Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations


The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA’s history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows

• Q&A with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I do not expect to see home again’

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong

Sunday 9 June 2013

guardian.co.uk

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance

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The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

‘I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made’

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

“We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’

Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)

In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.

He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.

First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”

The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.

He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.

But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

A matter of principle

As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”

For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.

He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.

His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.

Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.

He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”

 

#India – The Neglect of Health, Women and Justice #Vaw #Womenrights


A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

Vol – XLVIII No. 23, June 08, 2013 | A K Shiva Kumar , EPW
A report on the 2013 deliberation of the Kolkata Group at its 10th workshop which focused on healthcare, the status of women and social justice in India.
A K Shiva Kumar (akshivakumar@gmail.com) is convener of the Kolkata Group workshops which are organised by Pratichi (India) Trust, the Harvard Global Equity Initiative and UNICEF India.
At the 10th annual Kolkata Group workshop in February this year, 40 policymakers, development practitioners, non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives, scholars, activists, journalists, politicians and development experts convened to take stock of the state of women, health equity and social justice in India. The group focused on two major areas of concern. First is the abysmal state of healthcare in India driven by the lack of strong governmental policies, investments and direct operations, and the growing size and exploitive practices of commercial providers. And second is the limited progress in women’s rights, indeed sometimes retrogression, that is reflected by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices.
The Kolkata Group is an annual forum that deliberates on ways of advancing social justice, human development and human security in India. The group examines available information, seeks positive solutions, and shares its recommendations with wide audiences – government, civil society, the media, and the public. The group believes that bringing together outstanding people from different walks of life to discuss “good practices” and “lessons learned” can blend values, knowledge and discourse as part of a process of public reasoning for social action. Every year the group discussions have a particular focus. Themes in the past have included equity, security and basic education, rights and resources, child rights and development, economic progress and social values, and eliminating injustices in India. The theme in 2013 was “Public Action and Its Future”. The main focus was on health and nutrition as well as the alarming status of women in Indian society.
Balancing Economic Growth
Amartya Sen opened the workshop by underscoring that economic growth in India is good and necessary, because average incomes must be raised to achieve reasonable living standards and extensive income redistribution alone would not be sufficient for shared well-being. Growth generates private income, and even more importantly, it generates public resources which can be spent on the provision of a host of essential goods and services that contribute to decent living standards. Having noted this, Sen argued that it would be a mistake to “sit back” and rely on economic growth alone to transform the living conditions of the unprivileged. While India has much to learn from growth-mediated development elsewhere in the world, it must avoid unaimed opulence – an undependable, wasteful way of improving the living standards of the poor. Even today, after 20 years of rapid growth, India is still one of the poorest countries in the world, something that is often lost sight of, especially by those who enjoy world-class living standards thanks to the inequalities in the income distribution.
On several health indicators, India has fallen behind many of its neighbours. Overall in 1990, India had the best social indicators in south Asia, next to Sri Lanka. But now India ranks second-worst, ahead of only Pakistan. This is despite the fact that during the last 20 years, India has grown richer much faster than its neighbours. Take for instance Bangladesh. India’s per capita income was estimated to be 60% higher than Bangladesh in 1990. By 2010, India’s was 98% higher (about double). However, during the same period, Bangladesh overtook India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators: life expectancy, child survival, fertility rates, immunisation rates, and even some (not all) schooling indicators such as estimated “mean years of schooling”. Bangladesh’s relatively rapid transformation of social indicators seems to relate closely to the much greater participation and agency of women in the social services as well as in private economic activities, compared with India.
Equally intriguing is that Nepal is also catching up rapidly with India, even overtaking India in some respects. Around 1990, Nepal was way behind India in terms of almost every development indicator. Today, social indicators for both countries are much the same (sometimes a little better in India still, sometimes the reverse), in spite of per capita income in India being about three times higher than in Nepal. Looking at their south Asian neighbours, the Indian poor are entitled to wonder what they have gained – at least so far – from the acceleration of economic growth.
Even though India is still managing to achieve comparatively high growth rates, despite its very insufficient public provision of basic services, this is undoubtedly a source of future concern, and may already be playing a part in India’s contemporary slowdown. High growth in east Asia has been led by, and reinforced by, rapid formation of human capabilities, and this is the shared experience of Japan, China, South Korea and other fast moving economies and societies in Asia. The contrast with India cannot be sharper. Apart from the very limited reach of good quality healthcare and basic education, even today 48% of the population do not even have toilets in their homes. India suffers a chronic power shortage as the breakdown of the grid in north India last year highlighted, but it is also worth bearing in mind that a third of the population in the “black out” area did not ever have any electricity connection anyway. But Sen said you would not think that power supply was a problem in India if you visited government offices where the air-conditioning is kept at a bone-chilling 16 degrees celsius in the summer. This was quite unlike government offices in other Asian countries, which keep the temperature around 23 degrees, which is comfortable enough. It is hard to detect any sign of power supply being a problem if one visits over-chilled offices, restaurants, or hotels, patronised by the comparatively rich, and it would be hard to guess that a third of the Indian population is without electricity altogether. Is it also not ironical – or worse – that political parties support, rather than object to, subsidising electricity for the “middle class” in the name of the aam aadmi? This goes along with support for other middle-class consumptions, such as diesel, cooking gas, and other ingredients of a lifestyle from which the poor are excluded.
