HEAT AND DUST IN BANGALORE AND DELHI

During my childhood and youth in Bangalore many decades ago, we never had a fan or a refrigerator at home. We still don’t have an air-conditioner, although it gets unbearably hot in parts of the west-facing house in the afternoons.

Decades ago, it almost never felt too warm except possibly while bicycling on, or walking beside, asphalted roads at certain hours of the day, mainly mid-afternoons.

Distant memory now.

On a brief visit to New Delhi – a city where I lived for 11 years until 1988 and which my mind associates with crippling summers – on work last week, I was lodged in a room in an area endowed with much tree cover and adjacent to a sprawling garden with ponds and abundant arboreal growth. There was an air conditioner in the room but on entering, it was clear that AC use was uncalled for. I did mechanically switch on the ceiling fan. Duh! A little past midnight, I had to switch it off. Second week of April, mind!

Before leaving for Delhi, I’d checked the temperatures online. On that particular day it showed: Bangalore 38C, New Delhi 34C: obviously, the mean temperature. In New Delhi’s wooded areas, it’s generously cool, especially from dusk to a couple of hours post-dawn.

Decades ago in New Delhi, while taking the bus from/to work at night (I was a wire service hack), I invariably noticed that during the summer months temperatures dropped considerably while traversing through the area where ministers, senior officials and judges lived in sprawling bungalows inside large compounds featuring much greenery and along wide, tree-lined avenues.

With reservations regarding the incredibly enormous privileges enjoyed by the said worthies, I’d have to concede that in terms of the presence of greenery and absence of human marauding at least, it’s perhaps good there’s been no change over the decades to that part of Delhi.

Meanwhile, those controlling the fates of Bangalore and its denizens have been systematically chopping tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of trees and filling up dozens of lakes as if there’s no tomorrow. The said authorities work in air-conditioned offices, travel by air-conditioned cars, live in air-conditioned homes and hobnob with their kind in clubs, hotels and other facilities that are, needless to say, air-…

As for dust, during the late 1970s to late 1980s in New Delhi, I’d noticed that dust, soot and vehicular exhaust tended to saturate one’s skin and the collars of one’s shirts during the winter months when, following the laws of physics, suspended particles – what a harmless sounding term for noxious stuff – tended less inclined to rise into the upper atmosphere. In Bangalore now, whatever season, whatever the hour of the day or night, almost wherever thou liveth, dust and vehicular soot shall stick to thee.

Apart from the obviously uber-, ultra-corrupt cabal or mafia that rules over Bangalore, there is a fast proliferating, despicable species – the Bangalore Car Owner – about which over-affluent, sub-human creature that seems to have evolved in under two decades into a major, virulent menace causing massive pollution in terms of noise, light, heat, dust and soot, I have much to say and shall, in a future blog. 

***

This was my second visit to New Delhi in three months and the third in under a year. Having observed Independent Canine Personages in various parts of that city now – and stopped to offer a few of them some of the biscuits I usually carry for just such communions with members of that delightful species – I arrive at the tentative conclusion that those cute doggies are in general noticeably healthier looking than their counterparts in Bangalore.

I’m friends with a large number of ICPs (please avoid the word “stray” while referring to dogs!) around the area where I live and those I visit regularly elsewhere in Bangalore and have tried and am still trying to see what can be done as regards the ones who display obvious signs of skin disease but the numbers of dogs in various states of ill-health seem to be huge.

Perhaps this testifies to the superior attention to the well-being of non-human animals in Delhi compared to Bangalore, where even human welfare is criminally neglected.

***

Delhiites, I notice, refer to a T-junction as a “T-point”.

Ask for directions and people say, “go straight and at the T-point take a left/right… etc”.

Bangaloreans are more likely to call upon the powers in their lungs and the muscles in their tongues to say, “left/right at the DDDEADDDENDDD!” (Never mind that a dead-end is what the French call a cul-de-sac, where there’s no turning except back.)

Given that we Kannadigas, like our fellow South Indian Telugu-speakers – and Italians and a few others – end almost all words with vowels and carry that practice into the pronunciation of English words, more often than not it sounds like “dddeadddendddU!”

I have to concede: Delhiites 30 – Bangaloreans 0.

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DEAR COW,

I have seen you many times during my peregrinations around the area where I live and where you are confined.

A few times I have bent down to touch your forehead and your cheeks, acknowledging and celebrating your presence and that of other members of your docile and beautiful species in the urban jungle members of my species have built.

