THE OPERATIVE WORD IS “GO”

We can always count on you for courage, Arvind Kumar. Thank you for your editorial “Saving Face” (India Currents, March 2007). However, I don’t believe you’ve chosen the correct two letters for Iraqi peace and stability. While the U.N. as an institution has a mission to intervene, the post-Annan U.N. is akin to a neutered puppet state. Whereas Kofi Annan was an independent voice of reason, the current secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, quietly kowtows to his American sponsors. This United Nations will not articulate the simple two letters that Bush, Cheney, Rice, et al must heed: Go! After the British quit India, the subcontinent did not have immediate peace and stability, but its people did have responsibility and accountability for their future. Why should Iraqis deserve any less? History teaches us that occupation and liberation are not synonymous. The White House would do well to heed the words of Arthur Schlesinger, the fine historian who passed away Feb. 28: “History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience.”

Rajesh C. Oza, via the Internet

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EXPLOITATION OF GUEST WORKERS

During Bush’s trip to Central and South America, he made several stump speeches promoting his guest-worker programs to discourage illegal border crossings and offer “cheap labor” to corporate America. Largely ignored by the U.S. mainstream media is the dark side of this much-touted program, which often results in gross exploitation of these workers.

For example, hundreds of guest workers were recruited from India after paying from $15,000 to $20,000 to obtain H-2 (temporary unskilled workers) visas. Many took loans at exorbitant high interest rates and others spent their entire life savings to get these visas with promises of lucrative jobs, green cards, and permanent residency in the United States. They were told they would be housed in comfortable hotels and paid a handsome salary.

On arrival, they had their passports and visas seized and were told they could not seek employment elsewhere. The “hotels” turned out to be large containers housing 24 workers who had to share two bathrooms. A strict ban on outside visitors was enforced. Signal International employed 288 workers at their shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and about 200 in Texas living under the same conditions. They were paid sub-standard wages contrary to what they had been promised and charged exorbitant rents for their sub-standard housing.

Driven by utter despair, the workers decided to go public to protest their appalling working and living conditions under threats of job terminations. Mindful of the adverse publicity, Signal told seven of the workers that their jobs had been terminated and they would be sent back to India. On hearing the news, one of the workers, Sabu Lal, became so despondent that he tried committing suicide by slashing his wrists.

Saket Soni, spokesman for the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity explained that Signal is one of hundreds of employers who have used the guest-worker program to entice cheap imported labor to undercut wages across the industry and maximize company profits. Last month, 30-plus Mexican workers in Sulphur, La., held a press conference to protest their working conditions. Tragically, guest workers have invoked the resentment of African Americans who have been displaced in favor of imported cheaper labor. Courageously, the Indian workers at Signal have now formed their own union. They are demanding reinstatement of the fired workers, the immediate release of imprisoned workers, refund of their “visa money” obtained under false promises, and a restitution of back wages. I urge readers to offer their solidarity and support to their less fortunate brethren by contacting Sharda Sekaran, associate director, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) at sharda@nesri.org or (212) 253-1771.

Jagjit Singh, Palo Alto, Calif.

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A SLICE OF INDIA

What a lovely, evocative piece (“1st Lane,” India Currents, November 2006). It takes me back to years I spent in Asia. I can feel the shade of the canopy, taste the ginger in the cane water, see the woman feeding chapatis to the crow. David Snyder makes a slice of India come alive to the reader.

Anne Malley, via the Internet

 

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