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State of prejudice
In Gujarat, Muslims are still in exile after last year’s
communal violence, which killed more than 1,000 people.

Photo: Dionne Bunsha
Those who weren't killed in the riots ended up camping in graveyards. Refugees at a relief camp in a cemetery in Ahmedabad just after their homes were attacked. Photo: Dionne Bunsha

She’s been hiding behind closed doors for a year. There’s no place she feels safe. The people who attacked her are free. But Sharifa (name changed) is on the run.

Village leaders raped her, killed her three-year-old daughter and thirteen other family members. They remain unpunished. Sharifa testified against them to the police. Now, she is afraid they’ll get to her before the trial. ‘There’s a rumour that they have announced a 500,000-rupee ($10,000) reward to kill me. It’s not safe for us to be in any place for too long,’ she says.

Sharifa’s village, Randhikpur, was attacked in March 2002 during the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat (see Worldbeaters on the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Damodardas Modi, NI 356). The cycle of violence began in February 2002 when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims to the disputed religious site of Ayodhya – sponsored by a Hindu fundamentalist group – was set on fire by Muslims, killing 59.

The next day Hindu extremists launched a reprisal pogrom against Muslims which lasted several months. Over 1,000 people were murdered and around 150,000 were left homeless. A year later not much has been done to punish the guilty. Of the total 4,252 cases registered, the police have closed half, claiming lack of evidence.

The Government says Gujarat is back to normal: all relief camps closed in June. But many Muslims haven’t returned to their villages. The ghettoization of rural Gujarat has begun.

In Vadali, a small town in north Gujarat, refugees from surrounding villages are living in tents. ‘What can we go back to? Everything is burned to ashes. The Patels (higher caste) have declared a boycott of Muslims,’ says Mohammedbhai Mansoori, from Lakshmipura village. Posters put up in his village proclaimed it ‘Muslim-free’. The few brave refugees who return to their homes are harassed and shunned. Several Muslims say their tormentors are after their land, shops and small businesses.

In cities like Ahmedabad, the segregation is already complete. Many refer to the lanes dividing a Hindu and Muslim colony as ‘borders’. Muslim ghettos are called ‘mini-Pakistans’. During last year’s violence, the few Muslim tenants who lived in Hindu apartment buildings were asked to leave.

Word corner

Assassin is from the Arabic hashshashin (hashish-eater). The original assassins were religious fanatics who supposedly drugged themselves with hashish before committing murder. The literal meaning of hashish is ‘dried herb’. Thug is from the Hindi thag (cheat or swindler). The original thugs were professional robbers in India who strangled their victims. The original Vandals were members of a Germanic tribe who sacked Rome in 455 AD. If venturing out-of-doors sounds somewhat dicey when these ne’er-do-wells are about, remember that hazard is from the Arabic az-zahr (dice or chance).

Susan Watkin

Naroda Patiya, an industrial suburb in Ahmedabad, is infamous as the place where a bloodthirsty mob slit a pregnant woman’s belly. More than 83 people were killed here in the most gory of all Gujarat’s massacres. Even now at night it’s like a ghost town.

‘ My children are too scared to live here,’ says Allauddin Mansoori, a mechanic. Like many others he comes here for work but leaves at night for a ‘safer’ Muslim neighbourhood. After the violence, some children haven’t been able to return to school. Muslim workers haven’t been able to find employment due to the boycott and the economic collapse after the mayhem.

Ironically, instead of the culprits, many riot victims were arrested. That includes Sairabanu, a widow and mother of five. She spent a month in hospital after a stray police bullet hit her on her doorstep. ‘The police filed rioting cases against anyone admitted to hospital with injuries in police firing,’ says her lawyer.

Speaking up against the powerful carries a price. Twelve residents of Naroda Gaam in Ahmedabad testified to the role of powerful local politician Dr Jaideep Patel in a Gujarat massacre. Six months later, the police jailed these 12 witnesses, accusing them of murder. They still haven’t been able to get bail.

Until the big fish are caught, people like Sharifa have to remain in exile. She still hopes for the day her attackers will be put behind bars. Until then, she keeps hiding.