The other evening I thought you were looking at me for the duration of those few seconds as I moved from the extreme left of your line of sight and towards the centre.

You followed me with your large, expressive eyes and when I tried to stroke your head and neck you seemed to acknowledge the all too brief ministrations – by someone from a species that in your experience has an altogether different agenda – with noticeable twitches of your amply large ears.

It was the first time I’d seen you standing untethered, on a lane next to where you are usually confined. You were, in other words, free to go where you pleased. No human enslaver seemed to be paying attention.

“RUN, COW, RUN,” I felt like telling you. “Walk away as fast and as far as you can. Seize the freedom that ought to be yours. Go away from this Brahminical, Casteist, Speciesist hellhole, where hundreds of generations of your forebears have been enslaved, tied up in confined spaces and tortured, your calves spirited away soon after birth, to be butchered if male, your milk stolen for years on end …”

Even if I could have spoken your language, Cow, you might have demurred. Confinement, imprisonment or slavery are soul-destroying. It is not merely the body that experiences restrictions but the spirit as well.P1030126

Unless you were a character in George Orwell’s Animal Farm or Richard Adams’ Watership Down or some other anthropomorphising fictional work, you and members of your species, I’m sorry to say, have been and are pretty much done for.

Moreover, Cow, and I was obviously ignoring what you might instinctively have realised: even if you could run or walk, where to?

To be sure, there actually are a few – very few – small, grassy patches within a couple of kilometres of where you live. But you would be unwelcome there: in fact, your way would be barred. Even if you, my friend, were to make your escape, what of the dozens of other members of your species enslaved by humans within a couple of square kilometres of you? How and where to can all of you escape?

In your wisdom you discerned that already, perhaps?

Having said all this, Cow, I must confess that I am a lacto-vegetarian. I live with my parents who consume milk stolen from members of your species as well as by-products thereof such as yoghurt.

I shall allow myself this poor attempt at a pun by saying it must curdle your blood thinking that the milk meant for your – perhaps many a murdered – children are being boiled and set to curdle for the delectation of your slave-drivers and their customers.

Dear Cow, in India you are deemed a Hindu Goddess. But no benefit accrues to you from that status of which you are no doubt oblivious. Yes, a few caring dairy farmers observe an annual spring festival ritual of dressing you up and feeding you some dainties, but that is it. The rest of the 365 days minus the few hours or, more likely, minutes when you might be the object of adulation, your life is one of untold misery.

I have previously written about the plight of your kind, Cow: “An Indian Would-Be Vegan’s Defence of Beef-Eating” (http://www.countercurrents.org/jayaram011012.htm) and shall not repeat the arguments I set out therein.

Suffice it to say, Cow, and do not be shocked by my telling you this: I’d sooner eat a part of your flesh so long as you were killed with a short sharp cut or strike than see you suffer for the rest of your life – meaning many, many more months or years of your enslavement until you stop lactating and then your abandonment on the streets of Bangalore, to scrounge around among mounds of sickening rubbish until your eventual and excruciatingly painful death.

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PITYING THE PERPETRATORS

On the sidelines of a press conference of the Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike (commuters’ forum), a survivor of sexual harassment narrated her recent experience on the city’s Metro. She’d complained to the police, who hauled in the perpetrators – white collar employees of a prestigious global brand.

She got them to the police station with some difficulty. A staff member of the Metro had resented having to help her by locating the CCTV tapes and so on.

The now chastened young men pleaded with her, saying one of them had to head back to his job in the Middle East and his visa status would be affected in case he faced criminal charges.

She decided not to file a formal complaint, even though a police constable urged her to do so, saying, “people such as these need to be taught a lesson”.

That the young men had spent a few hours in the cooler and had received beatings from the cops was good enough for her. (Police beatings and torture are routine and it is taken for granted that they happen – and even should happen – never mind constitutional provisions and the heck with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.)

“I’m sure they’ll never do it again,” she said, defending her decision to let the perpetrators go scot free. (How can she be so sure?)

She admitted that in most instances police would not have cooperated with women approaching them with complaints of sexual harassment. They normally have little time for ordinary citizens. But in her line of work she and her colleagues deal with the cops day in and day out.

It was a rare instance of the police showing far greater alacrity than the survivor of sexual harassment to book an offender.

