India’s Beef Ban
It was perhaps the most egregious in a spate of recent such incidents widely reported in the media. They have alarmed many in India’s liberal political establishment and especially leaders of the significant Muslim minority who fear a rising intolerance in this largely Hindu nation.
ASSADUDDIN OWAISI (All India Council of the Union of Muslims): The psyche that spawns an incident like this is against India’s secularism and brotherhood. It is thinking that looks down upon Muslims with distrust. This incident was not triggered by the beef issue; they murdered him on religious grounds.
DE SAM LAZARO: Whatever triggered the incident, “the beef issue” has been a political hot potato, one that’s endured even as the country has entered the globalized economy.
You won’t find beef in a Burger King anywhere in India, for example, or a McDonald’s. Here burgers come from sheep, chickens, even vegetables, but not cows. Paradoxically, the animals roam freely on the street-vulnerable to poisonous garbage and to being captured and taken to slaughter at night, though there are efforts to crack down on that illegal practice and to herd cows into shelters.
DEVENDER NAYAK (Magazine Editor): We don’t even believe that the cow is an animal. We see it as a manifestation of God. Our magazine tries to educate people about the Mother Cow, about the benefits of the cow.
DE SAM LAZARO: Hindus-80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people-have long venerated the cow. It is the favorite animal of the deity Lord Krishna, and that reverence in turn is likely linked to the animal’s utility. Devender Nayak edits a magazine dedicated to improving awareness of the cow’s significance.
NAYAK: A poor family can sustain themselves with just one family of cows. They can sell the milk, use the dung and the urine, which has many medicinal properties.
DE SAM LAZARO: Whether that reverence should mean an outright ban on beef has been a vexing issue ever since independence in 1947 from the beef-loving British rulers. The father of modern India, a Hindu, professed his love for the cow, but Mahatma Gandhi said he would not impose his views on Muslims, Christians, as well as Hindus in some regions who do consume beef. Nonetheless, India’s constitution, while not outlawing cow slaughter, urges individual states to do so.
SHASHI THAROOR (Opposition Member of Parliament): India is a federal country, and so many states have gone ahead and outright banned cow slaughter.
DE SAM LAZARO: Shashi Tharoor is an author and member of the opposition Congress, the once-powerful party of Gandhi and Nehru. For years, under Congress rule, there was an accommodation of beef consumption in minority and many urban communities. But that changed with the election in 2014 of a Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, led by charismatic Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
THAROOR: The BJP has essentially encouraged a more proactive and aggressive form of Hindu chauvinism, as a result of which the authorities’ zeal in voicing public disapproval of beef eating has suddenly created political tensions in our society. That’s the sort of polarization that could be deeply damaging to India’s stability in its future, and what many of us, who are not particularly fond of beef, still rail against. I’m a vegetarian myself.
DE SAM LAZARO: In a recent speech in Parliament, Tharoor said the frequent reports of vigilante groups targeting minorities, of rising intolerance, is coming at the cost of India’s reputation.
THAROOR: A Bangladeshi friend of mine who was visiting Delhi last week and he told me that Islamic fundamentalists in his country were having a field day attacking India as a place where it is safer to be a cow than a Muslim.
DE SAM LAZARO: Is that a bit of hyperbole?
THAROOR: It is a bit of hyperbole. It was a line used in a speech in Parliament-to good effect, I am pleased to say. But then at the same time I should stress that obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. What I wanted people on the ruling party’s benches to realize is that it’s their conduct that has enabled critics of India to say things like this. And I think that it’s high time that the government realize that they’re making asses of themselves and discrediting an enormously plural and diverse civilization.
DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Prime Minister Modi, though allied with Hindu nationalist groups, has not involved himself in their key demand: that India declare itself a Hindu nation. Modi has stuck to the pro-business economic development theme he’s struck ever since ascending to office.
PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: Hindus, decide if you want to fight against Muslims or fight against poverty. Muslims, decide whether you want to fight against Hindus or against poverty. Our country can only prosper if Hindus and Muslims unite to fight against poverty and we defeat poverty.
DE SAM LAZARO: Coming several days after the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq, Modi was criticized for saying too little too late and for not reining in vigilante groups and some members of his party who made statements appearing to support them. It turns out, by the way, that the meat found in Akhlaq’s refrigerator was not beef, but mutton. But Modi’s supporters say it is the opposition that is using divisive religion politics for their own gain.
MUKHTAR ABBAS NAQVI (Minister for Minority Affairs): The prime minister has repeatedly said that if the country should remain united everyone will have to walk hand in hand for development. But there are certain politicians that promote pseudo-secularism and are not ready to hear his message.
DE SAM LAZARO: The key question is whether the so-called “beef issue” represents the normal ebb and flow of a vibrant, if sometimes violent, democracy or whether that democracy, in fact, faces a new real threat.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in New Delhi.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: In geography, culture, and certainly climate, Minnesota seems about as distant as one can get from the Horn of Africa. Yet Minnesota is home to more than 30,000 Somalis, the largest such community in the US. Most are refugees from a war-torn nation that’s long been a haven for Islamist extremists.
Groups like the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab and Islamic State, or ISIS, have targeted this community, mainly through videos on the internet. The FBI says up to 40 young men from Minnesota have traveled to Somalia or Syria since 2007.
News Anchor: He was the second known American killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria, and he was from right here in Minnesota.
DE SAM LAZARO: The media attention and extremist tactics have been deeply offensive to the community, says 39-year-old Mohamed Amin Ahmed, who’s lived here since 1998 and works in a convenience store.
(to Ahmed) What offended you the most? Is there something that pushed you over the edge?
MOHAMED AMIN AHMED: The fact that they claim my faith. It is the greatest inheritance we have is our faith. My goal is to compete, to take the values of the majority of the Muslims and go after the kids between the age of 8 and 16 and compete for their mind-space.
DE SAM LAZARO: Also for their media-space.
Average Mohamed video: Knock, knock. Average Mohamed here…
DE SAM LAZARO: Enter AverageMohamed.com, a website Ahmed started last year.
AHMED: ISIS, Islamic State made a video which is action-packed, showing American soldiers being killed and hurt, called “Flames of War.” And I spoofed it. I said well, what you’re actually doing is “Flames of Hell,” because what you’re doing is not war. It is genocide.
Voice on video: “Behead unarmed, innocent people you round up. Destroy.”
(Speaking to young Muslim men) You guys have seen the videos on YouTube, right? This is something that competes with that.
DE SAM LAZARO: Ahmed screens his videos before targeted audiences-on this night, members of a local soccer club aided by their coach, Ahmed Ismail.
AHMED: You guys have to understand these people are playing a game. It’s not part of religion; it’s not part of Islam. Islam means peace and submission to the will of God.
DE SAM LAZARO: For the young men, though, the lessons they get here contrast with stereotypes many said they must endure.
FIRST YOUNG MAN: I was on my phone, I was just, you know, like reading the Qur’an. I was waiting for the bus, and there was this dude. He was white, he was standing right next to me. So he was looking at what I was doing, because I was wearing a big jacket, a black jacket. Whenever he looks back at me, he thinks kind of like I’m a terrorist or something.
