issue 227 - January 1992
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Your pseudo-psychological profile of Columbus (Hidden History NI 226) amounts to near blasphemy. What right have you to distort history in this fashion and then apply that same jaundiced view of explorers to our modem-day heroes, the astronauts? Don't you understand that the desire to tread where no person has trod before is one of the finest qualities that human-kind possesses? We should look up to such people, not subject them to mockery and scorn.
Environmentalists who demand that land be transformed into national parks are merely extending their consumerism to the environment they wish to save. By packaging the wilderness into such parks, it becomes not merely a conservatory for wildlife, but playgrounds for those who can afford to visit. Ramachandra Guha (Endpiece NI 225) is right to wish for a more integrated programme between the State and local communities so that both wilderness and traditional ways of life are not merely conserved as in a museum, but remain in a dynamic form.
Eva Fleg Lambert
Cannach, Scotland, UK
Freedom to exploit
What is this freedom that the International Freedom Foundation stands for? Licence for the power to exploit the weak? I can think of no other explanation for the outbursts of Marc Gordon and his ilk (Letters NI 225) against Oxfam and Christian Aid, whose field workers are constantly hampered by corrupt and unjust governments and imperialism. The most valuable work accomplished by these agencies is in the field of development, where the co-operation of governments is crucial. One outstanding example of their assistance was to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua - but maybe Mr. Gordon was all for the Contra terrorists?
In the context of your magazine on addictive drugs (The crazy war on drugs NI 224) I would like to point out that cigarette smoking causes six times as many premature deaths in the UK as all accidents, manslaughter, murders, fires and AIDS cases put together. It is the most addictive of available drugs. Ninety per cent of teenagers who smoke three or four cigarettes a day become regular smokers. It is promoted by an annual advertizing budget in the UK of £125 million effectively aimed at children - virtually no-one starts smoking as an adult. The tobacco epidemic is the most important reversible cause of ill health in our country, with the unfortunate potential to occupy the same position world wide in the future.
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
His fiance and myself have started to campaign for his release by holding vigils outside the prison, and are endeavouring to form a support group. Anyone wishing to help can contact me at my address which is, 8 Beckston Close, Naisberry Park, Hartlepool, Cleveland T526 OPA.
Looking ahead we would like to form a trust to help other asylum seekers who are also being held in custody. This situation is a national shame when you consider the noise that the government makes about human rights in other countries.
Revd. Michael J Cook,
I was disappointed that The Dispossessed (NI 223) gave no insight into the 100 thousand Tibetans who fled to India where they remain, after the Chinese invaded their homeland in 1950. Nor was any allusion made to the plight of some 300,000 Muslims from Xinjiang, East Turkistan; to the existence of about 100,000 of these Muslims in Turkey; or to the tens of thousands of Chittagong Tracts tribespeople who fled furious persecution by the Bangladeshi Government..
I noticed a small but important note alluding to the fact that Palestinians and the displaced people from the West Bank area do not have refugee status. That reference should have been extended to encompass the existence of some 600,000 people, many of whom are referred to above.
Notably absent from your special issue on refugees were the 120,000 Mozambicans in South Africa (The Dispossessed NI 223). The South African Government has never recognized these people as refugees.
They were granted refuge by the homeland authorities of Gazankulu and Ka Ngwane, but the South African Government treats them as illegal immigrants. And if caught, they are deported back to Mozambique. An electric fence, built to keep them out has reportedly killed 400 people in recent years.
Without official protection the Mozambicans are vulnerable to abuse and economic exploitation as cheap labour on farms. They have even been traded as slaves. The South African Government recently agreed that UNHCR could monitor the return of 40,000 South African exiles. But the Mozambican refugees in South Africa remain as vulnerable as ever.
How very pompously 'British' of Jonathan Dimbleby of the BBC to politely demonstrate to the Sudanese President, Major-General Omar al-Bashir, the proper way to go about things (Disasters NI 222). We may have regular Amnesty reports of human rights abuses in the Sudan. But we don't really have the facts, Jonathan. And I cannot honestly condemn the President without more information.
The article by Anuradha Vittachi (Our boys, our toys NI 221) smacks of feminine rhetoric while pretending to talk about the cost of the Middle East war. She talks about the righteous male while playing the righteous female, and to my mind is no better than the people she is criticizing.
The question 'why do men not welcome the inclusion of their feminine side?' is asked towards the end of the article which leads to more rhetoric. Men do not have a feminine side, but need to deal with their emotional well-being as whole people. This kind of material slows down change.
