India: Dalits rally for rights

Indian people belonging to the Dalit caste, known as “untouchables,” assembled Dec. 6 in Mumbai for a demonstration marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Dalit leader responsible for India’s constitution.

Demanding rights for the Dalit people and an end to India’s caste system, speakers denounced routine failure of state authorities to prosecute and punish those who persecute them. Segregation is rampant at worship sites and at places for obtaining water. Most domestic servants and rickshaw operators are identified as Dalits.

Among the million or more rallying in Mumbai this year, outrage was at a high pitch because of the brutal murder Sept. 29 of Dalit women and children in Maharashtra. Speakers also condemned the recent desecration of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur. Social worker Rupa Kulkarni told a BBC reporter, “No matter how progressive people call themselves, that really progressive element — a generous and big heart — is still missing.”

Chad: Situation dire for refugees

The UN relief agency operating in eastern Chad recently drastically reduced its personnel there because of threats posed by fighting between government forces and rebels, with 200 humanitarian staff workers being removed from Abeche in late November. About $1.3 million worth of food and other supplies, about half the total amassed for humanitarian aid, went missing during the fighting; only some of it has been retrieved. The agency is reduced to sending mobile teams to camps in the north for a day or two at a time.

The UN spokesperson told BBC Dec. 6 that the agency could continue its lifeline to the camps for no more than one month. There are 218,000 refugees from Darfur in the region, 110,000 of whom live in six camps. The relief agency also has responsibility for some 90,000 displaced Chadians. Nongovernmental organizations in Chad and the World Health Organization are likewise reduced to skeleton staffs due to the security situation.

Great Britain: Unions organize immigrants

A Scottish union official recently reported, “We have recruited several thousand [immigrants] into the union nationally [and] it’s a shot in the arm.” He was referring to some of the 200,000 Polish workers joining the British workforce since Poland joined the European Union, mainly in the catering, security and the building trades.

Polish workers earn more in Britain, but many have experienced deductions for mysterious “expenses” and lost jobs when they asked questions. In recent weeks the new workers have been flocking to organizing meetings throughout the nation, according to the Dec. 6 Guardian.

There now is a union branch consisting entirely of immigrant workers. According to Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, “We have to see what unions can do to reach out to vulnerable workers and find out how well they get their rights enforced.” The TUC has established links with Polish unions and attends job fairs there.

Colombia: Cozy ties between politicians, right-wing paramilitaries

A major scandal involving Colombian President Alvarez Uribe came to a head on Nov. 29 as the Supreme Court summoned six congresspersons for questioning about arrangements they and other officials made with leaders of Colombia’s drug-dealing, murderous, right-wing paramilitary groups.

Seized computer files belonging to a commander known as “Jorge 40” have revealed close, interlocking connections between the private military groups and politicians and business leaders, local and national. One senator told a newspaper interviewer that he and 40 other politicians signed a secret, protective agreement with paramilitary leaders in 2001. The signers included Uribe, then a congressperson.

One of the six lawmakers has suggested that for the court to implicate him in the scandal would be to draw his sister, the nation’s foreign minister, and Uribe into the scandal. What’s involved “is the building of a mafioso regime in Colombia,” said Sen. Gustavo Petro, according to

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @