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new internationalist
issue 244 - June 1993

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
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

Lurid pizzazz
Cover of the NI Issue 243 As a comic strip illiterate I was surprised indeed to be gripped by your wild issue on debt (Alice in Latasica NI 243). The full colour – if somewhat lurid in parts – certainly gave it extra pizzazz. Brick’s a find – let’s see more of his work in future.

I also appreciated Susan George’s Keynote article. Her ‘boomerang theory’ is a illuminating twist to this obscene story of colossal injustice – and it seems to make absolute sense.

But why did you not include your regular Facts section? It is the part of the magazine I find most grounding and useful in supporting the arguments – particularly important in an issue treated in this unusual way.

J Mortimer
Leeds, UK

Breaking impotence
Thank you for your excellent, informative issue on Cambodia (NI 242) and for focussing on the action readers can take to help avert the impending disaster.

Please can we have more of this? There is a desperate apathy problem and NI can have a big impact in helping to break down the sense of impotence many people feel. Greater awareness of the issues is a vital first step. That such awareness will lead to action is the only hope.

Nigel Senior
War on Want, London, UK

Benevolent Pot
Your issue on Cambodia (NI 242) was sadly unbalanced. Phnom Penh and other cities were evacuated because, at the end of the US bombing, Cambodia had only a few days’ rice supplies left. If the Khmer Rouge had not forced the population back into the countryside and got them growing food again there would have been mass starvation.

Pol Pot did not give centralized orders to kill opponents of his regime. Most deaths were revenge killings by peasants who suffered under Lon Nol and the atrocities were greatest in the north east where the Khmer Rouge exercized least influence. The stories of mass executions were unreliable second-hand accounts of anti-Khmer refugees who had fled into Thailand, a country which itself was bitterly opposed to Pol Pot.

I suggest you read Noam Chomsky’s After the Cataclysm. This book separates the myth from the reality of the Pol Pot years – but was omitted in your suggestions for further reading.

John Pateman
Orpington, UK

Cambodian women
Your article by Chantou Boua in NI 242 gave a very good description of the lives of Cambodian women.

But it had one serious omission. It failed to mention the Women’s Association of Cambodia. This organization – which I have got to know during the course of my research in the country – has over 1,800,000 members and is actively engaged in improving the standard of living for women in Cambodia.

Viv Mackay
Friends of Cambodia, UK

Psilly psychics
Over the years, I have heard many rumours about how egalitarian and strife-free Kerala was and I wondered about the truth of these statements. In your excellent in-depth study (NI 241) you have investigated and demonstrated that while much of what has been said is true, it is not a utopia but a real state with real problems and with some solutions.

Why was this kind of investigation not applied to your issue on the Paranormal (NI 237), I wonder? What is it that makes journalists lose all their normal rationality, scepticism and competence when faced with the paranormal or religion? On the centre page are lies, discredited years ago, repeated as fact and the books you recommend on Page 28 are merely cheerleading for the irrational. (For a rational read I recommend the works of Paul Kutz, Susan Blackmore, James Randi and Henry Gordon)

I’d also like to point out that industry, business, government and the military are delighted when their opposition consists in a bunch of psilly psychics threatening them with no more than personal transformation. Those in power have always been glad to channel protest into religion because pie-in-the-sky and good vibrations cost them a lot less than working out a national insurance plan or improving working conditions – and do the ordinary citizen no good at all.

Greg Erwin
Humanist Association of Ottawa, Canada

photo by VIV QUILLIN

Big mistake
I spent six months in the Indian state of Kerala last year and the picture you portrayed in NI 241 seemed accurate to me. There was however very little mention of the destruction of the state’s rainforests. When India became independent Kerala had approximately 50 per cent cover of tropical forest. The figure is now down to between five and ten per cent. This has greatly affected the indigenous people who live in the forest and has helped to break up their ancient communities. Last year the state government passed a resolution allowing selective felling in forest reserves – a big mistake for the long-term prosperity of the forest people, wildlife and ultimately the state as a whole.

Jim Welch
London, UK

Risky horrors
While your correspondent vividly described the consequences of monazite mining in Kerala (Paradox in paradise NI 241) I feel she missed some important points.

Kerala’s deposit is not ‘one of the planet’s few’ but is a common constituent of mineral sands, and the reagents processed out of monazite have increasingly high-tech applications, in lasers, fuel-cells and bubble memory systems. What’s more, monazite contains uranium as well as thorium and this can be converted into fissionable fuel for nuclear reactors and has been tested for nuclear weapons. It is this aspect that makes it impossible – and risky – to publicly discuss the horrors associated with Kerala’s beach sand mining: and for that matter the mining of uranium elsewhere in India.

Roger Moody
Minewatch, London, UK

Considerable enhancement
Congratulations on your move to a colour format. I have always enjoyed the informative and sometimes controversial content of your magazine and now find it considerably enhanced by the use of colour.

Arthur Chamber,
Grantham, UK

Aborting difference
In NI 240 on Girls you refer to the use of amniocentesis tests in India to determine the sex of an unborn child and so facilitate the abortion of female foetuses.

