The unseen dilemmas of the sudden rise of Asia from a Southeast Asian perspective

The unseen dilemmas of the sudden rise of Asia from a Southeast Asian perspective

Bridget Jeanne shares her experience growing up in Singapore, and discusses the costs and the dilemmas her Asian neighbours and herself fight to establish themselves in the world.

I grew up in Singapore (a small Southeast Asian country situated between Malaysia and Indonesia) and saw the country change profoundly from the days of my childhood to the industrialised city today. Despite its young age and small land mass, Singapore saw itself grow rapidly and with its fellow Asian neighbours even more so in the recent decades. From the 1990s, countries in the Asia Pacific saw their living standards improve multi-fold and raised many out of extreme poverty. In 2013, China and Japan were home to the world’s second and third largest consumer markets respectively with at least 13 other Asian countries following not too far behind in the highest hundred. As consumer markets patterns shift from Europe to Asia, the western superpowers are critically re-assessing their foreign policies and trade agreements so as to grow alongside their Asian counterparts. But as western leaders and policy makers work with Asia, they neglect the unseen dilemmas that came about Asia’s rapid rise – for example, the impending loss of language and the racial hierarchy in the commodification of Asian culture.

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For youth in Asia, the influx of western products and culture have quickly become part and parcel of daily life. In Singapore, English was made the language of instruction to cut across language barriers and encourage racial cohesion. Not necessarily a bad thing but alongside public policies to aid the rapid economic growth, we saw British and American television shows dominating our screens and the common use of speaking only English even at home, leading to an erosion of local programmes and the younger generation not being able to speak ethnic languages. While Japan and South Korea retain a stronghold in local programming, the loss is apparent for smaller countries which struggle to find a balance between using English and local creoles. The number of young people in Singapore who are able to speak their native language and/or local creoles are dwindling (with my own ethnic language almost gone) – it may be interesting to note however an increase in interest in learning Asian languages as opposed to Western languages among my peers. To prepare for 2008 Beijing Olympics, China went on a massive campaign to learn English. Here we see the largest Asian country preparing themselves to bridge the language gap with foreigners, a sentiment our western counterparts rarely express. Growing up my parents encouraged me to learn Chinese because it would afford me greater opportunities but ironically English has afforded me to go further. Language is a vehicle for cultural growth and because its capacity for growth is not seen equivalent to the languages of our western counterparts, it may lead to the erosion of less prominent Asian languages.2014-09-24-15-29-24

As Asian youths become progressively accustomed to western culture (including the use of English) they are also simultaneously becoming more aware of how western culture engages with Asian culture and the racial hierarchy. We noticed the lack of critical coverage on the Chinese policeman shooting the young African boy in the U.S. as we got bombarded with the black-and-white fight. The West also has a history of commodifying Asian culture and traditions – demonstrated by the series of food and cultural videos home to BuzzFeed’s YouTube channel. Sometimes in those videos, they aren’t accustomed to the different food and culture and though it may simply be a difference in taste buds, it can come across and often does as ignorance. The West glorifies Korean beauty but looks down at the consumption of bugs in Asian demonstrating a selective commodification without a critical lens – encouraging the racial hierarchy that already exists in Asia. It’s admittedly difficult to breakdown and even then with no complete certainty of how the West’s portrayal of Asia has impacted the diverse Asian population, but from my observance it has definitely created a dilemma for people in Asia – of who we are and where we stand in the world.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lessons from Africa (Part One)

Lessons from Africa (Part One)

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is generating euphoria in Pakistan. In the first part of the two part series ‘Lessons from Africa’, Asad Abbasi briefly looks at the global context of CPEC. 

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is set to be the biggest investment of any kind on infrastructure in Pakistan. By 2030, China will invest a total of $46 billion in energy, transport, fibre optics and Gwadar port. It forms part of the 3,000 km corridor that China is building with the aim of reducing the transportation time of oil and goods from the Middle East from 12 days to 36 hours.

CPEC has brought euphoria in Pakistan. A recent survey shows that the ‘majority of people (in Pakistan) believe that China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) will have a good impact’. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has called CPEC the ‘future’; the President has called it a ‘benefit to the region’, while the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Sindh have hailed it as a ‘gift’ and ‘life line’.

IAEA Imagebank / Creative Commons License. Picture of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Right).
IAEA Imagebank / Creative Commons License. Picture of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Right).

Above all, Chief of Army Staff, most powerful man in the country, has vowed to protect CPEC and is making ‘all the efforts’ to ensure its success. It is likely that no less than ten thousand special security troops will be placed to protect ‘CPEC projects’.

Is it the titillation of $46 billion that excites everyone? Is development for all automatically guaranteed with this investment? The first question is perhaps rhetorical, but the second is important. I address it by looking at China’s investment in Africa, which shows that if proper institutions are not built and workers are not protected then economic growth will foster severe inequality.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

In Pakistan, CPEC is advertised as a prelude to growth and development.There are reservations from political parties, who fear that Punjab, province of ruling party, will get superfluous share of the wealth and insist a ‘rightful’ share of CPEC investment should be divided among all provinces However, as all parties are keen to take advantage of CPEC, it is likely that a resolution will be found in the near future.

nznationalparty / Creative Commons License
nznationalparty / Creative Commons License

 

For Pakistan, CPEC might represent ‘prosperity’, ‘unity’, etc., but for China it is just one small part of Yi Dai Yai Lu. This is usually translated into English as “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) but according to Tim Summers, senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, the English translation fails to convey the dynamic meaning that the phrase encapsulates. Yi Dai Yai Lu conjures up two different epochs of Chinese history: Silk Road of Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) and modern silk maritime trade routes from coastal China. The aim of the project is to connect China with 65 countries in Asia and Europe. China estimates that OBOR will add $2.5 trillion to its trade over the next decade.

The recent fall in local demand means that Chinese factories are producing more than they sell at home. This ‘overcapacity’ of Chinese firms means that China needs to look elsewhere to make efficient use of its capital.  One Belt One Road provides opportunities for Chinese firms to invest abroad. PwC estimates that since 2013 ‘projects worth $250 billion have already been contracted’ to Chinese companies. In future, OBOR will bring even ‘more investment opportunity for Chinese enterprises’.

There is one problem—trust. There are many reservations about Chinese investment. The Heritage Foundation estimates loss of deals worth $200 billion due to ‘nasty surprise of some sort’. Some say it is because stakeholders in many countries do not trust state-funded Chinese investment. China will have no such complication in Pakistan, particularly as the two countries have been developing an increasingly cosy relationship for some time. Investment risk will be minimal since it is closer to home and Pakistani Army has vowed to protect it, so CPEC is a win-win for Chinese corporations. Is it also win-win for Pakistan?

 
This article was originally published on the London School of Economics South Asia Blog and is reproduced with the writers permission.


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The question of a female presidency in Nepal

The question of a female presidency in Nepal

Bidhya Devi Bhandari became the first female president in Nepal’s history on 29th October. Katie Wand discusses the implications for gender equality.

Nepal ranks low on the gender inequality index, as do most other south Asian countries. This is reflected in a lack of opportunity for women, social oppression, and wages that are on average 57% lower than those of men. Despite improvements in gender equality over the past decade, disparity between the sexes remains deeply engrained in daily life.

Nepal is a nation beset with traditions, predating its unification that took place in the mid 1700s. Nearly 85% of its population is Hindu, (with Buddhism as its second most adhered religion) and many Nepali practices and traditions are based on ancient Hindu texts, many of which subordinate women. Although Nepal grants equal legislative rights to men and women, in practice these rights are seldom realised, due to the overwhelming presence of Hindu influence that resonates Nepali culture.

Edward Dalmulder / Creative Commons License. Picture of Annapurna, Nepal
Edward Dalmulder / Creative Commons License. Picture of Annapurna, Nepal

 

One such Hindu tradition is Chhaupadi. Chhaupadi is the practice of prohibiting menstruating women from participating in normal family activities for the duration of her menstruation, due to the impurity associated with a women’s period. It is common for girls and women to be banished from the household for 5 days each month, and to be forced to live outside of the family home during this time, either in a shed or stables. Although banishment tends to be exclusively practiced in rural and remote areas these days, even progressive households in Kathmandu and other major and modernizing cities put restrictions on their menstruating family member; contact with male or elderly members of their family is forbidden, as is entering the kitchen or eating certain food groups during menstruation. The stigma attached also means that many girls miss 4 or 5 days of school per month due to both shame and a lack of proper sanitation products. Menstruation is just one of the aspects of Nepali culture that serves to hinder women’s progression.

There are other more subtle barriers that women face. Literacy rates are significantly higher amongst males than females in Nepal, as it is customary to choose educating a son over a daughter. In many families and communities, although it is not openly admitted, the expectation of a woman is to produce a family and perhaps bring in a dowry. Education fails to become a primary priority. A lack of education matched with a patriarchal society in which the opinion of a man is categorically worth more than that of a woman, women’s voices often go unheard, and their needs unmet. A study conducted by Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative concluded that women were often reluctant to express themselves in the public arena. This was particularly noticeable after the Nepal earthquake of 2015. Women were not involved in the relief distribution process, and were commonly excluded from communication and information dissemination. As women typically run Nepali households, the lack of acknowledgement of women’s suggestions with regards to the need of the community led to a blatant misalignment between what was needed and what was distributed.

However, according to legislation men and women are equal citizens. There is even a quota system in place to ensure that a certain number of government positions be filled by women. This is surely promising. At least legislation, although seemingly ineffective, is looking in the right direction. Or is it? The fact this legislation has existed for many years and the situation remains almost unchanged is surely cause for concern. If oppression is not the outcome of discriminatory legislation, we must look elsewhere for its cause; perhaps oppression should be accounted for on a more deeply rooted, impenetrable level.

Women in Nepal. World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License
Women in Nepal. World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License

 

Nepali culture is strong and inescapable; it seeps into all aspects of the very communal way of life in Nepal. It is this deep-rootedness of Nepali culture, unchanged for centuries, that works to hinder women’s true emancipation.

Perhaps the presidency of Mrs. Bhanderi will encourage the change of attitudes, and the enforcement of safeguard policies to ensure that gender equality is realised. However, doubts remain as to how effective one woman can be in a parliament dominated by men. There is speculation as to whether a female presidency is just an ostentatious display of inflated progress towards so-called gender equality. Only time will tell. A cultural heritage of female oppression may prove more difficult to overcome than Mrs. Bhanderi had hoped, and may take many more female presidencies in Nepal to be accomplished.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Afghanistan after 14 years of Foreign Aid: sustained developments or continued challenges?

