Tag: south asia

The global shift to the Right

No matter how successful the right may be in the short-run in mobilizing people around a divisive agenda, it is incapable of leading them out of the current economic crisis. It is only the left that can provide a way out.

By Prabhat Patnaik

We often miss this aspect in our discussions, but Narendra Modi’s re-election is part of a global right-ward shift that is taking place. Benjamin Netanyahu got re-elected in Israel (but fell short in forming a government, leading to re-election in September). Erdogan got massively re-elected in Turkey. The Conservative government came back to power in Australia against all predictions to the contrary.

In country after country in Latin America, where the left ruled until recently, igniting hopes for a left resurgence elsewhere as well, we now have right-wing governments; the most significant and the most notorious of these is in Brazil, where the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, is on record defending the earlier military regime and even saying that it should have killed some more people! And to cap it all, in last Sunday’s European Union elections, which just followed the counting of votes in India on Thursday, there has been a palpable shift to the right.

It now appears that Marine Le Pen’s far-right party will be the biggest party in France in these elections, nosing ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance. And Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s far-right party will not only be the largest in Italy but could even be the biggest party in the European parliament, just beating Angela Merkel’s party to this position. Merkel’s party lost 9% votes compared with five years ago; and within Germany itself, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany, increased its vote share to 10.5%. In Hungary, Victor Orban’s party is also set to romp home to victory.

While Modi’s victory obviously owes much to domestic developments, we must not forget the global context where there is a massive right-ward shift. When there is such a concerted move to the right, we must ask the question: why is this so? Liberal bourgeois analysts, instead of seeing the commonality between these various parties and movements, tend to take a fragmented picture of reality: they divide European parties into pro-EU and anti-EU, or pro-immigration and anti-immigration; likewise, they see Modi’s victory as an Indian phenomenon, linked to Hindutva [an aggressively nationalistic and racist interpretation of Hinduism which sees Hindus as the original inhabitants of India] but unconnected to what is happening in Europe. Even the strengthening prospect of Donald Trump’s re-election in the US is seen in isolation from these developments. But such liberal fragmentation will not do for Marxist analysis, which seeks out common patterns, and identifies unfolding class configurations. What can we say as Marxists to this right-ward lurch across the world?

It is clearly the manifestation of the economic crisis which has been gripping the world economy since 2008. There have been occasional signs of a mild recovery from it, but no sooner than these signs appear, than the world economy once more gets plunged into a crisis. In fact, the analogy of a ball bouncing along the floor describes the world economy very well: every time the ball bounces up there are cries of recovery, which disappear when the ball drops back to the floor.

This claim may be disputed by the fact that the US unemployment rate today is apparently lower than it has been for decades; but the work participation rate, too, has dropped compared with 2008. If we assume the same work participation rate today as in early 2008, then the US unemployment rate today would be 8% and not 4%, which is the official figure.

It is in this context of crisis and unemployment that there is a shift to the right all across the world. The liberal bourgeois parties have generally been in denial mode when it comes to the crisis and the consequent unemployment. The right at least recognizes the distress caused by unemployment, though it blames not the system but the immigrants for it, and wants to put curbs on immigration. Since within the EU, there has to be free migration of workers across countries, many on the right are also anti-EU.

In a situation where the liberal bourgeois parties deny the existence of the crisis, and the left is slow to put an alternative agenda before the people, the right has seized the initiative and has moved in with its anti-immigration agenda. Its worldwide growth is thus attributable to its taking cognizance of crisis and unemployment, which the pro-establishment political parties have not.

But then where does the Indian case fit into this? Even in India, Modi came to power in 2014 on a “development” agenda. The fact is that the growth rate had come down during UPA-II [the previous United Progressive Alliance government led by the centrist Indian National Congress], so that the promise of neoliberalism improving everyone’s lot was beginning to fade. When in power, the Modi government did literally nothing to redeem its promise of “development”, which is why in the just-concluded elections it did not utter a word on the subject. But it changed the discourse to “fighting terrorism”, “ensuring the nation’s security”, “teaching Pakistan a lesson”, and “instituting Hindutva”, which conveniently by-passed awkward questions like what it had done to bring about “development” during its years of power, and yet served it well.

The point remains, however, that the shift from a neoliberal party like the Congress to a right-wing party like the BJP, became possible because of the crisis of neoliberalism. The Congress could no longer pretend that neoliberalism would bring about “development”. The BJP did not talk about “development” at all after an initial period, but changed the discourse completely, much to the satisfaction of the corporate-financial oligarchy (so much so that the Sensex rose sharply when the exit polls predicted a BJP victory).

