New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 233

new internationalist
issue 233 - July 1992

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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Stylistic ruin
Cover of the NI Issue 232 I had expected a great deal from your issue on the death of development (Development: A Guide to the Ruins NI 232). But I was sorely disappointed, mainly because of the style in which Wolfgang Sachs' message was expressed.

I ran a 'readability test' on the issue and found that it was pitched at higher-education level. My own view is that one has to have a very good excuse (such as writing on recondite medical matters for one's peers) to write as abstrusely as this. Sachs has no such excuse (and neither do you as his editors).

Sachs hits rock bottom when he uses the word 'reconceptualization'. I cannot deny that this octasyllabic monstrosity exists any more than I can deny the existence of wife-beating but I pronounce anathema by bell, book and candle on them both.

David Pitt
Henley, UK

Joining the club
The Rise of Japan (NI 231) covered a wide variety of current affairs, but I think it failed to analyse the most crucial point. How did Japan, almost alone in South East Asia and despite its underdeveloped state, manage to escape from the arms of western imperialists? And how did Japan then come to join the club itself?

There may be some important lessons to be learnt from history that even the Japanese themselves have not yet discovered, which would nevertheless be of great interest to anyone who is concerned with Third World development.

Tomoyuki Kisaki
Kyoto, Japan

Journalist's jape
One can sympathize with Tomoyuki Iwashita's reasoning on why he 'quit the company (Japan NI 231). But why into journalism? If the Kisha Kurabu clubs are to be believed then unless he toes the Japanese journalistic rules, he is out anyway.

Herbert Highland
London, UK

Food for thought
Robert Maxwell (NI 231) snipes at 'virtuous vegetarians' pointing out that plants have consciousness and so we should not eat them either. The notion of plant sensitivity is based on dubious experiments with electrodes and amplified sensors; by attaching the same electrodes you could demonstrate that a radiator has emotions too.

Too much land and energy is wasted growing feed for animals instead of growing a variety of grains, pulses, nuts and fruit for humans. We could feed four times the world's present population if it were vegetarian and, Mr Maxwell, fewer plants would be eaten to do so!

Geoff Nelder
Chester, UK

Smack back
I was disturbed by your feature of a cartoon (Smacking: an arrestable offence NI 230) which attempted to gain a laugh at the expense of furthering the abuse of children. Treatment which would be unacceptable if it was directed at a prisoner is regularly meted out at children in the name of 'child rearing'. And I would have thought that reports on proposals to change the law in parts of Europe to ensure the more humane treatment of an often oppressed minority would have had more sensitive coverage from you.

Pauline Little
Wigton, UK

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Greening GATT
Man Marcel Thekaekara (Letter from Tamil Nadu NI 231) is right to draw attention to the dangers, especially to the world's poor, which may arise from the current negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

So far, however, no agreement has been reached. It is open to the member states who negotiate in GATT to agree something completely different. I am even more disturbed by the lack of any environmental provisions in GATT at present. Before deciding to simply 'fight GATT', we should consider what happens if there is no agreement; namely the serious risk that there would be a round of protectionism in which everyone - and the environment - would suffer even more.

Jim Challis
Canterbury, UK

Author's reply
I was sad to read Nasreen Din's reaction (Letters NI 230) to my story Breaking Points in the feminism issue (NI 227). She called it 'a manipulative attack on Islam', 'typical' of Western hostility. I am sympathetic to Islam. However, the Holy Qu'ran and Traditions have been interpreted in many ways. Nasreen correctly describes the fundamentalist faction of the Afghan resistance as extremist. And my account also makes this quite clear. Thankfully the fundamentalist faction does not enjoy the general support of the Afghan people.

Sarah Miles
London, UK

Double standards
I feel that Sindiwe Magona's approach (Green Justice NI 230) can be misleading. European colonists and settlers have undoubtedly displayed some of the worst characteristics of humanity over the past few centuries. However, all conquering groups dispossess and oppress those that they conquer. Bantu-speaking peoples moving into southern Africa dispossessed and drove out the indigenous hunter-gatherers of the region, most of whom have been entirely wiped out, before themselves being subjected to some oppression. Greed and selfishness are not exclusive to any racial or social group.

Fay Roberts
London, UK

Real world
Perhaps Ms Mawhood (Letters NI 230) prefers not to live in the real world. Perhaps her world is made up of 'Aotearoa' instead of New Zealand, 'The Cheyenne Nation' instead of the US, 'Lombardy' instead of Italy, 'The Basque Country and Catalonia' instead of Spain, 'Quebec' instead of Canada.

M Farrar
Norfolk, UK

Military madness
Your issue entitled Green Justice (NI 230) somehow ignored the single largest cause of environmental injustice on the planet - militarism. It should be top priority for anyone interested in social justice.