Health Inequities
Discussions drew attention to the Asian experience, beginning with Japan in 1860 after the Meiji Restoration, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China, where economic progress was driven by rapid human capabilities formation. We, in India, are trying to target a high growth rate without investing adequately in basic health, nutrition and education. In this connection, several participants pointed to the appalling state of India’s health system. Public healthcare has been relegated to low priority by the government, given that public spending on health in India is around 1.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) – and has remained so for the past five years – whereas it is 2.7% of GDP in China.
The Kolkata Group reiterated that the most urgent need in healthcare in India today is for an affirmative approach that advances universal health coverage through reversing the financial neglect of public healthcare and the removal of debilitating illusions about what private healthcare and commercial insurance can achieve without firm and active public policies. Influential policymakers in India seem to be attracted by the idea that private healthcare, properly subsidised, or private health insurance, subsidised by the state, can meet the challenge. However, there are good analytical reasons why this is unlikely to happen because of informational asymmetry (the patient can be easily fooled by profit-seeking providers on what exactly is being provided) and because of the “public goods” character of healthcare thanks to the interdependences involved. There are also major decisional problems that lead to the gross neglect of the interests of women and children in family decisions. Nearly every country in the world which has achieved anything like universal health coverage has done it through the public assurance of primary healthcare (whether in Europe, Canada, or much of east Asia).
India’s leaders ought to recognise the necessity for the state to ensure comprehensive quality primary healthcare for all. Related to the main focus of the recommendations, the Kolkata Group urged the government to increase public spending on healthcare to achieve its well-considered pledge of devoting at least 3% of GDP to healthcare. It is particularly important to recognise that there are good reasons for demanding universal entitlements to primary healthcare for all. Effective regulations and ethical professionalism are also essential. The steady increase in public revenues generated by economic growth can and should be fruitfully committed to this extremely important cause.
Child Nutrition
Related to health is India’s worrisome record in reducing child malnutrition. Noting the unusually high levels of under-nutrition in India, the Kolkata Group argued for a firm recognition of the Right to Food in general and legislation to guarantee the entitlements to food for all. Recent experience (including Supreme Court orders on the right to food as well as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) shows the value of putting economic and social rights in relation to a legal framework. Legislation should recognise that food and nutritional security depends not just on food but on a set of related interventions that promote women’s health and nutrition, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and healthcare.
The Kolkata Group had earlier endorsed the proposal for creating durable legal entitlements that guarantee the right to food in India. A Right to Food Act covering justiciable food entitlements should be non-discriminatory and universal. Entitlements guaranteed by the Act should include foodgrains from the public distribution system (PDS), school meals, nutrition services for children below the age of six years, social security provision and allied programmes. Ensuring non-discriminatory access and universal entitlements requires special initiatives that focus on the discriminated, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. Last but not least, design and implementation should include effective public participation, grievance redress provisions and independent oversight.
Women’s Rights
The Kolkata Group also drew attention to the limited progress in women’s rights that continues to be plagued by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices. Discussions were grounded in the developments following the incident of gang rape on 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya’s statement, “I want to live”, provided a very strong emotional impetus to the protests by large numbers of women and men from different sections of society. The fact that many people went past without helping when Nirbhaya was lying there with her friend wounded reveals something awfully callous about us. Similarly, it is not to our glory that dalit women have been violated and raped again and again. And there has been relatively little noise or protest. Underlying causes for the neglect and abuse of women include patriarchy as well as deep cultural factors.
Increasing the enormity of punishment in cases involving crimes against women does not necessarily solve the issue of rising crime against women. Awarding the death penalty, for example, can serve the purpose of revenge but it does not help in social reform. Society needs to ensure that the police are serious about such crimes, there is a system that will punish those responsible for the crime, and that such matters are tried expeditiously in a court. Indian women experience much greater difficulties in getting help from the police, and consequently do not trust the police to work in a professional manner. Protocols should be adopted to protect female complainers and in moving the court swiftly enough to get a judgment quickly.
The Kolkata Group noted that the violations of women’s rights are related to the continuation of early child marriage, violence against women, discriminatory practices, the impunity and bias that permeate the functioning of the legal and police systems, malnutrition of women and children, increasing prevalence of sex selection at birth as well as inadequate women’s autonomy, health, education, and freedoms. The steps ahead must recognise the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee report promoting women’s bodily integrity, dignity and sexual autonomy. Serious attention should be paid to health, education, nutrition as well as the lack of adequate recognition of women’s well-being and agency. The group also underscored the importance of public protests and the need to keep raising the demand for a police and legal system that protects the rights of women. Women’s needs have to be more centrally recognised as a political priority for their voices to be heard.
[Chaired by Amartya Sen, Kolkata Group attendees this year were Sabina Alkire, Louis-Georges Arsenault, Shabana Azmi, Abhay Bang, Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, Lori Calvo, Achin Chakraborty, Gregory Chen, Lincoln Chen, Abhijit Chowdhury, Asim Dasgupta, Keshav Desiraju, Antara Dev Sen, Jean Dreze, Shiban Ganju, Dilip Ghosh, Joaquin Gonzalez-Aleman, R Govinda, Shaibal Gupta, Pratik Kanjilal, Manabi Mazumdar, Surjya Kanta Misra, Nachiket Mor, Poonam Muttreja, Sridhar Rajagopalan, Kumar Rana, Sujatha Rao, Srinath Reddy, Nidhi Sabharwal, Abhijit Sen, Amartya Sen, Nandana Sen, A K Shiva Kumar, Amarjeet Sinha, Shantha Sinha, Sukhadeo Thorat and Sitaram Yechury.]