This change in discourse, however, will have only a transitory effect. Neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party has any clues about how to overcome the crisis of neoliberalism and provide employment to the millions of unemployed. In fact, a section of the Congress can see the difficulty of going along the old neoliberal track, which is why in its election manifesto there was the talk of NYAY [an income scheme for the poor], a scheme of transfers to the bottom quintile of the population. But this scheme, which, in the normal course would have generated much enthusiasm, and could even have been a game-changer for the Congress, proved to be a damp squib because no credible estimates of how the money was going to be raised were provided. The people instinctively felt that this was just an election promise which would be broken on the morning after the elections.

But just as the centrist, liberal-bourgeois, Congress party has no idea how to take the economy forward, the BJP is equally clueless. Its brand of “nationalism” will soon wear thin. You cannot keep people hooked to a daily dose of anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric when they are unemployed and hungry. Besides, the economic situation does not remain at a standstill. Even if the Modi government does nothing in the realm of the economy, the economy will not leave Modi alone. The crisis will get aggravated, with recession and balance of payments difficulties becoming more acute over time. And when that happens, the Modi government will have no answers for it (though, of course, by then rescuing the economy would have become that much more difficult).

With neither of the neoliberal formations being able to provide an answer to the burning material problems of the people, it is only the left, which can go beyond neoliberal capitalism, that can provide a way out of the crisis, though this way out would take us eventually beyond capitalism itself. This is true not only in India but in the rest of the world as well.

We are, in short, looking at a historical conjuncture where, no matter how successful the right may be in the short-run in mobilizing the people around a false or divisive agenda, it is basically incapable of leading them out of their current state of unemployment and desperation.

There are moments in the history of a nation when the existing system appears stable and capable of a long life, but all these changes quickly and new moments appear when the system simply cannot go on as before. For capitalism, now is such a moment, not just in India but all over the world. No matter how successful the right may be electorally here and elsewhere, it cannot alter this basic fact.

InstaReM’s digital money-transfer push focuses on South Asia/India market

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A photo after the media interaction.

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 22 March: India and Philippines are the countries which get the largest amount of remittances from Australia. Running into millions of dollars, no doubt, it’s a massively big and lucrative money transfer industry which has attracted many big and small companies. InstaReM, Singapore-headquartered, is one of them operating here since 2015 with 15,000 customers. It’s different because of its pure digital cross-border payment system operating successfully in the Australia-to-South Asia/India corridor. Its operations cover 55+ countries.

In a briefing to select South Asian media and community leaders, Vinoth Manoharan, Country Manager of InstaReM, said, “The South Asia/ India corridor is very exciting for InstaReM, and we strive to deliver the best quality experience to our Indian and other South Asian customers. This audience often tells us that convenience is important to them when conducting remittances. We have heard their message loud and clear and are pleased that our focus on customer experience and convenience has resulted in a strong 24 percent volume growth in the Australia-to-South Asia corridor, led by Australia-India traffic last year.”

“My father regularly remits money back home to South Asia and used to be hesitant about
transferring money online. After experiencing great convenience in his first digital
transaction with InstaReM, the notion of taking time to visit a physical branch or an agent
does not make sense to him anymore!”

“His situation is not unique – many of the South Asian diaspora living, working, and studying
in Australia need to conveniently send and receive money and we know how important it is
to make the process as smooth as possible,” continued Mr Manoharan.

A lively Q-A session was revealing with company officials including Vinoth, Karan and Taylor answering to issues facing customers. On a question by SAT, Karan said, people who transfer money via the outlets end up giving bigger commissions. So, he feels, customers need to be educated tro take the digital route.

Unlike other money transfer companies, InstaReM money can only be transferred overseas through their App or website. The company possessed $ 250 million transactions in 2018.

India is the second largest global remittance market for Australia, with AUD$2.74 billion
transferred from Australia to India in 2017. World Bank statistics show migrants in Australia
sent close to AUD$23.816 billion overseas in 2017.

During the briefing session, InstaReM laid out the firm’s focus on understanding and
delivering on the unique needs of the South Asian/Indian diaspora in Australia through the unique positioning of five core benefits:
1. Zero-Margins on Foreign Exchange rates
2. Low Transaction Fees
3. Absolute Transparency in Costs
4. Speed of Settlement
5. Convenience

A Finder.com.au study found 12 percent of people in Australia provide financial assistance
for relatives overseas and 32 percent have sent money abroad at least once; around half of
those as a gift and just over one third to support relatives, says an InstaReM media release.

For more information, visit https://www.instarem.com/

“I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore”: meet the women fighting sexual violence in Nepal

2014_nepal_sexualviolence_PRESSERpunjita-umbraco
Punjita Pradhan (front centre) with other activists Photo: Amnesty International South Asia

it’s awards season in Hollywood, and a year since a #MeToo-dominated Oscars ceremony made sexual harassment a global talking point. Critics will be watching to see what, if anything, has changed in the film industry since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

But the #MeToo movement has made ripples far beyond LA. Away from the spotlight, there are many amazing women who are fighting against sexism, harassment, and violence, braving discrimination and stigma in their quest for change.