Afghanistan after 14 years of Foreign Aid: sustained developments or continued challenges?

Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan once said, “Economics taught in most of the elite universities are practically useless in my context. My country [Afghanistan] is dominated by drug economy and a mafia; textbook economics does not work in my context.” The quote demonstrates Afghanistan’s atypical economy. In particular, aid has played a significant role in Afghanistan’s economy. Darius Nasimi argues that international aid has played an integral part of the re-generation of its economy and argues for this aid to be continued.

To what extent have achievements been made in relation to economic and political development during the past 14 years in Afghanistan? How has Western involvement in Afghanistan assisted in state reconstruction and the development process? What role have international donors such as the Department for International Development (DFID), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Gesellschaft fur International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) played? These are just some of the questions that will be answered throughout the course of this article.

Afghanistan is a country at the heart of Asia. With a past that spans over 5000 years and the cradle of civilization dominated by thought and ideas of intellectual scholars like Rumi and Avicenna. It has constantly been a hotspot for geopolitical dominance by neighbouring powers. The Greeks, Arabs, Mongols and the imperial powers of the last two centuries have always drawn particular emphasis or attention towards Afghanistan. However, the past 14 years of involvement by the international community not only marks a pivotal moment for the history of Afghanistan but has impacted the country’s citizens more significantly than ever before. Kabul is now the world’s fifth fastest growing city.

Prior to reviewing the changes and developments made by Western nations to existing aspects of Afghan society, it would be imperative to mention the overriding factor which has actually provided the foundation for social reforms and initiatives to take place. The establishment of the civil society as a third sector has been integral in assisting the most vulnerable in society and essentially fulfilling crucial government policies through the implementation of projects across the country reaching isolated and marginalized communities. After all, it is civil society consisting of NGO’s and charity organisations that reduce the strain off the government and prioritise the needs of the least advantaged members of society by using a bottom-up approach. Large international donors such as the DFID and USAID have played a fundamental role in this. For instance, DFID recently awarded a three year grant to the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), a UK registered charity to open up two Citizens Advice Centres (similar to the Citizens Advice Bureaus in the UK) in Kabul and the northern city of Pul-i-Khumri. The centres provide free, impartial and confidential legal advice to vulnerable communities. This example demonstrates the usefulness of the civil society in raising people’s awareness of their legal entitlements outside of more traditional tribal jurisprudence like “Pashtunwali” and consequently empowering them to become more active citizens of Afghanistan. Furthermore, hundreds of hospitals, schools and universities have also been built, showing the diversity of the work NGO’s are capable of doing. Therefore, it seems justifiable to conclude by saying that the civil society has a long-lasting impact on society by attempting to replicate the social services available to people in developed countries like the UK and helping to breed successful future generations.

DFID / Creative Commons License
DFID / Creative Commons License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a concise evaluative list of achievements that have been made during the past 14 years by international reconstruction agencies and donors such as DFID and USAID.

  • Expanded access to education – produced over 300 million new textbooks, trained 152,000 teachers, built and refurbished more than 3000 schools
  • Built a National Healthcare System – Improved life expectancy of Afghans from 42 years to 64 years. More than 2000 health facilities built, serving two million people per month.
  • Improvements in Health of Women and Children – Training of over 24,000 community health workers and 4000 midwives.
  • Strengthened Female Political participation – In the 2014 elections, females represented more than 35 per cent of voters. Women now represent 11 per cent of sitting judges and 20 per cent of female judges are now in training.
  • Created Jobs and supported Economic growth – Afghanistan’s GDP has grown from $4 billion in 2002 to more than $20 billion in 2013. The annual national income has increased from $210 (£134) per capita in 2004 to $700 (£447) in 2013. The development of the ICT sector – a $1.81 billion per year industry employing more than 135,000 people.
  • Access to Electricity, Markets and to each other – 41 per cent of people are connected to electricity grids, including 2 million in Kabul. More than 3500 km of roads built in Afghanistan.
  • Supported Agri-business, farmers and their families – More than $93 million in loans provided to more than 48,000 farmers, facilitated over $500 million in direct sales of agricultural products.
  • Strengthened Regional connections – Facilitated the export of goods worth $60 million including Cashmere, fruit and saffron to foreign countries like the UK.
  • Expanded Independent Media – More than 13,000 media professionals have been trained, including 5,000 women. More than 75 private television stations and 200 private radio stations have been funded, e.g. USAID providing $2 million to MOBY Group.
  • Enhanced Afghan government capacity and revenue generation – More than 26,000 civil servants (26 per cent women), increased domestic revenue from $6.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 billion in 2013.

Considering the changes and developments that have occurred in numerous sectors of society, it would be appropriate to thank the international community for their past and ongoing efforts in creating a democratic and economically stable Afghanistan. The past 14 years has witnessed substantially positive achievements in many areas. The first ever democratic transition of power in 2014 from Karzai to Ashraf Ghani is a remarkable success for Afghanistan’s history and this is all due to the assistance of the international community who ensured transparency was prioritised. But, in light of the recent escalating security issues and a slight decline in economic growth, I believe it would be justified and reasonable to have continued political and financial assistance from the international community in order to further develop Afghanistan’s growing economy and help reduce security issues.

                                                                                             

 

Darius Nasimi has just finished school in London, completing his GSCE’s and will start Sixth form in September. He has volunteered in two charity organizations which seek to improve the human rights situation inside Afghanistan as well as help to integrate Afghans into British Society. These are the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association and the European Campaign for Human rights for the people of Afghanistan. Darius has travelled to Afghanistan 7 times and has witnessed reforms and developments take place. His interests include international relations, the role of the civil society in assisting development and the history of Afghanistan.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Conscious consumerism: does buying ever count as aid?

Conscious consumerism: does buying ever count as aid?

TOMS shoes have come under intense scrutiny. At face value it is a product that is sold and helps to raise funds for its international development effort . However, critics claim that it propagates irresponsible ideologies about feel good aid, replaces local economies and causes depressions in national markets. Here, Amira Aleem investigates.

The term ‘social enterprise’ is frequently thrown about when talking about any business with a social mission or charity with a revenue generating arm. Brands now cannot afford not to engage with the social sector increasingly blurring the lines between profit and not-for-profit making structures.

This becomes especially interesting when a brand decides to sell a product, based on a ‘social’ objective. Selling a product that aims to make customers ‘feel-good’ about their purchasing begs the question of, whether buying these products actually creates meaningful change, or is just another clever marketing technique? Several studies have categorically shown that the humiliation and exclusion of poverty are fundamental to our understanding of global development. Selling products that provide handouts in developing countries by selling to consumers in developed countries is something that is being hotly debated as going against everything international aid is working towards.

One of the biggest and most widely attacked example of a social enterprise is TOMS shoes. The distinctive fabric shoes have sold over 45 million pairs worldwide, and promise ‘One for One’ wherein, for every pair bought, they will donate one to a ‘child in need’.

©Jordan Williams/Creative Commons License
©Jordan Williams/Creative Commons License

 

As Johnathan Favini writes, TOMS shoes fall into the typical aid trap of providing fish but not training fishermen.

In the non-profit world, competing for grants and funding is time-consuming and difficult. By having a revenue generating model that appeals to a wide customer base .TOMS shoes operates outside of the fear and unpreditcablite world of donor conditionality. They are able to support their development efforts solely through the profits from their core product. And while this has its own complications, it would be naïve to say there don’t exist corrupt, unregulated NGOs that do far worse.

‘Buy one give one’

The ‘buy one give one model comes under the most scruntiy and seems to rub people up the wrong way the most. Critics widely agree that TOMS shoes propagate all the stereotypical notions of the rich Western countries providing aid to the poor, impoverished counterparts. TOMS shoes quite simply falls under the category of bad aid – aid that fundamentally causes damage to the people it is aimed toward because it can cause more damage than the good it does. By having some shoes in a community have shoes and others who do not, TOMS may cause ill-feelings and insecurity amongst communities. It can also undermine the ability of local shoe makers to have a market to sell to because customers are given free handouts of shoes.

Despite these critiques, this flawed and post-colonial civilision mission logic is not the real problem. instead, recklessly providing handouts to developing countries as opposed to building capacity for infrastrucute causes long term economic and social destablilisation. By giving communities in-kind donations, it undermines the ability of the local shoe producers to build strong resilient businesses themselves. Of the 70 plus countries in which it donates shoes, TOMS shoes only produces in Argentina, Ethiopia and predominantly China. This means that although good are entering the economy, the related jobs, wealth, and stability that comes with a business is not.

©Mr Thinktank/Creative Commons License
©Mr Thinktank/Creative Commons License

 

Have they changed and is it enough?

To their credit, TOMS shoes do appear to have taken some of these criticisms on board, developing and refining their models. TOMS eyewear, for example, provides cash for medical check-ups and eye tests and avoids the handout model. the company has now begun maternal health, water and sanitation programmes that are run of the profits of TOMS shoes.
But they could do more, and thinking outside the traditional liberal traditional market approach may be the only way to really do this and bring about long term ussutaible positive change.

This year, Anshu Gupta won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. His organisation GOONJ has been wildly successful in creating an alternative ‘cashless economy’, where cloth is exchanged for work. The initial thought for GOONJ came when, Anshu Gupta first saw a naked body being taken to be buried, having died in the cold of Delhi’s winter.

Anshu started a ‘Robin Hood’ model, where he redirected excess cloth from wealthy houses to poorer households. He noticed that by providing cloth to poorer households, it provided them with a valuable resource that they needed for clothing, and warmth. This increased the available amount of money the families had, as they were now not spending on cloth. In over a decade of work, Anshu has expanded those efforts to pay people cloth for work, and to help rebuild disaster hit communities by using cloth to recompense workers for rebuilding roads and infrastructure.Although TOMS definitely has some flaws, it is worth remembering that Anshu Gupta did not begin GOONJ by trying to build a game-changing alternative economy. He started by donating cloth from the rich to the poor.

When compared to brands like Primark or TopShop which are notorious for labour rights abuses, TOMS shoes comes at an intersection of reshaping the corporate focus. The Ethical Consumer ranks them one of the best amongst mainstream producers. They have entered the apparel industry and are actively trying to reshape it, responding to critiques where necessary. Also, as Favini comments, TOMS shoes has expanded the market of donors by integrating them into the system.

People want shoes that are distinctive and TOMS leverages that to fundraise. By making international aid more mainstream it opens up an entire new market of awareness. The effectiveness of TOMS can only be gauged after several years of work, when we will begin to see the effects of it on the ground. Although it is important to be critical of aid because it brings about the kind of conversations that better practices, being overly judgemental of anyone attempting to shift the balance, may be dangerous in itself.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The oppression of the Falun Gong: China’s spiritual crusade

The oppression of the Falun Gong: China’s spiritual crusade

This month is the 16th anniversary of the Chinese governments crackdown of Falun Gong in 1999. The persecution of Falun Gong has a surprisingly low profile in the UK considering the millions of victims. Particularly so when compared to the high level of sympathy the neighbouring Tibetan cause has elicited. Here Paula Williamson tries to understand why and readdress the balance.

The solemn declaration ‘never again’ is periodically sworn at the anniversaries of historic atrocities. Yet when it comes to ongoing atrocities, we are not as responsive as one might think. this raises the question, at what point is an atrocity against a group so systemic, so widespread and destructive, and so morally outrageous that it compels action?

©longtrekhome/Creative Commons License
©longtrekhome/Creative Commons License

In terms of the morally repugnant, the Chinese state’s persecution of the Falun Gong certainly stands out; reports of abuse – extreme torture, sexual assault, disappearing people and forced organ harvesting – have been alarmingly frequent over the past 16 years. The case of Falun Gong represents a systemic effort to wipe out a major spiritual group in China. It alsorepresents one of the most disturbing crimes against humanity of the 21st century based on the scale of the persecution and the horrific acts of abuse the perpetrators are accused of.

However, at one point the Falun Gong in China numbered 70 million and would regularly gather in public parks to practice their gentle tai-chi and meditation exercises throughout the country. The crackdown since 1999 has pushed the spiritual practice completely underground. Little is known on how many still practice in secret.

China is notoriously wary of spiritual groups, especially those with perceived foreign links. With those following Falun Gong reaching into the high millions and their leader domiciling in the US, Falun Gong became a sore spot for the Government. Despite previously enjoying official state sanction and followers at the highest levels of government, Falun Gong was branded an evil cult, anti-socity and anti-humanity by the state, titles that commentators have pointed out as jarring with Falun Gong’s principle tenants of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance.

The secretive nature of the persecution has made the death toll difficult to estimate. Estimates range from 2,000 to the tens of thousands. Whatever the death toll may be, the incarceration numbers are huge. In fact, at one point, the Falun Gong made up almost half of the three to five million people detainees who make up China’s network of detention centres, so called “black jails”, labour camps and psychiatric wards that make up China’s penal system. These numbers have since dropped, but investigative journalist Ethan Guttman suggests that at any one time there are approximately between half a million to a million Falun Gong detained in China.

A 2006/2007 Kilgour-Matas report suggests that the sheer mass of Falun Gong interned has made them the unwilling main source of organs for a state’s organ transplant system based on executed prisoners. The report won Kilgour and Matas Noble Peace Prize nominations and inspired the birth of the international non-profit organisation Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH). DAFOH estimates that between 2000 and 2008 65,000 interned Falun Gong practitioners had their organs harvested for profit by the state.

©Andrew Ratto/Creative Commons License
©Andrew Ratto/Creative Commons License

The work of investigators like Kilgour, Matas and DAFOH has convinced a handful of parliaments, including those of the US, Canada, Taiwan, Italy, Spain, Australia, Israel, Taiwan and the EU, to respond with resolutions condemning China and preventing their own citizens from participating in China’s organ tourism. Australian transplant hospitals have also restricted training for surgeons from China. The UK is yet to join in such actions.

16 years on many have never heard of the persecution. Attempts to bring the issue into official discourse has had mixed success. Nobel Peace Prize Nominees Kilgour and Matas have made multiple trips to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness over organ harvesting of Falun Gong. While both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament have been responsive in allowing hearings, this has yet to turn into headline making momentum and Falun Gong has but sporadically made it into UK press.

China may be ripening in amenability to reconsidering its stance on Falun Gong. China has seen a significant shift in power with its new leader, Xi Jinping, representing a victory over the conservative Maoists who initiated the crackdown on Falun Gong. As a result, political will behind the persecution may be losing its driving forces.

Within the past month alone, over 10,000 legal complaints were delivered to China’s Supreme People’s Court charging former President Jiang Zemin, under whose leadership the persecution was conducted, with unlawful imprisonment of the Falun Gong, torture, corruption and abuse of power amongst other crimes. The fact that these legal complaints are being acknowledged by China’s legal system is a major step forward.

Xi Jing Ping, China’s current leader, it set to come to the UK in October. The time is right for Britain to finally do the Falun Gong justice by registering loud collective outrage over this ongoing atrocity. Hopefully China will take note.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

With the stage set in the capital city of Ufa, Bashkortostan, there was excitement and anticipation in the air. As the EU attempted to reach an agreement on how best to deal with Greece,Mridulya Narasimhan explores the BRICS leaders meeting in Ufa on the 6-7 July. 

Why they matter, why now?

Once seen as an incongruous body with no standing, the BRICS now seem to increasingly be gaining everyone’s attention. Google Trends shows the word ‘BRICS’ increased its search history 12 times between July 2015 to July 2015.

In 2007, the US economy was double that of BRICS – as of last year, the combined BRICS economic output almost equalled U.S’s GDP. Individually, these nations have had their share of stagnations but their collective contribution to global GDP only continues to rise.

But BRICS is not just another economic bloc with the sole intentions of harnessing trade relations- the summit was indicative of an economic partnership between nations as well as a strategic alliance with intent to develop long-term diplomatic ties. With India-China border tensions, China’s closeness to Pakistan, Russia at loggerheads with the West while India reaches out to them, there is little homogeneity amongst the member nations. What seems to however hold them together is the realisation of their growing importance and the common goal of shifting the locus of control away from the West.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

The BRICS solution to break the West’s (including IMF and the Bank) economic monopoly is plain and simple – introducing competition. Headquartered in Shanghai, the New Development Bank finished its first board meeting and will soon be operational to lend internationally. Headed by India’s K.V Kamath, the bank is set to start off with a capital of $50 billion which will be hiked to $ 100 billion in less than two years.

India – The odd man out

India seems like they might be caught between a rock and a hard place. China and Russia see the BRICS as an instrument to do away with the US hegemony while India is looking forward to a new-found albeit tactical ‘friendship’ with the US. Russian relations with the United States have reached boiling point a few times in the recent past.

China too has been in loggerheads with the US over maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the latter alleging that China’s strategic moves are provocative in nature. The relation is no better off between Brazil and US after it was recently made public by Wikileaks that the US intelligence has kept surveillance over President Dilma Rousseff and her aides. It will certainly be interesting to see how India manages to earn its keep at BRICS while continuing to forge a relationship with the U.S.

The new economic order – or just another ‘BRIC’ in the wall?

Without doubt, BRICS seems to make for a great example as far as unity in diversity is concerned. But what does not go unnoticed is also that these nations are not on the same page as far as agendas are perhaps concerned.

Brazil, India and South Africa are thriving democracies while China and Russia are believers of vigilance; wary of liberal ideas and open markets. With such different ideologies, the one main common thread that remains is the trade economics and development.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

Another key question that remains unanswered is where does China’s priority lie? It remains to be seen how China will choose to prioritise the BRICS agenda as China’s main priority is the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. With BRICS members also being a part of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and India and Russia being its second and third largest stakeholders, there seems to be a clear conflict of interest as so which institution shall get priority and the active role China chooses to undertake with regard to BRICS is yet to be seen.

The BRICS members have made it clear time and again that inclusive growth, economic prosperity and transparency are its raison d’être. But what is yet to be clarified is how much say each nation will have? Brazil, Russia and India will contribute $18 billion each, South Africa $5 billion and China intends to contribute $41 billion to the New Development Bank – a clear indication of their financial clout. If these numbers are anything to go by, goes without saying that key decisions will most certainly be influenced by China.

Lastly, even with this new economic order in place there, none of the nations presented a very clear plan of how to take things forward. Although, India did manage to present a ‘ten-step program’, the initiatives that include a soccer tournament, audit cooperation, a film festival etc. seem more like team-building exercises with little significance.

It is far too early to know what the future holds for BRICS but the summit is certainly a step closer to BRICS acknowledging its potential. These nations, together, can either develop a strong esprit de corps or can be the reason why BRICS, like many others before them, fades into oblivion.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The Paradox of Corruption: Can there be ‘good’ corruption? Part 2 (Country Studies)

The importance of healthy institutions is a center piece of successful development policies. Everyday citizens are effected by corruption because it takes money from the public treasury that could be spent on maximizing everyone’s well-being, to private bank accounts. In Part 1, Alexei Ivanov discussed the nature of corruption and how it’s one-tailed definition is hurting our abilities to treat it at the source. Using case studies, this part aims to discuss unhealthy institutions and healthy institutions in order to exemplify the equivocal nature of corruption.

Nigeria

A recent major corruption scandal has been the $1 billion oil exploration case by the Nigerian Government against Shell and ENI. These companies were taken to court for supposedly bribing officials in order to get access to an exclusive highly profitable oil block called, OLP235. From the total $1bn fees paid by Shell and ENI to the Nigerian government, $800 million from this deal went to the private accounts of various government officials. What was left of the remaining  $1bn, went to a small off-shore oil company belonging to the oil minister of Nigeria, Dan Etete.

©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License
©Marcel Oosterwijk/Creative Commons License

While the finer details of the case is in the hands of the Nigeria Judicial System, we can make light assumptions. From the 2009 Worldwide Governance Survey, Nigeria had one of the lowest rankings for accountability, rule of law, violence, and other indicators to signal the health of Nigerian public institutions. Unhealthy practices within the Oil Ministry have allowed for situations such as this, the Head of the Nigerian Oil Ministry, to award his personal company oil fields.

 

We can make the connection that since the quality of institutions is low and economic freedom is high, this type of corruption has hindered the growth of a country. The role of the Oil Ministry as an institution is vital in this certain case and has obvious economic outcomes. In a country where 2/3 of the population live on $1.25 per day, a billion of dollars into the hands of one man isn’t fair. This money shouldn’t just be given out to people, but spent on social programs.

What could be done?

Bangladesh

Textiles and garment are one of Bangladesh’s biggest exports. Informal transactions are a type of corruption, but searching through Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’ (BGMEA’s) history, not one case of major corruption has ever shown up. BGMEA more importantly has set out goals of: ‘a healthy business environment for a close and mutually beneficial relationship between the manufacturers, exporters and importers’.

A closer look shows:   ‘…foreign buyers were aware of these arrangements and happily participated in them. This meant that arbitration using formal procedures would have been difficult in these cases anyway, and informal arbitration had a great deal of credibility because industry insiders had the knowledge to find acceptable solutions.’

These ‘informal’ dealings of the BGMEA are corrupt by definition. However, from the same 2009 World Governance Survey that rated Nigeria so badly, Bangladesh considerably did better than Nigeria. By allowing for informal ‘talks’ at the BGMEA, the economy has grown through bypassing inefficient regulations, ‘greasing the wheels’. This has made BGMEA to play a major role in rising Bangladesh’s economic development.

Uganda

Despite the Ugandan government scoring 96 out of 100 on legislative framework for governance and corruption control, 8 out of 10 citizens think that corruption is the countries biggest problem. A recent step taken by the Inspectorate of Government (an NGO) in Uganda was to address the ghost worker problems, people having fake jobs for real salaries(would be nice wouldn’t it?). After a public audit on this payroll, the government first decentralized payroll system to be given to each government agency this power.

©futureatlas/Creative Commons License
©futureatlas/Creative Commons License

This was reinforced by the salaries being put up online and on boards displaying who works for what and for how much. Through this type of transparency, corrupt individuals can’t make up job rolls for their peers anymore, as well adds to the cost of getting caught, making it less appealing. Furthermore, this will save the government at least $20 million in revenue. Uganda has fought corruption by employing technology, but more can still be done.

Conclusion

The effects of corruption can be felt by everyone. From bribing doctors to get better medical care to millions and billions of public money going into private bank accounts. Since corruption is so diverse and depends on the country, the case can be made for the importance institutions. Furthermore, ‘corruption can’t be generalized on all levels in emerging market’s’ because the evidence shows mixed results on corrupt practices, some are beneficial to better business, some are not good and harm the public via the restriction of economic development.

In Nigeria, the evidence suggests that companies and government agencies are involved in shady contracts, but steps are being taken to address these problems. In Bangladesh, we saw that informal negotiations are actually driver of better economic activity. And lastly in Uganda, corruption is strong, but being tackled through technology, opening up to new ways of dealing with corruption. By creating a dynamic understanding of corruption, we can adopt technology and other methods to eradicate the problem at it’s source, the institutions.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen: Book Review

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen: Book Review

What is the fascination with growth in developing countries? Prima Facie, the reason for focusing ​only on growth is simple— growth constitutes development. The example, often cited, is China. China — with double digit growth in the last decade — has successfully transferred millions of people above the poverty line. But is the relationship between growth and development linear? Moving people from under a dollar to over a dollar constitutes as development? Here, Asad Abbasi explores these ideas as they appear in Amartya Sen’s 1999 work Development as Freedom.

According to the Ishaq Dar— Finance Minister of Pakistan—the  budget for 2015­2016 is designed so Pakistan can ‘embark on the path of promoting inclusive growth’. On the other side of the border, electoral success of Narendra Modi in 2014 is based on economic success of ‘Gujarat Model’— ten percent growth rate for a decade. Further southeast, In Bangladesh, the major focus of the budget is to achieve at least seven percent growth rate.

©OECD/Creative Commons License
©OECD/Creative Commons License

Development as Freedom ​provides a broader understanding of development. Sen argues against the assertion that high growth rates will translate into development. Simply put, relationship between poverty, income, inequality, unemployment, mortality, quality of life should be looked through a broad definition of development rather than narrow definitions of utility, efficiency or growth rates. What is Sen’s broad definition of development?  Freedom and Development.

The specific aims such as increase in income or better health or political liberties should not be the ‘ends’ of development but, together, all these should be “constituent” part of development. Development, Sen argues, is an overarching term which deals with enabling people to achieve freedom against the chains of malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty, starvation. Freedom is both: “means and an end to development”.

Development is not judged by income nor by growth rate but can only be assessed and achieved when there is an improvement in ​economic and ​political freedoms ​of people. In the book, Sen emphasises  five types of freedoms: political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantee and protective security. These freedoms are important and play dual role of evaluation and effectiveness. Freedom evaluates development process and freedom ensures effective development.

Markets

Sen favours free markets compared with controlled ones. Free markets imply freedom to transact, freedom for the buyer to buy or the seller to sell, and — importantly— freedom to choose work.

Sen discusses Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s ​Time on the Cross​, a study of American slavery in 19​th century[1]. They argue that in some plantations average wage of slaves were higher than wages of unskilled labour in the most advanced countries. Also, some slaves were having better nutrition on plantations than the free agriculture workers in some parts of Europe. However, the — better paid and better fed— slaves ran away from the plantations at every given possibility. It was because they lacked freedom to choose what they wanted to do. Freedom to choose work is important. And it cannot be compensated by better income and better health care.

Sen points out at that those who favour free markets do it because of efficiency of free markets when compared with centralized control economies. This may be so, but it understates the true value of free markets­ freedom to choose what one wishes to do. Even if centralized system was more “efficient” than the free market economy, even then, it would be preferable to choose the later than the former. Restricting free markets is, Sen believes, restriction of freedom itself.

©muppetspanker/Creative Commons License
©muppetspanker/Creative Commons License

Democracy

Within a democracy— compared to other political systems— citizens are free to choose. They can actively participate in the procedure of governance and, furthermore, decide what norms are acceptable and what are not. The importance of democracy is crystallized in Sen’s assertion that there has never been a famine in a functioning democracy. India is a prime example where, despite poverty, no famine has occurred. In contrast, China suffered over 20 million deaths in the famine of 1958­-1962. The reason for this contrast is political freedoms.

When people are free to choose their political leaders and are free to actively participate then big social mishaps will not be ignored by the citizens. In a democracy politicians have an incentive to to perform, deliver over politicized issues. Natural disasters and man made disasters are very politicized issues in developed as well as developing countries. When a country faces calamities, failing to respond is a political failure for the politicians. Therefore, a famine will not happen in a functioning democracy because people in politics will do everything to prevent it. It is not the benevolence of the politicians, paraphrasing Adam Smith, but self interest that makes politicians perform in a democracy.

New insights

Development as Freedom is interesting, informative and intuitive. Sen shakes well established arguments and lights up new pathways. However, ​Development as Freedom is a philosophical discussion on development. It is not a policy document. One will not find solutions to questions like how much aid should be given, what is the correct method of conditional cash transfer or how much the interest rate should microlenders charge, or what should be the minimum wage in a certain country. But for those interested in development this book provides extreme renovation— erase and replace. It erases many of the previous held dogmas and replaces them with new insights and perspectives.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Justice and Reconciliation slipping away in the trial of the Khmer Rouge

Justice and Reconciliation slipping away in the trial of the Khmer Rouge

On 7 July 2015 International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon became the fourth international judge to resign from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. The Tribunal is investigating the role played by former Khmer Rouge officials in systematic violations of international law, including genocide and crimes against humanity. Here, Lewis Wotherspoon discusses the continued failures to bring members of the Khmer Rouge to justice.

In a statement Mr Harmon stressed that his reasons for stepping down were “strictly personal” but in a case dogged by corruption and cries of foul play this assertion cannot be taken at face value. Indeed local police have recently refused to act on an arrest warrant issued by Harmon against suspect Meas Muth charged with crimes against humanity.

©533338296/Creative Commons License
©533338296/Creative Commons License

Once upon a time the war crimes tribunal in Cambodia was compared loftily to the Nuremburg Trials of the Nazi top brass, but today, 9 years and a mere 3 convictions later the UN backed court has descended into farce. The Cambodian Government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge recruit is keen to silence the trials as he fears Cambodia would descend into anarchy.

Hun Sen is perhaps genuinely keen to avoid the opening up of old wounds but many have noted it is the fear that many within Hun Sen’s who previously belonged to the Khmer Rouge could be implicated in proceeding. It is worth noting that Mr Hun Sen, who has been in power for 27 years has previously issued apocalyptic warnings that if he were to die or be beaten at the ballot box (a fate not likely) the country would be plunged into a bloody civil war.

Despite Hun Sen’s stark warnings the real Cambodian Civil War occurred between 1967 and 1975 and brought to power the genocidal government of Pol Pot, which went on to kill a quarter of the country through a policy of displacement, starvation, torture and execution.

The tragedy of the current court debacle is that there is widespread domestic appetite for substantive trials to take place and an international guarantor in the form of the UN ready and willing to assist in the deliverance of justice.

In South Africa, after the fall of apartheid the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to shine a light into the horrors of white minority rule. Victims were able to give harrowing testimonies of the violence and discrimination meted out and had the opportunity to address the perpetrators in person. Despite the TRC failing to properly recompense victims and victim’s families it was still generally seen as a positive step towards national forgiveness.

Again, after the genocide in Rwanda where between 500,000-1,000,000 were killed in just 100 days with machetes and garden tools, there was a process of popular justice and reconciliation. Like South Africa the Rwandan process has not inflamed grievances but rather eroded them. Although like in South Africa there has also been a distinctive lack of financial compensation and restitution.

©H. Michael Karshis/Creative Commons License
©H. Michael Karshis/Creative Commons License

What is clear is that a legal process where justice is seen to be done can have a role in healing societal division. That’s not to say it is a solution in itself- justice in the courts should work in conjunction with a policy which ensures economic justice as well. It is the economic aspect which the newly democratic South Africa failed to address and as such there has been no land redistribution and many of the systematised advantages that whites enjoyed under apartheid remain to this day. This is not an argument for a “pact of forgetting” policy as pursued by Spain and advocated by the Cambodian regime but rather a blueprint for the construction of a better resolution.

The problem in Cambodia is that, Sen’s government which is littered with former Khmer officials, would be happy to see the UN pack up and leave. In the negotiations which set up the court Kofni Annan, then General Secretary of the UN pushed for an international court free from the interferences of Cambodian politicians. The compromise was a hybrid court- composed of both international and Cambodia judges.  This has left the Cambodian Government with the  free reign to pressure and influence proceedings.

Despite the international community’s relative inability to guide the proceedings without infringing on Cambodia’s sovereignty we can still ensure the state’s financial reparations program is fully funded. Reparations are of course not just about financial payments and a recent announcement by the government which commits it to a national commemoration day and the inclusion of Khmer Rouge atrocities in the education curriculum is of course to be welcomed.

