Sunday, July 25, 2004

Harsud: Development through Drowning

India News > Harsud (Madhya Pradesh), July 10 (IANS) :

On the brink of falling down the precipice of history as waters from the Narmada dam wait to submerge it, this ghost town without any residents is also bustling with activity as never before.

Trucks are taking away trees, doors and bricks and scrap dealers have descended on the town as it gets systematically dismantled with most residents having left already.

And as business activity reaches a crescendo, the river Kalimachak is slowly moving towards the town waiting to devour it with its waters -- just as a python slowly slithers towards its prey,

It is a matter of a few days before the tributary of the Narmada, on which a hugely controversial dam has been built, submerges this town in southwest Madhya Pradesh.

Kalimachak is only a kilometre away - the day heavy rains hit the area, the waters of the river will swell its banks inundating this town.

But till then, this town, which most of the 6,000 families have deserted, will keep buzzing.

Hundreds of scrap and trash dealers from neighbouring cities have descended on the city to make money so long as the waters stay away.

Most of the 22,000-odd people of the town have left carrying only necessary household items and intending to sell the rest.

"Nearly 200 scrap dealers are working day and night in Harsud as people are selling things they do not need in their day-to-day life," said Anwar Khan, who has come here from neighbouring Indore.

Khan had visited his sister in Harsud a week ago and set up shop realising that money was waiting to be made.

"Each scrap dealer has brought with him several people who are busy fetching trash from houses in barrows round-the-clock," Khan said.

Nearly all the houses have been dismantled, either totally or partially, leaving Harsud looking like a bombed out town. And house owners are busy selling old bricks, doors and windows.

"The poor and those dealing in construction material are buying from them. Poor people cannot buy fresh bricks or doors and windows. The others want to sell them at a higher price," said Amir Ali, a native of Harsud.

Truck owners have also landed in the town because people need to carry away trash or building material.

"Trucks with various goods are leaving Harsud every day," said Amar Agarwal, a truck owner who has opened an office in the town.

"With the government declaring that people are free to take the trees falling under from the submergence area, more trucks will be needed," said Agarwal.

"The sorry part is that except human beings, everything is on sale in Harsud," said Manorama Agarwal, deputy chairperson of Harsud's local council.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Coalition of the Leaving

According to this Washington Post article, the "coalition of the willing" is transforming itself into the "coalition of the leaving":

  • with four countries already gone, another four due to leave by September and others now making known their intention to wind down or depart before the political transition is complete next year
  • Norway quietly pulled out its 155 military engineers this month, leaving behind only about 15 personnel
  • New Zealand intends to pull out its 60 engineers by September
  • Thailand plans to withdraw its more than 450 troops in September
  • Several participating countries sent fewer than 100 troops. In other cases, forces diminished significantly over time. Moldova's contingent is the smallest -- down to 12 from 42. Singapore has quietly reduced its presence from 191 to 33

In any case, as this table shows, the so-called 32-nations coalition actually consisted of perfunctory presence by all but two countries (USA and UK)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Images of "Liberation"

The Guardian Reports:

"The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison was first exposed not by a digital photograph but by a letter. In December 2003, a woman prisoner inside the jail west of Baghdad managed to smuggle out a note. Its contents were so shocking that, at first, Amal Kadham Swadi and the other Iraqi women lawyers who had been trying to gain access to the US jail found them hard to believe.

The note claimed that US guards had been raping women detainees, who were, and are, in a small minority at Abu Ghraib. Several of the women were now pregnant, it added. The women had been forced to strip naked in front of men, it said. The note urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail to spare the women further shame.

Late last year, Swadi, one of seven female lawyers now representing women detainees in Abu Ghraib, began to piece together a picture of systemic abuse and torture perpetrated by US guards against Iraqi women held in detention without charge. This was not only true of Abu Ghraib, she discovered, but was, as she put it, "happening all across Iraq".

In November last year, Swadi visited a woman detainee at a US military base at al-Kharkh, a former police compound in Baghdad. "She was the only woman who would talk about her case. She was crying. She told us she had been raped," Swadi says. "Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, 'We have daughters and husbands. For God's sake don't tell anyone about this.'"