SECOND YOUNG MAN: So some kid came up to me: “Oh, Somali people are terrorists now.” People judge too quick.
COACH ISMAIL: When they say you are terrorist, tell them no. You are wrong. I have nothing to do with it. I disagree with those people who’s doing those bad things, I disagree with the people who are killing innocent people, because you don’t want to kill innocent people who haven’t done anything to you, whether he’s Jewish, or he’s a Christian or he’s a Buddha.
Average Mohamed video: What do you think your job description is when you join Islamic State?
DE SAM LAZARO: Such mentoring relationships are critical to help influence the choice of young men not fully grounded in their native culture, not feeling accepted in their adopted one. Abdi Samatar is a professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the state’s earliest Somali residents.
PROFESSOR ABDI SAMATAR (Geography Department, University of Minnesota): The mindset is one that has not a good grasp of its own faith, disconnected from the larger Minnesota community, maybe doing well or not so well in school; sees themselves as black people in a white sea or a “foreign sea.” So the attempt by the young Somali man to try to figure out cartoons and images that wILL sort of counter the images that the terrorists put on the web, for instance, is I think an important and insightful agenda on his part.
DE SAM LAZARO: But Samatar says it will take much more to truly impact recruitment-not just offsetting extremist propaganda, but also policy changes. For example, he says the US has not pushed for reform in the highly unpopular government now in Somalia.
SAMATAR: We have supported quite a dysfunctional government that is by all standards the most corrupt regime that is in the world, as Transparency International tells us, and so that plays in very strange ways to the recruitment of al Shabaab and all kinds of terrorists saying that the United States is not serious about our interest.
DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Ahmed says he has gotten some negative responses to his efforts. One called him an apostate. But he’s not afraid for his safety, he says. Public response has been global and overwhelmingly positive.
AHMED: I’m getting literally hundreds of emails from people wishing me well and, more importantly, telling me about what this particular message did for them or what they understood it to be, and how it helped them in terms of talking about this issue.
DE SAM LAZARO: How do you know that this is something that’s going to resonate with an 18-year-old living in Minneapolis?
AHMED: I focus-group it. So basically, I walked up to a bunch of kids, over 250 of them, and I asked them, “What do you think about suicide bombing? Is it an Islamic principle?” Most of them said, “I think it is.” Now I went back to some of these kids and i showed them a video, and they come back and they say, “Oh, now we know better.” So it does work. But I haven’t been able to quantify in terms of impact. The impact is really hard to gauge.
DE SAM LAZARO: It’s a work in progress that he hopes to scale up, he says. For now, it is funded on a shoestring and his own savings. One way he’s kept costs down is to work with a graphic artist he’s never met-in India.
AHMED: The storyboard comes from me, and he passes it over to me, and we spend a couple of days going backwards and forward, taking things out, adding things, improving on them. And then he creates the product, and he sends it back to me.
DE SAM LAZARO: And this is a Hindu gentleman in India?
AHMED: This is a Hindu gentleman in India. The sound board and engineering is done by a Christian white guy here in Minnesota, and I’m a Muslim who is creating this. It’s diversity.
DE SAM LAZARO: He’s hoping to add diversity to this inherently global effort with more cartoons and more languages-Arabic and Urdu, for example-to be used in other parts of the Muslim world.
Average Mohamed video: Remember: Peace up. Extremist thinking, especially Islamic State, out.
DE SAM LAZARO: For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Minneapolis.
Who silenced Pakistani social activist Sabeen Mahmud?
GWEN IFILL: On Friday evening, Sabeen Mahmud, a leading Pakistani human rights activist, was shot and killed outside the Second Floor, the cafe she ran in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. Her mother was seriously wounded in the attack.
Shortly before her killing, Mahmud posted a photo online of an event she’d just held at the cafe, which was known for its lively political and arts discussions. Friday, the topic was killings and the disappearance of political activists in the province of Baluchistan, allegedly carried out by the Pakistani military.
Just last month, NewsHour correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro spoke with Mahmud at her cafe about her work, its dangers, and the space she created.
SABEEN MAHMUD, Human Rights Activist: People get an opportunity to take their minds off of whatever is going on, and we’re an open space. And it’s open to all and anyone who chooses to walk through its doors.
And it’s a model. It’s a template for other people to create similar public spaces in other areas of the city. And maybe, you know, those are the only — that that is a respite that we need from the violence and the anguish sometimes that you can’t help but feel.
I have a very cavalier attitude to fear, but maybe I — I don’t care. I just feel, when the time will comes, the time will come.
GWEN IFILL: Sabeen Mahmud was buried Saturday, mourned by more than 200 colleagues, as her murder was condemned by Pakistan’s prime minister and by the United States.
To tell us more about her life and work, Fred de Sam Lazaro joins me now.
Fred, how did you come to know of Sabeen Mahmud?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Well, Gwen, we had gone to visit her because she really was an icon for a lot of young people in Pakistan, and particularly in Karachi.
She was a tech entrepreneur earlier in life. And she was only 40 when she was killed. But there is a growing techie culture in Karachi. And that was the focus of our story. We will have that story on pretty soon on the NewsHour. And so I had gone to her to talk a little bit about that whole scene and about what life was like in Karachi for someone very connected to the world, and yet hemmed in by all the political turmoil that Pakistan is roiled in right now.
GWEN IFILL: She talked to you about being cavalier about fear. Did she recognize the risk?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: I think she was well aware, acutely aware of the risk, because this is one of the world’s most violent cities.
There are a number of targeted killings, particularly of people who are considered liberal and people who dare to venture into no-go areas, and Baluchistan appears to be one of those.
She was, of course, fearless. Karachi is a place where a lot of people have armed escorts. She did not. She traveled very freely. And, as she said on the tape, when the time comes, the time comes.
GWEN IFILL: One of her friends, you quoted her online in your piece. One of her friends is quoted as saying that she was silenced. Do we know who did the silencing? Are there any thoughts about what the cause of this was?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s blame that — there are fingers being pointed in all kinds of direction.
One of the biggest frustrations, Gwen, is that there’s a climate of impunity. And no one knows for sure or can intelligently point to suspects in this kind of a climate. One thing that seems to be a consensus is, it’s highly unlikely that the people who killed her will ever see justice.
GWEN IFILL: And so, when something like this were to happen here, we assume there’s a next step, a criminal justice system which steps up and gets to the bottom of it. Is there any evidence of that so far?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There hasn’t been from similar kinds of episodes.
We have seen a number of people in the so-called liberal establishment in Pakistan who have been felled by gunfire, social workers, political leaders who have dared speak out, for example, against the blasphemy law, which is very controversial, very, very little follow-up to that. And, of course, the media buzz dies down.
There is a great groundswell of deep mourning right now. And how much that might sustain an ongoing judicial process is an open question. People are doubtful that the real culprits will ever be found, however.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Fred, you always bring us these untold stories. And, in this case, it was incredibly and, sadly, timely actually.
So, thank you very much for that. And we look forward to seeing your complete report later on the NewsHour.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Thanks, Gwen.
One Year After the Earthquake
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro explores the reconstruction efforts as part of our partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kathmandu still bears scars from the quakes, but many people in Nepal’s bustling capital have pushed the rubble aside and started rebuilding their homes and lives.
That’s not possible in the quake’s worst-hit regions, villages high up in the rugged Himalayan landscape, places that were hard to reach even before the disasters struck. Most people here were displaced into makeshift camps miles away in valleys miles away.
On April 25, 2015, the village of Mailung literally slid out of existence; 38 people died instantly as boulders rained down from the mountainside. Five bodies have never been recovered from under them.
Parma Singh Tamang ran a grocery store and tailoring business in this abandoned community once home to 400 people. The remnants from his shops peek out from under tons of granite. Two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren perished here. Others in the large extended family that lived here barely escaped.
PARMA SINGH TAMANG, Displaced Resident (through interpreter): When they heard the loud rumbling, they were very confused and ran down by the river.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Down the street is the spot where Selnam Tamang lived. She wasn’t home on that fateful day. She was visiting her mother, leaving her four children with her in-laws and eldest child, Asmita.
SELNAM TAMANG, Displace Resident (through interpreter): Her grandfather was cooking fish, and all the family was gathered in the main floor area, but Asmita didn’t like fish, so she climbed to the second floor of the house.
Then, suddenly, the earthquake came, and the whole house fell, and she was thrown some distance away. But the whole family, they were crushed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Including two younger daughters and infant son. She did manage to rescue their pictures.
I’m really sorry.
Their current situation stokes the despair. Most people in the camp say they have no money and have received little assistance to rebuild. Selnam Tamang scrapes by on about $3 a day as a daily laborer, working about 10 days each month. And conditions in the metal-roofed shacks are not healthy, says 12-year-old Asmita, who is learning English.
ASMITA TAMANG, Displaced Resident: When sun is rising, then very hot.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It gets very hot when the sun rises. Are there many people who are sick in this camp?
ASMITA TAMANG: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What kind of sickness do they have?
ASMITA TAMANG: Diarrhea, and winter season, people have pneumonia.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Nepal’s inadequate health care system, the quake has added demands. Shanti Uprety, a public health nurse, says many of the displaced have migrated closer to population centers, like the one she serves, in pursuit of work.
SHANTI UPRETY, Public Health Nurse (through interpreter): They can’t farm their land, and have no sources of food, and conditions in the temporary shelters are hazardous. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable now.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We followed along as she coached Anu Biswakarma, a new mother, on breast-feeding. Her 19-day-old son wasn’t thriving.
Days earlier, she’d urged that the child be taken to regional hospital, but this family could not afford the bus fare. Uprety has seen many preventable illnesses end in tragedy, and recalled another recent pregnant patient.
SHANTI UPRETY (through interpreter): I knew that the mother was anemic and told them to take her to hospital to deliver, but they couldn’t afford it, so they both died. That case happened three months back. I have experienced a few cases like this since the earthquake.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The health system she works for can’t do much to help, having only begun to rebuild facilities. Some social enterprises did try to help.
One Heart World-Wide has worked for years in Nepal on maternal and child health.
ARLENE SAMEN, One Heart World-Wide: We had met a company in Utah that made these tents that are 12-by-12, and they’re big enough to set up as literally a birthing room. And so we distributed those and set them up immediately after the earthquake. So, in less than a year, we have delivered over 1,000, with no maternal or newborn deaths in any of those situations in our tents.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But One Heart’s founder, Arlene Samen, says much of the international relief efforts were uncoordinated and have met only a tiny fraction of the need.
ARLENE SAMEN: There’s millions of dollars that were raised that still have not been deployed and could be and should be given to people, so they could rebuild.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says many non-government aid groups were reluctant to deploy in Nepal, blaming the political dysfunction in a country that’s endured years of instability.
For five months last winter, an internal dispute over a new constitution and regional politics led to an unofficial blockade of the main trade routes into landlocked Nepal from India, for which the two neighbors blame each other.
Even today, people spend hours in line for cooking fuel and gasoline.
So, the country is essentially paralyzed by political gridlock?
SUJEEV SHAKYA, Nepal Economic Forum: Yes. It has been.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As a result, economist Sujeev Shakya says some four billion dollars in earthquake aid pledged by several nations have remained largely unspent, as rival factions fight over who should control how it is dispensed.
SUJEEV SHAKYA: For folks in the politics, this is like $4 billion dollars coming in, so how much can we make out of this? This is how they think. And they need the right…
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How much can they line their pockets, you mean?
SUJEEV SHAKYA: Yes, line their pockets. And that’s the whole question.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, the newly formed National Reconstruction Authority says it now has support from all political factions and will soon shift into high gear.
Families will be entitled to grants of about $2,000 to rebuild homes. Communities will receive aid for schools and health facilities.
RAM PRASAD THAPALIYA, National Reconstruction Authority, Nepal (through interpreter): Within this four years we will make a new Nepal. This Nepal will not be made by government, but by the people. The process of making the new Nepal will be created by the government for the people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Spokesman Ram Prasad Thapaliya said the slow start has two main causes, the daunting task of surveying extensive damage over forbidding terrain and setting up a transparent accountability system.
RAM PRASAD THAPALIYA (through interpreter): To spend this amount of money that is coming in, the authority has to spend that money with partners. The donors and the people are going to be watching to see if there is any corruption.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And there’s growing public access to information to hold the government accountable. Civic groups, using technology and media, have set up Web sites to track aid dollars. There’s even a TV show called “Integrity Idol” to single out government officials, a group widely viewed as corrupt.
BLAIR GLENCORSE, Accountability Lab: In the beginning, everyone said you won’t find anyone in Nepal. And, actually, we had hundreds of nominations, and the five finalists were incredible people at the local level.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Blair Glencorse and Narayan Adhikari with the Washington-based nonprofit company Accountability Lab, which produces the show.
NARAYAN ADHIKARI, Accountability Lab: Seeing all this energy coming from young people and also especially technology front as well gives me a hope.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But back at the displaced people’s camp, Parma Singh Tamang and his wife, Jyomo, say they’re not holding their breath for the promised government assistance.
JYOMO TAMANG, Displaced Resident (through interpreter): I have no hope that we will ever get back the life we used to have.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A few doors down, Selnam Tamang is spending a lot of her meager income on school fees, investing her hopes in Asmita’s aspiration.
ASMITA TAMANG: Doctor.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You want to be a doctor?
It will be an uncertain, at times even desperate journey for many years for her and so many Nepalis.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Nuwakot, Nepal.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Explore more of Nepal a year after the earthquake on our Web site. We have a 360-degree video of several locations from our reporting trip revealing material that shows you a complete perspective. Find it on our Web site at PBS.org/NewsHour.
Last Jews of Cochin
Judy Woodruff:, first:
But the last hurrah of a once-thriving Jewish community in one of the diaspora’s farthest-flung places.
Fred de Sam Lazaro takes us to India.
A version of this story aired on “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
In its nearly 900-year history, this synagogue had never seen an observance like this one. They came from four continents to this unlikely location, the coastal Indian city of Cochin, for the first Sabbath service in decades — and possibly the last one ever.
A once thriving Jewish community of several thousand has mostly faded into a bittersweet history in the age of modern-day Israel, said Yeshoshua Sivan, a British-born Israeli.