Penticton, BC, Canada
We welcome the focus on human rights and democracy at the Commonwealth Conference at Harare. But democracy alone cannot guarantee basic human rights and civil liberties.
Today, India continues to violate every international covenant it has signed on human rights. The draconian laws which legitimize the use of undue force pale beside those of official dictatorships. Amnesty International has documented massive human rights violations and oppression on the part of Indian security forces in various parts of the country. This has arisen because the peoples in Punjab, Kashmir, and the North East states are demanding their democratic right of self-determination.
The Commonwealth should establish a commission to consider the human rights records of its members, and expose the violators. Countries should only be given foreign aid if they show willingness to improve their human rights records.
Sikh Human Rights Internet,
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
Flying visit to Washington
Mari Marcel Thekaekara knows about advocacy in India.
But she discoversthat in the US it is a whole different ball game.
Out of the blue, I received an invitation to apply for an advocacy fellowship in Washington DC. The ex-Oxfam person who sent me the invitation was mysterious about how he got my address, but said he'd been an NI admirer for many years.
Washington in the Fall is beautiful. Four weeks have flown by in a blitz of impressions, experiences, and excitement.
David Cohen, founder of the Advocacy Institute is a veteran of the Civil Rights movement. He arrived in Washington during the Kennedy years and started to fight and win mammoth battles against cigarette advertising, the building of anti-ballistic missiles, against efforts to weaken minimum wage laws and for housing for the poor. David is a legend in advocacy circles. But what amazes me most is that he has kept fighting for nearly two decades and continues to keep his vision. There are many others like him who have succeeded in inspiring young people to continue the fight for justice, equality, and a decent life for others.
To those of us from India the advocacy system here is a whole new ball game. Many people have asked us why we came to the US to learn about advocacy. Someone replied, 'because they've turned it into a fine art'. And watching the campaigns and the lobbyists is, as they say,'something else'.
Everyone took a couple of days to recover from culture shock. There was a bewildering barrage of technology to adjust to - computers in every room, faxes, telephones with a battery of buttons and electronic mail.
One of the hardest things has been getting to grips with the term 'American Poverty'. You cannot compare poverty in India with poverty here. Yet the sense of desolation, of bleak hopelessness in inner city areas seems greater than anything I have experienced in India.
Each of us has been given a placement at a host agency and every agency has a formidable reputation. Through the agency La Raza, Martin has found parallels between the scheduled caste people he works with in Gujarat and the Hispanic people here. Santa, who works with children in Bihar jails, is learning about child abuse and other problems at her placement in the Children's Defence Fund. And Medha has joined the Communications Consortium which she hopes will teach her new skills for her work with All India Radio Bombay.
I am based at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities where people analyse government statistics and actively campaign against anti-poor policies. In the past they have worked on housing, welfare, food stamps, taxes on low income families and currently on defence and domestic budgets. The Centre was started by Robert Greenstein, described in the Washington Post as 'a thin, bearded federal budget wizard' and 'a one-man liberal army on Capitol Hill'. The Post says that Greenstein is a living demonstration of the maxim that 'knowledge is power'. And the same can be said for the Centre.
I am amazed at the way people here process a bewildering array of facts into one-page executive summaries which are concise, readable, succinct, and, most of all, credible.
Politicians, bureaucrats and policy-makers often call the Centre for facts and information, and interns here read everything they produce many times to check the veracity of the document before it goes out.
The atmosphere is exciting, and often tense as people wait anxiously for the verdict on whichever battle they're fighting. But there's fun and laughter too, as there always is in a place where there are a bunch of basically decent people working with commitment for a cause.
Ellen Nissenbaum is the Centre's chief lobbyist and personifies the spirit of the place. She has an incredible memory, is intelligent, incisive and tough. I have watched her in many situations: dealing with Congresspeople; briefing a coalition of several hundred people preparing to fight for defence money to be reallocated to the domestic sector; reporting to the press estimating ego clashes and dealing diplomatically with them. Mostly she emerges a winner.
Was it necessary to come to the US to learn about advocacy? I would say no. But I recommend the experience. There is a professionalism here which we could use back home. And a great deal of strategy and useful experience that is applicable to India. Systems are different. But human beings are essentially the same .
Mari Marcel Thekaekara has been working for the last seven years on a project she and her husband started for native people in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.