Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lakota Pine Ridge POW Camp (Indian Reservation)

"The Lakota are one of many tribes that were move off of their land to Prisoner of War camps - now called Reservations."

"The Pine Ridge sometimes referred to as Prisoner of War Camp # 334, and is where the Lakota now live."

(the following is a separate topic - an article from BBC)

Are beer firms to blame for Native American drink woe?

After years of failed efforts to address chronic alcoholism, can a $500m (£308m) dollar lawsuit against the beer supply-chain put an end to one tribe's deadly struggle with alcohol?

For generations, the dream of a sober society has eluded the largest tribe of Native Americans in the US.

Members of the Oglala Sioux tribe, living in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, have long tried to shut down the beer stores just across the state line in White Clay, Nebraska.

The four beer shops in the tiny town of White Clay (population: a dozen) operate just steps from the reservation. Between them they sell more beer per head than almost anywhere else in the US - a total of about 13,000 12oz (350ml) servings each day.

"I'm 52 years old and I come up here because I'm an alcoholic," says one Pine Ridge resident, Bald Eagle. He is one of several people who spends his days on the street that runs through White Clay, drinking.

"And I love my alcohol," Bald Eagle says. "For me, it's my life-blood."

"I wake up with a hangover every morning. But you know what? I'm smart. I drink a gallon of water every morning. Sometimes I get lucky and I find a beer on the street. That's just the way it is."
'How people drink'
The White Clay beer stores are the most accessible source of alcohol for members of the tribe, who live on a reservation where the sale or possession of alcohol is forbidden. It has also been the scene of a few horrific crimes.

The tribe has led protests and marches to shame the store owners. It has asked for tougher laws that would make it harder to sell and consume alcohol in the area. It has lobbied for stricter enforcement of Nebraska's existing liquor laws.

Nothing has worked, and Pine Ridge leaders have decided to take a new approach. They have filed a lawsuit seeking $500m (£309m) in damages from not just the beer stores, but distributors and breweries as well.

The core of the Oglala Sioux lawsuit is an allegation that the big breweries and distributors supplying beer to White Clay knew it would eventually be consumed or sold on the reservation illegally.

"What little money our people get, it goes to White Clay. And the distributors are aware of what poor people we are but they don't care," Tom Poor Bear, the tribe's vice-president, says. "They'll take our last dime."

Tom White, the lawyer representing the tribe, says a combination of factors make it virtually impossible for tribal members to drink their alcohol legally.

White Clay and Pine Ridge are extremely geographically isolated. The nearest towns that sell alcohol are more than 20 miles (32km) away and Pine Ridge is the biggest town in the area.

In Nebraska it is forbidden to drink in public or a car, and reselling alcohol is illegal. But White Clay has no bars that could serve alcohol legally and only about three private homes where drinking would be permitted.

Possessing and drinking alcohol has been totally banned in Pine Ridge reservation for more than 100 years, except for a short period in the 1970s. Nevertheless, bootlegging on the reservation is said to be rampant.

A woman outside her home on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota 23 April 2012 Pine Ridge's county has consistently been ranked as the poorest or second poorest county in the US

The quantities of alcohol being sold in White Clay are so vast, there is no reasonable way it could all be consumed legally, the complaint says.

The lawsuit also argues that the drinking, fuelled by alcohol sales in White Clay, has caused devastating harm to the tribe, causing lawlessness and violence, poor public health and anaemic economic development.

At the peak of the violence, in the 1990s, a series of grisly, unsolved killings of Oglala Sioux tribe members in White Clay spurred the tribe into pushing for change.

Despite their efforts, the situation did not improve.

Over the years, scores of people have been killed in drunken brawls and drink-driving accidents. Local authorities say as much as 90% of crime on the reservation is linked in some way to excessive drinking.

"People get stabbed, people get enraged," says Pine Ridge resident Ben Mesteth, who has been sober for about four years. "That's just part of how people drink down here."

According to the complaint, average life expectancy on the reservation is between 45 and 52 years, significantly below the average US life expectancy of over 77 years.


As many as 50% of adults over the age of 40 have diabetes, and the incidence of tuberculosis is 800% higher than it is across the rest of the country, the tribe's filing says.

Meanwhile, it adds, teenage suicide is 150% and infant mortality is 300% higher than the US as a whole.

Finally, the complaint alleges that the drinking deters private investment and economic development in the area, whereas unemployment is estimated to be at least 80%.

For many residents, alcohol is "the only thing that makes everything go away," says Megan White Pike, as she points out her own mother among a group of people sitting in the shade on the streets of White Clay.