Israeli tourist: I’m very sad to see communities disappear. On the other hand, I’m very happy to see that after all these years of dispersion the prophecy of the return to the land of Israel is in my time being — I’m part of it — is being realized. At least we see the synagogues, we see the streets, we see how life was once here.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Jewish life along India’s Malabar Coast dates back to the ancient spice trade that drew explorers from across the sea.
They come now as tourists, but they came in ancient times to trade, and, in the case of some Jews, to settle — from Yemen, Mesopotamia, and later a few from Spain and Portugal after the Inquisition.
Away from tourist enclaves, there’s a struggle to preserve what remains of the Jewish heritage here.
I’m standing in what was the women’s section of a synagogue in Mala, about four or five miles in from the coastline. There was a thriving Jewish community here until 1955, when they decided, all of them, en masse, to emigrate to Israel. And they turned this building over to local municipal authorities.
Historian: They were very good friends. They were very good neighbors. They were very good traders.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Some left for religious fulfillment in the new Jewish homeland, says retired Professor C. Karmachandran, who heads a local historic preservation committee. Others thought Israel had better economic prospects, he adds, but none left in fear. Scholars agree that there’s little history of anti Semitism in India.
They were given all the protection by the rulers as well as the local people to maintain their culture, their religion, their belief and their practices, and this in fact is the living symbol of that particular lofty tradition.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
But even lofty traditions come under development pressure or suffer neglect. Already half the old Jewish cemetery has been appropriated for a stadium, Karmachandran complains.
The rest is overgrown with weeds, where livestock graze. Fading memories breed indifference, he says, but in a time of growing religious tensions in India, it’s critical to preserve the heritage here.
To keep it up for posterity.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
This is a lesson of tolerance.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Sixty-year-old Elias Josephai was made caretaker of the synagogue in Cochin. He’s one of the last remaining members of a community that numbers no more than a handful today.
This is where school children sat?
In the space where children once studied on the Shabbat, he runs a nursery and aquarium supply business. The synagogue proper served as a dusty warehouse when I first visited Josephai.
And the scrolls from here are?
Synagogue Caretaker: In Israel.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Its sacred scrolls were donated years ago to a museum in Israel. Lacking the minyan or quorum of 10 men required for a Shabbat service, there hadn’t been one since 1972.
I cry every Shabbat, every holiday. I cry in my heart.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
About a year ago, Josephai shared that lament with some Israeli tourists who stopped by.
Tour organizer: And when he told us that they hadn’t prayed in that synagogue since 1972, I said to myself, I’ve got to come back with a group, with a quorum of 10 men.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Brooklyn native Ari Greenspan, a dentist and amateur chef now in Israel, did indeed organize a return tour of India’s Jewish communities, complete with a kosher menu.
So here we have a traditional Jewish cook and a traditional Indian cook, Ravi, who’s been traveling with us all week, making sure that we have both strictly kosher and amazingly tasty kosher Indian food.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
As they prepared the Shabbat meal, some of the 35 visitors took time for pre-Shabbat prayers. Most came here under the auspices of the U.S.-and-Israel-based Orthodox Union, which encourages Jewish heritage tours.
Jewish Heritage Tourist: It’s still wonderful to go into a building which hasn’t been used in a very long time. At least you’re able to have it function again for the purpose a synagogue was meant, namely to hold a prayer service. It’s kind of a revitalization, even for a short time.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
For Josephai, it was a dream 44 years in the making, as the visitors entered a sanctuary that had been spiffed up. They heaped praise on their host.
You’re sort of on the cusp. He’s the last guy here, and when he goes — he should live to be 120 years old, right, but, when he goes, that’s it. Two thousand years of Cochin is gone.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Josephai actually plans to be gone in four years, retiring and settling, like all the rest, in Israel. It’s not an easy decision, leaving a land he holds dear and a place so influential in forming who he is.
I will keep my heart over here and then go. Always, I love India, but it is inevitable. One day, today or tomorrow, I have to leave the country, not because of the discrimination, but, as a Jew, to live, to be as a Jew.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Elias Josephai may well be that last Jew, the one who’ll turn out the lights on nearly a millennium of history in this place.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro, in Cochin, India.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Organizing Street Vendors in India
Last year, the country became the world’s fastest growing economy. But the benefits have eluded many of its citizens.
Fred de Sam Lazaro has our first report on one group trying to reverse that trend. It is part of his ongoing series, Agents for Change.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The big malls may have arrived, but in India, food, clothing and virtually everything else is still bought mostly from street vendors.
They, along with construction laborers, domestics, rickshaw drivers and rickshaw pullers, in fact, most workers in India’s economy, are, quite literally, off the books, says Indiana University’s Sumit Ganguly.
SUMIT GANGULY, Indiana University: Ninety percent of the work force in India is in the so-called informal sector.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That could be a technical term that means a very hard life. They live from day to day. That is, if there’s work on any given day, they are paid at the end of it, less than $2 for most of them.
SUMIT GANGULY: These are people who have no Social Security provisions, who have no health care provisions, who can be hired and fired at will. And yet, according to a recent Credit Suisse study, it’s close to – they contribute close to 50 percent of India’s gross national product.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only are they underappreciated, but they fall easy prey to corrupt officials.
The market outside of Delhi’s main mosque has been here for more than 200 years. The vendors complain that they’re subject to regular harassment from police demanding bribes or from municipal authorities who conduct regular raids to evict them.
IMRAN KHAN, Street Vendor (through interpreter): They kicked us out from here in 2014, citing security reasons.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across India’s cities, vendors like Imran Khan carry tales of harassment, sometimes along with their own video, of stalls dismantled and merchandise confiscated.
IMRAN KHAN (through interpreter): Then finally, we went to NASVI, to Arbind, and he said, you have only one option, straight to court.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Social activist Arbind Singh founded NASVI, the National Association of Street Vendors.
ARBIND SINGH, National Association of Street Vendors: All those who were kicked out, have them come to the office tomorrow.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We ran into Singh in another Delhi market, where he was getting the familiar complaints from merchants.
ARBIND SINGH: We had gone to court for these vendors, and in recent days, they are having some trouble.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They’re still be harassed?
ARBIND SINGH: Yes, yes, yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For 20 years since it began, Singh’s group has organized various informal workers. It lobbied successfully for a law to protect street vendors, calling for a zoning and permit system. And until it’s in place, the court said no one can be evicted.
The problem, many officials simply flout the new law, preying on a population that is poorly educated and doesn’t fully understand it or their rights.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This 19-year-old said he’d been in business for a year, selling this street food staple called panipuri.
QUESTION: So, how much do they take from you?
MAN (through interpreter): Who?
QUESTION: The municipality people.
MAN (through interpreter): Nothing. I don’t give any money.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He worried at first about reprisals, but did finally tell us he bribes the authorities about $1.50 each time they come round. That’s a third to a half of a day’s pay.
But protecting vendors like him is only the first step. The second is to improve their skills.
He’s obviously untrained. He’s using his bare hands. What would you do with him?
ARBIND SINGH: Well, first thing is that we need to organize, so he becomes part of the organizing process. Then, secondly, he goes for the training.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With help from the tourism ministry and the hospitality industry, Singh’s organization has put thousands of street food vendors through training on food preparation, handling, service and storage.