The defendants on trial in Cambodia are now all well into their 80’s and suffering from ill-health. One has recently died and another, Leng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial due to Alzheimer’s disease. Time is of the essence and if there is not a renewed international effort to pressure the Cambodian Government as well as commit to further reparations funding, the Cambodian people, almost all of whom were affected personally by the killings, will lose their shot at justice.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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An uninvited guest: Karachi’s Heatwave

An uninvited guest: Karachi’s Heatwave

KARACHI, Pakistan -The devastating heatwave has taken a toll of over 1200 and has overwhelmed the city with panic which is persisting through it. With the temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) Imaan Faruqui discusses the impact on the health care system ;  stunned by this tragedy as they were underprepared for it.

This was not only a record breaking temperature but took place on the second day of Ramadan. During this period, eating and drinking in public is prohibited from dawn until dusk. As one can imagine, fasting in itself puts a strain on one’s body but this sweltering weather increased the pressure on Pakistanis foregoing food and water.

©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License
©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License

With multiple failures in the power gird being observed all across Karachi tackling the heat was done with no electricity and water- although there was a clear distinction between rich and poor: with affluent areas not impacted by the power grid failures unlike the low-income areas who are facing prolonged and unannounced power outages.

The Majority of the public and politicians were quick to place the blame on electricity outages as the main cause for the heatwave. But the truth is that Climate Change has arrived, and it’s here to stay, but people are reluctant to believe so, since they do not believe that it is the core factor contributing to the cause of the heatwave.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, With the Sindh government focusing on electricity as the main cause behind the deaths, and not enough on measures that more directly deal with the cause of the deaths. The majority of the 65,000 heatwave victms have ended up in Karachi’s poorly run, neglected and under-financed government hospitals, and majority of these victims do not receive immediate medical attention in these over-crowded hospitals.

Due to the lack of immediate government intervention Karachi is at a state of chaos where the citizens are now standing in and volunteering and lending a helping hand in places where the administration has been too slow to act. Regardless, with the pre-existing problems with electricity there is not enough attention to the elephant in the room. That elephant being Climate Change.

Each year there are records being broken for the hottest month or the warmest year globally and there are so many factors which contribute towards this.  Asif Shuja, the former director of the Pakistan environmental protection agency stated that “there has been a rise in the Earth’s average temperature from 15.5°C to 16.2°C over the last 100 years due to which we are experiencing such extreme weather conditions both in summers and winters.

The rapid expansion in urbanisation, deforestation, and the multiplication of private vehicles are helping to fuel this fire. But if the problems have been identified why are the government and individuals acting so slowly in taking measures to halt this?

©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License
©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License

The dilemma is that, these initiatives such as installing new air conditioners and bulk distribution of bottled water may be causing temporary relief for the heatwave victims but is also harming the environment in the long run. In order to make this sustainable there is a need for funds to educate the public on these issues, and developing countries such as Pakistan do not possess these lucrative funds. Which leave them to be the most vulnerable to Climate Change.

Scientists in the region say “climate change has certainly intensified heatwaves in the same way it has accelerated other extreme weather events including floods, droughts, and wildfires, among others”. It is very difficult for developing countries to take urgent action when they do not have the material capacities to do so.

The Edhi foundation which runs a private and largest ambulance network in Pakistan is left overburdened. The morgue, which has a capacity of 200, is working extensively since the heatwave and have been pushed towards quick burials due to the conditions of the body and the morgue losing all of its cooling functions as it was being over burdened with the current capacity. This is the sad reality which we are facing that there are not enough cold storage areas, and funeral vans that bodies need to be transported in food trucks.

Nobody is immune to climate change, especially the poor as they will be suffering the most, unless governments start acting now. By creating an urgency on the issue, adopting measures and implementing afforestation schemes will help in sustaining a cooler future rather than an unpleasant one, and, for obvious environmental reasons, turning towards air conditioners would not be the solution to this impending problem.

Dr Pervaiz Amir, a well-known environmentalist has argued that “it was high time that we urgently focus on extensive tree plantation with provision for adaptation centres for both citizens and the animals in Karachi and other parts of the country”. This is a great opportunity to get everyone involved by promoting awareness on the concerns of climate change, and by creating more job prospects available to those in the low-income neighbourhoods.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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China and minorities: the case of the Uyghur people

China and minorities: the case of the Uyghur people

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have developed a strange and paradoxical relationship with minority groups whereby they proclaim respect for all 56 acknowledged minority groups but then also assert the importance of individuals being loyal to the singular Chinese identity before anything else. Here, Fanny Olson, and our Blog Editor Joe Corry-Roake discuss this paradoxical relationship and question the sustainability of the measures taken by the Chinese central government with regard to the Uyghur people.

There are three main ways in which the Chinese state interact with the Uyghur people: preferential treatment, undermining, and criminalisation. These policies are designed to make minority groups like the Uyghurs feel and define themselves as ’Chinese Uyghurs’ in contrast to ’Uyghur Chinese’ with all of the inferences that such definitions evoke.

© Evgeni Zotov/Creative Commons License
© Evgeni Zotov/Creative Commons License

The Uyghur people are a Turkic Muslim minority primarily living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. A conflict between the Chinese state and the Uyghur people has been ongoing since the late 1980s but has, in the past 15 years escalated dramatically. Much has been written about the strong arm approach which the Chinese government have used in dealing with the Uyghur people, branding them as terrorists and treating them as such but this article will focus more on other techniques and strategies of the CCP and local authorities which challenge the continued existence of the Uyghur people.

Preferential treatment

Preferential treatment is given in some instances to minority groups like the Uyghurs. Policies enshrined in law include legislation to allow Uyghurs to have more children than their Han Chinese counteraprts (and thus not be constrained by the one child policy). Furthermore, the Uyghur teenagers who take the entry exam to university (gaokao) are given more credits than their Han counterparts.

Policies such as these do lead to some discontent among the majority Han Chinese who question why they do not gain the same benefits and perks as minority groups such as the Uyghurs. This leads to attempts by Han Chinese to ’level the playing field with numerous instances of them changing or faking ” their ethnic origin so they can receive extra points in the gaokao.”

In contrast, there are many instances where Han Chinese are given benefits purely because of their ethnic background with, for example, some companies having an occupational requirement for certain roles in hiring drives and advertisements as ’Han Chinese’

Because of perceived inequalities on both sides, tensions exist and are one of the reasons why it is so easy for the CCP to undermine the Uyghur people who are already perceived by the Han majority as getting preferential treatment and moaning that they are treated unfairly.

Undermining

Undermining the Uyghur people has happened in a number of ways not least in questions and underhand tactics when staging a beauty contest designed to celebrate minority women. At the same time there were signs around Xinjiang urging women to take of their veils and show their beautiful hair. This was not only a statement on looks but fed into a wider feeling portrayed by signs pleading: “Ladies please unveil your headscarves, please don’t affect a modern civilized society

© cce/Creative Commons License
© cce/Creative Commons License

There are also examples regarding other minority groups, such as the matriarchal Mosuo tribe, where the Chinese government encourage and even finance tourist attractions with the minority group as the central theme or ’attraction’. This builds the culture and people who follow it up as traditional and relics of a bygone era, worthy of being viewed in a museum but static and no longer relevant or worth pursuing in todays ’modern’ society. In this way, while happy to preserve the past, the Chinese state makes it very clear that they are not respecting the present.

Criminalisation

Criminalisation of Uyghur people and their habits has risen and stretches from the “arbitrary arrest, torture, and “disappearance” of those considered “separatists” to more subtle yet discriminatory policies which have criminalised day to day activities of Uyghur men and women.

Policies such as the prohibition of children under the age of 18 attending mosques means that, for those individuals, and their families, to continue to practice their faith (which constitutes a large part of the Uyghur identity), they must illegally attend the mosque and thus become a criminal in the eyes of the law even forced ‘underground’ to continue to pursue their religion.

In 2014, in north Xinjiang, the local authorities placed a ban on women and men from wearing veils of any sort or long beards on local transport as it threatened the security of the area. This has been followed in early 2015 by a total ban of the full-faced Islamic veil from all public spaces in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi. Again then, individuals who wish to continue to live life as they have done, wearing the same clothes and following traditional fashions have slowly become viewed as criminals and even contributes to the undermining discussed previously whereby religious symbols are presented as fashion choices.

Where next?

The likelihood is that the Chinese state will continue with the policies they have already enacted towards Uyghur people. There are many examples where they have already done so in other regions and, with no real international pressure whatsoever, and even when there is with China such a powerful international player that it isn’t possible to impose sanctions or anything similar.

As the Uyghur people become increasingly unhappy with the way they are being treated, there is the possibility that more turn to military and violent solutions to gain a foothold against the CCP, this risks an escalation of the Xinjiang Conflict which may allow the Chinese government to use greater force to stamp out such opposition.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Affirmative Action in India: Is backward the new forward?

Affirmative Action in India: Is backward the new forward?

Sarita Devi (name changed) 38, seems unhappy with her daughter Sonam’s board result – a public examination occurring at the end of the 10th and 12th grade education in India. But she seems far more disappointed that she does not qualify as a Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Class (OBC): “I am only a housemaid, but had I been a member of a backward community, my daughter would have made it to the list of at least a decent university”. Her words are a sounding board to what the reality of many middle and lower class Savarna caste individuals in India face. Here Mridulya Narasimhan discusses the successes and failures of positive discrimination in India.

Reservation against reservation

India’s caste system, for all practical purposes, was created over 1500 years ago for a simple classification of occupations in a feudal society. Those at the bottom of this caste pyramid were in charge of menial jobs and were forbidden to interact with the upper class.

©Marc A. Garrett /Creative Commons License
©Marc A. Garrett /Creative Commons License

India’s constitution of 1950 propagated positive discrimination based on similar quota systems that existed in part of British-India during the 1920s. The idea was to reserve seats in public jobs as well as in the education system to bridge the growing inequalities between these castes. Over the past few decades the stark boundaries between castes have somewhat blurred and people are no longer bound by economic restrictions. But the reservation policy, intended to exist only for a decade, has managed to largely outlive its purpose for the past 65 years.

Thus far, there have been very few attempts to causally establish the impact of reservation in public jobs on the livelihoods of backward classes although a 2010 study by Aimee Chin and Nishith Prakash, based on 16 of India’s biggest states, shows that there is no impact of reservations on Scheduled Castes on poverty and standard of living.

