Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Archive for the 'South Asia' Category

Why has it taken so long?

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, South Asia on January 16th, 2013

When I lived in Delhi I remember having heated arguments with a friend of mine, a well-known journalist, about the potential of China over India. He was a supporter of India, a democracy where he was free to interview and investigate the stories he chose. I was a dedicated Sinophile arguing that democracy was useless if it failed to meet the needs of all India’s inhabitants – how could a country claim to be a democracy when half of the population, India’s females, were not safe to go out in public on their own?

I moved to Delhi in 2003 for two years, representing a major airline in the North India region. I was in my late twenties and single. Soon after my arrival there was a spate of sexual assaults against foreign women in Delhi that were widely publicised, including the rape and murder in 2004 of Australian woman Dawn Emilie Griggs. She had just arrived in Delhi and was brutally killed by the taxi driver who had picked her up from the airport. My company discussed the possibility of moving me out of Delhi.

I was assaulted or abused on numerous occasions whilst living in Delhi. One assault was at the hands of a senior official who had significant control and influence over my company’s operations in India. I had no choice but to continue dealing with him – to refuse meant asking to be transferred which would have been detrimental to my career. Another occurred in a lift in the building of a client. I would normally take the stairs which were safer, but on this occasion they were closed for painting. Luckily the doors opened a few floors down and a second man entered who came to my assistance. There are many good men in India who hope that their daughters and sisters could live free of fear and reach their full potential.

Living in Delhi, a scarf was always draped across my front. I rarely wore a skirt. When I walked outside I would place one hand across my chest and one hand near my groin ready to grab any sneaky hand that attempted to touch me. Female expats shared stories at dinner parties of being groped, laughing about it as part of our ‘Delhi’ experience. At least two of my colleagues suffered significant sexual assaults. As a single woman, it was unthinkable that I would bring a man home to stay overnight, lest I attracted the disapproval of my driver or the guards that kept an eye on my house and on whom I relied for protection.

This was my experience – an expat, relatively wealthy and protected. The small glimpses I had into the situation of my female staff were often more shocking. Their lives were controlled by their husband’s family with whom the inevitably lived. They arrived at work flustered and distressed after a bus journey filled with straying hands of male passengers. At least one of my team suffered serious abuse at the hands of her in-laws.

I am glad that, at last, the plight of women in North India is finally being addressed. It saddens me that it has taken the most extreme crime – a young girl viciously beaten with a metal rod, raped multiple times and then thrown from a moving bus – to finally motivate this movement. When I lived in India, I was shocked by the position of women. The epidemic of sexual assault of women in Northern India is not a new phenomenon and the ignorance of this situation has remained a deep frustration for me. 

The world is now discovering the same reality that I understood when I lived in Delhi – India is no democracy as long as women continue to be denied their freedom and suffer daily sexual abuse. But I am ashamed that, like many in Delhi, it took this most extreme of crime to motivate me to write about my experiences and join this movement. Let us hope that there will be a political and cultural shift to address attitudes to women in this country. May the ‘Daughter of India’ rest in peace, and may all other women who have suffered so terribly have the chance, at last, to enjoy their share of the freedom that is promised by India’s democracy.


Posted in Articles, Australia, Human Rights Ideas, News, Pacific, South Asia, Southeast Asia on January 16th, 2013
The UNHCR has criticized the Gillard government’s ‘Pacific Solution Mark II’ and refused to participate in processing refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. A UNCHR regional representative Rick Towle says it is difficult to make full and credible assessments of refugees in such remote locations, and comments “Australia may choose to transfer physically people to other jurisdictions, but we believe that under international law very clearly Australia is not absolved of its legal responsibilities to protect people through all aspects of the processing and solutions.”
See here for more information.

The Delhi child servant scandal that has outraged India

Posted in News, South Asia on May 17th, 2012
Dr. Couple Arrested For Locking Up A Teen

Dr Sanjay Verma, centre, and Dr Sumita Verma, right, are arrested at their home in Dwarka, near Delhi, on 4 April 2012. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

It was the 13-year-old maid’s desperate cries for help that finally alerted neighbours to her plight. She was standing, sobbing, on the balcony of the upmarket Delhi apartment. Her employers had locked her in, she said, and gone on holiday. Finally rescued by a firefighter, she told a tale that prompted a widespread display of national revulsion.

Her employers – middle-class doctors Sanjay and Sumita Verma – had “bought” her from an agency, which had in turn bought her from her uncle. She was hungry, she said, because they barely fed her. She received no pay and was regularly beaten. Their latest act of cruelty had been to lock her in and go on holiday to Thailand.

