Summary of the broadcasting program by WDR5 on 12.04.2009
Original title: Indiens neue Armut
Folge 1: Hunger: Indiens Weber vor dem Aus
Von Achim Nuhr
India’s new Poverty
Volume 1: Hunger: India’s weavers to teeter on the brink of collapse
By Achim Nuhr tiredness
Achim Nuhrs broadcasting program starts with the summary of an interview with Mohamad Idris who is a weaver in Lotha, Varanasi. Mohamad Idris explains that the living conditions of the weavers have deteriorated in the past 10 years and that many of them are now unemployed and facing problems due to hunger.
He speaks about the once flourishing and exporting silk industry which is now teetering on the brink of collapse. He lets Mohamad Idris speak about the last days in the life of his 2 year old son who died due to a lack of red blood cells which is a common symptom of malnourishment. He explains how he and his wife struggled to save him and provide him with blood donation and that the neighbours collected some money for his treatment but could not save him.
Following there is a description of the town of Varanasi, its geographic location, historical, cultural and touristy importance. He speaks about the aim of India to be well reputated because of economic development and as a tourist destination. The reports of hunger would cast a dark shadow above this image. Therefore politicians and the administration want to keep reports of this silent. There are no official statistics about starving people or people who have died due to starvation and the authorities are even denying well documented cases. But in India, unlike other developing countries there is a free press and there are action groups who can try to open up problems to the general public, but they are facing many difficulties.
Mohamad Idris tells that prior to the death of his son some journalists had come and published about the problems of his family. After this the chief municipal director visited him and helped to take his son to the hospital where he was beaten by the doctor for not feeding his child properly.
Later on Nuhr speaks about the changing economic policies of India who have so badly affected the weavers in Varanasi. Since the 1990s many of the actions for protecting traditional artwork have stopped or changed. The Varanasi weavers had a monopole on some traditional dresses like wedding saris, so they where protected by law from the competition with machines and there have been high prohibitive taxes to protect them from international concurrence. But in the 1990s India started an economic reform focused on liberalisation of the capitalist sector. The weavers who have been protected from the world marked for a long time where thrown at his mercy.
Following there is an Interview with JNU based economic professor Ms. Jayati Ghosh who criticises the Indian economic policies. She speaks of the problems of the economic politics which are focused on large-scale enterprises and allow international imports. Both are able to sell there products to lesser prices because of large-scale production, subvention and better infrastructure, so they face lots of economic advantages compared to the small weaver. The main concurrent for the silk weavers are imports from China which have grown by a rate of 20% each year. Now the government again raised some import duties but is not able to stop this trend. Following many weavers are now unemployed and there looms are not working anymore. As a result they face hunger and there houses and surroundings are deteriorating as well. It follows a description of Lotha and the conditions of the infrastructure and facilities.
Some interview pieces of Lenin Raghuvanshi, who according to Achim Nuhr was one of the first to recognise that the situation of the weavers is deteriorating. He talks about a primary school PVCHR is supporting since the 1990s and that suddenly, due to economic necessarily, the children of the weavers did not attend school anymore. They had to help earn money because the prices per piece had fallen drastically. The situation went worse after 2001 and the first manufactures closed down which lead to hunger, starvation, death and suicide.
Nuhr talks about the high suicide rate in India and stresses that suicides compared to death due to hunger is not denied by the authorities. Only small NGO’s like PVCHR are documenting the situation of hunger and try to publish the stories of the victims. According to Achim Nuhr PVCHR has counted 14 starved children in the neighbourhood of Mohamad Idris. Lenin Raghuvanshi stresses that the authorities deny starvation as a cause of death; they are just willing to accept that people are facing hunger. In 2001 the Supreme Court decided that the authorities are in person responsible for every hunger death. According to Lenin Raghuvanshi this has made there work more difficult because now the persons in charge attack them directly and cause many problems.
After this, Nuhr speaks of his own experiences when he wanted to talk to authorities in Varanasi and various other places in India. The people refuse to give interviews or they deny everything. In 2001 there was an investigation by the Supreme Court of India into the question if malnutrition or starvation is existing in India. They found that in 21 states the situation is very bad, but till now, in reality only less has changed.
Nuhr describes the burdensome work of the Human Rights Groups who travel into remote areas to do documentation and have to do work which would be in the responsibility of the state but is not fulfilled by it. During this work they face severe Problems, and sometimes discover criminal doings where the accused may use rough means to come out of this situation.
It follows a detailed summary of the threats against Lenin Raghuvanshi related to his work in the village of Belwa. Prasad Tripathi, the local village head has threatened him and others and is forcing people to work in his brick factory. PVCHR has complained about him at the human rights commission of the United Nations. After this, Jean Ziegler, special correspondent for the right of food investigated into this case and reported to the plenary meeting of the UN about “neglect of duty” by the authorities which has lead to deaths due to starvation.
Nuhr talks about the lack of food in Belwa which he illustrates with the example of Ms. Kesmati who collects leftover rice on the streets to feed her children. One of her neighbours explains about loans they take from their employers and are forced to work for them until they have repaid all there dues.
Further on Nuhr explains about the malfunctioning systems of aid for the poor like minimum wages, ration cards, official abolishment of bonded labour and other likings.
Nuhr met with the local police but instead taking care of these malfunctions they are looking for Lenin Raghuvanshi who was accused of creating class conflicts and distributing pornographic pictures of Belwa children international. When asked if he has ever seen any of these pictures he has to deny this.
After returning to Varanasi, Nuhr gets the opportunity to talk to K. P. Berma, vice director of the department for handlooms. He says that there are no problems of hunger in Varanasi and that only less skilled persons are facing problems. All skilled workers will have enough work and food. K.P. Berma sends him to speak to one of “the really good weavers” Aftaba Alam. Aftaba Alam tells that he is lucky at the moment, because the products he is producing is selling good at the moment because it is considered “modern”. But this can change again as soon as it has changed last year. Before Aftaba Alam and his family were starving as well and he says that the situation can only be called better, when all weavers’ families are not starving anymore.
Nuhr finishes his report with a statement from Aftaba Alam stressing that they are lucky at the moment, but when the demands of the market will change they will starve again, as well as there neighbours.
Weaver story especially the plight of Dhannipur village came at Alzazira:
India's poor have little faith in politics
India's parliamentary elections kicked off this week, but many feel that the month-long democratic exercise will not bring about real changes.
The nation's poor say promises of aid made before elections are quickly broken, and the global financial crisis has made things even worse for people living in poverty.
Al Jazeera's Matt McClure spoke to textile workers in Varanasi to see how they are getting on.