You also point out that this method is used to test ‘congenital abnormalities’ in the unborn and facilitate the abortion of ‘deformed’ foetuses. Surely this practice is as unacceptable as that of aborting female foetuses simply because they are female? In aborting those not deemed ‘normal’ society is saying that the disabled have less worth as human beings than the so-called able-bodied.

The process of judging and assigning worth to different human lives is, I believe, fundamentally unjust and its practice diminishes our common humanity.

Aidan McQuade
Tigray, Ethiopia

Rape and torture
It was most inappropriate in an issue concerned with females (NI 240 Girls) that your Update article on the civil war in Burma should have been written by a man who focussed on the male-dominated military side of the war which had deprived women of all their basic human rights. The single reference to women in this article: ‘The women were subjected to repeated rapes’, hardly emphasized a situation as serious as that occuring in Bosnia today.

Our organization, Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment, is receiving reports of how ethnic Burmese Karen women of all ages are put in camps, raped and brutalized by Burmese soldiers who force them to work as porters. Elderly women are being tortured until their spines and legs are paralyzed and two young girls at Mae La camp in Tka province were raped by soldiers until they lost consciousness.

Marti Patel
Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment, Chiang Mai, Thailand
For more information see article on rape

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

Letter from Lagos

You can fly it!
Maria del Nevo goes to two kite-flying parties
and enters two very different worlds.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY With springtime comes the kite-flying festival of basant. A cold winter is behind us and the city of Lahore is alive, bathed in sunlight. Men and boys of all ages climb onto flat roof-tops and the sky is full of bobbing multi-colour kites.

There is extensive preparation. From the crowded narrow alleys of the Walled City and the vast sprawling slums of the suburbs to the most exclusive and affluent neighbourhoods, Lahore-dwellers spend thousands of rupees on kites.

But it’s more than simple kite-flying: it’s fierce competition. The kite’s string is covered with crushed glass and once the flyer has his kite up, the objective is to cut down a kite being flown from a neighbouring rooftop.

It is my favourite season, a time when I savour most the experience of being in Pakistan. The excitement is infectious. Although every year the authorities try to prevent the celebrations on the grounds that it is un-Islamic (it is celebrated throughout predominantly Hindu India) they fail miserably every time.

On the eve of basant parties are held and even in the dark kite flyers exhibit the most amazing skill. But it is on this night that the police come out in force. A party I went to, hosted by a member of Pakistan’s Liberal Party, was raided by police just before I arrived. It was hard to believe it though, as I looked at men and women mingling, sitting around small circular tables eating and sipping soft drinks. On a higher terrace, fashionable young couples stood talking and laughing, boys flew kites and older men gathered around a low table, guarding a crate of whisky. ‘How did they manage to keep this?’ I asked. My husband laughed and told me that the hosts had ‘got heavy’ with the police.

I looked around me – this was perhaps the most liberal gathering I had ever been to in Pakistan. There was none of the usual formality and self-consciousness which all too often causes me to decline invitations. And I was relaxed because no one looked my way. As a foreigner – and so often the focus of inquiring looks – it was a relief to be able to blend in for once.

‘See the difference?’ said a man standing next to me. ‘These people are not used to segregation. They know how to socialize, how to interact freely.’

The next day I experienced a very different basant at my in-laws. The men of the family had been up on the roof since dawn, competing with their neighbours. Cassette players blared out Hindi film songs, while some families had hired dholis (drummers). The smaller over-excited children ran here and there with sticks, trying to retrieve kites which had fallen and were stuck in the trees. Moni – my husband’s eldest nephew – and his friends, were concentrating on keeping the kites up. I went and joined them, but only for a few moments. Eventually I was called back downstairs where the women of the family were gathered. I wanted to ask them if they minded having to stay indoors on such a lovely day and whether they wished that they too could fly kites. ‘Women don’t go up much,’ my sister-in-law said as if reading my mind, ‘only the men can enjoy themselves. We have to cook special food for them,’ and she went to the kitchen where she stood in her fine dress, preparing huge pots of haleem (rice and chicken).

Nevertheless, a couple of hours later she accompanied me back to the roof. Moni was in the middle of a fierce battle with another kite-flyer. We watched as he manoeuvred his string around that of his neighbours until the other fell from the sky and we laughed as he danced the bhangra (Punjabi folkdance) and roared with the pleasure of victory.

My sister-in-law and I stood against the wall, talking, looking up as the sky filled with millions of bobbing kites. Then Moni suddenly came up, gave his mother the kite string and she exercised the same skill as her son. ‘You can fly it!’ I exclaimed and she laughed and said that she used to fly with her brothers when she was small.

Some boys on a roof opposite began looking our way, showing off and giggling. ‘Let’s go down then,’ she said passing the kite back to Moni, and my heart sank. I desperately wanted to stay up there with her sons, where I could relish their enjoyment and the atmosphere of fun and frivolity which only comes once a year. But instead I quietly trailed after her.

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

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