 

INDIA: A Republic of the rapists, by the rapists, for the rapists? #Vaw


rapepublic1

Avinash Pandey

The news had sprung up from nowhere. All that I had picked up the newspaper for, was to kill some time on that long flight and here it was, tucked away in a small box, staring at me. Reading it had sent a shiver down my spine. No, it was not about some unseen horrors. It was not about gruesome murders, kidnappings or even collapse of yet another state exposing its citizenry, or at least minority section of that, to grave human rights violations.

The news was just about another advisory issued by United Kingdom for a section of its citizens travelling in India. But it was not the advisory that has made me this uneasy.  As it is, western countries are quite used to issuing advisories to their citizenry travelling in the underdeveloped countries warning them about everything from food to fanaticism. Many of us, in fact, have often scoffed at these advisories located in the racist past of these countries that treated the natives as nothing more than barbarians unable to govern themselves.

Not this one, though. It was an advisory that the government of United Kingdom had issued for its women, yeah, not all UK citizens but just its women travelling in India. It has advised them to remain alert even when travelling in groups for saving themselves from getting violated, sexually and otherwise. I tried stealing a glance at my co- passenger , stuck in the economy class seat as cramped as mine and wished that she had not read this piece while aboard a flight to Delhi, the capital of the country at the receiving end of this advisory.  To the very same Delhi which has earned the dubious distinction of being the rape capital of the country as well.

The news had opened floodgates of unsavory memories of similar horror stories told to me by my female, non-Indian colleagues, strangers and acquaintances alike. I remembered the very friendly owner of the wine shop I frequent on Fridays almost without fail. He had had heard about the Delhi Gang rape and was shocked. Knowing people like me, he had added, did not make him think that my country is home to such sexual predators. No, he was not being sarcastic; he was very genuinely sad and angry. There I was, thinking of all those ‘proud to be an Indian’ campaigns I had grown up on.

