Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

India PM orders bureaucrats to clean toilets on national holiday

India PM orders bureaucrats to clean toilets on national holiday                        

A monkey searches for food in New Delhi, on January 14, 2014 © Provided by AFP A monkey searches for food in New Delhi, on January 14, 2014 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered his bureaucrats to come in to work to clean up their offices -- including toilets -- on this week's national holiday to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.
The move is part of a nationwide cleanliness drive to be launched by Modi on the holiday Thursday, with the premier himself expected to take a broom to the capital's notoriously dirty streets.
The initiative has sparked grumblings by officials from India's infamously slow and vast bureaucracy who say the request to work, although theoretically voluntary, cannot be ignored.
Modi has cracked down on officials since storming to power in May elections, demanding they turn up to work at 9am and paying unannounced visits to government offices.
"We have already been turning up on time and working till late (since Modi took office). Now we have been asked to wield the broom and we might as well do so," one reluctant official told AFP in New Delhi on Tuesday.
"My children are upset that I will have to go to the office even on a national holiday," he said, requesting anonymity.
But another official was decidedly upbeat, saying it was an important step in ridding India of its entrenched class system in which only those from low castes cleaned up waste.
"It is an unprecedented sanitation movement," the officer in the power ministry told AFP.
"Wielding the broom is a powerful symbol. It shows that no work is mean and that each one of us should be responsible for cleaning up our waste."
The drive is partly aimed at sprucing up government offices which are often littered with rubbish, stink of urine and have walls dirtied with dried spit.
Advertisements in all major dailies on Tuesday urged residents of Delhi to "come forward in large numbers" for the programme's launch.
Sanitation was very close to the heart of independence hero Gandhi who used to clean latrines himself at a time when there were no flush toilets in the country.
Modi has stressed the importance of sanitation in almost all his public speeches since his May victory, vowing to make India clean by 2019, to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.
Roughly half of India's population do not have toilets in their homes and must defecate in the open, a health and safety problem that Modi has also vowed to fix.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The father of 26 children who's helping to preach birth control

The father of 26 children who's helping to preach birth control

Students at the School for Husbands

In many countries, it's typical for rural women to work hard from dawn to dusk, inside and outside the home, while men get plenty of time off to relax. That's how it is in Ivory Coast, so in the name of equality some men are getting sent back to school.

The lesson under mango trees begins with loud handclaps instead of a bell. As in any class, some are very talkative, some bored and fidgety, others a bit drowsy in the midday heat. But these pupils wearing matching orange T-shirts and sitting on plastic chairs are not children - they are heads of families - because this is a School for Husbands.

After a few minutes, they all stick their hands in the air. It turns out they have voted to heroically take on a bit of dusting and tidying up. The men also start to give out mosquito nets to help prevent malaria.

Adiza Ba, the woman behind Ivory Coast's Schools for Husbands, can't repress a satisfied smile.

Adiza Ba sat next to Dr Bernard Konan Madame Adiza Ba with district health chief Dr Bernard Konan

Madame Ba, who has the grand title of National Program Officer of Behaviour Change, goes around Ivory Coast armed with a big poster.

In each village she gathers the men together and unrolls it to reveal a picture of a family coming home from a day's work in the fields.

The mother is walking along the side of the road with a heavy basket on her head. She has a baby strapped to her back and is holding another child by the wrist while the father is several yards ahead on his bicycle, whistling and empty handed.

"The funny thing is that they don't realise that the woman usually has to do everything," she says. "And when they see that picture, they act as if they're astonished. But I have to point out that in the evenings it is the wives who fetch water, wash the children, make supper and clean the house while their husbands just freshen up and go off to chat to their mates. And some of them start to see that this is not very fair."

But it is hard to imagine Kouayou Kouayou with a broom in his hand or a pot on his head. He is something of a celebrity in Sakassou, a small community of farmers, deep in the heart of the country. I'm told he's the spiritual healer, some even call him "The Prophet".

Kouayou Kouayou Kouayou Kouayou, also known as "The Prophet"

He is holding court on a raised platform outside his house and orders me to sit down next to him. Kouayou is youthful looking, with just a hint of grey, despite fathering 26 children with four wives.

"In our culture the more children you have, the richer and more prestigious you are and I have the record number in the village," he tells me.

Despite his exalted status, Kouayou wears an orange T-shirt because he too has been sent back to the classroom.