Using street food festivals, the group’s message to vendors is that with better hygiene and food safety, their business can grow. But Singh says the new economy, geared very much to the middle class, must begin to help the much larger number below it to join it.
ARBIND SINGH: All what we need in a country like ours is equality of opportunity that is very much part of our constitution, that there has to be equality of all. I mean, you can get a loan for a car. You can’t get a loan for buying a rickshaw.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, some 350,000 people across India pay a small membership fee to belong to Singh’s group.
MANOJ KUMAR RANE, Street Vendor (through interpreter): We never did know the law. They have helped us to find our voice.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Manoj Kumar Rane says being organized has allowed vendors in his neighborhood to assert their rights. There are still reports of harassment from the cops and city people, he says, but far fewer than before.
Nidan has also started micro-finance programs and encouraged members to form local co-opts and savings clubs. Rani Harbans Kaur helped start this club, whose members pool their savings to make small loans.
Kaur, who’s 40, has graduated over the years from a sidewalk stall to a brick-and-mortar store, thanks to a series of small loans she says she has easily repaid.
ARBIND SINGH: There was an entrepreneur within herself. We just unleashed that with that access.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And India needs to provide a lot more access and employment to a growing youthful population. The median age is just 27.
Indiana University Professor Ganguly:
SUMIT GANGULY: We’re talking about entire armies of young men who are unemployed or underemployed, with expectations which cannot be reasonably fulfilled, unless one sees a greater dispersion of jobs and wealth in India.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Most of those young workers will likely wind up fending for themselves in the informal economy. Arbind Singh says the social stability in this land of 1.3 billion may well depend on organizing and protecting them and converting many of them into entrepreneurs.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in New Delhi.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In his next report, Fred looks at the plight of workers in a remote rural region where debt and a deadly disease trap many in poverty.
Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Rebuilding Nepal’s Temples
CHRISTIAN MANHART (UNESCO): The temples of Nepal are absolutely unique. They are inscribed on the World Heritage list. You will find such a dense concentration of cultural heritage in almost no country of the world. Also, it is an exceptional mix of religions. Many temples are Hindu and Buddhist at the same time.
DE SAM LAZARO: Hinduism has deep-and intersecting-roots here with Buddhism, whose founder, Gautama Buddha, was born in what today is Nepal some 2600 years ago. Scholars say most Nepalis’ beliefs and practices are a fusion of the two ancient faiths. The rich cultural heritage is also a living one, says Christian Manhart, of the United Nations Cultural Organization, UNESCO.
MANHART: So it is not just beautiful monuments which are there for tourists, but they are used. All of them are used by people of the country, so it’s a very strong living culture.
DE SAM LAZARO: And that adds more complication to the rebuilding efforts; a clash between Western and Eastern priorities and sensibilities.
ROHIT RANJITKAR (Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust): We don’t have this romanticism with historical patina. So this is, you know, a different way of looking at the monument [between] a Westerner eye and the local people here.
DE SAM LAZARO: Rohit Ranjitkar heads a nonprofit organization called the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust. He says for most Nepalis, these historic sites are first and foremost places of active worship.
RANJITKAR: Basically they have the attachment with the god and the place with the religious activities, not with the architecture. The site is important. You know, for them [whether] the temple will be rebuilt or not rebuilt, it does not make any difference.
19DE SAM LAZARO: Ranjitkar’s group has been rebuilding temples here for more than two decades, with funding mostly from private Western donors. The trust’s work likely helped some structures withstand the quake, he says, and it moved swiftly after the temblor to salvage what it could of others that were destroyed.
RANJITKAR: So these are all from the lost temple from the earthquake. We rescue from the rubble.
DE SAM LAZARO: They are among thousands of icons, statues, and timbers now housed in makeshift storage until they can be restored to their original temples.
RAJITKAR: This is the oldest part of the palace, from 1627. We started the renovating this building in 2008.
DE SAM LAZARO: The temples and monuments-often part of royal palace complexes. Its here that the delicate balancing act between Western or international norms and local traditions and concerns comes into play.
So this is about 300 years old, and this is…
RANJIKAR: Last year.
DE SAM LAZARO: Here, Ranjitkar explained the decision to repair weathered 300-year-old architectural elements with brand new work, going against the grain of many art historians who would have left the historic structure alone.
RANJITKAR: The people who still do that, we need to promote them. If we don’t do that, then this skill will also be lost.
DE SAM LAZARO: He says one priority is to preserve the skills and artisanship handed down the generations over centuries, but disappearing in a modern-world economy.
It took him three days to do this? Wow!
The craftsmen mainly come from lower socio-economic classes or castes and have not enjoyed high social standing. Many have gone into other work, notably as laborers in oil-rich Gulf States.
There’s also a shortage of recorded information to guide a rebuilding that’s faithful to the original temple design. Shukra Sagar Shrestha, a retired archaeologist, spends much of his time gathering old photographs, documents, and drawings to help the artisans and he studies the ancient inscriptions and intricate carvings on these temple icons. This series, for example, is a kind of dos and don’ts, he says, a path to either heaven or hell in one’s next life.
SHUKRA SAGAR SHRESTHA: Because you gave your daughter to marry, but you accepted money.
DE SAM LAZARO: So he has been put into a cauldron of boiling water because he accepted a dowry for his daughter?
DE SAM LAZARO: The UN estimates it will take at least 10 years and about $200 million to restore all the icons and monuments in Nepal’s heritage sites to their pre-earthquake location and condition.
For this part of the rebuilding, Ranjitkar says he leans toward a more Western or international preference: Repairing a lot of the woodwork instead of replacing it.
RANJITKAR: Saving as much as possible the historical element, not replacing the whole thing. The local people, they don’t like it. They think this is not good, this is not auspicious. In our religion we don’t worship image which is broken or chipped out. So when you have some damage in the image, so people normally replace it with a new one; they don’t use the old one. For them the image has to be complete.
DE SAM LAZARO: So as the rebuilding gets into full swing, Ranjitkar says one of his main tasks will be to spend more time with priests and worshippers who prefer the shiny and new-trying to convince them of the virtue of the ancient artisanship, and to consider another set of pilgrims to the temple: tourists. Their reverence is mainly for the historic architectural patina, and their dollars a critical engine in the local economy.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Kathmandu.
Can Water ATM’s Solve India’s Water Crisis
As special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports, an innovative solution to that problem is popping up across the country.
His report is part of our Breakthroughs series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The United Nations estimates that women in India spend a collective 150 million workdays every year just gathering water, water that’s increasingly scarce and polluted.
Now, in parts of the country, including this Delhi suburb, an experiment is under way. It’s called a water ATM. Customers purchase credit on a prepaid card, scan it at the tap, and out comes water that’s drawn from the ground and purified right at the site, using a technology called reverse osmosis.
Amit Mishra manages the Delhi facilities for a social business called Sarvajal, which hopes to use reinvest profits it makes to sustain these outlets over the long term.
This where the water gets purified. It goes into the large tanks here storage?