Punjita, Rashmila and Ashmita, three activists from Nepal, embody this spirit of determination.

In July 2018, a 13-year-old schoolgirl named Nirmala Pant was raped and murdered in Nepal’s Kanchanpur District. This brutal crime, and the lack of effective investigation by the authorities started a wave of protests across Nepal. Meanwhile, two women accused the former Kathmandu mayor of sexual harassment, inspiring others to come forward with their stories.

Here Punjita, Rashmila, and Ashmita describe why speaking out about harassment and violence is so important and tell us why Nepal needs a #MeToo movement.

“The protests following Nirmala’s murder sparked media coverage saying Nepal was having its ‘#MeToo moment’. Although there are parallels with global movements, some of the issues I work on are a particular problem in Nepal, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. For example, there are thousands of children in Nepal who live and work on the streets, and they are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. These children cannot rely on the authorities to protect them.

“Although Nepal has laws against gender-based violence and harassment, very few cases are reported. Those that usually end in an out-of-court settlement – but then the victims still have a lifetime of stigma to contend with. Victim blaming is still the kneejerk response for many in Nepal.

“There is supposed to be a minimum six-month jail term for domestic violence or sexual abuse, but in reality, the perpetrators are often released after a single night. So even if a victim reports a case, there is no guarantee of their safety afterward.

“I used to work as a journalist, and I faced sexual harassment from the police, army and my colleagues – experiences which I realized so many women share. One friend told me a story I couldn’t forget. In her neighborhood there was a woman who had recently got married and she was being constantly groped by her new brother-in-law. She didn’t want to report it – she was scared that her marriage would break down, she would be blamed for enticing that man and she would have to carry the shame all her life.

“Stories like this prompted me to quit my job as a journalist and start Utkarsha Nepal. Our aim is to create awareness about sexual harassment and abuse and to remove the stigma. Very few people in Nepal are willing to talk openly about these issues. We work in schools and colleges promoting understanding about mutual consent and healthy personal boundaries. We also provide counseling, healing and legal support for victims.

In my experience as a counselor, I’ve found that many women with depression or anxiety have faced sexual abuse at least once, and usually multiple times in their lives. When there is no justice, their trauma is prolonged.

“It’s important that we include men in this discussion too. Men who have experienced sexual abuse themselves may be more likely to go on to abuse others. This is one reason why it’s essential that victims feel they have someone to talk to.

“There have recently been some improvements in terms of awareness, and it’s great that these conversations are coming out in the open, especially with women coming forward about their experiences with high-profile men. But there is still a long way to go. In November, a government minister summoned the editors of five state newspapers and instructed them not to print any criticism of the government’s response to the murder of Nirmala Pant. The government is still so afraid of speaking about these issues.”

“In October 2003, I received a letter from my employer, the Kathmandu Mayor’s Office, saying my service had been terminated. No explanation was given, even though I had worked there for six years. Over the next few days articles started appearing in local and national news saying I had been sacked for corruption. It was a terrible time.

“I knew the real reason I’d lost my job. A few years earlier I had resisted repeated sexual advances from my boss. He kept hinting that I would be promoted if I spent time alone with him. He tried to hold my hand and touch me in ways I didn’t like. I told him straight that this was not going to happen, and shortly afterward his tenure ended. But when he was reinstated in 2003, one of the first things he did was to fire me.

“When I was fired, friends suggested taking legal action, but I was not sure that I would get justice. There was no law against sexual harassment then and my harasser was powerful enough to create “fake-proof” of my corruption, even though I was innocent. So I kept quiet – for fifteen years.

“Then, in 2018, I read a status on Facebook: a woman journalist was alleging sexual harassment at the hands of the same man. I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore. So I shared my story on Facebook. I wanted to prove that victims of harassment are not voiceless.

“My post was shared widely on social media and was all over the news the next day. Even then powerful people tried to cover up for my harasser and paint me as a liar. The man I accused of harassment, who was in a very powerful post, threatened to sue me and repeated the corruption allegations against me. He is no longer in the post, but this is not just about one man. Nepal has many serial predators who have been misusing their power and positions for years. They include politicians, bureaucrats, actors, writers, business people, and others. It’s high time we reveal them.

Source: Amnesty International, South Asia, 29 January 2019.
Banner photo: Human Rights Watch.