She waves across the street to a cousin who she says is also here for beer.

The complaint asks for an injunction to restrict alcohol sales in White Clay to what could be legally consumed, and for an estimated $500m in compensation for damages and social harm caused by the alcohol.
'Not illegal'
The beer companies have until Friday 27 April to respond to the lawsuit, and are expected to ask the court to dismiss the case. They declined to comment for this story. After the deadline a judge has between 30 and 60 days to decide whether to hear the case in a federal court.

As the lines get longer outside the White Clay beer stores in the late afternoon, defenders say tribe members need to be responsible for their own choices.

"It's not illegal to buy alcohol at a place that sells it legally," says Vic Clark, one of the few actual residents of White Clay. He runs a general store there that does not sell beer - but he defends the right of the beer shop owners to do so.

"We may know that it's going to be an illegal thing, but on the other hand so does the guy in Rushville, so does the guy in Rapid City."

For Tom Poor Bear, however, saying that "everybody does it" is no longer a good enough excuse.

"We've always been on the defence," says Mr Poor Bear. "Personally, I'm tired of being on the defence. The best offence that we could come up with was this lawsuit."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Child marriages blight Bangladesh

Child marriages blight Bangladesh

From right, clockwise, Poppy, Jemi and Oli Oli, bottom right, is trying to educate parents about the perils of child marriage
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 20% of girls becoming wives before their 15th birthday, even though 18 is the minimum age allowed by law. Why?
"It is the new kind of slavery," says Mirna Ming Ming Evora, who's the country director for the NGO Plan International.

"Here girls are a burden, they don't earn income in this culture."

Which means they are totally dependent on their families to support and protect them and pay their dowries. That's the money a father must pay to a future husband to secure a marriage.

"Dowry for a very poor family is work of a lifetime, they'd rather start early because the dowry is not too high. The girl is more saleable."

She's met many of these child brides.

"They say to me I lost my childhood."

These are the stories of three children living with the consequences of child marriage.

'Please pray for me'

In a quiet voice Poppy says: "It's a very hateful illness, I can't stand the smell".


She sits on a bed in in a hospital in Dhaka. There are cockroaches on the walls and next door, women who have just had operations sleep two to a bed.

"I cry sometimes what else can I do" she says.

She's suffering from fistula, serious internal injuries which have left her incontinent. It's caused by giving birth too young and not getting proper medical attention.

Nurses don't know exactly how old Poppy is. They think she's 12 but she won't say.

She was forced to marry a man who was more than 10 years older than her. She got pregnant, but lost her child.

"It died in my tummy and they had to cut it out".

She walked into the clinic alone, her husband abandoned her because of the illness.

There are tens of thousands of girls and women like Poppy.

I ask her if she'll ever marry again, and she shakes her head.

"I say to other girls my age: 'You should not get married. if you do, this is the condition you will be in.'"

As we leave, Poppy says: "Please pray for me, pray that I get better."

'We're saving lives'

"I do this work because I wanted to put a smile back on the face of the parents," says Oli Ahmed. He grins as he says it.

Oli is a campaigner who goes around the slum where he lives in Dhaka standing up to his elders and telling them why they shouldn't marry off their daughters so young.

He's the same age as Poppy, just 12.

Oli (yellow shirt) with other children Oli (yellow shirt) is a young campaigner on the issue

"I used to know a girl who was like an older sister to me, but she was forced to get married and never came back."

It made him very angry and sad.

"Even though parents marry their children off early, they still feel a sense of guilt and they don't know what happens to their children."

Oli approached Plan International which was already working in his slum in Dhaka.

He told them he wanted to set up a group led by children to try and stop the practice. He goes door to door with a group of friends persuading, scolding and hectoring parents.

At one house, he demands to know why there's no birth certificate for a man's daughter.

There and then, they register her birth and warn the father that they'll be watching him.

"I think we do a better job than the adults… the adults think we're so young and yet we know so much… we're more enthusiastic than the older people."

One NGO worker says that since they started work, the number of child marriages in that area has dropped by as much as 50%.

"I feel very good that a girl's life has been saved because of the work that I've done," says Oli.

'I'm getting her married because I love her'

Jemi, 13, likes playing hopscotch or kut kut as it's known here.

When we meet her she's due to get married in six days. Her mother has chosen the day and picked the groom.

She lives in a village which is six hours drive from the capital Dhaka. We track her down with the help of an activist.

When we ask if she's looking forward to her wedding she looks down at the floor and says: "Not very much, no."

Jemi with her mother 

She's small and very shy. She has stickers of butterflies on the back of her hands.