~

A couple of weeks ago, the driver of a public bus in Bangalore verbally abused and slapped a 16-year-old. He had asked her to move back in the bus, using abusive language. She’d said: “uncle, I will, but there’s no space”. The bus was crowded. He got up from his seat, asked her, “how dare you talk back to me?” and slapped her.

Unbeknown to him then, he’d picked on the daughter of a trade unionist. Madina Taj of the Garment and Textile Workers Union complained to the police and to his employers, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC).

Ms Taj (her name is being used here with her concurrence) says she has faced great pressures since then to drop the complaint. BMTC officials, the police, the head of the school where her daughter studies, the office of a Member of the Legislative Assembly … they have all been leaning on her.

“Why are you making such a big issue of it? … He made a mistake… He’s sorry … Bus drivers too are under a lot of pressure … Think of his family … You’re a trade unionist… He too is a worker… Think of his future…”

Hello, a young person was traumatised, she was unfairly subjected to verbal and physical violence, her family was traumatised… Will someone please think about her, her mother – who has handled numerous cases of harassment of all sorts as a trade unionist – and the rest of her family?

 

Strange is this society in which survivors of sexual harassment, assault, violence and worse are expected to – and some even feel they need to – show consideration, understanding, concern, compassion and the rest of it for the perpetrators!

Either that or blood lust – otherwise sensible men and women get screaming: “Hang the rapists!”

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DEATH OF A CAT

A stock reaction from a section of people reading about the tragedy befalling a non-human animal is to say: “why are you grieving over this cat/dog/donkey when there are people dying of hunger and are getting killed in war zones?” But comparing individual or mass human tragedies and those affecting non-humans is odious to anyone with a modicum of genuine compassion.

The term speciesism is still rarely used, especially in India. But the need to eschew hierarchies when it comes to dealing with misery will be recognized by the sensitive and the sensible.

An evidently sweet and charming cat, who had apparently been a long-term companion to at least one human being and precious friend of many others, died an unnatural death late in March. From an evocative and highly reliable account of the death and life of that dear feline being (http://wildatheartdelhi.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/obituary-for-james-and-open-letter-to-jet-airways-and-the-delhi-we-love/), it seems clear that the tragedy was avoidable. A company into whose care that precious little living bundle was given is alleged to have blundered, with its allegedly ill-trained staff adding to the misery of the grieving human companion of the deceased through shocking and callous insensitivity.

If that company thinks we’ll all have forgotten after a few days or weeks, it can think again. Some of us refuse to forget.

Cats. Most humans who use languages in which the neuter gender exists prefer it when referring to non-human living beings in the singular: “It”. Although substantial sections of humans around the globe have institutional or cultural practices of respect for nature – for all fauna and flora – unfortunately the average human today cares little for the welfare of other species. Far be it from their conception to respect non-human living beings (assuming they respect even human ones).

The late James Dean, the feline, is now known to many tens of thousands of people around the world, because of Tara Chowdhry’s account flagged above, which has deservedly been read and shared by countless numbers. A petition has done the rounds: http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/jet-airways-make-your-airline-safe-for-animals-in-your-care.

The company concerned first issued a brief, 200-word statement via Facebook in effect denying responsibility for the tragic death at its hands, which it dismissed as “accidental demise” and “unfortunate incident” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/jet-airways/jet-airways-sincerely-regrets-the-accidental-demise-of-a-pet-cat/518862838151912).

Such was the furious reaction it sparked that the company came back two days later with a 1,000-word note, obviously another PR-cum-company-lawyer job, full of passive sentences signifying little (https://www.facebook.com/notes/jet-airways/jet-airways-statement-on-james-dean-the-pet-cat/519587208079475).

The overwhelming number of responses to these two statements – perhaps upwards of the 95% range – is by people expressing dismay and disgust and not buying the company’s version. A tiny percentage – in fact, tinier than might have been expected – voice cynical objection to the indignation and condemnation of the way little James Dean was handled. Their objections are mainly three-fold – why are you agitated about this cat when humans are dying, don’t you eat meat (in other words don’t you cause the death of other non-human animals, so why object to this cat’s death) and an underlying assumption that cats shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of international flight (dump this one and get another at your destination, was one breathtakingly insensitive suggestion).

