Voting Indian Style

As the world’s largest democracy, the efforts India made to ensure each of its 800 million registered voters had a ballot are somewhere in between noteworthy and commendable. No matter the gap in the circumstances between voting in the U.S. and voting in India, the work in the Markha Valley described in a NYT article invites comparison with practices in the U.S. Regular civil servants had to leave their desk jobs to trek miles and miles in a region high on a Tibetan Plateau to establish polling places. In the district of Leh, costs of fuel and voting awareness campaigns alone came to $1665 per voter. Normally every 1000 voters required a polling booth, but in Leh district, only 4 of its 274 settlements met that requirement. In Mombai or Delhi the logistics were simple, but in most of India, as in the Leh district, the challenges abounded.

In the US, by contrast, we are embroiled in voters registration laws, measures that are likely to restrict voting. Our turnout is already low—that in India was the highest it has ever been, thought to be about 68%– In Los Angeles recently the mayor was elected with votes from 16% of registered voters. Over a billion dollars, if not more, is projected to be spent on media ads, many sponsored by special interest groups funded by individual or others with deep pockets and sometimes private agendas— entities whose task is rarely to ensure that people vote, but to sway voters to vote pro or con a given cause or candidate.

It’s doubtful we’ll be able to get back to basics, but surely examples such as the one in India can open dialogue about a better way for us to conduct elections.

Compassion And Executions

Ever since the execution of Clayton Locket went awry and caused what appeared to be extreme suffering, so much so it took him 43 minutes to die of a heart attack after the execution was stopped, some have said it was what he deserved. The victim’s family has been silent refusing to comment, but their neighbors and community in Oklahoma have been quite vocal, and the governor who apparently did not disagree with them called Locket evil. Others commenting on Locket’s execution have shared similar sentiments. What strikes me about the comments from any who felt Locket merited a torturous death is the lack of compassion. He died at the age of 38 after being in prison for 15 years, mainly on death row. The state in the name of the people imprisoned him and took his life because of what he did, which unquestionably is a horrible crime. He contributed to the murder of a 19 year old girl, and then to burying her alive after she was shot. But being civilized means we abstain from cruel punishment or in some way place ourselves above it. Christians, Buddhists, Jews each have their own explanations as to why mercy, charity, kindness, empathy, love, whatever form compassion takes, is necessary in this kind of situation. While the execution has sparked discussion about many topics related to capital punishment and executions, we need to add that of compassion. What does its lack in this instance say about us? Can the lack of compassion make us evil? Can it be said that if those who commit criminal acts had had compassion they might have stopped themselves? Do we have the right to abstain from compassion when someone else does?

Consumer Power

Consumers have made a difference with coffee, with carpets, with chocolate. Most of us insist on fair traded products and carpets that are not made by the little hands of children. But when it comes to T-shirts from Bangladesh we still however have a way to go. It’s a little over a year since the Rana Plaza collapse killing 1129 people, not to speak of those who were injured and hurt in major ways, and observers and others report not much has changed. The government has inspected 700 of the 2000 buildings it is to check, yet for those that have been checked there is no assurance there are no potential problems. Bangladesh has good safety laws, but it is easy to bribe officials to circumvent them. Two groups have formed to prevent future disasters, one is mainly made up of Europeans firms, the other, including firms like Wal-mart, Gap and Target, have no representatives from labor. There is need for pressure upon the government and others to insist for improving conditions. Already the pressure has forced the government to increase the minimum wage to $16 a week. Activists discourage boycotts, because even sweat shops are usually the best alternative for many women workers, but they do encourage pressure in whatever way we can exercise it.

Child To Child

The Dadaab refuge camp in north-eastern Kenya is one of the largest refugee camps and has been home to some 400,000 refugees for the last 23 years. They come mainly from Somalia, people who have fled conflict, famine, and drought. The BBC reports  that under the auspices of Care International, the aid agency which provides many of the camps services, the children of Dadaab have written letters of hope to the children of Syrian refugees now in the Refugee Assistance Centre in Amman, Jordan.  As one would expect, they’re touching letters but also reveal the resilience of the children.” Don’t be hopeless, we are with you, and if there’s war in your country, tolerance is necessary,” writes Zahra Dahir Ali. “We are praying for you God gives you better life and with the help of God as soon as possible you will get peace in your country because we are feeling the same way you are feeling,” writes Abashir Hussein. “I am sure 100% that if you practice learning and struggling, you will excel at the end,” Hibo Mahamed Dubow writes, “Last but not least I tell you not to lose hope because you have been refugees for only three years. What do you think of people who are refugees for about two decades?”

Care International says the letters were well received. The young Syrians are now drafting responses.