Now surrounded by his super-size family, he's trying to persuade fellow husbands not to follow his example.

"If you space the babies, they are born healthier and it is better for the women," he says.

But Madame Ba, who works for the United Nations Population Fund, tells me birth control was a hard sell at first.

David Koffi and his wife

"Some men worry contraception might make their wives sterile," she says.

"I explain that a woman is like a mango tree - it bears fruit and then it has a resting period. A wife needs to have time to look after her new baby and to stay beautiful for her husband. If she gets worn out too quickly he will go and get himself another woman.

"Other husbands are incredibly suspicious of birth control - they think their wives will use it as an excuse to go have fun with other men and since they won't fall pregnant afterwards nobody will find out. We explain that's not what contraception is about."

Her words remind me of a classic comedy actually called The School for Husbands by the 17th Century playwright Moliere. The plot revolves around a pathologically jealous man who tries to force a young woman to love him and it ends with the lines: "If any husband is a churlish fool / This is the place to send him - to our school!"

Moliere's School for Husbands

  • A play by French writer Moliere, first performed in 1661
  • Follows the story of two sisters and two potential suitors
  • One suitor is overbearing and controlling, while the other treats his intended wife as an equal
  • The latter is successful in his courtship, but the other one fails


Madame Ba began two years ago with four pilot schools including this one in Sakassou. By the end of next year she says there will be 52 of them in villages across the Ivory Coast.

But they were set up not just to make men more house-proud, less selfish or to use contraception.

The village of Sakassou Sakassou is set to be one of 52 villages in the Ivory Coast to have these schools by the end of 2015

Above all, Madame Ba wants to persuade men that antenatal appointments are not a waste of time and that it is far safer for women to give birth in hospital rather than stay in the village.

Once the economic powerhouse of West Africa, the world's biggest exporter of cocoa has been through a decade of bloody upheaval. It now has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Every day, across Ivory Coast, as many as 20 women die in childbirth - nearly as many as in China, a country with more than 60 times the population.

Maternal mortality
The five countries with the highest maternal mortality rates per 100,000 live births are:

  • Sierra Leone - 1100
  • Chad - 980
  • Central African Republic - 880
  • Somalia - 850
  • Burundi - 740

Ivory Coast is ninth with 720

Source: World Bank (figures for 2013)


Many women in Sakassou are keen to give birth in hospital but usually men control the family purse strings, so they need to be convinced it is worth spending money on the transport to get there.

The village, which has no electricity or running water, is a few miles from a tarmacked road and a night-time taxi to the regional hospital in Toumodi costs around 10,000 CFA or $20 (£12) - nearly the average monthly wage.

Odette and her child in a cot

Kouadio N'Goran's daughter fell in love with a man in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan but when she fell pregnant he abandoned her, so she came to live with her parents in her native village. N'Goran admits he felt powerless when his daughter's contractions started and the village midwives couldn't help her.

"My daughter had terrible labour pains about 10 o'clock in the evening," he says. "She was crying Papa bring me to the hospital! Papa bring me to the hospital! I am going to die but I told her it is very late - there is no car here - what can I do?"

N'goran N'Daoule 4 year old child whose mother died with his grandpa Kouadio N'Goran Kouadio N'Goran with his four-year-old grandson N'Daoule

By the time he got her to the hospital the next day, the doctor said it was too late and she died shortly afterwards. The baby survived and is now a shy four-year-old boy who hides behind his grandfather's legs. They call him N'Daoule which means "the pain I felt".

Now thanks to the School for Husbands the men have got organised and when a pregnant woman is close to term they go around the village with a loudspeaker collecting contributions for the cab fare.

According to Dr Bernard Konan, the district health chief, the initiative is paying off.

In 2012, 12 women died giving birth in the area he covers - one every month. In 2013 there were eight. And up until August this year there were only three.