Her mother tells us she has to get her married now because she won't have to pay a dowry. If she waits, it will cost her money they don't have.

"I have no fear, I am giving her away to my sister's son. Girls never say they want to get married."

She is reminded that it's against the law. When officials from the local government and an NGO arrive to stop the wedding she argues with them.

She tells them the family can't afford to send her to school any more. If she remains unmarried, people will say bad things about her.

"I'm getting her married because I love her."

But the officials threaten to prosecute her if she goes ahead, and she starts to cry. Then, in front of her neighbours, she announces that the wedding is cancelled, adding: "I didn't realise it was wrong."

As for Jemi, she smiles and confides "I think it is really good what has happened".

Friday, April 20, 2012

More acid attacks on women in Pakistan

Below is an article on the 'front page' of the BBC website.  I am glad the problem is getting some attention! 

Pakistani women's lives destroyed by acid attacks

Before acid
Shama with her child before the attack
After Acid (all those marks on her face are permanent)
     Campaigners in Pakistan say cases of acid attacks are increasing in most areas, even though tougher penalties were introduced last year.  An Oscar-winning Pakistani documentary has put the crime under the spotlight, but it is estimated that more than 150 women have acid thrown on them every year - usually by husbands or in-laws - and many never get justice. The BBC's Orla Guerin reports.
Her name is Shama, meaning "candle", and she says her husband burnt her flesh as if it was a candlewick.
The young mother of four has just joined the ranks of Pakistani women doused in acid. She is scarred for life, with burns on 15% of her body. Her crime was her beauty.  "My husband and I often had arguments in the house," she said, in her hospital bed. "On that day before going to sleep he said 'you take too much pride in your beauty'. Then in the middle of the night he threw acid on me, and ran away." When her husband fled, he took her mobile phone with him, so she could not call for help.
     Shama shows me a picture taken at a children's party four months ago. It is a snapshot of an attractive young woman, with immaculate make-up, wearing an orange outfit flecked with gold.  Her hair is swept back to reveal dangling earrings. But acid has erased that confident, composed Shama. "I feel pain at what I was, and what I have become," she said, with tears coursing down her scorched cheeks. "All the colours have gone from my life. I feel like I'm a living corpse, even worse than a living corpse. I think I have no right to live."
Shama now lies in Ward 10a of the burns unit in Nishtar Hospital in Multan in Pakistan's Punjab province.
It is a monument to neglect. The plaster is peeling off the walls and there is a leaking pipe hanging from the ceiling. When patients need transfusions, their relatives are despatched to buy pints of blood.
But the doctors here are expert at treating women disfigured by acid - they see one or two new victims every week.  At morning rounds they gather at Shama's bed, asking if she is eating, and is keeping her burns covered with cream. They try to relieve her pain, but cannot ease her despair.  "I can't say anything about the future," she says, "maybe I won't be alive. I will try - for my kids - to get back to how I was. I have to work to build a future for them.  "If I can't I'll do what one or two other girls have done.  "They killed themselves."
     Fakhra Younis, a former dancing girl in Karachi, was one such woman, who ended her life to escape suffering.
Acid attack victim Masqood 
It has been said of Fakhra that she died twice - once when she was drenched in acid 13 years ago, and again when she committed suicide in Italy last month.  Before taking her own life, she had endured almost 40 rounds of surgery.  Supporters say Fakhra had given up hope of getting justice. Her former husband, who comes from a powerful political family, was acquitted of the attack.  He continues to protest his innocence.
     Fakhra's death made the headlines here, but activists say many victims are shunned and silenced.
"Only about 10% of cases are getting to court," said Zohra Yusuf, the chair of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission. "Even in high-profile cases like Fakhra's there are poor prosecutions. Most of the time, victims can't get a case registered by police."  Offenders now face a tougher sentence - between 14 years and life imprisonment - under a law passed last year. But most attackers still get off scott free, according to Marvi Memon, the former MP who sponsored the new law.  "Even if he [the attacker] gets caught, he'll pay police off and he'll get away with it in most parts of Pakistan," she said.   "It's the easiest way to punish a woman. You can just throw acid and destroy her entire life in one second." 
     "It's very difficult to get the police to co-operate with the women," she said, "because they are under no pressure to do so."  The government admits it needs to do more for acid victims, and says implementing the new law is a major challenge.  "Passing the legislation was a first step," said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a goverment adviser, "but how do cases get to trial speedily? That's the part we still need to work on. We need to sensitise the police, the lower courts and even the legal community."
     Back in Ward 10a, there's a new arrival. A woman named Maqsood is wheeled in, still wearing clothing eaten away by the acid.  Beneath her cream shawl the skin on her face is singed and mottled, and her right eye is sealed shut.  "My son-in-law came in the night, and threw acid on me," Maqsood said "after a small family dispute. He broke in through the roof. There was no power in our area, so we could not catch him."
But he was caught later, and he at least is now in custody.
     A plastic surgeon, Dr Bilal Saeed, rushes to assess the new patient. He has treated hundreds of women like Maqsood in recent years. He admits to being depressed by his work.  "On average we do multiple surgical and cosmetic procedures on these patients," he said. "But whatever we do, we are not getting their smile back."  Many commit suicide, according to Dr Saeed, in spite of his best efforts.  He says others are forced to return to the in-laws or husbands who attacked them because of social pressure or money problems.  A few beds away, Shama's children come to visit, crowding around her bed.  She reaches out a burnt arm to stroke their anxious faces, and asks for her youngest, Noor, to be placed on her chest.  "Do pray for Mummy," she tells them, "ask God to make me get better quickly."  Shama's husband remains at large. If he is ever caught she wants acid thrown on his face.  "I want the severest punishment for him," she said. "That would make anyone think a thousand times before committing such a crime."  As the children prepare to leave, Shama cannot hold back her tears. For their sake, she says she will try to keep going.
But like Fakhra Younis before her, she is not expecting justice.

