AMIDST KERALA FLOODS, INDIAN GOVERNMENT REFUSES FOREIGN AID

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by Tenzin Chomphel
Director of Marketing

August 24th, 2018: The monsoon season of India typically runs from June to September, bringing sporadic rainfall throughout the summer. This year, however, the southern state of Kerala received a 40 percent increase in rainfall, resulting in the worst torrential flooding the state has seen in a century. Entire towns have been engulfed by the waters and people have been evacuated by the thousands. Over 1.2 million individuals are currently homeless, taking refuge in camp shelters spread across affected areas. The death toll has risen to 373, mostly from landslides, and dozens are still missing.

In the long term, many locals will have to deal with the destruction of their homes and those with homes still intact may have to wait up to a year to return. “My house is full of mud and almost everything I own now is damaged,”one citizen said to a BBC reporter.  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a  visit to Kerala to assess the damages and agreed to a grant of roughly 70 million USD for aid purposes. While this grant will provide some relief, it is only a fraction of the estimated three billion in damages caused by the flooding. The United Arab Emirates offered 100 million USD to aid the recovery, but surprisingly the Indian central government has refused to accept this foreign aid.

The National Disaster Management plan developed by the central government in 2016 states that India, will not “issue any appeal for foreign assistance in the wake of a disaster.” If offered voluntarily, however, the Indian government may accept this offer, but so far all offers of foreign monetary aid have been rejected. The government has also stated that representatives of international foundations that wish to contribute can do so through existing relief funds belonging to the Indian prime minister or the Kerala government.

Many within India are furious at these actions, or lack thereof, citing the fact that the central government has accepted multiple offers in the past for external assistance. Recent examples include the Swachh Bharat, India’s nationwide street clean-up campaign, which has gathered external assistance since its conception in 2014. One reason for the government’s resistance to foreign aid may be the underlying desire to avoid being seen as weak. Government spokespersons have confirmed the agenda of “Changing India’s image for the world” to being an “aid giver, not an aid taker,” suggesting that the government believes accepting foreign aid in the context of a national disaster would tarnish its current reputation as a rising world power. This, coupled with Modi’s existing distaste for international NGOs, will continue to make it difficult for external aid to get through to the people of Kerala.

Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac points towards political discrimination as another possible explanation for the state’s insufficient aid package. “We are a leftist government in Kerala,” he says in opposition to the right-wing governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of the most vocal members of the BJP consist of Hindu nationalist groups, which have argued the floods as deserved due to Kerala’s lack of observant Hindus. The Malayali peoples of Kerala have had a long culture of eating beef, which is considered taboo within the Hindu religion. Intolerance towards those who partake in this diet has existed for centuries, but attention is focused on recent acts of cow slaughter in Kerala, commonly done in protest against the central government. Far-right cow protectionist groups have cited the floods as divine punishment for this accused crime. These groups, as well as the politicians that defend their actions, have exacerbated this divide to contentious levels.

Whether the motivations behind these actions pertain to pride, prejudice or a mix of both, the people of Kerala are hoping to see more effort by the central government as soon as possible to fill this relief gap.

 

Photo by Tom Oliver

FROM RUINS TO RAGS

Bangladeshi Factory Scene

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

On the eve of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr, the conclusion of the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, Delwar Hossain promised all of the employees in his garment factory in Dhaka an ‘Eid bonus,’ analogous to Christmas bonuses around the holiday season in most Western countries. In a country like Bangladesh, with the third highest population density in the world (behind only Singapore and Bahrain) and extremely low wages, extra money around the holiday season, or in general, is always welcome. Eid came and went, and the mostly female workers in Hossain’s factory did not receive their bonuses. In most countries similar to Bangladesh, with a subservient female population and weak economic status in many industries, this would not have become an issue for Hossain – business would have continued as usual. However, due to the increase in lobbies and unions in Bangladesh for these garment workers, the workers were able to fight for their promised wages. On Saturday, October 12, 900 women went to Hossain’s factory and demanded Eid bonuses from their boss. This in itself is a major deviation from the norm in Bangladesh or any third-world country. But these 900 women went one step further; when Hossain claimed that the factory did not have enough money to give the employees their bonuses, the women locked him in his own office for 18 long hours.