The couple claim that they thought the girl was 18 and deny mistreating her, but they were roundly vilified and have been refused bail. In court the couple were accused of “subjecting the victim to a treatment which can be best described as torture”.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the story is why it has caused such fury in a country where, after all, the sight of a youthful servant rarely raises a flicker of curiosity. Delhi’s thriving middle class would crumble without its army of domestic servants, whose presence enables couples to go out to work and continue to boost an economy projected to be the largest in the world by 2050.

The most liberal members of that society think nothing of employing a maid, a driver, a sweeper, a cook, a gardener and a couple of house boys who sleep on the roof, or in tiny shared rooms.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are at least four million domestic servants in India, including about 100,000 children working in and around Delhi. While it has been illegal to employ anyone under the age of 14 since 2006, that has done little to hinder the placement agencies which routinely hire out trafficked children.

A good maid might earn 3,500 rupees (£43) a month, if she is very lucky, or about half the legal minimum wage for an unskilled worker in Delhi. The less fortunate are bought from brokers and kept as unpaid skivvies – simply fed and given somewhere to sleep.

A company called Domestic Help in India is one of thousands of agencies supplying staff. Based in Gurgaon, near Delhi, the company charges employers 16,000 rupees to arrange the hire of a maid for 11 months. Its website is packed with adverts for staff, who can be selected on the basis of age (15 and upwards), religion and gender. Gurpreet, a maid/cook, has two years’ experience and costs 3,000 rupees a month. Harjett, who has one year’s experience, is available to anyone in Delhi for just 2,000 rupees a month. Those less comfortable with the way the system operates often try to assuage their feelings of guilt by hiring staff at above the going rate.

However, writing on an expatriate website that offers advice to foreigners moving to India, Shawn Runacres, managing director of the Gurgaon-based Domesteq staff placement agency, says there should be no need to feel awkward if staff are treated well. “Throw out the guilt – remember you are providing much-needed employment at fair rates and excellent working conditions,” she says. “The very thought of no longer having to make beds, cook, dust, wash dishes and do laundry sounds like heaven and, for those with children, if you add to all these things the possibility of affordable, on-tap childcare, it becomes irresistible.” Speaking on Friday, she said she was convinced that the market for domestic staff would continue to grow as India’s economy expanded, not least because of the challenges posed by living in India. “There are many more challenges to your daily life,” she said. She doubts that it would be possible to live without staff. “You would spend your entire time just trying to keep yourself fed and your home in some semblance of shape. You can’t just get water from the tap; you have to clean your water. You can’t just eat fruit off the tree or out of the market. Is it a luxury? No, not in India. It is absolutely a staple of life.” Runacres’s agency – which does not employ children and promises fair wages and dignity of labour – pays well above the average. Others are less scrupulous.

Bhuwan Ribhu, national secretary of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), said child labour was now common in the cities, particularly involving girls aged 12 to 18, while boys aged 10 and upwards are more common in the countryside. “India cannot and must not grow at the cost of millions of childhoods,” he said.

Many children are trafficked from poor states such as Bihar and West Bengal through the thousands of illegal agencies operating in the cities. Last year the movement raided a placement agency to rescue six girls and uncovered evidence of 400 girls who had been trafficked.

Ribhu says people cannot resist a cheap deal. “Well educated or not, people try to maximise their profits by employing kids. They do not pay proper wages. The probability of children leaving employment whenever they want is very low, and they may be exploited, beaten and made to work long hours,” he said.

While many people in India may have been appalled by the Delhi case, he said, there were thousands of others who continued to employ children. “Children work because they are the cheapest form of labour, and in these situations they are victims of slavery. They are abused, not only economically but physically and sexually, as the exploiters also have little fear of law enforcement,” he said.

Patricia Lone of Unicef says domestic labour is one of the most dangerous forms of child labour because of the potential for abuse, particularly for girls. “It is a huge problem in most countries in south Asia because of the levels of poverty.”

Sometimes it is parents unable to support their children who pack them off to work; other times it is the children themselves who seek to pay their own way, she says. “But it is related to poverty, which forces parents and children to put themselves at risk.”

The outcry over the Delhi maid was encouraging, said Ribhu, in that it opened people’s eyes to the reality of what is going on. But he is not getting too excited about the arrests. They were, he said, an anomaly in a country where many people simply do not understand that using children as servants is wrong.”Recently, I was in a mall where I saw a couple with a 10- or 11-year-old girl taking care of their baby while they were eating. When I confronted them, the lady replied that: ‘She is in such a good condition here – she would starve to death in her village. Who will go feed her there? And she has even been taught English’,” he said. “When I asked her if she realised that she was committing a crime, she replied that the girl was being kept just like her own daughter and she is ‘even brought to the mall … can anyone in her village even dream of such a luxury, of going to the mall?’ “I explained as nicely as possible to her husband that if I were to call the police to their house, they would be arrested, and if the girl was ‘like their daughter’, why was she not eating with them at the same table? And he had no answer.”

