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Fighting for rights in Dubai

The ultimate dream for a Malayali is to go to the “Gulf”. For people back home, Gulf is a place where anyone from the educated to the uneducated can get a job, send dirhams back home, and raise the quality of life of their family. Recently a friend was starting a business in Dubai and told me about the problems facing workers there. Whatever he told is mentioned in this New York Times article on the migrant workers in Dubai.

A growing number have resorted to suicide rather than return home with empty pockets: last year, 84 South Asians committed suicide in Dubai, according to the Indian Consulate here, up from 70 in 2004.

Mr. Kumaran, who earns 550 dirhams every month, or about $150, as a laborer, sends home almost half his earnings and lives on the equivalent of roughly $60 a month. That is barely enough to pay for food and cigarettes and using his cellphone from time to time. But he is not sure how he will repay the loan he took to get here.

“If I’d stayed in India and worked just as hard as I do now, I could have made the same money,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have needed to get a loan to come here.”[In Dubai, an Outcry From Asians for Workplace Rights]

Unable to take the abuse of the employers anymore, these immigrants took out protests, some of which were violent.

But the mass action on Tuesday was the most significant of its kind. Hundreds of workers building the Burj Dubai skyscraper chased security guards and broke into offices, smashing computers, scattering files and wrecking cars and construction machines. When they returned to work the next day, demanding better pay and improved working conditions, thousands of laborers building an airport terminal across town also laid down their tools, demanding better conditions, too. The workers also halted work on Thursday, until a settlement was negotiated.

Last time some Malayalees in Baharin and UAE took to the streets to protest and as a result many recruiting companies decided not to hire people from Kerala

There are many angles to this story. We are so used to fighting for our rights in Kerala that we think it will work everywhere. In countries where human rights do not exist, such protests may result in loss of job and deportation. At the same time, these countries require migrant workers to fuel their economy and do jobs which their citizens are not willing to do. Then there are people from less fortunate backgrounds who are willing to take the abuse for a good living and they can displace the protesting Malayalees.

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Pockets of Poverty

When you think of poverty, countries like Saudi Arabia and United States do not come to mind, but there are pockets of poverty in both these countries. In Saudi Arabia, the guess would be that the poor people would be the expatriate people and the guess would be wrong. It seems there are poor Saudis too.

The image of Saudi Arabia abroad is of a land teaming with wealth and opportunity — the “oil-rich desert Kingdom” as the international media insist on saying. Inside the Kingdom, it is a rather different picture. Yes, there is wealth and opportunity — and massive development — but there is also poverty. The slums of south Riyadh or south Jeddah are real and shocking. It is not expatriate laborers who live in such places; it is poor Saudis. They cannot afford anything better. Nor is poverty confined to places like Qarantina in Jeddah or Suwaidi in Riyadh. There is serious rural poverty as well; as elsewhere, it manifests itself in substandard, rundown accommodation.

For many years, Saudi poverty was a taboo subject, unspoken by those who saw it as shameful and who foolishly imagined that by ignoring it, it would go away. It was Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who, as crown prince, broke the taboo. His unprecedented visit to the slums of Suwaidi just over three years ago brought poverty into the open and with it a determination address the issue. [Poverty in the Kingdom]

During the Hurricane Katrina, the world saw the poverty in New Orleans. Here in California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world, poverty exists and one such place is Fresno (about 150 miles from Silicon Valley), which is the hearland of the California farmland.

This city at the heart of the richest farmland in the world has been poor for so long, no one can remember it otherwise. Last month, when the Brookings Institution issued a report that said a higher proportion of poor people in Fresno lived in areas of concentrated poverty than in any other major city in the country — pre-Katrina New Orleans was number two — no one here was surprised. “My goodness, that’s why I ran,” said Alan Autry, who became mayor in 2000. “I called it ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ “[In Fresno, Tackling Poverty Moves to the Top of the Agenda]

Since Saudi Arabia runs at the King’s mercy, some direction has to come from him to eradicate povery. According to Govt. study, it would take atleast 30 years to reduce poverty to minimal levels if the spending in human services increased and people are calling for Saudi Arabia to be a more inclusive and democratic nation in the hope that it would bring prosperity to all people. But then United States is democratic and very inclusive and still the problem persists.