This seems extreme; why would so many workers hold out that long for an Eid bonus? Here’s something to think about: the minimum wage for a textile worker in Bangladesh is equivalent to $38 a month, less than half of what Cambodian garment workers are paid and a fifth of what workers in China are paid. According to The Economist, some 3,000 workers were squished into a workspace “the size of a football pitch”. In essence, they work in small, crowded spaces for less than a living wage – eerily similar to a pre-Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in America. On top of that, many of the garment factories export to well-known, high-end fashion labels such as Benetton, Primark, Joe Fresh and Kik. The workers could have been paid more, if the chain of command had acquiesced to it. However, because they were not paid nearly enough in normal wages, they needed to take matters into their own hands for their bonuses. By demanding their bonuses from Hossain, the female workers displayed the solidarity and unity that a constructive union can bestow upon workers who are in need of labor rights and justice. However, this is just one example of garment workers in Bengal actually getting the justice and somewhat fair payment that they deserve – there are many prior examples that did not end as well for the workers.

The most prominent case of Bengal garment workers not receiving fair compensation is the case of the April crash of the Rana Plaza in Savar, a town 10km out of Dhaka – 550 workers died in the collapse of a garment factory that had shown signs of decay and negligence before it collapsed. Both the owner and the government were partially responsible– as there are no formal building codes in Bangladesh, no compliance measures were taken to ensure the safety of the workers in the factory. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has said, “90% of Bangladesh’s buildings meet no building codes.” Because of the high population density in Bangladesh (the third highest in the world – 1,034 people per square kilometer), the government finds it easy to neglect certain aspects of its administration, which is by no means an excuse – especially for the textile industry, which is Bangladesh’s primary source of GDP, coming just behind China’s textile industry internationally. With such a huge part of Bangladesh’s economy invested in its largest industry, it is important for the government to ensure the workers’ safety and fair payment. A union group, BGMEA, has been established to stand up for the rights of garment workers. However, those in power have also corrupted the BGMEA. Small-time politicians who are looking to get an extra dose of power often sell out to make a few extra bucks, but the collective mission of the labor union is so far more resolute than the few politicians who have corrupted it.

Another reason that the collapse of the Rana Plaza was so effective in unmasking the vast injustices present in the Bangladeshi Garment industry is that the Bangla government actually refused assistance from the United Nations for foreign aid and rescue assistance. Instead, it preferred to have minimal numbers of soldiers and firemen present to rescue victims from the rubble – ultimately, it was up to locals to brave the debris and find remaining survivors and drag the bodies to safety. When these bystanders grew fed up with the police force and began pelting them with rocks and stones, the authorities actually sprayed tear gas at citizens. This blatant use of force against civilians, coupled with the inability of the local and federal authorities to organize rescue missions, also contributed to the uncovering of the Bangla textile industry’s inequities and corruption. The worst part? This is the third such case in the past year, though it is the first where the architects in charge as well as the building manager were successfully arrested.

Compared to the outcome for the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse and their families, the factory workers from Dhaka seem to have nothing to worry about. However, similar building collapses and worker abuse stories are still occurring in places like India and Pakistan, which seems to suggest that there is a bigger force at work. Inept government systems that operate on foreign rents (such as Pakistan) don’t seem to place value on workers’ rights and equality at all. Combine this with the frequent sexual abuse of female workers in the industry (a trend that has not been completely eradicated from western businesses either), and these women’s actions are realized as a supreme act of courage and unity – partly due to the success of the BGMEA in the industry. They successfully ensured that 900 workers received their promised Eid bonuses, but the mission to restore equality and worker rights in Bangladesh will continue.

A great deal needs to change in these countries, especially if textiles or something similar are their primary source of income, Protecting workers should be just as important as protecting their industry and both ideas should be going hand in hand. Unfortunately, this seems to be too idealistic an idea for many countries to grasp. However, with the harsh spotlight on them from the West, there is a possibility that the Bangla government could change policy and implement stronger laws to protect garment workers. This could include anything from infrastructure laws to more proactive human rights laws, but in the state that the industry is in now, anything would help to sew the pieces back together.