In India most people take up job opportunities in an unorganised or semi-organised setting or in a private organisation so the impact of facilitating public jobs to those deemed as ‘lower caste’ is actually unknown.

There is no mandate for private firms to entertain reservation as a part of their employment policy; however, some choose to take voluntary measures: the Tata conglomerate is one of those with an active agenda of affirmative action. The multinational giant, headquartered in Mumbai, does in-house surveys to assess its Dalit and tribal workforce; they also go to the extent of setting lower requirements for exam marks for Dalit’s.

Tamil Nadu for example, has 69% reservations set aside for Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Class (OBC). With the general population competing for 31% of available seats, general applicants have now started to migrate to the private institutions and MNCs – further skewing the ratio.

©Arpana Sanjay /Creative Commons License
©Arpana Sanjay /Creative Commons License

The general population are concerned with the lower eligibility requirements for SCs, STs and OBCs. It is a vicious cycle – lower requirements are indicative of the fact that those ‘backward castes’ are expected to be less capable than most others. With such an expectation in place, those currently classified as backward continue to perform sub-optimally, defeating the entire purpose of the chance given to them. Furthermore, this tends to decrease overall standards of living of society as even the ‘Savarna’ classes are deprived of opportunities that are tied up in quotas.

 

Affirmative action: In the affirmative                                                                                                         

Affirmative action has certainly achieved some of it’s basic goals, but has lost its purpose along the way. According to a study conducted in 2009, one-in-fifteen graduates and one-in-ten secondary school students were Dalits. Also, Dalits who had only 1.6% of top-tier civil servant jobs, now account for over 16%. Though they continue to lag behind other groups; this number has grown over the past few decades. According to the Mahmood-Ur-Rahman Committee Report, Muslims constitute 10.6% of Maharashtra’ population but represent only 4.4% in public services. This is evidence of inclusion but the effect on aptitude of candidates still remains inconclusive.

The new wave: The Supreme Court ruling

A welcome change was the Supreme court, the apex judicial authority of India, quashing UPA government’s decision to include Jats in the OBC category. A similar judgement was made in January to reexamine the reservations placed on the Maratha community in India. These judgements tried to emphasise a move away from traditional methods of understanding realtionships through caste differences and instead recognising backwardness “as a manifestation caused by the presence of several independent circumstances, which may be social, cultural, economic, educational or even political. New practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved, moving away from a caste-centric definition of backwardness. This alone can enable recognition of newly emerging groups in society, which would require palliative action.

Conclusion

In the Indian context, judicial oversight and vote bank politics are perpetuating inequality rather than redressing it. But with judgements like those made by the Supreme Court with respect to the Jat community there is still hope that the government will look at social backwardness through a fresh lens.

What India needs at this point is perhaps positive discrimination based on factors other than castes. Any policy, no matter how well-intentioned, that is based on historical injustice, will only lead to injustice for those truly deserving backward sections in India.

And while we wait upon the truly backward to be represented in this country, many like Sarita’s daughter try and make the best of the situation. Sonam is now pursuing her education through open university.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Relief in Nepal; an uphill struggle

Relief in Nepal; an uphill struggle

On the 25th April, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck Nepal, in the nation’s deadliest natural disaster since 1934. Subsequent aftershocks and another major quake 18 days later has brought the death toll to nearly 9,000.  Katie Wand asks if, after millions of dollars worth of international aid has entered the country, has it been well spent?

Nepal is the second poorest country in Asia, with annual GDP per capita standing at less than 2,000USD. With a heavy reliance on remittances and tourism, the economy is fragile. The government lacks resources, generating internal challenges that hinder the effectiveness of aid distribution.

Recent weeks have been testament to this; large quantities of supplies have been resting in Kathmandu airport since the initial disastrous earthquake, as the Nepali government  failed to mobilise resources. Government regulation and administrative issues have prevented aid workers from putting international relief resources into use, whilst thousands remain homeless and desolate.

Asian Development Bank
©Asian Development Bank/Creative Commons License

Of the supplies that have escaped the confines of the airport, evidence suggests that much of it has not been received by those most in need. Roughly 80% of Nepal’s 28 million residents live in rural areas. This makes for a sporadically dispersed, and highly inaccessible population, with few areas of densely concentrated populations. The poor quality roads wind through the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas, and many villages are unreachable by vehicle. It is these isolated villages that are not seeing aid, as the challenge of its delivery is simply too great for most relief-distributing agencies. With a large part of central Nepal requiring supplies of some kind at this time, it is easy for aid agencies to distribute to those that are most accessible, rather than to those most in need.

In addition to a lack of government resources and poor infrastructure, Nepal’s relief effort is further obstructed by political barriers that restrain the effective and egalitarian distribution of aid. A civil war lasting 10 years ended in 2006 in Nepal, leaving the country both politically divided and deeply anguished by corruption, as fractured political parties compete for hegemony on the tense political stage.  Over the past 3 weeks, political tensions have spilled over into the relief effort, and aid has become politicized. We have seen an elitist bias for aid distribution, whereby politically influential communities are favoured, and marginalised communities are excluded.

Nepal’s inability to respond to the needs of its people in crisis has rendered it highly dependent on international aid at this time. As honourable as the intentions of international donors may be, the subordinated role that the Nepali government has adopted in its own relief effort has led to a lack of coordination between local and international agendas, and supplies received do not always match the desires or needs of the affected people.

So what can be done to actually help the Nepali people? Firstly we need to start thinking about recovery, instead of relief. Relief serves to aid a situation in times of immediate danger- for example, the provision of rice in the week following the earthquake was vital, as food supplies were cut by the devastation. However, a month has passed and we need to look at more sustainable and long-term approaches. In supplying food to those who already have access to such items may be welcomed by impoverished locals, but actually serves to restrict trade within communities, taking away the livelihood of, for example, the local rice seller. Provision of food and water may seem all good and well but in the longer term has negative social and economic implications for its recipients.

©International Organization for Migration/Creative Commons License
©International Organization for Migration/Creative Commons License

The recovery of Nepal will very much depend on whether the government is able to overcome the hurdles that have restricted its effectiveness in relief. The current government initiative to give compensatory payouts to the families of the deceased is both inconsequential and extremely shortsighted. Rather than temporarily paying off families with a small lump of cash, the government should provide jobs to stimulate the economy and allow people to actively make a sustainable living rather than further inducing reliance upon a highly unreliable source. Infrastructure will be needed before any real gains are made; if this wasn’t a priority before the earthquake, it certainly should be now. However, all the above is highly dependent on the government’s capacity to mobilise its resources and channel them into sustained growth and development.

The question remains as to how individuals from around the globe can help in the clear up. Well, it is evident that without financial backing Nepal will be unable to rejuvenate itself any time soon. Donations are always welcome and have played an important role in the clear up thus far, although individuals should be aware of administrative costs that can set large organizations back by more than 70% of their funding. Smaller organisations are more accountable, but the reach of their works is naturally limited by limited budgets. Whichever organization you do choose, be careful to select one that was established before the earthquake, to prevent the donation going directly in to the pockets of a few corrupt government officials. What Nepal really needs is to regain its tourism industry, which accounted for 10% of jobs prior to the earthquake. The same mountains, flora and fauna remain, and the country is now safe to visit. Tourism is a sure way of providing income to those who most desperately need it, and I urge you all to come to this amazing country.

In the short-term, aid is required to rebuild houses, roads and schools. However, more long-term solutions to the disaster require careful planning and organic economic growth. This is largely the responsibility of the Nepali government, but it is our job as the international community to put pressure on governing institutions to ensure that this happens.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Decentralising food distribution in india

Decentralising food distribution in india

India, with its abundant and cheap labour, has potential for rapid growth and development. This resource can be particularly well applied in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. However, here Kartikeya Rana disucsses the role of a corrupt government and high levels of red tape in decreasing the efficiency of work conducted and results in avoidable costs.

One important measure of the country’s development is whether the people are able to gain a staple diet. India is currently facing a serious problem of undernourishment and malnutrition. It has the highest number of poor people, in terms of percentage of population, in the world.

© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License
© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License

Apart from being a source of damage for the populous, it has also cost the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money. Schemes such as subsidised grain have led to a loss of around 2 billion rupees worth of crops in 2012 alone. This has not helped to improve public perception of the government, which sees the government as a corrupt and criminally intended organisation.

The issue in India is not only one of policy paralysis but also of implementation. Although the government has implemented legislature to overcome the problem of hunger in the country, high levels of graft and lower level management has resulted in poor implementation.

Policy paralysis

The issue of policy paralysis in India can be explained by the dysfunction of the parliament. Poor attendance and regular disruption in parliament leads to a lack of effective policy development and implementation. As a result, archaic policies implemented over 30 years ago are still used in India today for a number of sectors. This is particularly problematic because of the rapidly changing nature of the world and the growth of the Indian population. This results in high levels of red tape and complicated regulations. As a result, policies such as food subsidies become particularly hard to implement.

Implementation problems

There are a number of policy’s in place to ensure children are able to gain a nutritious diet. The scheme of mid-day meals was implemented wherein kids attending government schools were able to gain a lunchtime meal. Furthermore, a scheme of highly subsidised grains to the poor was implemented to ensure that every person was able to gain a basic level of nutrition necessary for survival. Both important policies for advocates of redistribution to those in need.

However, both these schemes have undergone failure due to issues of poor implementation. The mid-day meal scheme has failed as poor cooking techniques have led to the poisoning of a number of kids and their subsequent death. This led to a severe public outcry and consequential derailment of the scheme. The government has promised to re-engage in the scheme once stronger guidelines are put in place.

© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License
© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License

The distribution from the suppliers for the subsidised grain to the rest of the population was necessary to be undertaken via government food storage facilities. Much of the food was left in place for a very long period of time. This is due to poor implementation standards within the country. These poor standards can be because of the large regulations that have to be overcome for procurement and distribution.  This has led to the rotting of the food crops and further increased the level of malnutrition. Furthermore, a number of ill-intentioned suppliers have used the food grains as fodder for their cattle.

Although there has been severe media scrutiny and public outcry about this problem, the government is yet to take concrete steps to curtail this problem.

 

What steps could they take?

India tends to follow a system of self-designated village governments or ‘Khap Panchayats’. this system involves unique policies and guidelines, which the community follow. Since their views are highly respected, they are more likely to be implemented. If these local governments were given the resources to ensure effective distribution of the grains, they are more likely to be implemented. Furthermore, a fear of social isolation will also reduce the number of cases of implementation failure.