Source: The Guardian

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Posted in Australia, China, Human Rights Ideas, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia on October 8th, 2011

For the original report on the University of New England website please see here.

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Researchers and human rights advocates meeting at the University of New England have pledged their support for replacing mandatory detention with the processing of asylum seekers within the Australian community.

Their resolution to this effect was an outcome of the international conference “Regional Responses to Labour Trafficking and Refugee Movements in Asia-Pacific” held at UNE on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 September.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, defining their rights and States’ legal obligations to protect them,” said UNE’s Professor Amarjit Kaur (pictured here), the co-convener of the conference (along with Professor Ian Metcalfe). She said the conference resolution called for “the processing of asylum seekers in the community to replace mandatory detention in accordance with the Government’s ‘Detention Values Statement’ and in compliance with Australia’s obligations to international human rights conventions”.

“The general feeling among the participants was that the current approach of both of Australia’s major political parties – which relies on prolonged detention of many asylum seekers and ad hoc schemes for off-shore processing – is inhumane, counterproductive, massively wasteful of resources, and a violation of Australia’s responsibilities under international law,” Professor Kaur said.

A major focus of the conference was a comparison of the immigration policies of countries in the Asia-Pacific region over time, and an investigation of the causes and effects of immigration policies and their implementation.

Sharuna Verghis from Health Equity Initiatives, Malaysia, discussed the health-related vulnerability of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia – a country, she said, with “a conspicuous lack of a comprehensive and coherent migration policy”. Robin Jones from UNE reported on the plight of the minority Karenni people from Burma who have fled persecution to arrive at refugee camps over the border in Thailand. Dr Jones, who spoke from her first-hand experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service, talked about “the general hopelessness that pervades camp life” and “the children’s behaviour – which demonstrates their emotional state and suffering”.

UNE’s Professor Helen Ware spoke about the experiences of Sudanese refugees coming to rural and regional Australia, while Judith Roberts from Northern Settlement Services and Kim Hastings from Regional Development Australia – Northern Inland focused on the New England region in discussing patterns of settlement under the Federal Government’s Settlement Grants Program.

On the subject of labour trafficking, Professor Kaur explained how government policies relating to migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand had weakened the legal status of those workers – increasing their vulnerability to labour trafficking and people smuggling. Sister Margaret Ng from the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project looked at trafficking in Australia, the Australian Government’s approach to trafficking and response to trafficked people, and the impact of trafficking on its survivors.

Other key speakers included Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne,  Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki from the Australian National University (who focused on the situation in North-east Asia) and  Professor Farida Fozdar  from the University of Western Australia. Myat Mon from Thailand’s Assumption University described the situation of Burmese migrant workers and refugees in Thailand.  Four UNE PhD students presented papers on migrant workers and labour trafficking in Australia  (Melinda Sutherland), South Asia (Zahid Shahab Ahmed), Indonesia (Cakti Gunawan) and Macau (Pao Sio Iu), while Dr Zifirdaus Adnan (UNE) compared the labour-export policies of Indonesia and the Philippines. Dr Saroja Khrishnasawamy (Hunter New England Health and UNE) discussed mental health issues in refugee camps in Sri Lanka.

Asia over-represented in the Freedom House Worst of the Worst report

Posted in China, Korea, News, South Asia, Southeast Asia on July 4th, 2011

The world’s most repressive societies

The report lists 10 nations or territories that have received freedom in the world’s lowest ratings: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties (based on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free). Within these entitites, state control over daily life is pervasive, independent organisations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent through and action is ubiquitous. The list includes the Asian nations Burma, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the territory of Tibet.

‘On the Threshold’

The report also includes eight additional countries who ratings fall just short of the bottom of Freedom House’s rating scale. these include a nuber of Asian countries including China, Laos as well as Belarus and the territory of South Ossetia.

For the full report see here.

Attack on Bangladeshi human rights defender and journalist FM ABDUR RAZZA in Khulna District, Bangladesh

Posted in News, South Asia on May 6th, 2011

According to the information that we have received, on 29 April 2011 a group of men allegedly acting on orders of Major Mustafizur Rahman Bokul, Bangladesh Army attacked Razzak and his brother, causing them severe injuries. The men, including the younger brother of the army officer, allegedly tried to blind Razzak by pushing their fingers and objects into his eye sockets, until they bled. At the time, the younger brother spoke on the telephone with the army officer, who reportedly asked to confirm that the target of the attack had been blinded, and then said to dump the bodies in a ditch Somewhere. However, after intervention from local police, the two victims of the attack were brought to hospital. Currently, Razzak is getting treatment at a medical clinic, where due to high publicity of this case the Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. AFM Rahul Haque, has visited him. The full details of the case, and updates, are on the website of the Asian Human Rights Commission.