fuel from the heavy water can be recycled into a nuclear bomb within a couple of weeks’.

The Argentines have indeed made no secret of their desire to possess nuclear weapons. They have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty nor ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco which declared Latin America a nuclear-free zone.

Govemment spokesmen regularly declare that Argentina reserves the right to explode a nuclear weapon ‘for peaceful purposes’. The last such statement was only a few months ago by Rear Admiral Carlos Castro Madero, who has headed Argentina’s Atomic Commission since 1976.

Tom Arms, Gemini

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra’s monthly column analyses the magic of the marketplace in a Bangkok massage parlour

The dream of the sea

What a sonorous, beautiful name she has: Udoma Sindhusapana, the Loveliest One Who Embodies the Dream of the Sea. She hardly has the time to dream of the sea. From two in the afternoon till the lecherous midnight, she slaves in a garish massage parlour in Bangkok’s Patpong prefecture. They call it a massage parlour but, as everybody knows, a whorehouse is a whorehouse by whatever name you call it. For ten hours six days a week, she has to dispense a ‘special’ massage to the customers, who come in all shapes and sizes and perversities. For ten hours at a stretch each day six days a week, they maul her breasts, have fun with the inert triangle of her vagina, tear at her pubic hair, bite her buttocks, treat her just as they would treat one of those items of sex-stimulating equipment you can pick on New York’s 42nd Street or in London’s Soho. Capitalism shines in its most pristine glory. The market is sovereign.

Udoma Sindhusapana, a buxom eighteen-year old, daughter of down-and-out peasants from Nakorpathan up north, has been trained to offer 'special’ massages; she sells what the customers demand; the Milton Friedmans of the world are struck with awe and reverence; at the price of equilibration, the market is cleared, the vagina is violated at just the right price. Udoma Sindhusapana is simply wage-labour. The massage parlour is a factory producing and offering for sale, the service of sex; Udoma’s sexual paraphernalia are its means of production, which she has placed at the disposal of the owner of the massage parlour for wages received. Again, the virtues of the market mechanism are revealed in the fixation of her wages. An ‘ordinary’ massage sells for the equivalent of 35 American dollars, a ‘special’ massage in the neighbourhood of 100 dollars. On the average, Udoma, or her body, is capable of rendering eight massages per day, more or less evenly divided between the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘special’ ones. The parlour’s daily takings on account of her thus work out to close to 500 dollars. Udoma’s daily wages are exactly the equivalent of 10 dollars. Make some allowance for managerial expenses and other overheads; nonetheless, against ten dollars a day, which she receives as subsistence, Udoma Sindhusapana creates surplus value worth around 450 American dollars each daV for the owner of the massage parlour, and please do not ask me what his connections are with the country’s higher-ups. Capitalism has here reached its fullest bloom; the proportion of wages paid to surplus value created, which some would define as exploitation, comes to a neat 1:45.

Why does Udoma, you might ask, go along with this outrage? But does she have a choice? The daughter of a dispossessed peasant, she is making roughly 230 dollars a month, a sum her father would need to toil for four months to earn. Her parents, as much as she, consider it a major break in luck that her supple body and open smile attracted the attention of the roving tout. She has learned to alienate herself from her body, which she uses to offer pleasure to the transient lechers, much in the manner an ordinary mechanic uses his tools, habitually and absentmindedly.

The quintessential message of capitalism and laissez passer is epitomised in the massage parlour. Demand has met supply, and there is a glow of happiness everywhere at the remarkable international mobility of the factors involved. The peripatetic Australian or American in seach of orientalsex oozes with fulfilled lust, the owner of the massage parlour is amazed at the dizzy heights his rate of return has climbed, Udoma Sindhusapana’s parents thank the good lord Rama for having been bailed out of the grim hell of squalor. As for Udoma herself, ah well, does not she eat better and clothe herself better than a couple of years ago?

It is only the cussed ones who would like to talk of such inanities as the degradation of the human body. Capitalism is a human condition, and we better learn to come to terms with it.

Ashok Mitra has been Chief Economic Adviser to the Government
of India - and lately Finance Minister in West Bengat.


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