However, a control of such a large number of food produce will also provide the self-elected bodies with a tremendous amount of power. A Panchayat with views which are less aligned with those of the government may take the resources and utilise them for less favourable intentioned. It is known that these panchayats have previously implemented very conservative diktats, which have hampered women, minority and general citizen rights. Therefore, the government must have a local authority in place to ensure that an even distribution of the resources between the people regardless of class, religion or other racial aspects, takes place.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Positive and destructive activism, the two faces of politicized youth in Bangladesh

Positive and destructive activism, the two faces of politicized youth in Bangladesh

Civil society and governments all over the world are pondering over how to engage youth as positive agents of change. The energy of youth can be harnessed for constructive steps towards positive change, but at times it can also be violent, impressionable and even extremist. Here, Paula Williamson looks at two snapshots of different forms of youth activism in Bangladesh.

Democracy comes in a kaleidoscope of forms within which youth are playing innovative and diverse roles. The importance of engaging youth in democracy has long been touted, from the UN Youth events to the recent allowing of 16 year olds to vote in the Scottish referendum. There is much talk of the lack of voting turnout in the UK particularly amongst young people. But is a focus on voting taking precedence over other, more important areas?

Youth club members Trishita Chakma, Ripon Chakma and Milon Chakma running their Right to Information service in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts © ??
Youth club members Trishita Chakma, Ripon Chakma and Milon Chakma running their Right to Information service in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts ©

Student Demonstrations

The concept of student protest and youth as forces for change is deeply rooted in Bangladesh’s self-identity. The seeds for the 1971 liberation war, from which the nation of Bangladesh was born, came from student demonstrations. The student leaders of that era would then go on to become the political leaders of an independent Bangladesh.

Today, however, students and youth also play a well-publicised role in the darker side of politics in Bangladesh. Student political activism can verge on the militant and press coverage of student political factions battling with hockey sticks and knives, sometimes even guns and incendiary bombs, is not uncommon.

It is a poorly kept secret that this violence is condoned and even financed by Bangladesh’s main political parties. The parties fund strong student wings and political partisanship in state universities can be pervasive, from the student unions even down to the allocation of dormitory beds. In public discourse students are depicted as political “muscle” or the foot soldiers for the political parties.

Some of the reasons touted for why students engage in violent politics range from privileged access to political party funded facilities, such as better dormitory rooms, feeling connected to a nation-wide cause, as well as the belief that violence maybe justified in engendering change.

Volunteering  

Volunteering is a tradition and in alienable part of Bangladesh people because they have deep feelings for helping others.”(Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2010)

In stark contrast to the self-interested rioting in some universities, many youth club members have a strong sense of social responsibility and community awareness.

Young Star youth club members Ripon Chakma, Milon Chakma, and Bidorshan Chakma were active in running a Right to Information support service for their community. In 2011, market sellers in their Khagrachuri district were suffering from illegal levies. Milon Chakma led an investigation through Right to Information and he and his fellow youth club members posted their findings in public places throughout their district.

With access to accurate information on their legal rights, market sellers were empowered to start resisting illegal levies. Another example of the service provided by Milon Chakma and fellow Young Star Club volunteers was a Right to Information investigation into what medicines the local hospital is legally obliged to provide for free. The health sector is known for being a corrupt public body in Bangladesh and community members were unwilling to seek medical treatment as the local hospital was frequently charging patients for drugs they should receive for free. Young Star club found 77 drugs that should be free and distributed the list to community members.

Through such initiatives, youth club members are helping to empower community members to hold government authorities to account. The public sector in Bangladesh has a reputation for poor quality service and lack of transparency; however many of these youth club members are trying to challenge this status quo with democratic tools.

It is also worth pointing out that the Chittagong Hill Tract’s indigenous communities that Ripon and Bidorshan are from have ongoing tensions with Bangladeshi authorities over indigenous rights. Research shows that youth often turn to violence when they feel discriminated against. The fact that these youth club members are demanding their rights through peaceful methods is exemplary as a constructive alternative to violence when pursuing change.

Ripon Chakma, pictured center, and other members of Young Star Club attend Right to Information workshops to raise awareness and to teach others how to write requests petitioning Bangladeshi public authorities for information. © ??
Ripon Chakma, pictured center, and other members of Young Star Club attend Right to Information workshops to raise awareness and to teach others how to write requests petitioning Bangladeshi public authorities for information. ©

Lessons for engaging young people

Research by Mercy Corps in Somaliland, suggests that economic engagement and increasing young people’s voices is not enough to deter them from political violence. Instead, youth development projects need to offer peaceful avenues through which youth can see measurable change (MercyCorps, 2013).

Bangladesh’s youth club members are examples of how youth can be pioneering members of society and positive agents for change. This article has also depicted violent student politics in Bangladesh as an example of how youth can be vulnerable to exploitation from political groups. These dual forms of politically and socially conscious youth can be found throughout the world. There is scope for further exploration of where and how positive forms of youth activism can be promoted as a viable alternative to violent activism.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The harmful gaze: The inescapable paradox of travelling

The harmful gaze: The inescapable paradox of travelling

Even the least discerning traveller is aware that a luxurious holiday in an all-inclusive resort, or on a five-star cruise, isn’t the most cultural, let alone the most ethical, way to travel. Here, Connie Fisher raises the possibility that even those who profess to be cultured backpackers may not be aware of the damage they are causing.

At a time when tourism has an industry value of US $1 trillion a year, employs 1 out of every 12 people in advanced and emerging countries, and saw over a billion travellers globetrotting in 2014, we must be more aware than ever of the damage that the presence of a traveller can do. With suitcase or with backpack, it is important we continually question what we are really seeing, or perhaps what we are being shown, when we believe we are harmlessly witnessing new cultures at their best.

©Michael Reed/Creative Commons License
©Michael Reed/Creative Commons License

In the serene highlands of El Salvador, tourists are practically unseen, and those that are make do with basic local transportation and accommodation. A few hundred miles north, however, and you hit Cancun’s Zona Hotelera, an overwhelming, faceless tourist theme park, which bears no resemblance to Mexico except for an excess of oversized sombreros. For most people, from America and beyond, Cancun has now become an Americanised beach ‘paradise’, lacking any vestige of what may have been there before. Tourism has the power to change a place beyond recognition. With the growth of beach resorts in El Salvador such as El Tunco, one wonders how long it will be until this country also is taken over by mass tourism and fundamentally changed as a result.

Conservation

In Belize, on a boat tour run by locals, you might think you aren’t doing too much damage to the marine life, until you see your tour guides touching and feeding the sharks and rays excessively,. Even here, it is very difficult to witness this beautiful wildlife without feeling as if you are harming it. Such damage is seen on a larger scale in the Galapagos Islands, where tourist overcrowding has resulted in hugely detrimental effects to both the resident people and the wildlife that the tourists arrive in their thousands to see.

One of the archetypal Thai traveller experiences is to ride astride an elephant, or to have a cuddle with a cute little tiger. Tourists are told that to do so is to support conservation efforts, but reports have shown that many such institutions take young animals away from their mothers in the wild, and subject them to serious and harsh punishments in order to subdue them sufficiently for tourist interaction.

Culture

A common defense of tourism is that it can help to preserve local culture. However, countries such as Guatemala and Mexico have become so famed for their handicrafts that now the vast majority of products you can buy in local markets are mass produced and stylized for tourist taste – no longer hecho a mano (handmade).

©Wilfred Paulse/Creative Commons License
©Wilfred Paulse/Creative Commons License

In places where local dress has died out in day-to-day use, it is true that the waiters and waitresses uniformed in traditional clothing are keeping the custom alive, but they display a version of that culture which has become falsified and artificial, performed for the amusement of tourists. This is to say nothing of the treks which profess to take you deep into the jungle in order to witness and photograph indigenous peoples ‘untouched’ by the outside world.

Economic Impact

Yet another defence is that tourism supports countries financially, but a UNEP study of ‘leakage’ estimates that from each US $100 spent by tourists from developed countries, only around US $5 actually stays in the developing country destination’s economy. Specifically in Thailand, 70% of all money spent by tourists ultimately leaves the country through externally-owned tour companies, food and drink suppliers, hotels and airlines.

Helping or Harming?

The integral paradox of tourism in less developed countries is that by travelling abroad to widen our minds with the experience of other countries and cultures, we are simultaneously changing, and often damaging those cultures, sometimes beyond recognition. Travelling is an essential life experience, but when travelling to more popular destinations, it is increasingly difficult to see the realities of local culture for all the theme park-like attractions. And do we really travel to see the realities of local culture, or are we drawn in by the theme park?

There is no easy answer to this. We must travel, but we must travel wisely. With each hotel reservation, with each restaurant bill, we must ask who is benefitting from our custom; what we are really supporting with our money. We must question whether the souvenirs we buy provide income for local craftspeople and invest in culture, or help to warp and suppress it. Countries and cultures are dynamic and constantly changing. As tourists we play a part in this change. The answer is not to avoid our role, but to ensure we help rather than harm the culture we travel to see.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lotus Potus – Is the United States of America, India’s new fair-weather friend?

Lotus Potus – Is the United States of America, India’s new fair-weather friend?

An unprecedented trip to the airport to pick up the guests of honour, an evening stroll and tea in the gardens, a bear hug or two and the stage is set. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met only 4 months back in Washington DC with another meeting in Myanmar soil thereafter. With President Obama being back on Indian soil as guest of honour for India’s 66th republic day – Mridulya Narasimhan examines what this visit signifies for India and its neighbours.

Why the fuss?

123 Agreement: Both, India and USA are finally on the same page with regard to the Indo-USA nuclear deal. It is a step forward for American suppliers to be able to invest in Indian civil nuclear energy without the fear of being held liable in case of an unforeseen accident. The deal, signed in 2008, was put on hold pending negotiations on two fronts – the liability and the traceability issue. The two governments have now agreed upon establishing an insurance pool to address the issue of liability. The USA has also rescinded the demand to be able to trace all nuclear materials. The very same Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling political party that vehemently opposed the bill from 2006 to 2010 has now made it the ‘centrepiece’ of bilateral relations with the United States.

© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License
© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License

Indo-US defence cooperation: India remains uncontested as the world’s largest arms buyer. And now with the US as its largest supplier, both countries see the possibility of co-development and co-production as the way forward. This move is suggestive of stronger military ties in the future between the two nations as India weans away from its reliance on Russia for military equipment. As per the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), both countries shall jointly work on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), military kits, electric hybrid power sources and Uniform Integrated Protective Ensembles.