It would be interesting to know how many of those who ask “why don’t you talk about human misery” do so themselves except while objecting to the discussion of a non-human’s fate. These are akin to the people who object to reports about human rights abuses in Kashmir by saying why don’t you talk about Kashmiri Pandits. And the ones who say why don’t you talk about the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom by Congress Party goons when one raises the issue of the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. Or when the harassment of Muslims in India is discussed, pat comes their question: why don’t you talk about Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh? As if one instance of cruelty either cancels the other out or justifies the other.

The existence and persistence of human misery does not preclude the need to reduce cruelty towards animals. Most of the passionate advocates of human rights are also wedded to the idea of humane treatment of non-human animals. Because, the bottomline is compassion, which brooks no exceptions. A compassionate attitude on the part of a human has necessarily to extend to non-humans.

As for meat consumption, of course, from a vegan/vegetarian viewpoint as well as an ecological one, the ideal world would be one in which human beings reduced or eliminated dependence on animal protein. But that is not going to happen overnight. There are movements of people working for such an eventuality. But they have decades of work cut out. However, the persistence of animal-protein consumption should not in any way mean that human beings should be cruel to living non-humans. Or that they should be inconsiderate towards animals in their care.

Why fly a cat (even if only in the hold)? This is classic speciesism. It’s pretty rich for humans to be robbing milk from cows, eggs from chickens and putting millions of animals to death to extract meat (which is transported by air too in massive quantities) and then object to efforts at easing the pain non-human animals endure or efforts at ensuring that a given human and non-human team can stay together after one of them moves to another place.

Why fly cats, why make prosthetics for dogs and other disabled non-humans? Why not let them die? Such queries need really not be dignified with an answer. Fortunately, there are enough sensitive and level headed humans who ignore such inanities and carry on with their humane care for the non-humans.

Moreover, those who raise such objections fail to read the responses. Such was the experience with two articles I wrote recently on the issue of non-human animals and their right to exist: “An Indian Would Be Vegan’s Defence of Beef-eating” (http://www.countercurrents.org/jayaram011012.htm) and “Let Independent Dogs Be” (http://www.countercurrents.org/jayaram201212.htm. The latter was reproduced in a Bangalore-based website and drew some bizarre comments: http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/view/4753-the-issue-of-stray-dogs).

 
But let us talk business. Airlines are paid to carry the remains of humans, for burial in their home countries or climes. The flesh of non-humans – all sorts of mammals, birds, fish and others – is transported in refrigerated containers. So why this level of apathy for a paying – living – non-human passenger, companion of a human? Moreover there are dogs in the service of security forces, customs, drug enforcement authorities and so forth present in many airports. Should there not be properly trained veterinary carers in the airports to cater to them and others?

Had the company which was paid a tidy sum to transport James Dean been compassionate and its employees been trained to be too, the tiny cat would have lived. It is this compassion deficit that led to the tragedy and that continues to prevent the company from issuing a sincere public apology. It is not too late to make amends while ensuring that such a tragedy is repeated never again.

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WHOSE DAY IS IT TODAY?

International Labour Day 2013 has been and gone and today is another day. Vast numbers of workers are back to wallowing in disunity, uninvited to lose their chains. And on this the 2nd of May, I have three disjointed thoughts:

Solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, a city where I spent a total of 16 years and where the labour movement is quite vibrant albeit under the thumb of an undemocratic government beholden to business lobbies and to Beijing, which listens more to tycoons rather than to workers and ordinary people, never mind that the ruling party in China continues to use the word “communist” in its name for perhaps nostalgic reasons (if one might be charitable).

Hong Kong’s dockworkers have been on strike for a month now.[1] All they are asking is for wages to be returned to levels before they were reduced on the pretext of economic downturn.[2] The man who is denying them the small consideration is Hong Kong’s richest tycoon, Li Ka-shing, who reputedly enjoys a direct line to the Beijing leadership.[3]

Photo courtesy Hong Kong dockers' blog: http://hkstrikes.wordpress.com/

For several years until 2011, I marched on May Day with Hong Kong’s tens of thousands of workers from Victoria Park to Government House in scorching afternoon heat. The drumbeats of Indonesian domestic workers in colourful clothes and similar antics of others provided a bit of entertainment along the route, making up for the machinations of the police force mindlessly trying to restrict the space available for the rally.

Since moving back to Bangalore, India, in February 2012, I march, shout slogans and raise fist vicariously. To be sure, there were May Day rallies here too but mostly by individual political parties or groups linked to them.

