issue 201 - November 1989
R B Bedi / CAMERA PRESS
The letter was written in an urgent scrawl: 'My sons aged 14 and 15 have been picked up by the police. Please help me.
The Sikh woman who addressed this desperate plea to the Punjab Human Rights Organization had good reason to be alarmed. Each day the group receives letters from the families whose members have 'disappeared' - seized apparently by police who later deny the arrest.
The letters attest to rising tension between Sikh civilians and police in the troubled state of Punjab. Five years after Operation Blue Star Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's attempt to smash terrorism in the state by bombarding the Golden Temple in Amritsar, resulting in 1.600 deaths the Sikh community is bitter and mistrustful.
Terrorism continues unabated by proponents of a separate, Sikh-run 'Khalistan'. Gun-running and drug-smuggling flourish among mini mafias who have no pretensions to any political ideology. Police corruption and disappearances of citizens are common. Dozens of people are alleged to have died in staged encounters with police. More people have died violently in Punjab in 1988 than in 20 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Nowadays, many Sikhs believe that the authorities are as much to blame for the mounting bloodshed as the so called 'hardcore terrorists' the Government boasts of defeating in its daily press releases. Beginning with Operation Blue Star in 1984 India's II million Sikhs have grown steadily more alienated from the Hindu majority with whom they once had a special bond.
The bloody attack on Amritsar was the turning point in Sikh relations with the rest of India. Four months later. Mrs Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Her murder set off several days of rioting in Delhi in which at least 2,700 innocent Sikhs were dragged from their homes, tortured or raped, hacked or burned to death by mobs.
Political leader Balwant Singh says 'What we needed after Operation Blue Star was some sort of healing touch from the Central Government to head off further violence and calm the Sikhs. But it never came. Today there is a gap between Sikhs and Hindus, between Sikhs and the rest of the country. We are an alienated community: not part of the national mainstream.'
Christina Spencer / Gemini
A new detergent has hit the Bombay household cleaning market Lock-Out.
'Packed with Peoples Power. Fights Dirt Everywhere'. reads the carton. It is the produce of 4,000 workers locked out of Hindustan Lever's Bombay detergent factory since June 1988. The company is part of the Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, better known for the brands Surf, Lux and Persil.
The lock-out was costing the workers dear. Although their union was running fund-raising schemes to help them survive, the workers were getting heavily into debt. That was until the workers hit on the idea of 'ideological detergent powder' to sell to consumers.
'After all,' says one, 'we understand the technology'. Another advantage, says union leader Bennet D'Costa, is that 'making a detergent needs no foreign collaboration'.
Lock-out is selling at a rate of 1000 kilos a day, for one rupee less than Hindustan Lever's own brands. Furthermore, a co-operative created by the wives of workers is hawking the powder on the doorsteps of Bombay and through other unions, which have a combined membership of 500,000. And the International Union of Food and Allied Workers is coordinating worldwide support for the workers.
They call them 'walls of death' - the fine fishing nets that are threatening to kill off all marine life in the Pacific within the next decade.
Made out of fine mono-filament nylon, the 60 kilometre long drift-nets scoop up all fish. birds or marine animals unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.
Japan and Taiwan are the main culprits much to the anger of nations who have banned the nets, such as Australia and Aotearoa. And the latter are now talking about using naval vessels against drift-netters. The Aotearoan Government. already involved in a debate as to whether it can afford to buy four frigates from Australia, says it may need them for a war on drift-netters.
Even peace groups are calling for gunboat diplomacy against Japan. Greenpeace, whose flagship Rainbow Warrior was blown up by the French secret service in Auckland harbour, wants the Royal New Zealand Navy to attack drift-netters.
Pacific Islands Monthly magazine say's the war against drift-netters is uniting the Pacific states as never before. But the smaller states do depend upon Japanese aid to fund development - and this has an uncanny way of silencing protest.
For example, the Japanese have given a $11.4 million aid package to Western Samoa for port development, to the Solomon Islands $7.4 million for a fishing project, and $41.8 million worth of sporting facilities to be built in Tonga.
Greenpeace is not alone in labelling the aid 'blackmail'.