To see more victims & stories of acid attacks in Pakistan click here

More information on the Pakistani Documentary about acid attacks:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sahar Gul Internet Cafe - for women only!

A new internet cafe has opened in Kabul recently.  It is a Women Only internet cafe, named after Sahar Gul.  Apparently, when women try to use regular internet cafes, they are harrased by....... men. 

This seems to be a comfortable and safe place for women to use the internet. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Saudi Princess: What I'd change about my country

Saudi princess: What I'd change about my country

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz tells the BBC there are many changes she would like to see in Saudi Arabia - but that now is not the time for women to be allowed to drive.

I speak as the daughter of King Saud, the former ruler of Saudi Arabia. My father established the first women's university in the kingdom, abolished slavery and tried to establish a constitutional monarchy that separates the position of king from that of prime minister. But I am saddened to say that my beloved country today has not fulfilled that early promise.

Our ancient culture, of which I am very proud, is renowned for its nobility and generosity, but we lack, and urgently need, fundamental civil laws with which to govern our society.

As a daughter, sister, (former) wife, mother, businesswoman and a working journalist, these are the things that I would like to see changed in Saudi Arabia.

1. Constitution

Princess Basma Princess Basma is divorced and lives with her children in London

I would like to see a proper constitution that treats all men and women on an equal footing before the law but that also serves as a guide to our civil laws and political culture.

For example, today in Saudi courts, all decisions are made according to the individual judge's interpretation of the holy Koran. This is entirely dependent on his own personal beliefs and upbringing rather than universally agreed principles or a written constitution as a guide.

I am not calling for a western system but an adaptation of that system to suit our needs and culture. Thus our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran with principles that are set in stone and not open to the whims of individual judges as is the case now.

In particular, the constitution should protect every citizen's basic human rights regardless of their sex, status or sect. Everyone should be equal before the law.

2. Divorce laws

I strongly believe that current divorce laws are abusive.

Today in Saudi, a woman can ask for a divorce only if she files for what is called "Khali and Dhali". This means either she pays a big sum of money running into tens of thousands of dollars or she has to get someone to witness the reason why she is filing for a divorce - an impossible condition to fulfil given that such reasons usually are the kind that remain within the four walls of a marriage.

Another way to keep a woman in the marital home against her will is the automatic granting of custody of any children over the age of six to the father in any divorce settlements.

This state of affairs is in complete contradiction to the Koran, upon which our laws are supposed to be based. In it a woman is given full rights to divorce simply in the case of "irreconcilable differences".

3. Overhaul of the education system

The way women today are treated in Saudi Arabia is a direct result of the education our children, boys and girls, receive at school.

The content of the syllabus is extremely dangerous. For one, our young are taught that a woman's position in society is inferior. Her role is strictly limited to serving her family and raising children. They are actually taught that if a woman has to worship anyone other than God it should be her husband; "that the angels will curse her if she is not submissive to her husband's needs". Girls are also strictly forbidden from taking part in any physical education. This is a result of a complete misinterpretation of the Koran. I consider these ideologies to be inherently abusive.

