News Wrap


India’s nearly 92 million households (equivalent to a population of 500 million) belong to the poorest 40% in the country. The majority of these households are to be found in the dark underbelly of rural India. 80% of such households are dispersed in the underdeveloped regions. Rural district clusters such as Kalahandi, Araria, Nadia, Ranchi, Darbhanga, Jhabua, Purulia etc in the BIMARU states, while only about 4% would be in the developed rural clusters. Just 13% of the poorest households have a graduate family member, whereas at the national level, about 21% of Indian households have at least one family member who is a graduate. For nearly 70% of the poorest households, the highest education level is ‘below matriculation’ (or Class X). A majority earn their incomes from small and marginal cultivation, non-agricultural labour and agricultural labour. The per capita income of the poorest is Rs 18,666 annually, compared to per capita income of the richest being Rs 96,794 annually.

Helping Varanasi Weavers
Weaving in India dates to 500 BC and flourished during the Mughal period, from the early 16th to mid-18th centuries. Varanasi sprawls on the banks of the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh. For centuries the town was a hub for the silk trade. The gossamer fabric, woven by hand on long wooden looms, is recognizable by its refined feel, substantial weight, and audible rustle. Nearly all men, the weavers pass down their skills to their sons or male relatives. Their trade has been shaken over the past few decades, as powerlooms offer a cheaper and faster way to produce the same goods, six to twelve metres of materials a day, depending on the design. It can take a weaver weeks to create the same amount. Unable to face the technology, many of the artisans faced starvation, and sold the woods from their looms for firewoods. Varanasi has a large concentration of weavers, and the weavers community is in danger of extinction, because of the increasing prevalence of power looms. The socially conscious New York fashion label Maiyet and the Mumbai chain Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces are re-invigorating the ancient weaving skill, by employing the weavers, and inviting tourists to visit them as they work. Designed by a British architect David Adjaye, Maiyet’s building for the weavers, is to be completed in 2016, in Varanasi. The weavers now make saris for 550 women, who work at 11 of Taj’s 114 hotels in India. Taj supplies the silk for the saris.

Death-Diet Ritual
India’s austere Jain religion, preaches non-violence and strict self-control. Many Jains plan their ending of life, by an act of ‘santhara’, a systematic starvation ritual, that Jain followers believe will free them from endless reincarnation, and lead to salvation. A High Court judge in Rajasthan, has declared in August 2015, that fasting to death is a form of suicide, which is illegal under Indian law. The elderly could be coerced into ‘santhara’ by relations, who might see them as a financial burden. For people who take the ‘santhara’, it is a voluntary decision. Thousands of members of India’s 6 million Jains, protested against the suicide ruling, on the streets of several big Indian cities, in the last week of August 2015. In an echo of the debate over euthanasia in many western countries, a group representing the religion, has challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court. The law banned the aiding and abetting of ‘sati’, the traditional Hindu ritual, according to which widows were expected to burn themselves to death, on their husband’s funeral pyres. Jainism dated back to the 6th century BC. Devout followers follow strict rules that include wearing masks over their mouths to avoid harming microbes or insects by inhaling them.

Ethnic Cleansing by Kurds
North Eastern Syria is an enthnically mixed area that over the past three years and six months, has regularly changed hands between the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army, various groups linked to the al-Qaeda, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and ISIS. Thousands of civilians have fled their homes in northern Syria, as Kurdish forces carry out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni Arabs. The West’s closed allies in the war against Islamic State, the Kurd YPG have been burning Arab villages in areas of north eastern Syria, that are under their control. Nearly 20,000 people have fled Ras al-Ayn and settlements around Kobani, the border town that became a totem of Kurdish resistance, after it had held out against an ISIS onslaught for four months late in 2014. Neighbours who had lived together for decades turned against each other. The attacks are part of a campaign of collective retribution against local Sunni Arabs, who the Kurds and their allies accuse of sympathising with ISIS, and harbouring their fighters. During 2015, the region is one of the key battle grounds, in the Syrian conflict. Many of the civilians who have fled the YPG’s attacks, have taken refuge in an area to the south of Abdul Aziz mountain, in Hasakah province, a region that is largely controlled by ISIS.

North Korean Workers Overseas
There are about 200,000 North Korean Workers in 40 countries, all over the world. The number is increasing, with a huge increase in workers going to China. While North Korea has despatched workers to other countries, principally Russia, for decades, the numbers appear to be increasing, as international sanctions limit Pyongyang’s ability to profit from arms sales and other illicit trade. The North Korean regime receives around $3 billion a year from workers abroad. Pyongyang has sent workers to make shoes in the Czech Republic, build monuments is Senegal, grow Soya beans in China, mine coal in Malaysia, and serve meals in the network of North Korean owned restaurants, that stretches from Ulan Batar to Amsterdam. There are claims that some workers from North Korea are building facilities for the 2011 Football World Cup in Qatar. The exploitative conditions faced by North Korean workers abroad, fall far short of international standards. At home the typical monthly salary is worth less than $1 at black market exchange rates. Despite hardships, the chance to work abroad is highly prized by some North Koreans. The vast majority of the overseas nominal wage is lost to management fees, and contributions to the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. Yet $ 1000 can still be earned for a year’s work abroad.

Vol. 48, No. 21, Nov 29 - Dec 5, 2015