Michael Field / Gemini
Arms cuts con
Duping the masses
It seemed like a suitable case for euphoria. Unilateral arms cuts announced by President Gorbachev last December; the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Force) treaty scrapping cruise missiles from British territory; and the Western media awash with reports and analyses of super-power detente.
Few would want to believe that the media and people have been conned. But that is what the arms think-tank, the Oxford Research Group, believes.
According to Scilla Elworthy McLean: 'The Reagan-Gorbachev summits, the INE agreement and talk of 50 per cent cuts in strategic arms have lulled the public into a false sense of security.
'Meanwhile, decisions are being made in NATO and the Politburo which, if they were known to and understood by the public, would certainly cause profound alarm'.
'Modernization' is the guise under which the superpowers are continuing to build up arms. And both NATO and Warsaw Pact modernization programmes have continued unchecked - away from the media's critical gaze.
NATO 'modernization' includes such items as:
· new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (like Trident).
· new dual-capable aircraft (like Tornado).
· new tactical naval nuclear weapons including sea-launched cruise missiles.
· new neutron-adaptable warheads for short-range weapons.
· a new version of the neutron bomb warhead, intended to maximize radiation (and therefore harm to people) and minimize blast (and therefore damage to property).
It is estimated that by the mid-1990s there will be 400 extra nuclear weapons in the UK, despite the INF deal which eliminated cruise missiles.
Another important feature of NATO's modernization programme (also ignored by the media) is its undemocratic dimension. The package has never been debated or approved by the parliaments of the vast majority of NATO countries.
Nor do NATO heads of state play as large a role as the public might imagine. In the words of Pierre Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada, 'I bear solemn witness to the fact that NATO heads of state and of government meet only to go through the tedious motions of reading speeches drafted by others, with the principle objective of not rocking the boat.
'At NATO high-level meetings, any attempt to start a discussion or to question the meaning of the communique - also drafted by others long before the meeting began - is met with stony embarrassment or strong opposition.'
Rather the power lies with the thousands of non-elected weapons designers, non-elected defence contractors, non-elected military planners, and strategic experts who make up the vast international official and semi-official strategic communities.
Richard Keeble / Gemini
Holding back the desert
Aawal Elgaili leans back on a string bed and kicks off her sandals in the women's quarters of the Forestry Rest House at Abdel Magid, Central Sudan. It is late in the afternoon and the 'lady foresters' are still waiting for lunch. But they can only be served after the men have eaten so they wait, cooling their heels on the rough concrete floor.
While the second set of meals is arranged in the kitchen, the eight women discuss the morning's visit to a nearby tree nursery on a workshop sponsored by the Government's Central Forestry Agency and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
They are acutely aware of their anomalous position as women working in a previously male-dominated field, and shake their heads in sympathy with the forester's wife, who with the help of a neighbour has cooked all the food for the guests.
'It's better to be a forester than to be married to a forester,' laughs Elgaili, the workshop organizer. 'Being a wife is too much work'.
Before 1980 there were no female graduates from the university so there were no professional female foresters. Now there are 51 graduate pioneers.
In a country steeped in Islamic tradition single professional women who choose work outside the home can expect little support from their families. The censure is even greater for those who enter fields such as forestry, which until very recently was an exclusively male preserve.
Furthermore, forestry was not viewed by officials as a proper area for study - the belief being that trees 'will grow by themselves'. However, Sudan's rapidly expanding desert and the need for reforestation became an issue of worldwide concern in the wake of successive famines. Thousands died when their crops failed because of continued drought. And in the past decade international aid workers have increasingly realized that the involvement of rural women, who are the main users of forest products, is the key to replenishing the land.
Professionals like Elgaili were first employed as community foresters in villages to organize tree-planting projects designed to halt desertification. But typically the women are not involved when it comes to important decisions. Plantation forestry makes the big money. Community forestry in which the women are involved may generate a lot of news coverage but few funds. Despite increasing insistence by UN and non-governmental organizations that women must be more involved in forestry programmes, Elgaili says that many Sudanese still dismiss these requirements as 'nonsense'.
'But', she says, 'I think it will change, the same way that men in the university's forest administration have begun to change their minds about the contribution of women. It needs time.'
Julie Wheelwright / Gemini.
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