issue 230 - April 1992
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I was disappointed that your human rights issue (Running for rights (NI 229) made no reference to the abuses which are being perpetrated against indigenous people worldwide by massive environmental programmes like the World Bank's Narmada Dam project in India, or by multinational companies which cut down tropical rain forests, forcing the native people away from their traditional homes. It is scandalous that environmental groups in the West are more concerned about preserving rainforests and wildlife than they are about protecting the human rights, and indeed lives, of the forest people. One is drawn to the conclusion that ultimately such groups are simply concerned about the effects of such changes on the international environment, and about the depletion of exciting tourist possibilities. As such they are a form of neo-colonialism in disguise.
Chris Brazier is wrong to suggest in Changing charity (NI 228) that until Oxfam's foundation in 1942 overseas aid had been 'the exclusive property of religion and missionaries'. When Save the Children was founded in 1919, its aims were specifically non-religious and non-sectarian.
Its founder, Eglantyne Jebb, was motivated by humanitarian purposes and went out of her way to recruit followers of many faiths - and of none - to the cause of children's rights. Her vision was enshrined as early as 1924 in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
I was surprised to read - in 50 years of Oxfam (NI 228) - that 'charities are our main link with the Third World' (see here). Oxfam may want us to see charities in that pivotal role - but surely the NI doesn't? All of us are intimately linked with the 'Third World' in our daily lives, through the food we buy and the raw materials used in making many of our consumer goods. Through the power and operation of companies based in the North, through the export of waste, debt servicing, patents, insurance, shipping, tariffs, quotas, we all help indirectly to mould that wider unequal relationship. Charity is an important link and a means of personal involvement - but if we see charity as our main link, then development education has failed.
The article written by Sarah Miles entitled Breaking points featured in the feminism issue (NI 227) subtly exudes typical traits of hostility towards Islam and the position of women therein as viewed and influenced by the West. It is a view laden with misconception, misinterpretation and exaggeration. Veils, for example, are not as the article states a 'repressive form of Islam' but rather a misguided interpretation of Islamic sources and fashioned by local traditions. We are told that 'fundamentalists' want to quash thinking and action by women. But men who behave like this are extremists. While I sympathize with Zahra's suffering, Sarah Miles presents a manipulative attack on Islam, and insufficient detail about the Afghan problem.
I feel that they tend to overstate their case. Most of the ladies in this part of Wales appear to be just as happy and confident as their male counterparts and generally enjoy as much 'equality' as their inherent differences from the menfolk will reasonably permit. In any case, they generally have the 'last laugh' by outliving their 'oppressors' by several years.
My only criticism of the feminism issue (NI 227) is that almost the entire content was from black women and women of colour - even the cover. Both June Jordan, and Angela Davis, as well as other commentators in this issue, make it clear that the black/white colour division should be avoided. But white middle-class political women seem hell-bent - from guilt no doubt - yet again to create a division between black and white. Whilst black women and women of colour need to be at the forefront of change so too do other women – working class, disabled and women of other disadvantaged cultures.
The cover of your issue on feminism (NI 227) showed a female smoker with the accompanying words: 'We've only just begun: feminism in the 1990s'. Do you realize that during the 1990s about five million women will be killed by tobacco? If it was accidental that you included cigarettes as a part of this particular feminist female image, then please consider trying to correct some of the damage done by directing readers to an informative article by Antonia Novello, US Surgeon-General, entitled 'Can we prevent the Virginia Slims woman catching up with the Marlboro Man ?' (World Smoking & Health 1991, Vol 16, No 2, page 2.)
Richard Peto Oxford, UK
I was disappointed at the limited depth of study in your Columbus 500 issue (NI 226). The articles focussed on the person and his acts, thereby reproducing the very malady they attempt to criticize, and reinforcing those values which encourage us to treat the earth as dead matter waiting for us to manipulate it. Yes, Columbus was a madman; no, we have not called-off our love affair with him.
The roots of this phrenitis (as 'Dr Feliz' calls it), yours and mine, are deep and well-developed. They force us to construct' the world according to our own paradigms and to deny the way in which others give meaning to things. How much of our survival depends upon conquering the very psyche of native peoples?
I suggest that anybody who is interested should read The Rediscovery of North America, published in Amicus Journal Vol 13, No 4.