Going green: PM Modi was expected to announce a limit on carbon emissions during President Obama’s visit including a peak year for a new climate treaty to be signed in Paris later in the year. Instead, the talks steered in the direction of a $1 billion investment in solar-energy plants in India owing to India’s fears of being perceived in the same bracket as China on carbon emissions.

Harnessing soft power: Countering terrorism has been on the agenda of both nations. And while both nations refrained from name-calling in their individual statements, the joint statement was more direct in referring to Pakistan. Both countries agreed to ‘enter discussions to deepen collaboration on UN terrorist designations, and reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice’

Good fences make good neighbours

Two visits to New Delhi, and on both occasions, Obama managed to bypass Pakistan. Just as surprising is the fact that the White House occupants have dropped by only when Pakistan has been at the beck and call of generals. With the bullets and hostility flying across borders between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and President Obama expressing his intent to  form ties with India, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, chose this as a time to make an official trip to China.

Pakistan’s message is simple – to have the support of the west would’ve been nice, but if not the west, then Pakistan will not hesitate to forge ties of friendship with the perceived super power of the east; China. And with that in mind Pakistan has invited China’s president Xi Jinping for Pakistan’s military day to be hosted on the 23rd of March.

China has not only agreed to this effort but has also gone on record to call Pakistan its ‘irreplaceable all-weather friend’. After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit in February, President Xi Jinping’s visit shall reiterate the importance of China and Pakistan’s coordinated efforts to provide Afghanistan stability.

The Aftermath

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License
© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

Now weeks after President Obama’s visit, India still seems to be making a buzz. President Obama has reiterated his support for India making it as a permanent UNSC member, a move that has clearly not gone unnoticed. During his speech at the Indian Parliament, President Obama expressed his intent to see “a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”.

While this endorsement has been seconded by China and Russia, Pakistan is clearly not in favour. In a conversation with President Obama, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his disapproval of USA’s support to India as a permanent member stating that India has not complied with UN resolutions on Kashmir.

The 66th Republic day for India was yet another exhibition of PM Modi’s mastery over symbolism. Clearly, yet again, Modi does what he is best at – showmanship. Some see it as him being the unequivocal face of ‘Brand India’ and others see it as his way of establishing and gaining legitimacy amongst Indians – either way, things seem to be working. And while India may accept to be USA’s liaison of the East, it needs to be careful not to let its new-found ‘friends’ view it  as strategically positioned to act out on geopolitical games.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Who I am and Where I live- Vasundhra Singh on being an Indian Woman

Who I am and Where I live- Vasundhra Singh on being an Indian Woman

Reading the newspapers is becoming like a never-ending horror story. Every day the headlines have some new statistics about a damaging or negative aspect of life in India. The most recent and possibly most concerning ones regard crimes against women. Here, Vasundhra Singh discusses her experience as an Indian at an English University.

I have answered a lot of questions about home. No, I didn’t ride an elephant to school. Yes, there are cows on the road. No, ‘Hindu’ isn’t a language. I usually have a witty reply to most questions but there is one that totally threw me: “Why do Indian men rape?”

Rape cases in Delhi have doubled since 2012, 706 cases were reported in 2012 year while 1,330 were reported in 2013. The year of 2013 witnessed child rapes in Karnataka double, while the highest number of rape cases in 2009-20011 was recorded in Madhya Pradesh at the sky-high number of 9,539. The most horrifying of all is the total number of rape cases reported and recorded in 2009-2011, which was 68,000 – while the conviction rate was a mere 16,000. While the large cities are becoming increasingly associated with rapes, it is time to realize that just because most rape cases in rural areas are not reported does not mean they do not occur. Rape is not a citywide, but a countrywide phenomenon.

Why are political leaders in India unwilling to express such concern or take action?

© Ramesh Lalwani/Creative Commons License
© Ramesh Lalwani/Creative Commons License

On the issue of increasing sexual violence in cities, Ramsewal Paikra (Chahattisgarh’s home minister) went on record to say, “No one commits rape intentionally” while Abu Azmi (President of the Maharashtra branch of the the Samajwadi Party) said, “even the women are guilty”. These are a few of the many comments made by our democratically elected leaders. How can we question the state of the nation when the very people we elect to be our voice have such absurd opinions?

It’s easy to point fingers at politicians who make these comments but we need to realize that when Mulayam Singh says “boys will be boys…they make mistakes”, he is not just putting forth his view on the matter but that of the people and in doing so reinforces this attitude.  But is it possible to change the attitudes of society?

The attitude of men in India plays a major role in the second-hand citizen treatment of women in India but the entire community needs to change. Member of Maharashtra State Women’s Commision, Asha Mirje’s comment about Nirbhaya (December 2012, Rape Case) being responsible for her own rape clearly demonstrates that this problem is pan-gender. Asha Mirje suggested that women invite rape through the way they dress and behave and therefore should share the blame for these incidents. Every time a woman in a position of power makes comments like these it discredits the entire cause of women empowerment.

Since media coverage over the past few years concerning high crime rates against women, the attention given to these crimes in the government has increased as well. And the measures taken, effective or ineffective, to fight this problem has taken a turn for the better.

My friend said, “some stare a little, some stare a lot, but everyone stares”, my mom said, “you can’t spend the night there, it’s always the people you least expect”, dad said, “take the jacket, take it off later, it’s better to be safe then sorry”.

Every time we tell our daughters or sisters to cover up while leaving the house, or ask our daughters to ‘behave and be safe’ and our son’s to ‘have fun’ while going to out we unconsciously enable this suppressive culture. It’s time we realized that if we told our son’s to behave our daughters would be safe.

As a citizen of a country let down by the people meant to lead us, as a citizen let down by the culture we hold so dear and as citizen let down by the country that boasts to be the next leading nation of the world. India has many things to offer to the world of tradition, culture, technology, sports and science. I can talk politics at the dinner table. I can play cricket with a passion only seen in the streets of Delhi. I can write poetry and appreciate art. What I can’t do is explain. I can’t explain why my country, once known for flavorful food, classical dance, various forms of art and Bollywood, is now known for Rape and doesn’t seem to be making a concerted effort to change this.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Female Political Empowerment in India: Hope at last?

Female Political Empowerment in India: Hope at last?

Women’s rights continue to be a pressing issue across the world. Claire Dale looks at India and considers how grassroots movements, policy changes and quotas for women’s political representation can work together to create a more egalitarian society. 

Women in India remain second-class citizens. Across India, on average, 92 women are raped every day, proof that despite a toughening of the law, violence against women is still rampant in India.

In addition to direct and physical violence, women still suffer disproportionately from a severe lack of access to sanitation and education. Legislation that does exist to tackle issues such as sex selection and female infanticide is limited and too often ineffectual. This raises questions about the relationship between legislation and social change as well as how to best address gender inequality and empowerment.

The inadequacy of ‘top-down’ legislation

© World Bank Photo/Creative Commons License
© World Bank Photo/Creative Commons License

Laws such as the Anti Rape Bill of 2013 highlight a willingness on part of the government to effect change as well as growing popular demand for a toughening of the law regarding crimes against women. However, such laws tend to remain largely symbolic due to their focusing on the symptoms (here, rape) rather than on the underlying causes (societal attitudes towards women and rampant patriarchy).

By focusing on the symptoms, these laws have limited reach. The recent case of a female customer being raped by her Uber driver is just one of countless tragic examples of the Anti Rape Bill’s failure to deter violence against women.  This failure of legislation that seeks to impose change from the top is indicative of the tension between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches to the tackling of social issues (including gender inequality), and to international development in general. It seems that change imposed from the top often fails to succeed if not matched with desire for transformation from below.

For Saba Ghori, a senior South Asia women’s issues adviser at the U.S. State Department, there is a pressing need to pay attention to the local level, where action for India’s women is changing gender norms.

‘Bottom up’ legislation and grassroots movement: the way forward?

Legislation that focuses on giving women a political voice seems to be affecting change at the local level, both in terms of men’s perceptions towards women and in terms of women’s appreciation of their own capabilities, rights and possibilities. The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India does precisely that.

The amendment devolves certain powers from the central government to governing assemblies and requires that a third of all seats, at all three levels of governance (District, Block and Village), be reserved for elected women as well as one third of all of the ‘chief of assembly’ seats at each level. This provides women with the possibility to express themselves, to effect change and to represent their women constituents.

Despite some criticisms that women put in assembly seats are merely stand-ins for their husbands, extensive research has found that the policy has significant and positive impacts on women’s empowerment. For instance, women in local assemblies tend to shape the agenda to better reflect the needs of their female constituents as well as gear public goods provision towards women’s needs. Women constituents are more likely to come and express their concerns and needs to a more gender-equal assembly than in the previously male-dominated political forum.

© Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security/Creative Commons License
© Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security/Creative Commons License

The benefits of having women in law-making roles extends outside of the assembly too. Having a woman in power tends to boost girls’ aspirations as well as positively shift their parents’ attitudes towards female education. Similarly, it was found that an increase in female representation in local assemblies substantially increased the amount of reported crimes against women (it was found that this was not due to an increase in crime), suggesting that women are inspired to speak up when they have an example of a woman in power.

The 73rd Amendment’s provision for mandated female political representation is unlikely to change deeply entrenched social attitudes and imbalances on its own. Indeed, having been implemented for over 20 years in most states, its impact has largely depended on the specifics of each state. Attitudes towards women in India are so intimately intertwined with caste, religion, ethnicity that it is hard to pinpoint exactly how to move towards gender equality. Movements, initiatives and policies that focus on a bottom up approach are particularly important in an immensely diverse country like India. No amount of top down policies can replace initiatives that foster local, incremental change. Lifting the burden that religion, caste and social stigma represent for women’s status in India can only be done from the bottom up. This is why self-help groups, grassroots NGOs and education initiatives are so crucial. For instance, the heart-warming initiative of a Bihari village to plant 10 or more trees for every girl’s birth is illustrative of how ‘bottom-up’ approaches can affect attitudes towards women.

This amendment has made for some positive change at the local level, which emphasises the importance of locally oriented policies and actions in triggering substantial and long lasting change. Hand in hand with local NGOs, self-help groups and other empowering initiatives that strive to alter the patriarchal mindset of Indian society, mandated female political representation might pave the way towards a new avenue for women’s empowerment.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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