Astonishingly, the secret inquiry launched by the US military in January, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed that the letter smuggled out of Abu Ghraib by a woman known only as "Noor" was entirely and devastatingly accurate. While most of the focus since the scandal broke three weeks ago has been on the abuse of men, and on their sexual humilation in front of US women soldiers, there is now incontrovertible proof that women detainees - who form a small but unknown proportion of the 40,000 people in US custody since last year's invasion - have also been abused. Nobody appears to know how many. But among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there are, according to Taguba's report, images of a US military policeman "having sex" with an Iraqi woman..."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

...A New "Free" Iraq - 2

Freedom - specially, one which is "imposed" - has a cost!!!
Engines of Industry Sputtering in Iraq
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A14

BAGHDAD -- Once a month for the past year, Essam Awada, 28, went to work to pick up his pay. The genial warehouse foreman would sit around with the other guys at the water tank factory, tell a few Saddam jokes, and they would get their money and go home. But now, he said, he doesn't bother. A neighbor brings him his pay.

"They told us not to even come in. There's no work," Awada said, shrugging.

A friend, Mohammad Armut, is an aircraft engineer. He used to work on the Iraqi military's Russian fighters. But there are no more military planes, no civilian airline and no work for him. Armut, like other workers, got a raise when the Americans took over. He gets a check every month for doing nothing....

...Fifteen months after the U.S. occupation began, with its ambitious goals of converting Iraq into a free-market model for the Middle East, the wheels of Iraq's daily economy are barely turning.

Little reconstruction is evident. Bombed or looted buildings remain vacant shells. Factories remain still, idled by lack of electricity, the absence of a market and a shortage of raw materials, equipment parts and motivation. U.S. plans to privatize Iraq's antiquated government-run industries fell flat. Iraqi officials say their American supervisors came, surveyed the problems and left.

"The Americans came in thinking it would be a picnic," said Hachim Hasani, the new minister of industry and minerals. "They were misled."...

...The problem, he said, is that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority arbitrarily doubled salaries to reduce unrest when it took over in April 2003. That huge increase in operating costs makes the company's wool blankets, tents and clothing much more expensive than imports.

"We can't sell our products on the local market. Our prices are too high," Barrak said. "It's good to have better salaries for our workers. People need to feed their families. But it's a disaster for the company."

With the product piling up unsold in warehouses, "we will pay out so much, the company will become zero," he said....

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Finally.. A New "Free" Iraq - 1

"U.S. officials in charge of the Development Fund for Iraq drained all but $900 million from the $20 billion fund by late June in what one watchdog group has called an '11th-hour splurge.'

"An international monitoring board is planning an audit of money from the development fund that was spent on contracts for Iraq's reconstruction that were approved without competitive bidding.

"The fund, made up largely of Iraqi oil revenue, is intended to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq. Critics have charged that U.S. officials have failed to account properly for money spent so far.

"In a report this week, the General Accounting Office said 'contracts worth billions of dollars in Iraqi funds have not been independently reviewed.' It also questioned what control over U.S.-approved contracts would now exist with the handover of formal sovereignty to Iraqis."

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Abu Ghraib happens in USA also

Sometime back when we were having a discussion in II forum on the Iraq prison abuse, I had shared these two clips, which showed that similar things have been happening in US prisons as well (and I am sure, in most prisons around the world):

1. CNN movie on Prison Abuse in a Texas Prison
2. A CBS News item which has a link to a clip showing physical abuse an Indian prisoner

Today, I came across this article by Anne-Marie Cusac, who has been writing about prison abuses in US prions. There are the quotes from her recent articles article:

"When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

"When I heard that dogs had been used to intimidate and bite at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib, I thought of the training video shown at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas.

"When I learned that the male inmates at Abu Ghraib were forced to wear women's underwear, I thought of the Maricopa County jails in Phoenix, Arizona.

"And when I saw the photos of the naked bodies restrained in grotesque and clearly uncomfortable positions, I thought of the Utah prison system.

"Donald Rumsfeld said of the abuse when he visited Abu Ghraib on May 13, 'It doesn't represent American values.'

"But the images from Iraq looked all too American to me."

My take has been that there is a "culture of prison" , which overshadows all other norms, laws and rules - and perhaps also is common world over, irrespective of whether the prison in American, Indian, Japanese, British... or of the erstwhile, Nazi Germany!!!