Image by Jorge Cortell

NO HONOR FOR WOMEN

Jordanian Women Protest

By Diana Rabbani
Contributing Writer

In the Middle East and South Asia, many families practice ‘honor killing,’ or murdering a daughter or wife for a perceived dishonor she has committed. Examples of these ‘dishonors’ include seeking divorce or losing virginity out of wedlock, even through rape. The issue of honor killing is important because these killings violate human rights by discriminating against women and taking away the security of their person. These killings deny the rights of women and treat them as second class citizens, thus requiring investigation of this issue. Furthermore, local law enforcement turns a blind eye to the murder of these women as many societies prize family honor, therefore condoning this practice according to Amnesty International. Honor killing violates Article 2d of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which prohibits “engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation.” This article will consider the definition of honor killings and then discuss the history of honor killings as well as the current context of honor killings in Jordan and outside the Middle East. It will critique past approaches to ending honor killings and then conclude with new proposals to end this crime.

Origin of the Problem and Current Context

The roots of honor killing come from a complex code of honor that is ingrained in many Middle Eastern societies. Family status depends upon honor, which in turn depends upon the respectability of the daughters and wife of the family. According to the code of honor, these daughters and wives can damage family honor irreparably by a “misuse” of their sexuality, such as sexual relations before marriage or even being the victim of rape [1]. According to Sharif Kanaana, a professor of anthropology at Birzeit University in the West Bank, honor killings derive from the pre-Islamic era when the patriarchal and patrilineal society was interested in maintaining control over “designated familial power structures.” Men from the family, clans, and tribes wanted to control reproductive power since women were seen as ‘“factories’” for producing men. Currently, family is the foundation of many Middle Eastern societies, including Jordan. Family status depends upon honor, which in turn depends on a woman’s virginity. A woman’s virginity is seen first as the property of her father and later as a gift for her husband. Thus, a woman’s honor must be guarded by her family. On the outside, a woman is guarded by her behavior and clothing, and on the inside she is guarded by her hymen [2]. Honor killings are difficult to prosecute though. For example, in Jordanian law, Article 341 defines murder as an act of defense if “the act of killing another or harming another was committed as an act in defense of his life, or his honor, or somebody else’s life or honor” [3]. If honor killings are classified as defense, they are difficult to prosecute as a criminal action.

The entire legal system of many Middle Eastern countries is based upon a patriarchy, reflecting the social, economic, and political atmosphere of such countries. Communities ostracize single mothers, and as a result these mothers have no role in the legal system. Without a husband, single mothers do not have access to social welfare or economic support [4]. Thus, honor killings further strengthen the patriarchal society which places women beneath the power of men. In all aspects of such a society, women must submit to the control of men and are politically isolated if they do not have a husband to handle their affairs [5].

In the patriarchal societies that practice honor killings, punishments for such crimes are reduced or are even absent due to the defense that the male perpetrator was provoked sufficiently to warrant punitive action. Such provocation includes a woman’s sexual encounters outside of wedlock or adultery that brings shame upon the family [6]. The honor killing defense justifies and clears the man of any criminal responsibility or punishment [7]. Religion plays a major role in the justification of honor killings. Islamic law states that a wife must obey her husband and failure to do so permits physical punishment and even killing. This defense is permitted in more than twenty Middle Eastern countries, and Jordan has the highest rate of honor killings in the world [8]. Islamic law requires sufficient and high quality evidence for such serious accusations though. However, some men who have committed an honor killing state that tradition is stronger than religion. If rumors begin to spread about a girl, then the family feels forced by social pressure to end the potential embarrassment, even without the evidence that Islamic law requires [9]. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that about five thousand women die from honor killings every year, but this data is not as accurate as possible due to the vast number of honor killings that are not reported [10].