Aside from that, the focus in most of our educational system is on religious subjects such as hadith (sayings attributed to the prophet), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), tafssir (interpretation of the Koran) and of course the Koran. The attitude is that "learning itself, anything other than religion won't get you into heaven so don't waste your time". I would like to see religious teaching limited to the Koran and the Sunna (the way the prophet lived), where the true ethics of Islam lie. The rest is blind rote learning of the most dangerous kind. It has left our youth vulnerable to fundamentalist ideologies that have led to terrorism and abuse of the true meaning of the Koran.

Instead of wasting our youths' intellect on memorising quotations whose origins is uncertain (such as those found in hadith, Fiqh and tafssir) we need to encourage them to think freely, innovate and use their initiative for the betterment of our society. Early Islam was a time of great creativity. Scholars excelled in sciences and literature. Our religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings. This is the true spirit of Islam.

4. A complete reform of social services

The ministry of social affairs is tolerating cruelty towards women rather than protecting them. The only refuge homes that abused women can turn to are state ones. In these, women are continuously told that by seeking refuge they have brought shame on their families.

If they come from powerful families then they will be sent straight back to their homes in fear of the wrath of a powerful patriarch. As a result we have seen many cases of suicide by educated women, doctors and scientists who were sent back to their abusers.

We need independent women's refuges where the rights of women are upheld and backed up by powerful laws that can override family traditions and protect women.

The ministry of social affairs not only abuses women's rights but is also one of the reasons poverty is rife in the kingdom. A corrupt system that lacks transparency has meant that more than 50% of our population is poor and needy even though we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

5. The role of the Mahram (chaperone)

Women in Saudi cannot get around or travel without a mahram (a kind of chaperone - usually a male relative).

At the time of the prophet, women used to have a man to accompany them but in those days Arabia was a desert literally full of pirates.

Today the only purpose of such a law is to curtail women's freedom of movement. This not only infantilises women but turns them unnecessarily into a burden on their men and on society.

6. Driving

Today women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive.

This one seems to concern western observers the most but I hope you will agree having read the previous five that there are more essential rights we need to obtain first.

I am definitely for women driving but I don't think this is the right time for a reversal of this law. In the current climate if a woman drives, she could be stopped, harassed beaten or worse to teach her a lesson.

This is why I am against women driving until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us from such madness. Otherwise we might as well hand out a licence to the extremists to abuse us further. If as drivers we get harassed, they will say to the Islamic world "see what happens when women drive, they get harassed they get beaten" and they will call for even more stringent laws to control women. This is something we can't afford. Fundamental changes in the law and its attitude to women are needed before we take this step.

On the whole it is the rights and freedoms of all citizens that are crucial in Saudi Arabia and from those the rights of women will emanate.

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service.

Princess Basma

Princess Basma
  • Youngest daughter of the country's second king and niece to its current ruler
  • Educated in Britain and Switzerland
  • Lives in Acton, London
  • Princess Basma, pictured above pointing to her place in the Saudi family tree, was interviewed by Outlook on the BBC World Service

An insular kingdom

King Saud, Princess Basma Bint Saud's father
  • Established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz
  • One of the most devout and insular countries in the Middle East
  • The royal family is 15,000 strong
  • The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of power; political parties are banned
  • Saudi women live a restricted life and are banned from driving
  • The country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam
  • Saudi Arabia sits on more than 25% of the world's known oil reserves

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bacha Bazi.

Part 1

Part 2

Child rape, Child imprisonment, Child explotation, Men raping boys.

Hey!  KONY 2012 bandwagon!  What are you going to do about this?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

is Sahar Gul relevant anymore?

I think Sahar Gul may have disappeared.  So has Maida Khal.  There is absolutely nothing on the internet giving an update on Sahar Gul.  The latest news on her was back in early to mid February.  I am hoping and assuming that she is recovering nicely. 

I wonder how Maida Khal is doing.  I'm assuming that she is still in prison.  She asked for a divorce and was thrown in jail.  She can't leave jail because she doesn't have a 'male guardian'.  Her husband is about 50 years older than her and is either partially or fully paralyzed.  Maybe she is better off in jail.  That way she doesn't get beaten anymore by her husband's family. 

An internet cafe was recently opened in Kabul for women only.  They named it "Sahar Gul Internet Cafe".  Apparently there are plenty of internet cafes in Kabul but women get harrased when they go there.  How wierd is that? (from my perspective, anyway)  Can men really not handle themselves around women? 

Well, if anyone knows how Sahar Gul is doing, please post a comment here. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Touch down in flight

This is a visually striking video showing small clips of daily life in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan – touch down in flight from Augustin Pictures on Vimeo.