Yesterday (May 1), Garga Chatterjee, rightly said in his Facebook update: “… Almost all of my Facebook friends from the subcontinent belong to the middle/upper-middle class. Since yesterday (April 30), many of them have been talking about May Day and workers’ rights, posting pictures and what not. Most of their homes have at least one domestic help working for them. I am sure, that person did not get a day off on May Day…”

Touché.

And too late.

By the time I’d read it, a part-time worker had been and gone after her roughly one-hour stint helping clean dishes from overnight and beating up a few clothes on a stone, in addition to cleaning the floor around my parents’ house and the front-yard. She has a mobile phone but I doubt she’s on Facebook. How many domestic workers, full-time or part-time, in India are even aware of IWD?

In Hong Kong, foreign domestic workers – mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand and Nepal – have formed a number of unions and organisations to deal with not only their employers and the local authorities but the unreasonable fees and rules their own countries’ governments gouge out of them.

Garga Chatterjee might have had Facebook friends from among them had he lived in Hong Kong, as a large section of the foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are on Facebook and use it partly to organise.

Eni Lestari is one such. She’s bright and dynamic but however long she lives in Hong Kong, she’ll not be granted permanent resident status. I got it after seven years, because my visa conditions were different. I once asked Eni if she couldn’t try and squeeze a scholarship to study in a university in Hong Kong. She said the foreign domestic worker visa precluded conversion to a student visa. Apartheid.

 

I too am a worker. I used to be a full-time journalist for decades. For 11 years I worked at a French organisation whose branch had no union but which nevertheless allowed a five-day working week (with compensatory offs for night shifts), 13th month salary and medical coverage until 2006 when I opted out, taking sabbatical leave to enrol in Hong Kong University. I subsequently worked for several months full-time but mostly part-time as a journalist for both commercial entities and human rights NGOs, something I still do since returning to my hometown, Bangalore.

The payment per day for freelance editing has stagnated at the 1990s level in Hong Kong. And that per word of translation for another Hong Kong-based entity has remained the same since, I am told, 2006. An agency in Taipei that used to be under the thumb of the ruling Kuomintang party – a once rabidly anti-communist group that presided over “White Terror” on the island until democratisation began in the late 1980s – pays a more decent rate and I might do a spot of work for them.
I am a freelance/independent journalist and translator. We hacks sell our wares and services to those who’ll have them at a price they quote. No union. Nada.

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A PAEAN TO ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE OF HONG KONG

(Hong Kongers have been celebrating the Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, the biggest holiday of the year and my thoughts turn to the city from where I moved a year ago after a total 16 years’ stay and to the wonderful people I’d got to know.)

Many people, including some Hong Kongers, have at times dismissed its residents as merely money-minded. Such generalisations of people anywhere are likely to be off the mark: In Hong Kong’s case, spectacularly so.

I confess there was a time when I joined in sniggering in assent when this alleged money-mindedness of Hong Kongers was mentioned, but over time got to know vast numbers of people whose interests were far removed from money-making. Rather, they were passionate about humanitarian action, human rights and the rights and welfare of non-human animals.

Those who see Hong Kongers as focused entirely on earning and spending need to consider:

June 4 Candlelight Vigil: Some hours after the Chinese armed forces crushed the “Beijing Spring” and cleared Tiananmen Square of student demonstrators in 1989, more than one million Hong Kongers held a candlelight vigil. (Hong Kong’s population was then a little more than 5.7 million.)

June 4 Candlelight Vigil, Victoria Park, Hong Kong. (Picture: Astor Shek)

June 4 Candlelight Vigil, Victoria Park, Hong Kong. (Picture: Astor Shek)

Since then every June 4 evening, Victoria Park, the size of 40 football fields, gets packed with people, entire families often wearing black, holding candles listening to messages of support from Chinese activists around the world and singing songs.

In recent years, some mainland Chinese visitors too are said to be taking part in the only such commemoration in a Chinese city.

So concerned at putting up a decent show are the participants that dozens of people scrape the candle wax off the grounds following the vigil, to leave the park as clean as they found it.

The July 1 Rally: When Hong Kong’s undemocratic government was preparing to adopt in 2003 a sedition bill that would have meant curtains for many of the freedoms the city still enjoys, about 650,000 people rallied. Meaning, nearly one in ten Hong Kongers then marched three and a half kilometres (more than two miles) in scorching heat from Victoria Park to Government House.

