Saturday, May 22, 2004


Ever been asked what the definition of irony is? Try to think of an example. You could always use the one about the first non-Hindu Prime Minister of India. In 1984 the world viewed the media blackout and violence against the Sikhs in India. In June 1984 the Bluestar operation launched by the Congress (I) was extreme. For 3 immediate days after Indira Gandhi assignation thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed. The total number of Sikhs and non-Sikhs killed has never been officially recorded. What is known in many cases, is the names of the instigators of the violence that occurred. After 20 years and 5 national enquiries no one has been brought to justice over human right abuses and targeted slaughter of a community.

20 years on we have the first Prime Minister (Dr Manmohan Singh – An Ex Oxford University scholar), albeit with Mrs Sonia Gandhi residing as president of the Congress party. Dr Manmohan Singh is a very capable individual. His honest approach and financial acumen will ensure the growth of India’s rapidly developing economy. It was indeed Dr Manmohan Singh’s economic reforms in the early 1990s that ensured the foundation of India’s economic revolution. Today India offers a manufacturing base that competes with the Far East. In terms of India’s strength in computer software development and support, again there is no doubt that India can offer immediate financial returns. In April 2003 I visited Bangalore and was impressed by the scale of development. India now has digital telecommunications, high speed voice and data networks. Investments have also taken place in Hotels.

One of the observations made by Western journalists as to why the BJP lost the election was their (BJP) inability to ‘passed on’ India’s new found wealth to the poor (at least 75% of India’s population). This is a valid point but what difference will another party (NB Congress are attempting to lead a coalition) make ? Dr Manmohan Singh and his crew certainly have a challenge ahead across many issues:* Harmonisation of community relations* Assurance that history books are not re-written to instigate the foundations for long-term hate between India’s diverse races and cultures.

* Investment in basic infrastructure (roads/transport, food, development funds, electrical supply…)* Reconsidering the central control of Indian States & their economies from New Delhi* A review of forgotten souls – in prison

There also a need for a concerted effort to ensure that justice does prevail. After 20 years victims of the 1984 Delhi riots and families from the Amirtsar have not been supported or compensated (not that money can bring back a lost family member) but the fact is that these families are still suffering.

Can the new Indian Prime minister bring about change and peace? Only time will tell. Manmohan Singh has an opportunity to stand-up for justice, I hope so, else he’ll be counted as just another ‘also ran’!

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Paying for Poverty

Recently a national daily reported a scheme in New York where a spiritual retreat is being offered at $150 for the weekend. It has operated successfully over the last few years and will soon be offered in London! Typical clientele include high earning city Bankers. Have I got you guessing? Is it a retreat in the woods or based in Long Island? Does it consist of mediation and relaxation? The answer to all of these questions is No.

NB The purpose of this article is certainly not to ridicule this activity. The retreat mentioned involves clients paying to become beggars or street residents for a weekend. In order to prepare and appear convincing participants are encouraged to not bathe for a few days, wear layers of old clothes and arrive with minimum personal funds. The event is organised in groups rather than involving sole participants. Participants have commented that they have felt a sense of gratitude when asking for money.

It was terrible to learn recently that Angola is one of Africa’s richest nations in terms of minerals, oil and numerous potential exports. However, 90% of its population are below the poverty line and struggle to find anything to eat. Awful pictures of children picking at rubbish dumps for food have been shown, this after 25 years of civil war. Some oil rich Arabic states have 20% of their population suffering below the poverty line. In India over 75% of the population suffer in sheer poverty. Last weeks news reported India’s Congress’s election result but also showed a man living under a bridge. Although most nation’s claim that they are trying to improve the situation the irony is that there is plenty of food to go round four times over – where are their published action plans. Are they common and are they co-ordinated through the United Nations? Can we be sure that protective or preventative strategies are in place. For example have selective African countries been forecasted with crop failure due to late or non-existent rains? What’s the use of a massive computer that predicts the sunshine hours if it can’t help prevent death and desecration?

Why is there such an extreme gap between developing countries and developed countries, with further poverty issues within developed countries? One of the reasons could be the way trade law / tariffs have been established. Combined with traditional trades. Its not a mystery that arms sales to questionable regimes has taken place for years together with questionable foreign policies. Alliances between countries and their sub groups have been established between political powers. The changing climate has also had an impact although so called mountains of surplus foods have been demolished in parallel to maintain pricing structures and margins. The use of child and sweat-shop labour has exploited the poor for the benefits of large multi-nationals – remember the expensive footballs being manufactured by child labour and sold for a fortune during a recent international football championship. Another example is the way in which workers are exploited for the comforts of the west, for example: poor safety standards in African greenhouses in order to achieve cheap flower bunches at your local super market.

We need to ask what we can do about it. Paying to experience poverty maybe an activity that some people feel happy to indulge in. It could be their way of gaining a sense of empathy. Sympathy with the world poverty situation is only a start. Instead, and I’ve said this before, we need to collectively campaign for the removal of debt, use technology to predict weather disasters, establish a think tank to redevelop economies, suggest the sharing of some markets, ensure that the media do not hide the grief that people are suffering and actively encourage multi-nationals not to be greedy.

These ideas can only be implemented if we all believe in fair trade and exercise our ability as consumers to use the power of the currency in our pocket and campaign to change the polices that our members of parliament represent. We need to believe that mankind has a sense of duty rather than a sense of exploitation and survival of the fittest.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Killing fields

Pictures from the war zone are all we have to understand the situation on the killing fields. However, when pictures emerge that are so abhorrent that they ‘cut’ and ‘sicken’ the soul, they show how low mankind can stoop to in terms of evil.

The TV movie entitled Conspiracy staring Kenneth Branagh showed a dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference where the Nazi Final Solution phase of the Holocaust was devised. Imagine it is Nazi Germany, 1942. The Russian Front has been bogged down in snow and mud, and the Americans have entered the war. For the first time, defeat is a possibility. In light of this, fifteen high-ranking members from all areas of the Nazi government - soldiers, economists, administrators and lawyers - are brought together by order of the Fuhrer in a luxurious mansion in Wansee, Berlin. No records of their meeting will be kept, and they will not reveal the substance of their discussion to the outside world. The issue before them is to determine in their minds a solution - a final solution - to what the German’s of the time called ‘the Jewish problem’. Their solution will lead to one of the most horrific and shameful episodes in human history.

Why mention this shameful act? The reason is to show that evil resides in all walks of life. It’s almost as if humans have a series of internal buttons or channels that can be remotely controlled to turn them into communal killers. Some may say that a lot depends of the background of perpetrators. But consider the conscious of the workers at death camps. How did they live with the thought that they’d killed so many people each day? Maybe they blanked it from their minds or had become brainwashed by their neighbours and politicians.

Yet one would have thought that the fighting against such those that dared to place acts against humanity would today free us from such a situation arising again. Unfortunately, the evil enablers are still around today. Much can be blamed on lack of education but the root causes are deeper. It is either the small mindedness and associated opinion of a few that drive fear into the hearts of their followers or that no one has dared to say that certain ways of thinking are intolerable.

For example, although the Geneva convention for human rights exists and agencies such as The Red Cross and Amnesty international report actively on human abuses, interpretation of their findings is often compromised for political neighbouring or trade deals.

Until we have leadership that categorically proclaims such evil acts as intolerable and administers an independent monitoring body to proactively check on abuse, political powers will take advantage of the legalised torture and apologise as an afterthought.

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