Iranian youth behind 'Happy' video sentenced

Iranian youth behind 'Happy' video sentenced
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI , Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Six young Iranian men and women videotaped dancing to Pharrell Williams' "Happy" and the homemade video's director have been sentenced to suspended jail terms and lashes, their lawyer said Friday.
The Iranians' case attracted international attention when they were detained in May for participating in a production deemed indecent by hard-liners in Iran. The video showed the men and women, none of whom wore obligatory headscarves, dancing together in sunglasses and silly clothes on Tehran rooftops and alleyways.
Lawyer Farshid Rofugaran said the seven received suspended sentences of six months in jail and 91 lashes each. He said the suspended jail term was punishment for acting in the video and the lashes for ignoring Islamic norms.
The suspended sentences mean that verdicts against the defendants won't be carried out unless they commit crimes and are found guilty in the next three years.
"My clients did act in a video and their actions are contrary to religious requirements but are not crimes to deserve legal punishment. Saying prayers is a religious obligation in Islam but no one gets jail terms for not saying prayers," he told The Associated Press on Friday.
"The happy part of the verdict is that it's a three-year suspended sentence. The verdicts won't be carried out unless my clients are found guilty in a court of law for the next three years," he said.
The lawyer said one of the defendants also received another suspended sentence of six months over charges of possessing alcohol, which is banned in Iran. He said one of his clients kept industrial alcohol needed for his job, which is legal, but did not possess alcohol to drink.
Rofugaran said he learned of the verdicts from the judge's office and expects a formal announcement soon. He said he will have 20 days to appeal the sentence once he receives the written verdict.
The seven men and women were arrested in May but released soon afterward.
Laws in the Islamic Republic ban women from dancing in public or appearing outside without covering her hair with the hijab.
The arrests in May drew widespread criticism. Williams himself weighed in, tweeting at the time that it was "beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness."
An Iranian police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, called the video "a vulgar clip" which "hurt public chastity" and urged Iranian youth to avoid such acts.
Hard-liners have accused moderate President Hassan Rouhani of failing to stop the spread of what they deem "decadent" Western culture in Iran. They've marched numerous times in Tehran streets to protest women not being sufficiently veiled and dressing provocatively.
While Rouhani pursues a policy of social and cultural openness, hard-liners say the government should be tough on those who challenge strict interpretations of Islamic norms. They accuse Rouhani of showing leniency and too much tolerance toward those who question Islamic sanctities or women who are not sufficiently.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Biking Toward Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Biking Toward Women's Rights in Afghanistan

Every day, the Women's National Cycling Team of Afghanistan faces ridicule and threats. And still they ride—with their eyes on the 2020 Olympics.
Shannon Galpin

Low literacy rates. High rates of sexual violence. Maternal mortality. Domestic abuse. Forced  marriage. Afghanistan has long been one of the most difficult places to be a woman, and despite great progress since the days of Taliban domination, legislation designed to protect women and give them civil rights has been fought at every turn by some who claim it is “un-Islamic.”
One small group of Afghan women, however, is finding freedom and self-determination through the mastery of a simple machine: the bicycle.
The Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan is only a few years old. Its 10 members, most between the ages of 17 and 22, have yet to finish a race. But they are determined to persevere in their chosen sport despite multiple barriers, and are aiming to ride in the 2020 Olympics.
Men driving by insult them. Boys along the road throw rocks at them. Sometimes they don’t have enough money to buy adequate food to fuel their rides. Every day, they are reminded that it is taboo in Afghan society for a woman to get on a bicycle. And still they ride.
“They tell us that it is not our right to ride our bikes in the streets and such,” says Marjan Sidiqqi, one of the young women on the team. “We tell them that this is our right and that they are taking our right away. Then we speed off.”
Sidiqqi is featured in Afghan Cycles, a film in production about the team, slated to be completed next year. One of the producers of the film is Shannon Galpin, an activist and National Geographic Adventurer who has been working in Afghanistan trying to promote women’s rights since 2006.
Galpin, who is also a mountain biker, says that when she first started riding in the country in 2009, she wasn’t aware of any Afghan women who dared to break the biking taboo. It was only in 2012 that she found out that a few women had formed the national team, with the support of their families and of the coach of the men’s team.
“He’s amazing,” says Galpin, whose memoir, Mountain to Mountain, comes out later this month from St. Martin’s Press. “It’s a country where men are the gatekeepers, and you meet these men who are breaking the mold. They are making this revolution happen by facilitating this opportunity.”
Galpin says that for the generation of girls coming of age in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, bicycling is another manifestation of the freedom to be an educated person in the society. “Young women who are in university and high school, young women who are educated, their families have promoted that and helped that happen,” she says. “These young women look at it very cut and dry: ‘My brother can ride a bike, why can’t I?’ They’re cognizant that they have this right.”
Through her nonprofit, Mountain2Mountain, Galpin has been helping to raise funds and get sponsorships for the team. She’s also been connecting with a couple of other small groups of girls and women in more remote areas around the country who have been learning to ride for transportation. If women were allowed to ride bikes, Galpin points out, it would open up educational and health care opportunities, especially in rural areas.
The taboo, however, remains strong, with women on bikes being told that they dishonor their families. Galpin points out that those same types of insults were leveled at women in the United States and Europe at the dawn of the bicycling age, when two-wheelers were embraced by many in the nascent women’s rights movement. “They were called immoral or promiscuous,” she says. “It’s essentially the same insult in a completely different culture.”
There is real risk involved for the Afghan women riders of today, acknowledges Galpin, and she worries about the potential for harm coming to team members. She knows, however, that this is a challenge they have gone into without any illusions.
Fawzia Koofi, the most prominent female politician in Afghanistan, talked to Galpin about the dangers the team faces. “One of the things she said about risk is that whoever’s on the front lines is stepping up to assume that risk,” says Galpin. “She said, Afghans know that risk much better than you do. They live it daily. These girls take those risks going to school. They know it, they live it, they’re making the conscious choice.”
Galpin says her group is trying to help mitigate the risks by providing opportunities to train on roads in safer areas. The team might even take a trip to ride in Europe at some point, hoping to get closer to their Olympic goal. Reaching that milestone would be a source of national pride, and might change the way women’s cycling is viewed in the nation as a whole.
“A winner is a person who can make Afghanistan proud and be a hero here,” says one young woman in the film’s trailer. “We cannot become a hero by sitting at home.”
“Biking with fear and trembling doesn’t work,” Siddiqi adds with a smile.  “When getting on a bike, one must throw these feelings to the wind.”