The advisory reminded me of a beautiful evening of partying around in Hong Kong with colleagues, a rarity in our line of work that begins with extrajudicial killings and ends with starvation deaths, with all other horrors stuck in between. It was after ages that we had let ourselves loose on that non-touristy beach we had discovered on one of our regular hikes. It was an evening of getting nostalgia fits and missing our countries, our homelands, with all the pains and agonies that the expats stuck up in foreign cultures live with.

I missed mine and recounted all that was great about it. India is not merely about Maharajas, magicians, snake charmers and Sadhus, I had told my friends. Of course, it is not, quipped Sofie, a Danish friend, cutting me short. It is also about sexually frustrated men thinking all white women are always available and can be taken against their will, she added. We were stunned, all of us, more on the matter of fact way she had said that than the comment itself. She, like the wine shop owner, was not angry. She could not be as she had lived in India for long stretches and had many good friends here, including me. She loved India and still does. Yet, her idea of Indian males was definitive and her friends, like me, came as aberrations and not rule.

Available! The word was haunting me on my way back to home that night. It reminded me of all those questions whispered into ears of any ‘foreign-returned’ Indian.  Have we not been used to questions like ‘wahan to free sex hai na’? Did you do it? How many times?  There were other words ringing in my ears too. They were the hymns celebrating goddess, or the feminine, as source of all power that had been drilled into our psyche since childhood.

One would try to wish away this sexual frustration, our national sickness, as something reserved for the ‘other’, white women. Can one? Not really, for even a cursory glance at public spaces would bring the truth that this national sickness is all pervasive. If white women are ‘available’ for Indian males, okay, most of them, then Indian women are either achievable or violable. This is the continuum they locate all women into, from being available to violable.

The violability, in turn, is reserved for the women from weaker sections of the society despite them having to bear the brunt of most brutal forms of violability. But then, it does not save the rest of them, Indian women, from getting violated. The thing is that the Indian male psyche fed on axioms like ‘ladki hansi to fansi’ (if a girl smiles, she is all yours) and ‘na bole to haan hai’ (rejection is in fact acceptance) does not differentiate much between achievability and violability. Any retaliation to their sexual advances, thus, makes them tread the thin line between the two.

This is why, for every Khairlanji that fails to stir the society, urban feminists and media included, one can easily find a Hotel Taj in Bombay seeing two of its women patrons sexually assaulted by a mob on the New Year eve. For every Bhanwari Devi in the feudal fiefdoms of Rajasthan there would be a Naina Sahni being burnt in a Tandoor, or a Jessica Lal getting killed in a posh South Delhi private party. And if the horror is not enough for you, for every woman being paraded naked in Uttar Pradesh, there would be one molested by a mob on national television in Guwahati.

Talk of these cases as a comment on our ‘national character’, and self appointed moral brigades would pounce on you while blaming the victims. They have, in fact, quite an expertise on pouncing on the victims, literally, as well. These self-designated ‘keepers of the sacred feminine’ (a friend coined this term though she uses a much more hard-hitting and little unprintable word for the feminine) would sexually assault women in Bangalore for the crime of going to a pub and the police would arrest and imprison the journalist recording the attack instead of the perpetrators. They, in the form of a senior Congress leader, sermonize the women not to wear indecent clothes and venture out at night instead of ensuring their safety and security.  They, in the form of a senior BJP leader, would rubbish the outrage such attacks cause as a drama of lipstick wearing women. Quite understandable, as they would be watching porn clips on their mobile phones amidst an ongoing assembly session as well.

This is why the advisory should not have shocked me.  I know, and have known, my country way too well to get shocked. It was not for nothing that the advisory had come before the gruesome gang rape of a foreign national in front of her husband in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh. It was not for nothing that the advisory had come before another foreign national was forced to jump out of her hotel room to thwart a rape attempt by none other than the hotel owner.

And it was not for nothing that the advisory had come after Delhi Gangrape but before Bhandara killings and suspected gang rape of three minor sisters which did not find even as much as a mention in national outraged-at-everything media. The girls, hailing from dispossessed background, did not mean much to it. The girls, hailing from the hinterlands, did not mean much to the urbane and suave feminists as well. But then, there rests the root cause of the problem.

If Bhandara girls are violable, no women of the country, or outside, can be safe.  If the men out on prowl do not find such ‘easily violable’ preys, they are going to pounce at any other woman in sight irrespective of her status of being available, achievable or violable in their eyes.  Yes, I know how painful it is to refer to a section of our own women as ‘easily violable preys’ but then wishing the reality away does not help much, does it? The reality is that we are ‘proud’ citizens of a country that lets deeply entrenched casteist and communal forces commit gory crimes against the marginalized sections of its population with impunity. We can either stand up and fight or hide in our cocoons tucked inside the gated communities, looking away is not an option available to us.