Dionne Bunsha

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Resistance not futile
Work getting you down? Maybe the time has come to take action. British psychologist Dr John Drury and his team at the University of Sussex have found that campaigning is good for you. ‘Collective actions such as protests, strikes, occupations and demonstrations can help you overcome stress, pain, anxiety and depression,’ says Dr Drury.

Using an admittedly small sample of 40 long-term activists, the team concluded that the key beneficial element was the ‘feel-good’ generated from a collective identity. ‘The take-home message from this research therefore might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change but also for their own personal good.’

Greenscene, April 2003

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NGOs gain foothold in China
In a rare victory against the inflexibility of the Chinese Communist Party, a new environmental NGO, Green River, based in China, convinced officials in Beijing to change local policy. For one hour a day all traffic along the busy Qinghai road in Chengdu is now halted to allow endangered Tibetan antelope to cross safely. Hundreds of the animals were being killed every year by careless truckers.

NGOs have traditionally been treated with suspicion by the Communist Party, which feared such informal organizations could challenge its power. In 1994 Beijing’s Friends of Nature was forced to discharge its secretary and founding member, Wang Lixiong, after officials at the NGO registry branded the writer and academic as a ‘dangerous person’. Green River’s success could provide an important precedent for other groups seeking social justice. ‘Usually when we submit suggestions the Government accepts them but does nothing,’ says programme officer Yi Wen. ‘This time they actually did something.’

Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 April 2003

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Haven’t the foggiest
Fog gets a bad press. It’s associated with a creepy malevolence that belies its innate worth as a generous supplier of drinking water. Fog Quest, a Canadian-based non-profit organization, aims to exploit the blanket-like stuff to its fullest.

Being a mass of water vapour condensed into small droplets ranging between 1 and 40 millimetres, fog is surprisingly easy to collect. A double layer of thin mesh erected against the wind between two poles with a trough connected to a storage tank underneath will suffice. Fog Quest’s largest project to date in Chungungo, Chile, provides the 330 inhabitants with a daily haul of 11,000 litres of water.

Like most good ideas, however, nature was there first. Every morning the Stenocara beetle of Namibia tilts its body toward the wind and prepares to be engulfed by dense fog. Its fused wings provide a surface for the water droplets to form which subsequently roll down into its mouth.

With just three per cent of the world’s water deemed safe to drink, fog collecting looks set to make its mark. Projects currently under way include the construction of 12 new fog collectors on Talinay mountain in central Chile which could bring 2,500 litres of water a day to a place with an average annual rainfall of only 100 millimetres. Feasibility studies are also being carried out in the Hajja region of Yemen, the highlands around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala and the village of Danada Bazaar in eastern Nepal.

Down To Earth, 15 April 2003

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Click to enlarge. IMF justifies its own destruction
An IMF paper co-authored by its Chief Economist Ken Rogoff has concluded that financial liberalization may not be so good for poor countries after all. The ‘sobering’ report, released earlier this year, admitted that not only was there no proof that liberalization benefited growth but that it was in fact linked to ‘increased vulnerability to crises’.

This was borne out by a recent World Development Movement report which stated that anti-IMF and World Bank protests had occurred in 25 poor countries last year, with 111 separate incidents of civil unrest. ‘Having privatized 80 per cent of our economy, why is it that we have become one of the poorest countries in Africa and the whole world?’ wondered the President of Zambia’s Federation of Free Trade Unions, Joyce Nonde.

And still the IMF claims to have a ‘crucial role in increasing the benefits of globalization’.


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middle east

The Saudi connection
With Iraqi oil secured, the US relationship
with Saudi Arabia is cooling

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

Khaki or karaoke?
Using a little-known tactic dared only by a brave few, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) insurgents of the Southern Philippines have secured a glorious victory against both the Filipino national police and army. The tactic? Entering a karaoke competition.
Emerging fresh from the jungle and resplendent in combat uniform,
guerrilla representative Omar Ginta secured the microphone and launched into Filipino star Ray Valera’s classic, Magsimula Ka (‘Start Again’). The crowd went wild, leaving Ginta to commandeer the top prize of 10,000 pesos ($196).
That he was allowed to walk away from the competition is even more surprising than his entering it. Ginta was selected to represent the MILF prior to the government launching an all-out attack last October on a MILF stronghold in Liguasan Marsh, Central Midanao.

