new internationalist
issue 236 - October 1992

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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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Heal thyself
Cover of the NI Issue 235 Thank you, Anuradha Vittachi, for producing such an illuminating and disconcerting analysis of the Northern obsession with Southern population growth in NI 235 (Sex, lies and global survival).

The idea of the 'healer myth' - and the arrogance of the Northern healers - can be applied to many other aspects of the North-South relationship. It's not relevant only to the population and environment debate.

Equally troubling (and illuminating) I find that it can be applied to personal relationships too. For example, I am compelled to recognize how much easier I find it to focus on another person's problems and try to help them than to go through all the difficult and painful business of what might be wrong with me.

But what about the NI - month after month diagnosing the world's ills and suggesting cures? Is the NI itself not caught up in the healer myth, locked into its (arrogant?) 'healer' identity? I don't know quite where this line of thought leads - and I certainly don't intend to rubbish the NI - but perhaps it's worth thinking about.

G Forsyth
Nottingham, UK

Dead straight
I am surprised by Dr Pat Murtagh's suggestion (Letters NI 234) that identification with any subculture is a political dead end. Of course subcultures offer identity and emphasize their differences from the 'general population' - just as mainstream culture sells its own identity and distances itself from anything unusual or different.

But as our culture becomes ever more homogenous, impersonal and inhuman it is more important to challenge that culture by seeking alternative ways to be. If we shy away from leaving behind conventional society, how can we ever challenge the rampant consumerism and materialism which are intrinsic to it? Perhaps it is those who stick within the mainstream who can best be described as 'essentially dead'.

Mark Berry
Sheffield, UK

Blacklisting boys
Without prejudice to the ethics of gender-slanted abortion, the idea of aborting female foetuses seems to be the less attractive of the two options (Letters NI 234). A world in which there was a huge surplus of men would be one in which the female minority would be ill-used in all ways (from smarmy patronage to brutal rape) even more than they are now; in which agriculture in poorer parts of the world would simply not get done; a world of more posturing, more aggression and more war.

Aborting boys selectively would be altogether better for the human race - and more fun for the few permitted males. It would be a case for men, of many culled but few chosen' - and a good job too I suggest.

Eric Stockton
Sanday, Orkney, UK

Colonial goose
In her article Updates (NI 234) Ann Wietz suggests that China's shadow is a threat to Hong Kong's future, but I think another threat is 'the colonial expatriate syndrome'.

Hong Kong is the goose that lays a golden egg which will soon belong to someone else and some colonial expatriates are trying to get as many benefits as possible in the remaining time. Take the tendering of building contracts for the new airport project. Most tenders were awarded to British companies, although they might not necessarily have offered a lower price. For instance in tendering for the construction of a bridge, a Korean company was unable to win the contract even though it bid two billion Hong Kong dollars less than the British company which was finally successful.

For Hong Kong people, what happens after 1997 is not regarded as 'Chinese take-over' but 'return to the motherland' from which it was segregated after the Opium War. The difference in terminology reflects the deep rift that exists between the British and Hong Kong Chinese perceptions of political reality.

Lam Chiu-wan,
Birmingham, UK

Money hungry
Regarding your excellent development issue (A guide to the ruins NI 232), poverty is always a relative term. When I worked in the World Bank as Director of its Health Services Department (1989-1990), the organization's annual report that year stated that 'the central goal of the World Bank is the reduction of poverty'. Yet, its staff, with many of them driving a BMW or a Mercedes, often complained about their 'insufficient' tax-free salaries - although these were at least 20 per cent higher than those of their UN colleagues in New York (which is a more expensive city than Washington).

Michael Irwin
New York, US

photo by VIV QUILLIN

Clerical cul-de-sac
I read Carla Power's reflections on Islam with interest (Endpiece NI 234). Islam's strengths do need greater acknowledgement from the West. But Islam does not automatically represent a progressive force. The Iranian revolution has led to economic stagnation and new forms of political and cultural oppression rather than modernization. The same in Sudan and Afghanistan. Indeed these countries are setting their faces against modemity.

Islam will no doubt survive, but secularization processes associated with global capitalism will inevitably undermine the programmes of religious fundamentalists and reactionaries. The downtrodden of the world deserve better than to be led up a clerical blind alley.

Peter Somerville
Mancheater, UK

Disability dues
After reading the issue of NI on disability (Disabled lives NI 233), I wonder if organizations have changed their policies towards us. United Nations statistics underestimate that 10 per cent of the world's population has a disability. Are 10 per cent of the resources in your organization allocated to people with disabilities?

E Catherine Boldt
Disabled Peoples' International,
Winnipeg. Manitoba, Canada

Charity charge
I was disappointed that NI should allow UNICEF to advertise in your magazine (NI 233). I only hope they did not pay you.

