issue 235 - September 1992
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Where is Atlantis?
You did just enough to liven up the solid environmental stories in Saving the Sea (NI 234) and keep me reading - notably with Sharon Doubiago's so-far-over-the-top-that-you-can-only-applaud prose poetry. Until the end, that is. I'm one of those strange beings who actually reads the magazine in the order you presumably intend it to be read. And by the end of this one I was starting to feel I knew enough about fishing to last me several lifetimes. Were there no other bases to touch? What about the Law of the Sea? Or islands like the Maldives being swamped by global warming? Or even the latest thinking about the location of Atlantis?
Tyranny of perfection
I think most people associate disability with powerlessness which they fear (Disabled Lives NI 233). Doctors have the power to kill fetuses they suspect of being imperfect and would-be parents place themselves in the hands of the medical profession because they have no experience of disability. Termination of a pregnancy for suspected handicap can be very traumatic for the parents as can the battery of screening tests. If 'reprieved' the child may suffer from the negative attitude of the mother who has been mentally preparing for losing her baby. How many crimes have been committed by disabled people? How many wars have they started? Why this overpowering desire to rid the world of them?
Ann E Farmer
Woodford Green, UK
I didn't know much about disabled people until your brilliant disability issue (NI 233). I couldn't believe that in parts of China people with developmental problems and other disabilities are not allowed to get married unless they are both sterilized. And imagine being the subject of a call-in radio show - as disabled woman Bree Walker was - just because you got pregnant.
Alice Watson (14)
Your development issue (A Guide to the Ruins NI 232) enlightens us with how little development has achieved and at what an exorbitant cost. But it is replete with innuendoes against technology. The art of civilization is to use technology in such a way that more people can live more comfortably with the same natural resources. Thus the tirade against electricity is misleading. What are the alternatives? Oil or candlestick, charcoal or vegetable oil would all produce just as much devastation.
Aberystwyth, Wales, UK
I utterly reject the sheer, unadulterated pessimism in the 'Development ended in Kuwait' chapter of NI 232. I don't reject any 'facts' about the conflict between North-South. It's just that with that sort of pessimism all one can do is commit suicide or stop reading.
I find Sachs' (NI 232) blanket condemnation of all 'development' irritating in the extreme, as is his apparent assumption that there is a uniform 'Western' civilization and attitude towards development. I agree with his arguments almost entirely when applied to the dominant (and dominating) development ethics such as those portrayed starkly by Bush at the Earth Summit in Rio. But not once does he distinguish between this attitude and those working for environmental development (the management of habitats for the protection of species numbers and diversity) and cultural development (the reinforcement of tradition, skills, languages, customs and values), which is clearly contrary in most instances to the prevailing ethos of bigger companies, greater production and increasing technocracy.
Frank W Rennie
Isle of Lewis, Western Isles, UK
Thank you for your 'GNP Health Warning' (Facts NI 232). A further dimension that GNP fails to indicate is the internal distributions of GNP wealth: some countries with extremely low GNP, support extremely rich classes. To this extent, starkly contrasting countries in terms of GNP are often fundamentally similar.
Your outspoken editorial (NI 232) might also have mentioned the role of some sections of the media in the UK election which were largely to blame for focusing people's attention on taxation to the exclusion of all other considerations, and also of deliberately painting a false picture of Labour party policy. (Thanks to our electoral system they didn't have to worry about other opposition parties.)
Although I support Charter 88, I don't think one can rely on constitutional change as a path to social change. Indeed our rulers would far sooner concede a few crumbs of social change than move towards an electoral system that would permanently revoke their monopoly on power.
Your eye-catching 'Hours for Hamburgers' graphic (Updates NI 232) is a powerful representation of the real impact on people of unfair trade. But was it really helpful or necessary to exaggerate the point by shrinking the height of the triangles representing Chicago and Tokyo, relative to the other cities? A quick application of ruler and calculator confirmed my suspicions. One millimetre represents two and a half minutes of labour for all the 'poor world' examples (and, oddly, Sweden) but for the rich West and Japan a millimetre represents five or six minutes' toil.
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
I found the letter from Felix Kuchler (Letters NI 231) most offensive. Is black always to be associated with pessimism? I live and work in Peru, one of the many countries abused and exploited by European 'discovery'. And here the descendants of black slaves are still among the most discriminated against, personifying the deep wounds that humanity inflicted upon itself in suggesting that one person's skin colour is better than another's.