"We can not become a hero by sitting at home"  -good quote!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Jihadists beheadings sow fear, prompt Muslim revulsion

Jihadists beheadings sow fear, prompt Muslim revulsion

Supporters of al-Fadila party hold placards during a protest against the Islamic State militants on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in the southern Iraq city of Basra.

Brutal beheadings recorded on video by the jihadist Islamic State are intended to terrorise the group's enemies, but are also angering and alienating the Muslims the group claims to represent.
On Tuesday, the jihadist group released a new video purporting to show the beheading of Steven Sotloff, the second US journalist to be decapitated by its fighters in a fortnight.
The video was described as "sickening" by the United States and provoked widespread anger as well as fear -- which experts say is precisely the group's intention.
For Rita Katz, director of extremist monitoring group SITE, releasing videos of the beheadings of Sotloff and journalist James Foley before him "has a straight-forward purpose from an analytical standpoint: intimidation".
"The brutality demonstrated in the video says, 'Don't mess with us.'"
The Islamic State claim "to be the only 'true Muslims' and resort to murder and mayhem as a psychological tactic to terrorise other people," said Asma Afsaruddin, a professor at Indiana University's religious studies department.
Beheading has become almost a calling card for IS, which has used the method on opponents ranging from Syrian and Iraqi government troops to activists who have opposed its abuses.
As well as the two US journalists, in the last two weeks IS has also released videos of a Lebanese soldier and a Kurdish fighter being beheaded.
The method has clearly been effective in spreading fear: when the group advanced in Iraq this year, hundreds of thousands fled in terror.
- Re-emerging tactic -
As a tactic, decapitation by jihadists is not new -- extremists beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.
It also became a favoured method of Al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, a precursor of today's Islamic State, under the leadership of militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
With Zarqawi's death in a US raid in Iraq in 2006 and the weakening of his group, its use declined.
But with the emergence of the Islamic State, which has broken with Al-Qaeda and declared its own Islamic "caliphate" in Syrian and Iraqi territory, decapitation has once again become a potent tool.
Katz said videos of the brutal tactic also served the "alarming" purpose of "recruitment to jihad," by attracting a small minority of radicalised Muslims impressed by such violent excesses.
"A dangerous community with a dark view of the world has interpreted the video in a celebratory and empowering vein," Katz wrote in an analysis for the group.
But for most in the Muslim world and elsewhere, the Islamic State's tactics produce revulsion and anger.
"The acts and practices of IS in terms of beheadings and insulting minorities are at complete odds with the message of Islam and Muslim belief," said Sheikh Khaldun Araymit, secretary-general of Lebanon's Supreme Islamic Council.
"Islam is mercy and love and communication with the other," he told AFP.
"The heinous acts carried out by IS not only contradict Islam but are offensive to it."
- 'No basis' in Islamic law -
Muslims express similar feelings online, taking to Facebook and Twitter after each new IS outrage, whether the crucifixion of Syrians or the reported trafficking of Yazidi women kidnapped in Iraq.
Scholars of Islam say there is no crime for which beheading is religiously prescribed, though the tactic was used in war by Muslims and non-Muslims alike at the time of Prophet Mohammed and after.
"Beheading certainly was the common way to carry out criminal prosecutions throughout Islamic history, and it therefore was the default," said Haider Ala Hamoudi, an Islamic law expert and professor at Pittsburgh University law school.
"The custom developed among peoples who were aware that it was on balance much less painful than other available means of execution."
Beheading remains in use in Saudi Arabia, but Araymit noted that there it is used only "after a trial in the presence of a judge and where a pardon is not given."
Rights groups have criticised its continued use there however, and accused the Saudi judicial system of serious flaws.
Officials at Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar religious authority have rejected the Islamic State and its practices as un-Islamic.
"These criminal acts have nothing to do with Islam" Azhar official Abbas Shoman told AFP. "There is no basis for them in Islamic law."
"These people do not represent Islam," he added.
Online and on television, Muslims have been increasingly responding to IS atrocities.
Twitter user @LibyaLiberty, writing after Foley's killing, said: "If you think Muslims aren't condemning ISIS.. you're not listening to Muslims."
"Feel free to quote: 'I, a Muslim, do hereby condemn ISIS for cutting off the heads of people, including mine, if they could'," she said, using another name for the extremist group.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Acid victims' photo shoot draws attention in India