While honor killings are prominent in the Middle East, there are cases of such killings occurring in western countries such as the case of Noor Almaleki in the United States. Noor Almaleki and her friend, Amal Khalaf, were both struck by a car driven by Noor’s father. Amal survived but Noor later died and her father was convicted of killing his daughter. Cases such as this show that honor killings do not remain in one region of the world, but can follow the immigration of people into different parts of the world. Simply living in another part of the world does not necessarily change the thinking ingrained into a certain culture. Thus, change, education, and legislation must be implemented at the source of a culture within its own region to stop the spread of the practice into outside regions. In Noor’s case, the United States does not make an exception for murder because of family honor. However, in many Middle Eastern countries, authorities do not prosecute for honor killings as family honor is ingrained into the society.

Critique of Policy Options

Since honor killings are ingrained into the society of practicing countries, many of the crimes are unreported or ignored by local law enforcement. As a result reliable statistics do not exist. The Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) is preparing a study entitled “Legal Victimization of Women in the Arab World – a Palestinian Case Study” to catalogue honor killing cases for reliable statistics. The Palestinian Women’s Working Society is also trying to lobby police to publish statistics, since the police are the only ones who know the actual number of honor killings that occur. While creating reliable statistics is a good start, it does not stop the honor killings from occurring. It simply documents the killings. The Women’s Empowerment Project provides emergency assistance for women who have violated honor codes through counseling and referrals for hymen-repair operations. The employees of Women’s Empowerment Project receive telephone threats as a result and are accused of rebelling against tradition and corrupting society. These NGOs also fight for the availability of abortion for women who become pregnant through rape [11]. While these NGOs do provide help for women, their efforts simply protect women from persecution, rather than trying to stop persecution altogether. Counseling and hymen-repair operations do not allow women to embrace and control their own sexuality. These efforts allow women to hide any sexual encounters from their male family, but the male family members still clearly have control if these women are going to these NGOs to cover up their actions. These efforts do protect women in need and offer them assistance. However, these NGOs do not take action far enough.

In order to stop honor killings, legislation must be changed, authorities need to prosecute for these crimes instead of turning away, and sanctions must be imposed on countries that still engage and promote this form of inequality and murder. One group of Jordanians started off in the right direction by forming the Campaign to Eliminate So-Called Crimes of Honor in early 1999. They gathered over 15,000 signatures by November 1999 in an attempt to repeal Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code which allows for reduced penalties for men convicted of committing honor crimes [12].

The Campaign to Eliminate So-Called Crimes of Honor can be seen as a starting point for the proposal of ending honor killings. The Campaign faced difficulties that when corrected can lead to success. Local grassroots organizations in Jordan are carefully controlled by the state, thus making it difficult to fight against Jordanian legislation. The Jordanian government eventually took over the Campaign to Eliminate So-Called Crimes of Honor [13]. In addition, this Campaign focused only upon eliminating Article 340 even though this article has only been applied once in the thirty-five years it has been part of Jordanian law. The focus should instead have been placed upon Article 98. Jordanian law reduces the punishment of offenders through Article 98 which states that a man who commits a crime in a “fit of fury” caused by an “unrightful act on the part of the victim” will have reduced penalty [14]. Furthermore, the Campaign did not accept any outside funds in order to preserve the integrity of the organization as well as avoid usurpation by another group [15].

In addition to misdirected focus, the Campaign chose not to register with the Ministry of Interior in Jordan, as local groups are required to do. The Campaign wanted to avoid co-optation, but this plan eventually failed regardless. Since they did not register, they were not permitted to rent office space and they could not find printing houses to print their materials. The only printing house that agreed to print their materials insisted on approval from the Ministry of Interior. Newspapers did not want to print their press releases, which forced the Campaign to buy a commercial ad [16]. When the issue was finally called to a vote in the Jordanian Parliament in early 2000, the Upper House approved the cancelation of Article 340, but the Lower House did not agree. Since the two houses could not agree, a joint session has to be called between the government and Parliament. However, there is no time limit for a joint session to be called, so the people of Jordan today are still demanding the cancelation of Article 340 [17].