AMIT MISHRA: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With charitable grants for the $30,000 of equipment and land given by the local government, Sarvajal can charge customers a fraction of the price of commercially bottled water, which most people here cannot afford.
Fetching water remains a mostly female chore. It’s still self-service with heavy lifting. But it’s a massive improvement over what most of Delhi’s poorer neighborhoods have.
WOMAN (through interpreter): By 12:00?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We filmed their ordeal six years ago.
WOMAN (through interpreter): By 4:00.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The long wait for a municipal tanker truck that has no fixed schedule, the mad dash when it finally arrives.
The city’s middle class buys its way out of such chaos. Jyoti Sharme lives in an apartment that’s hooked up to the city water supply, better off, but hardly well off.
JYOTI SHARMA, Activist: We get water 45 minutes a day in the morning, and that’s it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: From the city?
JYOTI SHARMA: Yes, into these storage tanks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She described an elaborate jury-rigged system of pumps or motors homeowners use to extract water from the aging city pipes.
JYOTI SHARMA: These are all pipelines made by the people themselves. And these motors, they actually create a suction vacuum. So, if there is no water in the pipeline, any crack in the pipe will allow sewer or dirty water to get into the pipelines.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And things have hardly improved for most people since our 2010 visit.
K.H. PATIL, State Legislator: In India, every 21 seconds, we lose a child.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: K.H. Patil is a state legislator and self-described water activist in the southern province of Karnataka.
K.H. PATIL: Because of contaminated water, the health of our children is really very badly affected.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across India, it is contaminated by industrial and agricultural discharges and poor to nonexistent sewage treatment.
I have got two glasses from either end of the purification process. This one has clean water. This one has the raw water that comes out of the ground. They’re indistinguishable to the naked eye, but Amit Mishra here has a meter to measure the total dissolved solids, and it’s here that you really see the difference. So, let’s do the clean water first.
AMIT MISHRA: So, the clean water says around 130 of total dissolved solids.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One hundred and 30, within the World Health Organization range for drinkable water.
AMIT MISHRA: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: OK, and let’s go to the contaminated water now, 1,912.
So, this is really like poison?
AMIT MISHRA: This is really like poison.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And it’s what many people consume: so-called raw water drawn directly from the ground, sometimes bottled and sold by unscrupulous, unregulated operators.
AMIT MISHRA: For our uneducated, there is no difference between the clean and the clear.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But among those who have literally gotten a taste of clean water, there’s growing awareness of the health benefits. In the tiny space that is living room, bedroom and kitchen, Poonam echoed what we heard from several Sarvajal customers, as she prepared the family dinner, carefully pouring the water that’s just as precious as her staple rice.
WOMAN (through interpreter): In the past, we always suffered from upset stomachs, frequently running to the latrine. We had to go long distances to pick it up, and so we would buy water, and that was full of chemicals. This water is really good.
K.H. PATIL: People see what is happening, and with all that, now they are getting educated.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Minister Patil says governments at all levels are starting to respond to the drinking water crisis.
The Karnataka government, for example, has commissioned 7,000 kiosks or ATMs like this one in a semirural area, pinning high hopes on technology and on private companies that run these facilities that will have an incentive to improve the notoriously unreliable service.
For your incentive to keep the thing running properly is very plain to see. You will lose money if the system is down.
AMIT MISHRA: Yes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Still, he says, despite many satisfied customers, growth has been slower than Sarvajal had planned.
The politics are complicated, he says, in the world’s most populous democracy, even for life’s most basic necessity.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this Fred de Sam Lazaro in New Delhi.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Dust Leads to Deadly Lung Disease in India
Today, we travel to stone quarries in the rural northern part of the country, where a deadly disease has trapped workers there in poverty for generations.
This report is part of our Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across the urban landscape rise majestic sandstone palaces, monuments and temples, built in India’s timeless architectural traditions.
But what’s also timeless is how the stone continues to be mined, far from the cities here in the Rajasthan Desert. Early each morning, you hear the sound of sandstone being pounded into a gravel that is used in construction. No one is spared the drudgery, it seems, nursing mother with infant, young children.
QUESTION: How old are you?
CHILD (through interpreter): Ten.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He should be in school. It’s the law. But history suggests he will soon graduate to a quarry, part of a vicious cycle of generational poverty and disease.
The work is physically brutal under a blazing desert sun. Power drills are a recent addition that have made these quarries more productive. But behind their thick clouds of dust, miners wear nothing but flip-flops on their feet-and nothing at all on their faces. They earn $2 to $4 a day, depending on the task.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI, Executive Director, GRAVIS: The law of the mines is that, no work, no wage. So, the days when they can’t turn to work, because of an illness or because of some other problem, they can’t make any money.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And, Prakash Tyagi says, for an alarming number, perhaps a third of the 250,000 sandstone miners, the work is lethal, linked to silicosis, a slow, irreversible loss of lung function.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: Silicosis is a shame. Silicosis is something that shouldn’t exist in the contemporary times.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Silicosis is easily preventable with face masks and by using water to tamp down the dust that is everywhere. And the disease is now rarely seen in developed countries.
And yet Tyagi, who is a medical doctor, says no one around here had ever addressed until about three decades ago, when his late father started a charity called GRAVIS, dedicated to improving life in this impoverished region.
In the early days, many patients they saw were assumed to have tuberculosis, which is treatable with antibiotics.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: The treatment was given. Still, people were dying with lung issues very similar to T.B. But it wasn’t T.B.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Only after sending 250 X-rays to a research center in Delhi did GRAVIS learn it was dealing with silicosis and designed ways to help patient cope with the slow, degenerative, fatal condition.
Today, GRAVIS runs field clinics near quarries, offering diagnostic services and a limited amount of drugs, like cough suppressants and inhalers that can control, though not cure, symptoms.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI (through interpreter): Do you have T.B.?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many, like this 25-year-old mother of two, hope that they just have T.B., which is a common coinfection.
However, the paper she carried, but was unable to read, indicated she had silicosis.
She may live to be 40 years old?
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: At the most. So, she’s one of those accelerated silicosis cases. She is saying that she has been working in mines for about eight to 10 years. She would have started when she was 15 or 16.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many start even younger, though it typically takes about 20 years of dust exposure for silicosis to develop, destroying lung tissue, rendering sufferers listless and unable to do much physical activity.
MAN (through interpreter): I have been ill for about seven years. For two years I have just haven’t been able to work at all.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Their condition will worsen inevitably, until, like Joga Ram, they are literally unable to breathe.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: This is how, typically, silicosis patients die.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Is he reasonably comfortable or is he in pain?
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: He’s in a lot of pain.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ideally, he would receive oxygen and steroids and die in a hospital or hospice setting. None of that is available or affordable here.
The prolonged illness forces many families to incur debt, prolonging their medieval poverty into the next generation.
Modu Devi echoed the sentiments of many in this group of silicosis widows.
WOMAN (through translator): We have to send our children to work. We have no choice. There is no other way to put food in our stomachs.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s not a lot of food. It was around 10:00 a.m. when we visited this village.
“What have you eaten?” I asked. They hadn’t.
“The truck will come by around midday and, only when we load it up, will we get the money to buy food,” she said.
QUESTION (through interpreter): How much will you get paid?