July 1 Rally from Victoria Park to Government House.

July 1 Rally from Victoria Park to Government House.

That rattled a pro-Beijing group whose main constituency is the business elite, and which has a stake in preserving a semblance of the rule of law in Hong Kong. The Liberal Party pulled its support and the bill fell through. Since then, every July 1, many groups join together to restage the rally as a pro-democracy exercise. In 2012, an estimated 400,000 people took part.

Human Rights and Humanitarian NGOs: Hong Kong is one of only two cities with a predominant ethnic Chinese majority (the other being Taipei) able to host a range of human rights organisations. Most are underfunded, with overworked staff. Many do a superb job of championing rights, especially the right to freedom of association and to form trade unions in a continent where such rights are routinely trampled on.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is based in Hong Kong as is the Asia-Pacific office of Amnesty International. Among the best-run NGOs is China Labour Bulletin, which has reasonable working hours for its staff and produces regular and informative reports. (Disclosure: I have edited a number of CLB research reports.) Asia Monitor Resource Centre is another which takes a continent-wide approach to labour issues.

A large number of people fleeing dictatorial regimes land in the city. Organisations such as Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre and Christian Action help them cope while they await processing of their cases.

Rain Lily is a crisis centre for women who have suffered sexual violence and has rendered quiet but yeoman service.

Though not an NGO, the law firm Barnes & Daly deserves praise for having courageously taken up cases of refugees in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong also hosts several telephone hotlines for people in crisis to vent their feelings.

 

One Person Pro-Democracy Army – “Long Hair”, or formally, The Honourable Leung Kwok Hung (梁國雄), Member of the Legislative Council, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: He is one of Hong Kong’s perennial protestors. Few days go by when he’s not confronting the authorities on some issue or other to do with people’s livelihood, collusion between tycoons and the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing and the lack of democratic rights.

With "Long Hair", The Honourable Leung Kwok Hung, Member, Legislative Council, HKSAR! (Photo taken by Sarah Carmichael)

With “Long Hair”, The Honourable Leung Kwok Hung, Member, Legislative Council, HKSAR! (Photo taken by Sarah Carmichael)

“Long Hair” is the enfant terrible of Hong Kong. Frequently at odds with the police, often hauled before the courts, he is defended by eminent senior counsels such as Martin Lee, Gladys Li, Paul Harris and Philip Dykes, because the issues he raises touch everyone’s fundamental rights – freedom of assembly, right to stage peaceful protests and freedom of opinion, as well as daily bread issues that affect the poor and middle classes.

Some months ago “Long Hair” posted on Facebook a picture of himself in a suit. Most people would hope he’ll never join the suits but remain a thorn in the authorities’ side and a doughty rabble-rouser for democracy and human rights.

One Person Anti-Racism Army – Fermi Wong Wai-fun  (王惠芬): The way Fermi tells it, affluent members from among the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are so apathetic about the racism prevalent in the city that they neither participate in nor contribute materially to the campaigns and efforts to help the indigent among them or campaign for fair treatment.

Fermi and a few associates, coming together under the UNISON banner, have waged indefatigable struggles to get racial discrimination outlawed. A Race Discrimination Ordinance has at long last been passed.

Fermi Wong

Fermi Wong

Behind the scenes people such as Professors Kelley Loper, Vandana Rajwani and Puja Kapai of the University of Hong Kong’s Law Faculty, Devi Novianti, formerly of Christian Action and James Joseph Keezhangatte, formerly of the University of Hong Kong, have contributed to the promotion of equal opportunity standards in the city.

Fermi’s ever-smiling and effervescent presence at meetings and her usually cheerful posts on social networking Internet sites belie the fact that she tires herself out combating the negativism her chosen mission entails. She remains a beacon of inspiration.

One Person Labour Rights Army – Debby Chan Sze-wan (陳詩韻): Also associated with other larger human rights issues: Tian An Men Mothers and the human rights of the people of Tibet and Burma, to name but two.

Debby’s self-effacing nature and apparently hesitant smile when she speaks at meetings might mislead inattentive members of the audience as regards the seriousness of the issues she raises. But most seminarians and conference delegates tend to see beyond her diffidence and weigh the strength of her words which pack a punch.

Debby Chan

Debby Chan

Debby and the group she has represented – Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour – have drawn the attention of media the world over to the exploitation of workers in China by both local and foreign investors.