Power play
Building countries is a task usually confined to those with a severe case of bloodlust. But now, thanks to a website called www.NationStates.net we all get to have a go. United Socialist States of Vegan Socialists anyone? How about the Holy Empire of Right-Wing Fanatics?
‘ You create your own country and care for its people. Either that or you deliberately torture them. It’s up to you,’ said the site’s designer, Max Barry.
Each day the site creates new
scenarios for the country’s rulers to resolve. Dissolve parliament dictator-style and you’ll soon receive word that the secret police have begun rounding up your critics. ‘Who says we’re an international pariah?’ demands your military advisor. ‘What are their names?’
Peter LaVenia, a postgraduate political-science student in Albany, New York, who runs a country called Shagadelia, found that central planning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. ‘I’m a Marxist, for God’s sake, and my country’s turned into a Scandinavian liberal paradise. I hate that,’ he said.

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The US has withdrawn its 5,000 troops from Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. But United Arab Emirates-based political analyst Victor Shalhoub dismisses the US’ claims that the withdrawal is to do with the diminished security threat from post-Saddam Iraq.

According to Shalhoub: ‘Since September 11 there has been a steady deterioration in bilateral ties. Washington’s demands for a crackdown on Islamists and its push for political reforms were getting difficult for Riyadh to meet because of prevailing anti-US sentiments at home. These arose from the Arab-Israeli conflict and were deepened by the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.’

‘ With Iraq occupied and its oil reserves – the second largest in the world – under US influence, Washington’s reliance on Riyadh diminishes,’ Shalhoub continues. Before the Iraq war, the US was far more reliant on Saudi oil. Shalhoub adds that with no political or economic strings attached to ties with Qatar, the US would be able to operate there without ‘making any compromises’.

For Riyadh, since Washington is advocating political reforms as the best cure to neutralize Islamist influence, the absence of US troops on its soil – long a magnet for internal dissent – will make the ‘Saudi attempt at changes appear more indigenous and credible’ to its own population, Shalhoub adds.

In January, according to a New York Times report, the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was considering a series of elections for provincial assemblies, in the event of the departure of US forces. The goal would be to create a fully democratic system of regional and national assemblies over six years.

The presence of US troops in the kingdom of Islam’s holiest sites has been profoundly destabilizing inside Saudi Arabia, and increasing popular support for Osama bin Laden.

The ruling House of Saud, fearful of an internal revolt against them by al-Qaeda sympathizers, had been increasingly nervous of security arrangement based on the presence of an outside military power to protect its domestic interests.

According to the new arrangement, about 500 US personnel would remain to train Saudi soldiers and take part in joint exercises.

US military personnel in Saudi Arabia doubled to 10,000 from during the Iraq war this year, but Riyadh refused to allow its bases to be used for the air strikes against that country in March.

Shalhoub feels that the pullout contains a veiled threat to Saudi Arabia. ‘It is their way of telling the Saudis that they mean business – the military campaign which ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad could be unleashed again, targeting even Riyadh if the need arises.’

N Janardhan/IPS

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Small loans, big deal?
In recent decades microcredit – making small loans to the poor in order to allow them to start enterprises – has been in vogue in development circles.

But microcredit is not an easy cure for world poverty. A report released last September by the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs declared it highly overrated as a means of poverty alleviation. Alone it can do little unless it is accompanied by the core provision of basic services: education, housing, health and nutrition.

The report said that loans could just be ‘thinly veiled charity’ without the contexts of access to land, appropriate technology, counselling, and economic support such as credit unions. This an important message at a time when aid budgets are diminishing.

There are other concerns too. In some cases, borrowers are paying over 20-per-cent interest rates. ‘In many developing countries,’ the report says, ‘interest rates are relatively high to begin with, so that the rates charged by microlending schemes are quite high.’

‘ It is not clear,’ the report concluded, whether microcredit, ’can make a major dent in world poverty.’

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Baboons protest road killing
A group of baboons by a busy highway in eastern Uganda became furious after a speeding lorry killed a female from their troop.

They surrounded her body in the middle of the road and held a ‘sit-in’, refusing to move for 30 minutes and blocking the highway completely, even when witnesses threw them food.

Last year, a similar incident occurred when the baboons hurled sticks and stones at passing cars after a baby baboon was killed on the same road.

Abraham Odeke, BBC Uganda

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