Policy Recommendation

The efforts of this particular grassroots organization ultimately did not succeed in their goal, but success can be achieved through the cooperation of the United Nations Human Rights Council and an international human rights group, such as Amnesty International, with local grassroots organizations. With international support, local grassroots organizations could have more influence upon Parliament, thus being able to sway both houses. The UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International would not change the integrity of these local grassroots organizations, making them more likely to accept funding for the printing of their materials as well as ad spaces in newspapers. With the support of Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Council, a local grassroots organization such as this would not be weakened by not gaining the approval of the Ministry of Interior. Gaining approval from the Ministry of Interior means that the Jordanian government would have a hand in influencing the actions of the group. However, without the approval of the Ministry of Interior and with the support of the UN and Amnesty International, local organizations have the strength to succeed without influence from the violating government.

In addition to monetary support from the Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Council, the focus of the local grassroots organization should be expanded. Instead of just focusing on Article 340, local organizations should focus on Article 98 as well, since that is the Article most used to decrease or completely deny punishment to honor crime offenders. If the Campaign succeeds in repealing Article 98, then the majority of defenses for honor crimes cannot be used.

Expanding the focus of local grassroots organizations will have farther reaching affects, but countries such as Jordan will not be swayed without sanctions. By imposing sanctions on violating countries such as Jordan, this pressure will steer them toward legislative change. The political and economic challenges will most likely deal with trade, as much of Jordan’s economy depends upon trade, especially of minerals. Jordan has Free Trade Agreements with the United States, the European Union, Canada, and many other countries. If trade sanctions are put in place with Jordan, then this would pressure Jordan to change. Another difficulty in this proposal is simply the history and culture of honor killings that are ingrained into society. No international body can tell people in a country that their culture is wrong. Thus, the approach that must be taken should not be an approach telling Jordanians that their culture is wrong for placing family honor upon a girl’s virginity. Rather, education about democracy and human rights must be implemented through local grassroots organizations that are from the violating country and thus are part of the culture. No foreign body can enter into a country and try to force change. Change must come from within and this can only be achieved through local organizations. This policy will be determined a success once Article 340 and Article 98 are repealed. While legislation can be changed, full success will not be reached until Jordan acts upon its new legislation by imposing strict punishments for those who commit honor killings.

Conclusion

This policy recommendation aims to end the human rights violation of honor killing that is practiced by many countries mainly in the Middle East, including Jordan. Family honor rests upon a girl’s virginity and is highly prized in these countries. Jordan has the highest rate of honor killings, and thus intervention and change must be implemented to stop this crime. By funding and supporting local grassroots organizations, change can come from within, overcoming the obstacle of a foreign body trying to change the culture that has been ingrained into a society for centuries. This policy recommendation is in agreement with past attempts at policy change, but suggests a broader focus, funding, and sanctions against the violating country. The goal of ending honor crimes is still the same. Honor crimes violate the basic human rights of women, but societies continue to practice this crime. To spare the lives of women who are under the control of a patriarchal society, efforts to create change must be refined and implemented now.

1. Ruggi, Suzanne. “Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor Killings in Palestine.” Middle East Report 206. 1998. 12-15. pg 12. Print.

2. Ibid., 13.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., 14.

6. Goldstein, Matthew A. “The Biological Roots of Heat-of-Passion Crimes and Honor Killings.” Politics and the Life Sciences. 2002. 28-37. pg 28. Print.

7. Ibid., 30.

8. Ibid., 31.

9. Nanes, Stefanie E. “Fighting Honor Crimes: Evidence of Civil Society in Jordan.” Middle East Journal. 2003. 112-29. pg 117. Print.

10. Goldstein, Matthew A. “The Biological Roots of Heat-of-Passion Crimes and Honor Killings.” Politics and the Life Sciences. 2002. 28-37. pg 31. Print.

11. Ruggi, Suzanne. “Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor Killings in Palestine.” Middle East Report 206. 1998. 12-15. pg 13. Print.

12. Nanes, Stefanie E. “Fighting Honor Crimes: Evidence of Civil Society in Jordan.” Middle East Journal. 2003. 112-29. pg 113. Print.

13. Ibid., 115.

14. Ibid., 118.

15. Ibid., 123.

16. Ibid., 124.

17. Ibid., 126.

Image by Roba Al-Assi