Penance for pillagers
The articles in your Columbus issue (NI 226) prompt the suggestion that the wealthy industrial nations should fly their national flags at half-mast and observe a year of penance. Multinational companies and banks, which for years have pillaged the indigenous peoples of their natural resources, should fully reimburse them, and cancel all outstanding debts, so that they can set about rebuilding their economies.
Why is it that NI, which demonstrates sensitivity to the problems of colonial nomenclature by referring to New Zealand as Aotearoa, persists in using the title 'United Kingdom' to refer to the political entity which binds England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland? As many citizens of at least three of these four nations/areas will tell you, this kingdom has been united by English violence, assisted by the elites of the other nations when they deemed it necessary. Particularly where Northern Ireland is concerned, this kingdom can hardly claim to be united by popular will. May I suggest that NI simply give that name of the nation from which a letter or news story comes, for example, 'Aberdeen, Scotland', 'London, England', 'Cardiff, Wales', 'Belfast, Northern Ireland' (perhaps one day to become simply 'Ireland').
Ed. replies: Point taken.
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
They're singing our song
The peace of southern India has been shattered by rampaging thugs.
Man Marcel Thekaekara detects a chant that is mounting in international popularity.
The south of India has always been known for its stability and its general atmosphere of non-violence and serenity when compared to the turbulent north. So the outbreak of frenzied violence which came around Christmas 1991 took everyone by surprise.
Tamils who had for generations lived in Karnataka state found themselves the targets of criminals and thugs on the rampage. The issue at stake was a historic feud over how the waters of the Cauvery River should be shared between Karnataka and its neighbour Tamil Nadu. Agriculturalists from both states regard the Cauvery as their lifeline. So when the tribunal which had been appointed to look into the dispute proclaimed its judgement, all hell broke loose.
The people of Kamataka claimed that Tamil Nadu had been favoured. 'Those Tamils in the Thanjavur region get three crops of rice while we have to struggle for one measly harvest. Our people don't even have drinking water,' was a popular Kannadiga complaint. Meanwhile, the Tamils grumble that it's their hard work which makes them so prosperous.
However the violence was not whipped up by farmers, but by politicians and others with vested interests. In this part of the Nilgiris, half the population has never been anywhere near the Cauvery river. What happened was a local brawl between two people who happened to be Tamil and Kannadiga. The Tamil set fire to the Kannadiga's hut and the latter ran away to a friend's house. A local newspaper so exaggerated the incident that in a couple of days there was looting and mayhem across the border in Gundulpet, a small town 50 kilometres away.
The Kannadigas in Gundulpet swore they were avenging the attack on their kinsfolk in Gudalur. But at the root of this dispute were local jealousies and petty grudges which were rekindled and encouraged by individual government and police officials. Ironically, half the farms and houses that were looted and burnt were not even Tamil. They belonged to people originating from Kerala whose families settled in Tamil Nadu.
The violence in Karnataka was on a larger scale than in Tamil Nadu. And the press reported that while the capital Bangalore burned, the Chief Minister was far away in another state at a musical soirée.
The fear has been that these events portend worse to come - fanatical ethnicity, communalism, regional chauvinism (call it what you will). Many of us see ourselves simply as Indians. We have no other primary identification. Our families have migrated from one state to another, from the north to the south. There has been intermarriage between men and women of different communities, religions and castes. And we have transcended many of the barriers that might previously have divided us.
The theory of sons (never daughters, please note) of the soil - otherwise known as regional differences - is floated up whenever politicians find it expedient to create a diversion from a flagging economy, unemployment and poverty. Their intention is to channel anger at 'safer' targets - safer for the politicians that is. Not for the terrorized Tamils.
And there are echoes everywhere of this phenomenon which is sometimes called 'ethnic unrest'. The war between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia, for example. Or the emergence of neo-Nazism in Germany, whose targets are the immigrants who have done the dirty jobs West Germans stopped doing a decade ago. In the US Afro-Americans have street battles with Hispanics: 'We were here first. Go back to your country. This land is our land,' is the refrain.
In France, the Prime Minister and President are politely reiterating that they don't dislike non-white immigrants. They merely don't want too many of them. None of these sentiments are viewed as fascist in the new climate of the 1990s. There is a recession. There is economic depression. And some heads have to roll. Naturally, loyalties are to the sons of the soil. For the others, too bad. You served your purpose. Did a good job. But surely you see our people must come first.
In Kamataka and Tamil Nadu, in Punjab, in the US, in Germany, France and Britain, they are singing the same song. The refrain is frightening. But it is a popular tune.
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.