PAKISTAN: Deaths of ‘Unwanted’ Babies On The Rise

By Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Mar 14 (IPS) – The graves at a cemetery in Moach Goth have no epitaphs, no verses from the
Koran, not even the names of the deceased. The only inscription on the small
wooden signs that serve as headstones is a number and the date of burial. The
latest one is Number 72,315.

This is a burial ground of unclaimed dead, overseen by the Karachi-based
Edhi Foundation. It is also the gravesite of newborns abandoned by unwed
mothers who face death for bearing the fruit of ‘illicit’ relationships.

Established by Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, the foundation is South Asia’s
largest private social service network. For the past six decades, it has been
providing burials for dead and abandoned newborns.

“Last year the number of abandoned newborns we buried across Pakistan was
1,210,” foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi told IPS.

The number is up from 999 in 2009, and 890 in 2008 – most of them baby
girls. In Karachi alone in 2011, the foundation buried 30 infants retrieved
from garbage dumps and drains, or brought to them by the police.

These figures come only from a few urban centres. “The number could be
much higher, but we will never find out,” said Kazmi, who has been with the
foundation for 40 years.

In this conservative Muslim nation, having a baby out of wedlock is considered
a sin, and adultery is punishable by death under strict interpretations of
Islamic law.

“Young people are having babies out of wedlock and even when they want to
get married of their own free will, they are denied this right bestowed by
Islam by parents,” Kazmi says.

He narrates a tragic episode illustrating the mindset prevailing in society. The
story occurred 25 years ago in Khamosh Colony, one of Karachi’s squatter
settlements.

“A woman left a newborn on the steps of a mosque just before sunrise. When
the men came out after offering their morning prayers and found the baby,
they informed the cleric, who proclaimed it to be an illicit baby which should
be stoned to death. And it was,” Kazmi said.

The mindset prevails, and extends even to government hospitals where some
doctors turn away desperate women, who then seek the help of “unskilled
persons”.

Shershah Syed, an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist, told IPS that while
abortion is legal, it is still not carried out in government hospitals. If it were,
there would be a “marked decrease” in infanticide.

“There needs to be a sea change in the attitude of the doctors who refuse to
address the needs of a pregnant woman, or a woman who comes for
termination and desires privacy and confidentiality,” Syed told IPS.

At the Moach Goth cemetery near Naval Colony some 14 kilometres from the
city centre, the smaller graves are just mounds of earth and don’t even get a
number. The only sign is an inconspicuous yellow stone marking the head of
each grave.

Khair Mohammad, the graveyard’s 65-year old caretaker, has been the
gravedigger for almost 29 years, an occupation his four sons took up as well.
Pointing to the 10-acre piece of land, Mohammad says it is the third one the
foundation acquired just three years back, and is fast filling up. The other two
just across the road are in decrepit condition.

But for sometime now, Mohammad said, he has been getting requests for
more and more graves for babies.

“Last year, we must have dug between 200 to 250 graves for the young ones,”
he recounted. Mohammad’s middle son also performs the last prayer before
the dead are finally laid to rest.

Twenty-five year old Haq Nawaz has been giving these babies the rite of the
last bath, putting them in a plastic bag, and then shrouding them in white
cloth, in keeping with the Muslim ritual.

“I was very scared in the beginning and a decomposed body smells awful,” he
told IPS.

Nawaz, who has been at his job for four years, said he has seen babies
infested with insects, “creatures coming out from their nose and eyes” or
having skin so “frayed” that it comes off at the slightest touch.

It takes a lot of courage, he said, to bathe the dead. “I feel privileged to be
doing this deed as in Islam, we believe, performing this last ritual earns you
points for the hereafter,” Nawaz said. To him, only the act of conceiving, and
not the baby, is illegitimate, and he said he fails to understand how anyone
could snuff the life out of such tiny beings.

Since the early 1970s, Kazmi said, the foundation has installed cradles
outside some of its centres where parents could leave unwanted children.
Today all of the foundation’s 335 centres have one and scores of babies are
left in the foundation’s care.

Every day, at their centre in Mithadar, 70-year old Bilquis Edhi, the wife of
founder Maulana, interviews at least four or five childless couples desperate
to adopt – making certain the babies go to the right people. “The ones
leftover with us are always the girls and the sick,” she says.

But the possibility of giving up babies for adoption has not stopped
infanticide. “We advertise our cradles every third day, but have not succeeded
in stopping the murder of these innocent lives,” Kazmi said.

Babies are born out of wedlock in all societies, Syed pointed out. But, he said
the trend of unwanted pregnancies is likely to increase “in urban centres,
where poor families are living in one-room homes and where there is no
privacy even for married couples, where there is little or no education, where
the sole entertainment and exposure to the outside world is through films and
the idiot box.” One solution, he proposed, is age-appropriate all-
encompassing reproductive health education to be incorporated in school
curricula for the young.