She is among those who have questioned Han Dongfang (韓東方), who heads China Labour Bulletin, over his call for a degree of cooperation with China’s official “trade union”. But these are honest differences over strategy, respectfully aired and discussed.

One Person Domestic Workers’ Rights Army: Doris Lee (李恩珠)): Doris has previously featured in this space (https://walkerjay.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/a-hero-in-our-midst/) for her work as an employer of a foreign domestic worker and who likes to treat people with dignity.

Doris Lee

Doris Lee

There are a number of associations and unions of domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Nepal plus Helpers for Domestic Helpers, all doing good work in combating the multiple problems of poor pay, long hours, exploitation, abuse – including physical abuse – and official discrimination contrary to international human rights norms.

But where Doris stands out is in trying to impress upon employers to treat domestic workers with dignity and in fairness. She has her work cut out: Not only are most employers of domestic workers yet to hear her, there are lobbies opposed to fair treatment and for the continuation of the current hugely unjust status quo which have grave consequences for the workers and their families back home.

The association she established, Open Door (http://opendoor.hk/), is gradually helping Hong Kong’s good employers come together and speak out as a group.

Cat Ladies (and Gentlemen too): Almost all of Hong Kong island and vast parts of the Kowloon peninsula are devoid of independent dogs. But as most localities are old – or even if they have given place to high-rises – the residential areas at least have lanes and tiny parks or sitting out areas hosting small numbers of independent felines.

Most evenings, cat ladies go about placing some food for them. Sometimes it is a couple, a husband-and-wife team perhaps – and I’ve certainly seen men too – leaving wet and dry food in places frequented by cats.

This elderly lady is a constant every evening at Peel Street, Hong Kong. Bent over, leaning on a stick and carrying bags of food for cats, she goes from alley to alley, calling out to her tiny friends and offering them food.

This elderly lady is a constant every evening at Peel Street, Hong Kong. Bent over, leaning on a stick and carrying bags of food for cats, she goes from alley to alley, calling out to her tiny friends and offering them food.

Curiously, few cat ladies and gentlemen in Hong Kong touch the felines or play with them. One couple explained to me that it was deliberate: they do not want the cats to get familiar around humans, many of whom are hostile to felines.

A good friend, Si-si Liu Pui-shan (廖珮), is both a human rights activist and cat lady, as are many members of hkalleycatwatch.

People Who Clear Up After Their Dogs: I disapprove of confining cats and dogs in tiny flats (apartments), but can see that many humans are so attached to them and so caring that it would be cruel to forbid such intra-species relationships in cities. In Hong Kong, the government has gone after independent canines so ruthlessly that in places including the whole of Hong Kong island, and much of southern Kowloon, there are no independent dogs.

On the streets one meets only the dogs cared for by humans. As Hong Kongers in general do not encourage conversations with strangers, one is rarely able to commune with a canine in Hong Kong but the few occasions one is able to are times of great mutual pleasure: the dog finding that some strange human is willing to give much time and manifest affection in the form of pats on the forehead, strokes on the back, scratches around ears and so forth.

Special receptacles for canine offerings in Hong Kong. (Picture: Astor Shek)

Special receptacles for canine offerings in Hong Kong. (Picture: Astor Shek)

One praiseworthy chore Hong Kongers walking dogs carry out is to clean up after the dogs. Most people walking dogs can be seen with neatly cut pieces of newspapers in one hand, perhaps also a bottle of water, and the leash in the other.

The moment dog lifts leg at lamppost, fire hydrant or tree trunk, water is splashed to reduce the acidity and stains. And when canine stops for, er…, grand besoin, pieces of newspaper are thrust underneath, the deposits collected and consigned to one of the ubiquitous bins in the city or to special receptacles for dog offerings.

As I’m from a country where hundreds of millions of humans lack proper toilet facilities, I beg indulgence for this focus on the toilet arrangements of Hong Kong’s canines.

A word about the alleged money-mindedness of Hong Kongers: In a city whose government is controlled by property tycoons (with direct lines to Beijing) who’ve corralled the middle class into developing a vested interest in the property market through mortgage payments, where a grocery chain duopoly keeps prices high and limits choice, and where the indigent too have to spend the same as the very rich on some daily essentials such as food, shelter (some of the poorest pay more per square foot as rent than the rich) and transport, it is a wonder that there actually are a large number of people who care about the society around them and about such things as democracy, human rights and about non-humans.