WOMAN (through interpreter): One hundred and fifty.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s about $2.50.
These magnificent sandstone from which government officials governs in New Delhi may seem aloof and far removed from the suffering and labor of miners in Rajasthan. But the irony is that India actually passed laws decades ago to protect minors.
There’s a wide gap between what’s on paper and the ground reality. The combination of official neglect, social indifference and poor education ensure laws are rarely enforced. This mine owner insisted that he makes masks and helmets available.
MAN (through interpreter): They just don’t wear them. They don’t like to wear them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “Why not require them?” I asked.
“They will just leave and go to the next mine,” he said.
For their part, workers said they sometimes used masks while drilling, but in the blazing hot weather, they said, they are suffocating.
MAN (through interpreter): It’s impossible to breathe in them. We cannot breathe when we wear them.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A few mines now do provide for wet drilling and require workers to wear masks on certain jobs. This mine is run by Jeevraj Meghwal, who won a land concession under affirmative action policies to help people from lower castes.
JEEVRAJ MEGHWAL, Quarry Owner (through interpreter): I was once a laborer myself, so I know about the difficulties when you get sick, when you lose your income. In the beginning, we didn’t know much about silicosis. GRAVIS did help us understand it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: GRAVIS, which is funded by charitable donations from abroad and some Indian government grants, also helps affected miners navigate the daunting government bureaucracy.
DR. PRAKASH TYAGI: There is a lot of paperwork. There is a lot of delay. But we try to make sure that these people who are illiterate and less capable go through those hurdles.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The compensation, about 1,700 U.S. dollars for living victims, $3,000 for their survivors, provides some debt relief, more money to travel and perhaps find new work.
But Tyagi says his and a few other groups meet only a small fraction of the need, while he says thousands of silicosis victims scattered across this remote region suffer and die each year without even a diagnosis.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Rajasthan, India.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
You can watch his previous story about India’s urban workers on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.
Child Labor in Nepal’s Brick Kilns
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Heavy lifting is a way of life in this Himalayan country, but workers in Nepal’s brick kilns are in a league of their own.
Here, work is an endless cycle of loads that weigh more than the laborers who carry them, of polluted, oppressive conditions, grinding coal to stoke kilns that must be kept alive at some 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit round the clock, of molding clay into raw bricks that feed the ovens.
TILOOK MOKTAN, Nepal (through interpreter): You don’t use your brains to do this work. It’s just physical labor, but we have no choice. We have debts to pay.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tilook Moktan and his wife, Rina, say life is a never-ending cycle of debt for medical bills, for just running the household, they say, and to put their children in school.
TILOOK MOKTAN (through interpreter): I want to see that my children are educated, that they complete their higher education. Work is too tough in the brick sector.
MICHAEL HOLTZ, Christian Science Monitor: They will get up at midnight, before it gets too hot, work until dawn, sleep for a few hours, get up, start molding more bricks, and do it again the next night.
ANN HERMES, Christian Science Monitor: It’s physically demanding at all aspects. And that’s why I think its startling to see children.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We partnered with Christian Science Monitor reporter Michael Holtz and photographer Ann Hermes, who took these still photographs, on a story we found especially relevant now in this earthquake-ravage country about an industry notorious for trapping children and families in poverty.
MICHAEL HOLTZ: I think we really wanted to get a sense of, now that reconstruction is finally getting under way in Nepal, and demands for bricks is going to go so high, what — how that would affect the brick kiln industry itself, in terms of, would there be increases in child labor, increases in bonded labor?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There are some 1,100 brick kilns across Nepal, a number that’s grown recently, anticipating large-scale rebuilding from the earthquake.
HOMRAJ ACHARYA, Better Brick Nepal: So these are the areas where they make bricks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: All told, they employ about 250,000 people, says Homraj Acharya, who is part of a two-year-old initiative called Better Brick Nepal, or BBN.
And how many children again did you say are working in kilns today in Nepal?
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: We can find around 60,000.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sixty thousand?
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Children, yes, because, you know, it’s a family-based industry.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They live in brick shacks, surrounded by LEGO-like fortresses, molded bricks stacked up at the start of an almost preindustrial process.
For brick makers, there are no set working hours. The basic rule is, you work until you’re too tired to continue, and there’s every incentive to continue to the point of exhaustion, because workers are paid by the brick. They get a little less than one U.S. cent for every one of these that they produce.
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Because it’s paid on a piece basis, so if children are making like hundred bricks more, so that means you might get a hundred.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, they help the productivity, which helps their wages?
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Yes, exactly.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Do the children help mold bricks, I asked the Moktan? Seven-year-old Ritesh, no, but 12-year-old Ritika, yes.
TILOOK MOKTAN (through interpreter): She works a few hours a week. She helps with the cooking. And, sometimes, when their mother needs to do the cooking, she helps out with the bricks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It may seem normal for children to pitch in with chores. But Acharya says these desperately poor families invariably grow to depend excessively on the children to scrape together more income.
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: The system creates that enabling environment for children to be used.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Better Brick program wants to create a different environment, using incentives for kiln owners.
Those who sign on agree to pay for preschool facilities like this one to get children into a classroom and away from the brick workplace of their parents. And BBN works with owners and parents to ensure that older children attend school.
For owners, these steps could be good business.
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Giving them incentive in terms of access to loans, and there is helping them to improve their quality of bricks, and then, when there is a bidding process, we are talking to the government.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So you would want the government to procure bricks, when it buys bricks, from operators who are certified as not employing children and improving conditions?
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Absolutely. Yes, that is one of the — the major point of this program.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This is one of 23 kilns that have so far signed on to the program. Co-owner Shiva Regmi said he’s happy to improve conditions for workers, and he can certainly use the technical help.
SHIVA REGMI, Kiln Owner (through interpreter): For every one brick that we make, two are broken.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Regmi is a newcomer to this business — this kiln is just a few months old — and he may be more receptive to the Better Brick program than others.
At another facility, the owner complained to Acharya that his industry is being unfairly singled out by advocates.
MAN (through interpreter): We are giving opportunities to 400,000 people who work in our industry, and we don’t ask their children to work. People are spreading rumors that we are hiring children, but that’s not true.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many owners can technically make that claim, Acharya says, because their contracts are with adults. It’s parents who press their children into service.
Then there’s the murkier world of subcontractors who provide laborers, many of them children who are not with their families brought here under various arrangements by labor agents or traffickers. It was quite common to see young boys loading and herding the steady train of work animals that carry raw bricks to the kilns.
It was more difficult to talk to them. In a strange twist, children here, like many other places, are told not to talk to strangers. I did manage one fleeting conversation with this young man.
“I had to leave school because my mom and dad weren’t earning,” he said, “so I went to work.”
“How did you get this job?” I asked.
“A rich man from our village brought me here,” he said.
How many others accompanied him?
“Oh, there are many,” he said. “All these guys are from my village.”
“Do you get any time to play?” I asked.
“I do not play,” he said.
And no more time for a stranger. His is just one anonymous story of thousands in an underground labyrinth that preys on poverty and illiteracy, one Nepal’s government admits it has few resources to police.
But Homraj Acharya sees a tiny silver lining. Reconstruction will soon get into high gear with a windfall of foreign aid. And, here, he sees leverage.