Acid victims' photo shoot draws attention in India

NEW DELHI — A fashion photo shoot featuring five victims of acid attacks is drawing wide attention in India. While the country keeps no official statistics on acid attacks, there are regular reports in the media of attackers targeting victims to disfigure or blind them, often because of spurned sexual advances.
The 41 photos show 22-year-old Rupa and four friends laughing and striking playful poses while wearing some of her fashion designs.
"I told them to be natural. I didn't do any makeup or editing. I told them, you look beautiful and you have to be the way you are," said the photographer, Rahul Saharan, who volunteers with the Stop Acid Attacks charity and is working on a documentary about acid victims. "They are very confident, so it was not too hard for me."
The photos have been shared widely since being posted Aug. 8 on the Facebook page run by the group, and have also been picked up by TV stations and newspapers.
The joy and confidence the five women display defy the horrific stories they tell.

n this Aug. 4, 2014 photo provided by Rahul Saharan, Indian acid attack victims Rupa, left, and Ritu pose during a fashion photo shoot in New Delhi, India.
In this Aug. 4, 2014 photo provided by Rahul Saharan, Indian acid attack victims Rupa, left, and Ritu pose during a fashion photo shoot in New Delhi, India.
Rupa's face was doused with acid when she was 15 years old by a stepmother unwilling to pay her marriage expenses. The wedding was called off. The photo shoot has brought in funding that will enable her dream of opening a boutique to come true.
Laxmi, now 22, was also 15 when she was attacked by her brother's 32-year-old friend after she refused his marriage proposal. Earlier this year, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama presented her with the International Women of Courage Award for campaigning against such attacks.
Ritu, 22, was attacked by her cousin during a property dispute. Sisters Sonam, 22, and Chanchal, 17, were asleep when acid was poured over them by a group of men who had been harassing them in their village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
In all five cases, the girls' attackers were convicted, though such crimes in India often go unpunished.
Some 1,500 acid attacks are reported worldwide every year, according to the London-based group Acid Survivors Trust International, though it says the actual number is likely higher. India passed a law last year severely limiting sales of acid, but Stop Acid Attacks said it has since counted at least 200 attacks.
In this Aug. 4, 2014 photo provided by Rahul Saharan, Indian acid attack victim Ritu poses during a fashion photo shoot in New Delhi, India.AP Photo: Rahul Saharan
In this Aug. 4, 2014 photo provided by Rahul Saharan, Indian acid attack victim Ritu poses during a fashion photo shoot in New Delhi, India.