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Indo-US relations

Till the Bill Clinton era, India was one notch below Pakistan for United States. From that it moved into a hyphenated equivalence and during the Kargil War and Clinton visit, it was India who had the upper hand. Now with the nuclear deal, there seems to be a lot of suspicion. Strobe Talbott uses the word “Estrangement” to describe the relations between India and United States. The relationship never became cordial due to the Pakistani tilt of the Americans. During the 1971 war with Pakistan, Americans despatched the aircraft carrier Enterprise to show off its force and that did not help relations either. As the relation between the two democracies is progressing through all the navarasas, it was amusing to read that many Americans favoured a good relation between the two countries from the 50s.

One of the first people who suggested that India should be taken seriously was Chester Bowles, who succeeded John Kenneth Galbraith as the US Ambassador to India. Bowles was of the opinion that India should not be seen as an ally of USSR, but as a developing country that had chosen democracy over communism.

After the first Indian nuclear test in 1974, Henry Kissinger visited India as President Ford’s Secretary of State. Even though Kissinger did not like Indira Gandhi much, he admired the way she conducted the nuclear tests. Also in a speech to the Indian Council of World Affairs he called for a mature relationship based on Indian preeminence in the region. He also directed that United States not pressurize India on the nuclear weapons program.

Though powerful people like Kissinger held that opinion, the relationship did not reach any level of maturity that was dreamed of as United States was playing geopolitical games with Russia and needed Pakistan and India was coddling with Communist dictators in the name of Non Alignment.

[Source: Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb by Strobe Talbott]

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Natwar Singh and Oil Money

The Oil-for-Food programme was a scheme under which Iraq, which was facing export sanctions, was authorized to sell oil to people of their choosing. Iraq, naturally chose to sell oil to nations and people who were sympathetic to their view. There is nothing illegal in this. But one source of illegal income was from something called “surcharges” paid on crude oil contracts and Iraq made about 228 million dollars through this.

Besides established companies, Iraq also awarded contracts to individuals in positions of influence as well and the selected people were ones who were influential in their countries, and produced pro-Iraq, anti-sanction views. Political parties and organizations too received allocations and familiarity with the oil trading market was not required. Individuals and entities other than the named contracting party are called “non-contractual beneficieries” in the Volker Report . Natwar Singh, Congress Party, and Bhim Singh are listed under this category.

The Indian Express has more

While Natwar has called these allegations ‘‘baseless and untrue’’, the fact is his son Jagat was involved in promoting M/s Hamdan Trading, which is owned by his friend Andy Sehgal, for cornering contracts in Iraq between 2000-2002. Indian diplomats posted in west Asia in that period confirm that Jagat Singh paid at least two visits to Iraq, one of them just days before Saddam’s ‘‘referendum’’ of October 15, 2002.

On condition of anonymity, these officials alleged Jagat, who is now Congress MLA from Lachchmangarh, Rajasthan, used the offices of the Indian Embassy in Baghdad to push his business interests. [Cong Saddamed by Natwar & his son]

Natwar Singh also alleged that Paul Volker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, of having political designs and suggested that the commission of targetting opponents of the war. At this point the whole anti-war crowd draw caricatures of themselves. Just look at Table III of the report and you can find Americans, British, Italian and Spanish people mentioned among the list of beneficieries and these are countries involved in the invasion. If Natwar was right in his conspiracy theory, then none of these people would be there.

Here is another gem

India’s External Affairs Minister wanted to know why Mr. Volcker had headed the Committee and not “some independent person from the developing world.”

We will let that pass, but here is a gem from the ever hilarious Communists. CPI(M) senior leader Dipankar Mukherjee said

“One thing is certain that in this era of liberalisation, corruption is a component of the system itself,” he said.[Volcker report allegations baseless: Natwar]

So it is the fault of liberalization of the economy. I remember that wonderful time when India was under socialism and milk and honey were flowing on the streets and Govt. officials were walking around threatening to help public.

Both the Communists and Congressmen seem to be caught off-guard with this and are trying all possible tricks from their book to get this off their back. Instead of using the old and crude techniques (like blame Paul Volker, blame liberalization, blame Darth Vader), it would be great if Natwar Singh can explain to us the role of Jagat Singh and his relation with Masefield AG, the contracting company. That would have more credibility. But that is too much to expect.

Related Links: The Acorn builds the case for why Natwar Singh must resign.

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The weight lifter

A plot of land meant for Palestinian Embassy here has also been gifted to the PLA, he said. India has earlier also been giving assistance to Palestinian people and Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed himself carried vehicles and medicines there last year. [India gives Rs 65 crore aid to Palestine link via What? come again…]

If the honorable minister is able to carry vehicles all by himself, we should send him for the next Olympics for weight lifting.

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