HOMRAJ ACHARYA: Four billion has already been pledged by different countries. And we want to make sure that all of those countries who are giving money to Nepalese government do — we want them to use the bricks that are produced child-labor-free.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says Nepal’s builders association has agreed to buy bricks from kilns his program has certified as free of child labor, where they’re available.
And it seems more likely the Moktan family’s bricks will be free of child labor, especially after our interview, when I asked sixth-grader Ritika what her favorite subject was.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: When you grow up, what kind of work would you like to do?
GIRL: I would like to be a doctor.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Doctor. Why?
GIRL: Because I want to help the poor people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Two short, hesitant sentences, but to her parents, she’d moved a mountain, and she’d moved them to tears.
TILOOK MOKTAN (through interpreter): I’m really proud that she was able to speak to you in English.
WOMAN (through interpreter): They are tears of happiness.
TILOOK MOKTAN (through interpreter): We will work as hard as we possibly can to see that she completes her education.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.
Why Uganda is one of the world’s most hospitable refugee destinations
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: In a world struggling to accommodate a record number of refugees, one country has been notably welcoming.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has a report from Uganda. It’s part of his Agents for Change series.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nakivale in Southern Uganda looks like any other dusty rural African town. What’s remarkable is that almost none of its 113,000 residents are Ugandan.
All of these schoolchildren and their parents are refugees.
Burundi? Rwanda? Congo?
All told, 13 nations are represented in this crowded school, their families fleeing conflicts across a wide swathe of East Africa and finding haven in what must rank as one of the world’s most hospitable countries to refugees.
In Uganda, refugees are placed in settlements and not camps, and the government says there’s an important difference. Camps tend to confine people, whereas, in Uganda, when refugees arrive, they are issued legal I.D.s that entitle them to move freely anywhere in the country, to find a job, start a business, put their children in school.
Refugees in rural areas are given a small plot of land to farm. Others migrate to the urban areas. Somalis are among the earlier arrivals in recent years. Their enclaves in the capital, Kampala, are well-established with small businesses and mosques, a predominantly Muslim community in a mostly Christian nation.
Mohammed Abdi runs this grocery story with his partner, Zahara Hassan.
MOHAMMED ABDI, Somali Immigrant (through translator): We have very many Ugandan customers and we are friends. I am one of the Somali elders in the community. We interact with the elders of the Ugandan community, whether leaders in this distract or region. And we are friends, and they welcome us. We’re very happy. We’re like one people.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And one scholar who’s studied refugees in Uganda says there’s reason to be happy
ALEXANDER BETTS, Oxford University: We showed in the capital city of Uganda, Kampala, 20 percent of refugees own businesses that employ someone else. And of those they employ, 40 percent are citizens of the host country. So refugees can contribute to the host societies that they’re part of.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Oxford University’s Alexander Betts says Uganda is the exception in a world where refugees face widespread hostility, often stoked by politicians.
ALEXANDER BETTS: It’s all too easy to have a race to the bottom in terms of political standards, where provincial and municipal politicians or national politicians say, these people are a burden. We have to keep them out.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And while many politicians, especially in Western democracies, must tread carefully on this issue, Betts says it’s not a problem in Uganda, where one man rules virtually unchallenged.
ALEXANDER BETTS: President Museveni has been able to adopt refugee policies that are a little different, in part because there are lower standards of accountability to the public.
Now, not having democratic standards is definitely not something to celebrate, but it highlights the difficulties for democracies to open up their economies to non-citizens. It’s a hard thing for politicians.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Recent history might also account for Uganda’s hospitality to refugees. President Yoweri Museveni himself lived in exile for years during and after the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin. Museveni’s rebels took power 30 years ago.
REV. ZAC NIRINGIYE, Bishop, Anglican Church of Uganda: There’s been a history of violence in this region.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Zac Niringiye is a bishop in the Anglican Church of Uganda.
REV. ZAC NIRINGIYE: South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, even Congo and even Uganda. I think that that has created a sense of being hospitable, because you never know. It may be your turn next.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite praise for its hospitality, life in Uganda is far from perfect for refugees. Their number has doubled in the past five years to more than half-a-million, most recently from separate conflicts in Burundi and South Sudan.
Many refugees, like Abebesh Gebreslassie, remain haunted by the ordeal that brought them here.
ABEBESH GEBRESLASSIE, Eritrean Immigrant (through translator): My husband was killed, my son was killed, and also my daughter.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A son and daughter died in their escape from Eritrea, part of the exodus of hundreds of thousands from a country notorious for human rights abuses.
Her son-in-law made it to Libya, but died in the Mediterranean.
Gebreslassie survived the journey of thousands of miles on foot and on trucks with her then 6-year-old twin son and daughter. But she made a wrenching decision to leave two older teenaged children behind.
ABEBESH GEBRESLASSIE (through translator): I feared if we all died, like my son who was shot. I left them so that our family can survive, can be represented.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They are still there now?
ABEBESH GEBRESLASSIE (through translator): I don’t know. I don’t know.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Along the way, she also took custody of her orphaned granddaughter, Sara, who’s now four.
ABEBESH GEBRESLASSIE (through translator): I don’t care if I die here, but I want a better future for my children, and that’s not possible without a good education.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s not likely in the crowded school her children attend, with 120 students in each classroom, and perhaps, because of that, teachers who aren’t very sympathetic. There are severe consequences for being late, for instance.
They beat you?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Who beats you?
STUDENT: The teachers, yes, they beat me. The teachers, they say, if you come late, we wash the toilets.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, if you’re late, you have wash the toilets.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “They don’t understand,” she said, “that I’m late because I’ve gone to fetch water and helped my mother with the chores.”
In the end, Ugandan and international officials say it boils down to resources, or a lack of them. Uganda may be hospitable, but it has a gross domestic product of just $600 per year per person.
Nakivale’s school is funded by the U.N.’s Refugee Agency. It gives Uganda some $200 million annually in refugee aid, a fraction of what’s needed, but not likely to increase amid the demands on donor governments for refugees out of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere.
Charles Yaxley is the U.N. agency’s spokesman in Uganda.
CHARLES YAXLEY, United Nations Refugee Agency, Uganda: Around the world, humanitarian financing is arguably at breaking point. Currently, humanitarian appeals for South Sudanese and Burundian refugees in Uganda, both of those appeals are severely underfunded.
We’ve received less than a quarter of the money we need for 2016, and that leaves real gaps in our humanitarian response. It means we’re not able to provide the education support for children such as better schools, more schools, more teachers.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That does not bode well for the future of Abebesh Gebreslassie’s twins, who shared their dreams in halting, shy English.
What would you like to do when you grow up?
STUDENT: When I grow up, I want to be a doctor and to help my mother.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: How about you, David? What would you like to do when you grow up?
STUDENT: I wish to be a pilot.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You want to be a pilot?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Yes.
Where would you like to go?
STUDENT: Every place, America, like, I guess, everywhere.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: America and everywhere.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Possible, but like their chance of a good education here, with lottery-like odds. America admitted 70,000 refugees last year. The U.N. says there are 65 million displaced people in the world today.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Nakivale, Uganda.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.