It is also high time for rewriting the grammar of shame and social stigma attached to such crimes against women. The perpetrators do it with impunity for they know that the shame of getting violated would be written on the bodies of these women and not over their own persons. Till then, we can hang our heads in shame and hide after every such advisory issued by any country.

I am afraid, in fact, of the day they would issue an advisory telling women to get alert as soon as they see an Indian man anywhere in the world. And if you find this fear unfounded, or farfetched, remember the acts of the Indian youth leaders’ delegation that visited China earlier this year. If you don’t, know that many of them sexually harassed every women in sight, Chinese as well as female members of their own delegation. The only way authorities could devise for stopping them for bringing more shame to the country was restraining a large section of them from going out and forcing them to remain in their hotel rooms for the rest of the visit.

The youth leaders are back with their honours intact. They would grow into the future leaders of the country. Need one say more about the exigency of an advisory warning against the presence of any Indian male anywhere in the world?

About the Author: Mr. Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to Food Programme, He can be contacted atsamar@ahrc.asia

Hong Kong domestic workers lose residency case #Vaw #migrantworkers


Top court denies domestic workers from Philippines the same status that is available to other foreigners after seven years

Hong Kong's top court has denied residency to two maids from the Philippines

Hong Kong’s top court has denied permanent residency to two maids from the Philippines. Photograph: Alamy

Hong Kong‘s top court has denied permanent residency to two domestic helpers from the Philippines in the final decision of a legal case with implications for tens of thousands of other foreign maids in the southern Chinese financial hub.

The court of final appeal issued its unanimous 5-0 ruling on Monday. The two had argued that an immigration provision barring domestic workers from permanent residency was unconstitutional.

The ruling sided with the government’s position that domestic helpers are not the same as other foreign residents.

The decision means Evangeline Banao Vallejos and Daniel Domingo are not allowed to apply to settle permanently after living for at least seven years in Hong Kong.

The case has split the city, home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly south-east Asian countries. Some argue that barring maids from applying for residency amounts to ethnic discrimination. But other groups have raised fears that the case would result in a massive influx of maids’ family members to Hong Kong, straining the densely populated city’s social services and health and education systems. Supporters of the maids say those fears are overblown.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and permanent residency is the closest thing it has to citizenship.

Foreigners who work in other professions are eligible for permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years. Those who have it can vote and work without needing a visa.

Government figures cited by a lower court in this case said an estimated 117,000 foreign maids had been in Hong Kong for that length of time as of 2010.

 

Chinese dissident Li Wangyang found dead in ‘strange circumstances”


A leading Chinese dissident imprisoned after the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests has been found hanged in hospital.

Officials suggested Li Wangyang had committed suicide, but family members questioned this account.

His body was found on Wednesday in Shaoyang city, in the southeast of the country.

He was on his feet next to his bed, with a white strip of cloth tied tightly around his neck and connected to a window bar above, according to his brother-in-law Zhao Baozhu .

Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from Hong Kong, said relatives doubted that Li would have been physically able to hang himself.

“They pointed out the fact that he was virtually blind and deaf and unable to walk properly from his years of mistreatment in prison,” he said.

“They also pointed out that as a leading dissident, he was being monitored by sometimes up to 10 police officers 24 hours of the day and they wonder how he may have managed to slip a bandage around his neck and tie it to a window without them noticing.”

‘Always very strong’

Li, 62, was released from jail last year after two decades in custody, but had been detained again several times since.

Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide

– Zhao Baozhu, brother-in-law

Zhao said he was suspicious about Li’s death because the activist had never expressed a desire to kill himself despite hardships he went through.

He said that Li had seemed normal over dinner the previous night.

“He was always very strong, there was no sign at all that he was thinking of killing himself,” Zhao told the AP news agency.

“Even though he had so many illnesses and spent more than 20 years in jail, he never talked about suicide. So I don’t believe it.”

After Li’s death was discovered, more than 40 police descended on the hospital and took his body away, preventing the hospital and family from confirming the exact cause of death, Huang Lihong, a local activist, told AFP.