KUNG HEI FAT CHOY! / GONG XI FA CAI !! / 恭喜發財 !!!

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WHY NOT BOYCOTT ALL REPUBLIC DAYS?

Many Indians have declared via social networking sites that they intend boycotting this year’s Republic Day (January 26), in the wake of last month’s gang-rape (now also -murder) incident in New Delhi.

It is possible that some of them boycott all Republic Days. But are others targeting just this year’s alone? Will you attend or watch them in the future?

Have you been comfortable with not just the flag-anthem-presidential-speech-on-the-eve-of routine but the display of tanks and missiles (those phallic symbols of  a nation’s manhood) during the New Delhi parade and the marches by uniformed ranks of men and some women? All that macho-ness of a wannabe superpower?

How comfortable have we all been in the knowledge that the armed forces, the paramilitaries and the police have carried out large-scale rapes and have brutalised vast numbers of people including women in Kashmir, the North-eastern states, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa?

That the politicians and the state security machinery have been complicit, and worse, in the rapes carried out as part of pogroms against Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat to mention only two of the most horrific episodes in post-Independence India?

Dalits are raped by upper caste people in villages on a daily basis. Why does Jantar Matar not ring with denunciations of such daily horrors?

Will they be and remain safe?

Will they be and remain safe?

And no, please, I’m not getting into a this-is-a-middle-class-protest argument. One young woman had a horrific experience and she succumbed to her injuries after a brave fight. This happened in the national capital. Her case got reported as opposed to many thousands of others that did not. This deeply tragic episode has sent shockwaves through Indian society. Her memory needs to be respected. And if what befell her can be a catalyst for badly needed progress in Indian society, so be it.

Many people have been saying, rightly, that what happened to her in the capital happens to shockingly large numbers of women in other part of the Indian republic. The rape of a tribal woman, Soni Sori, was supervised by police superintendent Ankit Garg, who received a presidential medal on Republic Day 2012 for his pains.

This in a country that conferred the Bharata Ratna (literally “India diamond”), on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who has been a darling of the Hindutva types because he endorses what they cherish — their nuclear manhood.

To be honest I too had had once thought this “missile man” deserved the highest honour the Indian nation could confer. I had imbibed deeply the nationalism taught in schools, fed by All India Radio and reinforced by a jingoist media as well as “patriotic” filmmakers.

When I lived in East Asia for a total of 23 years, I was exposed to the intensity of nationalism displayed by many – though not all – Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese. After a more than six-year stay in Beijing, I was influenced by Chinese style nationalism.

In 1998, India tested a nuclear bomb, detonating massive confusion in me (and many other Indians, besides): On the one hand I deeply resented the fact that four white boys and one yellow boy could have their nuclear toys and all the rest of the boys had to make do with “conventional” weapons. On the other, I was aware that the tests and counter-tests were a deeply troubling development in the subcontinent.

Added to this nuclear toy fixation is the Indian establishment’s desire to join the veto-wielding five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – incidentally the same five that have their nuclear manhoods officially endorsed in that international atomic Apartheid document, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty  instead of working for true international democracy and universal nuclear disarmament. But then those wedded to phallocracy within their borders would naturally be comfortable with it on the international plane too, wouldn’t they?

A couple of Indian documentary filmmakers such as Anand Patwardhan (in his Ram ke Naam — In the Name of God) and Rakesh Sharma (in his Final Solution) have shown the link between this nuclear fixation and genocidal Hindutva ideology.

When it comes to matters nuclear, Hindutva chauvinists and many secular nationalists’ viewpoints converge.

Unsurprisingly, many of the most vocal voices raised against the Koodankulam nuclear plant are those of women, the Dalits, fisherfolk and others. The Indian republic has so far sought to suppress the opinions of these “ordinary” people against patriarchal decision-making.

Will one woman’s horrific gang-rape and death as well as consequent protests nationwide be soon overtaken by other crises, other issues to keep the country’s parliament in a state of paralysis? Or will people at large realise the full horrors of the breakdown of law and order and will civil society be able to mount a sustained campaign for positive change, eschewing blood-lust and demands for medieval punishments?

Can what occurred in New Delhi in mid-December lead to positive change? Perhaps to an induction of more women in the next post-election parliament? To a less macho, less male-chauvinistic, less patriarchal republic, a republic whose passport one need not be ashamed of carrying and whose anniversaries one need not boycott?

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