The military and industrial complex is the largest single user of fossil fuels, ozone-depleting substances and scarce resources. It is driven by the values of the dominant culture and enslaves its own people as well as the land and people of other cultures. In any discussion on the environment where the military is not given a mention let alone an analysis, those in power continue to laugh all the way to the banks over our dead bodies and dead land.

Liz Denham
Moonah Tasmania, Australia

Tyranny in Tibet
The article on Tibet (NI 229) pointed out that Tibet is 'one of the last outposts of colonialism' and has a right to independence from China. This is true. The occupation is indescribably brutal. Well over a million Tibetans have died under Chinese rule, including nearly 100,000 tortured to death. The Chinese are following a deliberate policy of cultural genocide, swamping Tibet with Chinese colonists, conducting abortions on large numbers of Tibetan women, and sterilizing them. They also force Tibetan female prisoners to give blood when they have been weakened by torture and starvation.

Finally, the Chinese have deforested huge areas of Tibet, but many western ecologists remain silent, since they know the Chinese would not allow them to return, thus jeopardizing their budding careers.

Paul Ingram
London, UK

Anglo-Saxon bias
There is one matter you didn't address properly in your December issue on Columbus (NI 226): why the numbers of native Americans still surviving in the US and Canada are so extremely small? Do I notice a certain Anglo-Saxon bias in the way you are telling us history? You give us a fair amount of detail about Catholic church-sponsored mass-extermination in the areas of the continent under Spanish and Portuguese influence, blaming old Columbus at the same time. But you hardly mention at all the systematic genocide carried out on a continental scale in North America for centuries after Columbus arrived.

Gabriel Salas
Lobatse, Botswana

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

LETTER from LAHORE
Letter from Lagos

Caught in the web
Bonded labourers in Pakistan are held in the grip of
debt by an unwritten iron law. Maria del Nevo finds
how formal legislation makes little difference.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY The tall chimneys of the brick kilns, rising above flat, barren land, are the symbol of bonded labour here in Pakistan. There are some 10,000 kilns in the Punjab alone, and many more in the north west and south, with 50 to 60 families working per kiln, modem-day slaves to a close-knit and elite group. Most of the workers have been born into bonded labour - tied to the kilns by the paishgee (loan) system - and the majority will grow old having known nothing else. Earning no more than four US dollars per 1,000 bricks - which an average family of five would find difficult to complete in a day - they find it impossible to make ends meet and survive on advances from the owner, which are then deducted from their earnings with interest.

The workers, being illiterate, are unable to keep accounts and continue repaying long after their debts have been cleared. Children are forced into labour to assist their parents in completing the required amount of bricks, the families are denied sick leave or public holidays, and the owner has no regard for safe working conditions.

Like the other workers, Bilquees's family lives in one of many one-room hovels made of mud which run in a row either side of a narrow, dusty lane. A hole in the ground at one comer of the compound serves as a latrine for both men and women and another area has been surrounded by a waist-high wall where the families bathe and wash their clothes and dishes. There is no running water and the women have to carry buckets from a handpump which is situated beyond the walls of the quarters.

Bilquees has ten children and is pregnant again. She doesn't know about family planning, contraception or about the risks to her own health if she keeps bearing children. Her only concern is that with more hands more bricks will be made and hence more money earned.

She goes to work with her husband, her sons and her elder daughters at four in the morning, after eating a piece of roti and drinking a cup of tea. They return at night-time when, if they have the money, they may eat roti and chili. Most days however, they cannot afford lunch and dinner. They cannot remember when they last ate meat. Her children are thin and weak - their hair streaked with golden tints, betrays signs of malnutrition.

The family owes $760 to the kiln-owner and each week an instalment is deducted from their already meagre earnings. They have no idea how much has been paid so far. They also owe $100 to the shop-keeper who has refused them further credit. When Bilquees opens her flour container it is empty; God knows how or when it will be filled again.

Last week the National Assembly passed a Bill abolishing bonded labour, making the loan system a criminal offence, and providing for the rehabilitation of the labourers. There should have been a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. But there was not. The workers did hear about the Bill, but when they questioned the owner he said they were mistaken. They do not dare contradict him. When the new law, which vaguely promises them freedom and rehabilitation, is explained to them they look disbelieving. 'But where would we go?' they ask. The kiln-owners are pleased with the many loopholes in the Bill which will permit them to evade the new law. Eight of the Punjabi kiln-owners are members of the Provincial Assembly and have immense power and political clout, while the labourers have no access to information regarding changes in the law. They remain unaware of their basic legal rights and even if they do hear of the Bill by word of mouth their hopes will soon be quashed by the owners, who are powerful enough to somehow keep them in isolation and ignorance - caught in the web of bonded labour.

Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore.

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