Zhou Zhirong, an activist and family friend, also said that Li’s relatives were escorted away from the hospital and then detained at a hotel.

“Li’s sister and brother-in-law have been taken away by the police and they were told that the death was due to suicide,” he said.

“Family friends and supporters and other activists have been strongly warned not to cause trouble and have been placed under police surveillance.”

‘Propaganda and incitement’

Activists looking at photos of the scene on the internet also doubted Li had hanged himself since his feet were touching the ground.

He was being treated at Daxiang District People’s Hospital for illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, failing eyesight and hearing.

Li was arrested for his labour activism on June 9, 1989, five days after the bloody military crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Sentenced for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement,” he spent much of his 11-year term at hard labour.

The subsequent 10-year sentence for inciting subversion centred on his demands for government help for health problems caused by beatings and mistreatment in prison.

Watch aljazeera video here

Bangladesh Blocks Website Of Christian Dissident #Censorship


(BosNewsLife Exclusive)
Sunday, May 27, 2012 (12:34 pm)

William Nicholas Gomes has been hiding in Hong Kong.

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

DHAKA/HONG KONG (BosNewsLife)– Bangladesh has reportedly blocked the website of leading Christian rights activist, author and journalist William Nicholas Gomes, who now lives in exile amid fears of repercussions.

Speaking from his hiding place in Hong Kong, he told BosNewsLife Sunday, May 27, that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina became upset about his writings, including a critical poem on injustices in the impoverished Asian nation.

In his poem ‘Anti state’ he wrote among other words “I am against the state, which runs on the bases of injustices, I am against the state which comes out of killings.”

Soon after, authorities allegedly shut down the influential site. “My website has been blocked in Bangladesh – people can not see my site,” he explained.

The activist said he is moving his williamgomes.org website to another “save location” within the next few weeks to reach Bangladesh again and that it therefore can’t currently be seen elsewhere in the world.

CENSHORSHIP THREAT

Gomes, 28, stressed that authorities also plan to file “sedition” charges against him. There was no immediate response from officials.

“I believe that censorship is a possible way for the powerful to terminate individualism and promotes governmental coercion and totalitarianism,” Gomes complained.

He acknowledged that “some people urge that restrictions are valid only if they are for the sake of a greater good, a greater liberty.” However, “I believe that Censorship is a restriction that is not for greater liberty, but for the deprivation of liberty.”

The activist asked the prime minister “to remove the block and publicly apologize for this heinous act.”

Gomes lives in Hong Kong since last year when he reportedly fled his native Bangladesh after being detained and tortured by members of Bangladesh’s government-backed Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a police elite force.

MORE KILLINGS

He was eventually freed, but rights group Amnesty International said at least 200 others were killed by the RAB since 2009, when Prime Minister Hasina took office.

Gomes believes he was targeted by officials in Bangladesh because he traveled throughout the country to investigate racial discrimination and other human rights violations in villages on behalf of the independent Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a group of jurists and activists.

He also covered religious rights issues as a reporter for Catholic news agency AsiaNews.

While traveling, the former Muslim, made it a point to pray and speak with people about his new-found faith in Christ. “While walking over often muddy roads, I prayed that each home would become part of the Body of Christ, His Church,” he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.

But as 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 142 million people are Muslims, preaching or tackling religious rights issues can lead to difficulties for minority Christians because of strict Islamic authorities, he and other activists suggested.

ASIAN CHRISTIANS

Though the website remains closed, Gomes said he was thankful to other Asian Christians for helping him, including “the Pakistan Christian community”, who have also complained about persecution under blasphemy laws.

“I condemn persecution of religious communities in Bangladesh,” Nazir Bhatti, who heads Christian party Pakistan Christian Congress, a major political force in Pakistan.

“[I] urge Prime Minister Hassina…to make Bangladesh a truly Peoples Republic that equality may be observed among Muslims and Christians and other minorities” he added in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.

Gomes is staying in Hong Kong without his young wife Annie Jhumur Halder and two small sons, Felix Eugene and Lalon Mark, who he said have been prevented from joining him.

Read more here

Irish man missing in India- Pl share widely


CHARLIE TAYLOR

The family of an Irish man who has been missing for more than a month while backpacking in India, have appealed for assistance in tracing him.

Jonathan Spollen (28), a freelance writer and journalist from Ranelagh, has not been seen or heard from since February 3rd.