For over 20 years Cuba has developed a social framework that guarantees free education, low-priced housing and free medical care to all its citizens. Currently, however, the loss of its Eastern European trading partners and the strengthening of the 32-year-old US embargo, have dealt a devastating blow to the Cuban economy. Public services have been seriously undermined. There are huge shortages of medical supplies and food stocks are running low.
In view of the lack of any action taken by charity organizations in Cuba we have taken upon ourselves the task of co-ordinating a project of medication and basic food supplies. We are looking for sponsorship and letters can be forwarded by NI.
Louise Durkin and Salman Yunus,
Henot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
The burned bride
A young girl is only welcomed by her bridegroom's family in
Pakistan if she can provide a generous dowry. And even
this may not protect her. Maria del Nevo explains.
Nosheen was getting married and I'd been invited to visit her before the day to see her dowry. She led me into a room crammed with huge trunks and one bed where her many silks and jewels were laid out for me to admire.
I looked wide-eyed at the velvet boxes containing heavy gold necklaces and earrings, dripping with pearls and emeralds. I was dumbstruck by the quilts, blankets, sheets, dinner sets, crystal glasses and every kind of modem electrical appliance. In another room stood a huge double bed, a sofa set, dining table and chairs.
Nosheen's mother stood in the doorway, her face alight with pride. I asked Nosheen how her father could possibly have afforded such lavish expense for I knew he was only earning Rs2,500 ($100) per month and had a family of six to support.
'I collected most of this myself,' she said. 'I've worked for five years and bought it with my salary. My father borrowed to buy the rest.
Shocked, I remembered a conversation when her father had expressed strong opposition to the dowry system. For this practice is the root of prejudice against girl children, the cause of endless poverty and debt, and incites terrible greed in the families of boy children.
Quickly, however, I realized that her father is locked into a cultural tradition which faces him with two options: debt or the shameful burden of a spinster daughter. Very few families in Pakistan manage to arrange marriages for daughters without providing dowries, for if the girl goes empty-handed to her marriage there is the constant fear that the in-laws will mistreat her.
Sending a daughter to her husband's family with a full dowry, wins respect for her from her in-laws and brings honour to her own family, even if they spend the rest of their lives repaying the debt. The dowry also pays the husband's family for the girl's keep. But the system has gone far beyond any traditional agreement between two families.
Farhat, a young girl in her early twenties, went to her husband's house with a dowry which left nothing out. Her in-laws welcomed the addition to their household and all the valuable items she brought with her. But after the birth of her daughter, Farhat's married life took a turn for the worse. Javed, Farhat's husband, dreamed of going abroad, but needed money in order to fulfil his dream. His parents asked Farhat's family to give them money. They gave Rs20,000 ($800), but Javed's parents demanded Rs30,000 ($1,200) more, a sum which they could not afford.
One day, last August, neighbours heard terrified screams coming from the house. They banged on the doors but were told to mind their own business by Farhat's sister-in-law, who promptly bolted the gates. As the screams continued a boy from the neighbourhood jumped the walls. He found Farhat in an undisturbed room, sitting on a stool. Ninety-seven per cent of her body was covered in bums and as he carried, her out of the house chunks of scorched flesh fell from her body. On her death bed, Farhat accused her husband and sister-in-law of throwing a burning oil stove at her.
In 1990 there were 1,800 deaths caused by bums from oil stoves, 85 per cent of the victims being females aged between 18 to 30. A more recent report claims that every six hours one Pakistani woman dies in this way.
Dowry deaths occur for many reasons. Some marriages are arranged with the girl's family promising to provide the dowry after the marriage. But when the time comes they can't provide all that they promised and the girl falls victim to the wrath of her in-laws. Alternatively the son may be married to a girl who can provide a full dowry so that his family can kill her, marry the boy again and so receive another dowry. Often, the in-laws feel that the dowry is not enough and after the marriage they demand more: when payment is denied they take the girls life.
I remember Nosheen, who I have not seen since her marriage, with that magnificent dowry which she courageously collected herself to save her father from debt and poverty. And I wonder how she is, knowing that all those jewels and gold, which were supposed to guarantee her safety, in fact exposed her to as much danger as if she went to her husband's house empty-handed.
Maria del Nevo is a former NI staff member who now lives and works in Lahore.