Having recently returned from 18 months working in south Sudan I would like to point out - not with any great originality - that UNICEF is one of the world's worst bureaucracies, which repeatedly during my time in Sudan appointed high-paid, incompetent 'experts' to preside over large budgets and important decisions, with the result that local people were deliberately not consulted, huge wastage ensued and the health of children rarely improved.

I would urge people to give donations to some of the smaller and more accountable organizations trying to work with and not on the world's poorest people.

Richard Byng
Arundel, UK


Bill Raeper, writer, contributor to NI, and Nepal expert died in the Thai Airbus tragedy on July 31 with his friend and colleague Martin Hoftun. Raeper was 33 years old, Hoftun was 28. Together they had written a study of the Nepalese revolution, Spring Awakening, which will be published this autumn. They were planning further work on the crisis in Bhutan. Martin, a quadriplegic studying at Oxford, was a vigorous campaigner for disabled students' rights. Bill was his great friend and helper.

With Linda Smith, Bill Raeper also wrote educational books, including A Beginner's Guide to Ideas: Religion and Philosophy, Past and Present (1991). Bill will be remembered by his friends and colleagues as a kind, humorous, thoughtful and spiritual man.

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

Letter from Lahore

Wretched of the Earth
Dishonour makes Pakistan's poorest women desperate. Maria del Nevo
takes a look at life on the wrong side of middle-class morality.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY Every morning at dawn Qulsom, Bhagan and Sardaran walk the city streets with sacks slung over their backs, and pick up litter - paper, leather, copper and plastic - which they sell to intermediaries who then sell for a far greater price to recycling factories.

They are three of the thousands of women who walk miles around the suburbs to clear away debris from the streets. They are notorious for stealing and the chowkidars or nightwatch people eye them very suspiciously. Although they are Muslim, these women are regarded as social outcasts along with Christian road sweepers and sanitation workers.

Qulsom stands arrogantly in the doorway of my office. 'Give me a cigarette and I will tell you about myself,' she says. I give her the cigarette and she inhales deeply, filling the room with smoke before walking away without a word to join her friends.

'Come to Begum Court,' she says over her shoulder and I watch them walk away, their deep, coarse voices and their raucous laughter drifting on the chilly morning air.

Next day, intrigued by the name Begum Court - Begum meaning 'grand lady' - I take a jeep with a colleague and travel far beyond the city.

Thin, scantily-dressed children tiptoe bare-foot through muddy narrow lanes. Women peep through cracks in doors and window shutters. I feel as if I am standing on the edge of the world.

We ask after Qulsom, but no-one recalls her. 'Cover your head,' my colleague snaps at me as he tries to control a crowd of men which has formed around us. Everyone is talking, laughing. I feel exposed and uneasy, until at last someone leads us to Sardaran's house.

We sit in a neat, but sparsely furnished room with Qulsom, Sardaran and Bhagan. 'We earn one rupee (three cents) for a kilo of paper, Sardaran tells us, 'four rupees (twelve cents) for a kilo of copper. And we're lucky to collect even two or three kilos a day.'

'My husband is in prison,' she continues without regret. 'He was such a criminal I took him to the police myself.' Doesn't she fear what he'll do when he comes out? 'No,' she says, 'he's not capable of anything. Most of our husbands are drug addicts, and they never do any work.'

She talks as if discussing a delinquent child, yet with a strong undertone of loyalty. Perhaps she is the only one who understands her man.

Meanwhile Qulsom stares at me challengingly. 'She's been divorced three times,' someone explains, 'she can't have children.' Qulsom pulls a nonchalant face, then smiles, sarcastically, as if laughing at the world. 'You want to know about us? We are not Hindu, Christian or Muslim. We can't read and we don't know anything... A trail of smoke comes out of her nostrils and she looks away in disgust.

The stories of abuse continue: the woman who was raped by a depot chowkidar while she squatted between the seats, picking up paper and anything else she could find; the nine-year-old girl who was molested by police after being arrested for stealing.

There is no-one to help these women. They have been dishonoured by society and then stigmatized as 'immoral'.

'And now,' Qulsom says, her voice breaking though the chatter of the other women, 'we have found another way of making money.' There is an uncomfortable silence before the other women begin to giggle and I realize what they are talking about. Qulsom raises her head and stares at me with the same expression of challenge.

Disillusioned with the city's so-called middle-class morality, Begum Court and the surrounding colony exists as a separate state, with its own rules and regulations, its own culture and lifestyle. If a woman can seduce a male neighbour and earn a hundred rupees then she will. 'We do it in the fields, or an empty building,' says Qulsom with a twisted smile.

I leave Begum Court totally drained. I feel like I have travelled many continents, yet I have only driven about 20 kilometres. And, ever since, when I see the paper women sitting on the road-sides resting, or bending down to pick up pieces of paper, I can't help looking out for Qulsom who, although she remains detached, has managed to tell me so much.

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

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