Mr Spollen, who has been based in Hong Kong working for the International Herald Tribune until recently, was last known to be in Rishikesh, in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India.

It is thought he may have been planning on going a trek at the time of his disappearance having changed his mind about a trip to Delhi to meet up with a friend.

Mr Spollen had arrived in India from Nepal in late November and was planning to leave the country by February 21st, when his visa was due to expire.

His father David Green has travelled to India to join in the search for him.

Mr Spollen’s mother, who last spoke to him on the day he went missing, said it was completely out of character for Jonathan to be out of contact with her for so long.

“Jonathan has lived overseas for a number of years and has always been good at keeping in touch,” said Lynda Spollen.

“We are 75 per cent confident that he may still be in the Rishikesh area and we don’t think he has left the country.”

Ms Spollen said that friends who had seen Jonathan shortly before he went missing had commented on the fact that he had lost weight.

“Jonathan was planning to come to Ireland before his visa expired and when I was last speaking to him had said he might take a trek before he left. Our concern is that he may have picked up a virus of some kind while trekking because he maybe wasn’t as fit as he thought he was. We are worried that something may have befallen him.”

Ms Spollen said her son would have been determined to leave India before his visa expired.

“Originally, Jonathan wanted to stay in the country for a while and travel from the south to the north but was only able to obtain a three-month visa. However, as a journalist the last thing he would have wanted to do was to overstay in the country because he wouldn’t have wanted blots on his copybook. His intention would always have been to try and get out in time rather than overstay,” she said.

“Jonathan hadn’t been home since April last and so the idea was to head home and be here in Ireland for a while and then see what he would do next,” she added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is providing consular assistance to the family.

Anyone with possible information regarding Jonathan is asked to contact Ms Spollen at lyndaspollen@eircom.net

Differently-abled people seen as threat by aviation security in India


This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

Image via Wikipedia

Aarti Dhar,The  Hindu

It’s an outright insult, says Disabled Rights Group

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) regulations say that there is high probability of differently-abled people carrying weapons, explosives and other dangerous materials with them, and therefore, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.
The Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has described the regulations as “disability insensitive and outright insult and violation of the human rights of persons with disability.”

According to the regulations, “Screeners should be thoroughly briefed that the possibility of carrying weapons/explosives and other dangerous materials through such passengers is higher than a normal passenger and therefore, these passengers need to be checked with care.”
RTI query

In reply to a query filed under the Right to Information by the DRG, the Airports Authority of India said: “There is no scope for leniency in respect of invalid/disabled/sick persons during the pre-embarkation screening/procedures. On the contrary, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.” As a result, disabled passengers face undue harassment at the hands of untrained security personnel. More often than not, disabled passengers using a wheelchair are asked to “stand up” or “transfer” from their personal wheelchair to sub-standard airport wheelchairs. What the security personnel do not know is that most wheelchair users use customised wheelchairs and cushions.
The U.S. scenario

In contrast to the Indian scenario, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a dedicated helpline to assist travellers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passengers can call 72 hours ahead of travel for information about what to expect during screening.

TSA Cares serves as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to be prepared for the screening process prior to flying. When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls it, a representative either provides information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s disability or medical condition, or refers him/her to disability experts at the TSA.

“Nowhere in the world will a disabled person be asked to take off leg braces, or explain medical attachments like a leg bag that holds urine,” said DRG convener Javed Abidi.
Rights violation

“This is not only humiliating but a violation of human rights. We are not asking for any leniency in security procedures. After all, civilised nations of the world have developed systems to ensure that disabled passengers are frisked with due respect to their dignity,” he noted.

Although, Directorate of Civil Aviation guidelines clearly mention that a passenger is allowed to take her/his own wheelchair to the boarding gates, security personnel bully those who are not aware of their rights.

“What is even more shameful and embarrassing is that countries that have a greater security threat and stricter security programmes have defined guidelines for screening passengers with disability. At no airport in the U.S., the U.K., the European Union and even countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, and UAE will a disabled passenger using a wheelchair be asked to ‘get up’ from her/his wheelchair,” Mr. Abidi said.

iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think


Apple Inc.
New research goes beyond the New York Times to show just how disturbing labor conditions at Foxconn, the “Chinese hell factory,” really are.
February 7, 2012 |

Behind the sleek face of the iPad is an ugly backstory that has revealed once more the horrors of globalization. The buzz about Apple’s sordid business practices is courtesy of the New York Times series on the “iEconomy. In some ways it’s well reported but adds little new to what critics of the Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, have been saying for years. The series’ biggest impact may be discomfiting Apple fanatics who as they read the articles realize that the iPad they are holding is assembled from child labor, toxic shop floors, involuntary overtime, suicidal working conditions, and preventable accidents that kill and maim workers.

It turns out the story is much worse. Researchers with the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) say that legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long “internships” in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does of how Foxconn, “the Chinese hell factory,” treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.

To supply enough employees for Foxconn, the 60th largest corporation globally, government officials are serving as lead recruiters at the cost of pushing teenage students into harsh work environments. The scale is astonishing with the Henan provincial government having announced in both 2010 and 2011 that it would send 100,000 vocational and university students to work at Foxconn, according to SACOM.

Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, told AlterNet that “Foxconn is conspiring with government officials and universities in China to run what may be the world’s single largest internship program – and one of the most exploitative. Students at vocational schools – including those whose studies have nothing to do with consumer electronics – are literally forced to move far from home to work for Foxconn, threatened that otherwise they won’t be allowed to graduate. Assembling our iPhones and Kindles for meager wages, they work under the same conditions, or worse, as other workers in the Foxconn sweatshops.”

The state involvement shows Foxconn and Apple depend on tax breaks, repression of labor, subsidies and Chinese government aid, including housing, infrastructure, transportation and recruitment, to fatten their corporate treasuries. As the students function as seasonal employees to meet increased demand for new product rollouts, Apple is directly dependent on forced labor.

The real story of the Apple-Foxconn behemoth, then, is far from being John Galt incarnate. Their global dominance is forged in the crucible of China’s state-managed authoritarian capitalism. Since the 1980s China has starved rural areas to accelerate the industrialization of coastal cities like Shenzhen, where Foxconn first set up shop in 1988. Scholars who study China’s economy and labor market link rural underdevelopment to the creation of a massive migrant work force that serves as the foundation of the country’s industrialization. Deprived of many rights, migrants are recruited to work in Foxconn’s city-sized complexes by government employees with false promises of good-paying jobs that will help them escape rural poverty. A large percentage of migrant workers are student interns as they are recruited from poor rural regions like Henan and sent to work in coastal metropolises like Shenzhen.

Read more here

North South Dialogue IV (Conference On Inclusion of Disabled)- Goa 19-23 Feb


There are over 100 million disabled Indians who have no access to services. Despite legislation only 2% disabled have so far been covered. The North South Dialogue (NSD) was conceptualized by Dr. Mithu Alur and ADAPT – Able Disable All People Together (formerly SSI – Spastic Society of India) to explore models of reaching out to these people, strive for inclusive education and use the dialogue to build partnerships between Indian and global organization, learning from one another, exchanging ideas and supporting one another in the journey for inclusion.

In the past 11 years of its existence and 3 previous versions (2001, 2003 and 2005), NSD has done these and much more. It has seen global speakers from countries like UK, Canada, USA, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet etc. Representatives of organizations as diverse as the governments of various countries, to those of World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, CIDA, civil society orgs, individual activists have participated and exchanged experiences from diverse cultures, contexts, resources and policies.

Overall the conference has not only been successful in generating innovative ideas for the disabled and their inclusion, but in also pushing forward disabled friendly policy and consciousness in the Indian sub-continent. The concrete steps have helped impact the lives of millions of disabled in a positive manner.

A fountainhead of ideas, it has become a must attend event for government officials at state and central level, NGO’s, activists and those providing services to the disabled, family members who want to do more, practitioners, academicians etc. not just from India and the Indian subcontinent, but also from the rest of the world who want to understand the Indian condition and share experiences from their own culture.

The 4th conference entitled ‘Implementing Tools of Change for Inclusion’ will be held in Goa between 19th and 23rd February. With 200 participants and speakers, it is expected to be a veritable mix of learning and inspiration, networking and interaction with participation from countries like UK, Germany, USA, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet and of course, India.

Those interested in participating and knowing more about the conference, its purpose, costs etc. can contact: Mrs. Diane Saldanha, Conference Co-ordinator, ADAPT, K C Marg, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (West), Mumbai – 400050. India. You can email nsd4.adapt@gmail.com or call +91-22-26443666/88 or fax: +91-22-26436848.

 

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