|Cheap Chinese copies
shrink India’s silk sari industry
|NEW DELHI (AFP) - For centuries, the stunning silk saris
woven by hand in the holy city of Varanasi have been prized
by Indian women, but an influx of cheap Chinese-made copies
is destroying the local industry.
Badruddin Ansari, one of the few weavers still in business,
says that most of his former colleagues now struggle to eke
out a living as vegetable sellers, tea stall operators or
“When a person loses his home and his livelihood, where can
he go?” he asked angrily.
“I hope the art of making Banarasi saris will survive. The
government must ban these imported saris or put a heavier
duty on them to save the domestic industry.”
Banarasi silk saris -- named after Banaras, the former name
of Varanasi -- are famed for their embroidery and still
sought after by northern Indian brides for their big day,
even though the dresses are now normally made in China.
Rajni Kant, director of the Human Welfare Association, a
non-profit group working with weavers in Varanasi since
1993, has seen the damaging effect of Chinese imports.
“To give just one example, a 55-year-old man I know started
weaving at the age of 15,” he said. “He quit the handloom
three years ago and now works as a manual labourer. There
are hundreds of thousands of people like him.”
More than 60 per cent of the handloom industry has collapsed
in Varanasi since 2003, according to Kant.
In 2007 reports emerged of weavers in Varanasi selling their
blood to make ends meet as Chinese imitation saris flooded
the market, costing about 2,500 rupees (55 dollars) compared
with at least 4,000 rupees for an original.
Official import figures for saris from China are low, but
textile experts say much of the material is imported as
fabric, not as tailored saris, and a lot makes its way into
India as contraband via Nepal.
“It’s doubtful whether these imitation saris even enter
India as saris. They are probably imported as fabric, bales
of silk which traders then cut and sell as saris,” said Ritu
Sethi, head of the non-profit Crafts Revival Trust.
Weavers say that Chinese factories produce huge amounts of
silk fabric at a government-subsidised prices and send the
finished cloth to India.
Registered Indian imports of silk fabrics from China
increased by 23 percent between 2008-09 and 2009-10,
amounting to nearly 6.4 billion rupees despite India
imposing an anti-dumping duty on silk fabric.
A K Shukla, deputy director for the Varanasi office of
India’s Development Commissioner for Handlooms, said the 14
percent duty on silk fabric was too low.
“We have to re-examine the issue,” he acknowledged.
The Indian government granted a patent to protect silk saris
woven in Varanasi in 2009, but the certification has made
little difference on the ground, weavers and lobby groups
“We have a well-meaning government but the GI (geographical
indication) act should get more teeth. Not one person has
been hauled to jail yet for making or selling imitation
Banarasi saris as the real thing,” Sethi said.
Many sari makers accept that customers know nothing of the
made-in-Varanasi certificate scheme and often cannot tell
the difference between an import and a genuine product.
Ansari, who runs a sari-weaving business with 400 weavers,
said he could not predict how long he would be able to
continue but that he was determined to keep going as long as
“We can’t become dependent on China for everything,” he
users praise killing of governor
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Hundreds of Facebook users welcomed the
killing of liberal Pakistani politician Salman Taseer as a
strike against reformers of the country’s tight blasphemy
Nearly 2,000 Facebook users joined one group on the social
networking site praising Qadri, and dozens of “fans” joined
other pages set up in Qadri’s honour in the hours after the
All the pages had been removed by Wednesday. Facebook was
not immediately reachable for comment.
Analysts say the assassination underscores how deeply
religious extremism has penetrated Pakistan’s conservative
society, with even the Internet-literate elite resorting to
Facebook to rally support for the killer.
Chaos engulfed the remand hearing this week of Taseer’s
alleged assassin as protesters forced police to backtrack on
plans to relocate the court session.
The grinning suspect -- a policeman who has admitted killing
Salman Taseer for his progressive views -- has been hailed a
hero by the powerful religious right, highlighting the
extent of their influence in the country.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was showered with rose petals for
a second day as he arrived at an anti-terror court in the
garrison city of Rawalpindi, where his lawyers raised claims
that he had been tortured by police.
“Qadri complained he was tortured, not given food, not
allowed to sleep, was tortured with electric shocks and that
there are torture marks on his body,” defence lawyer Tariq
Dhamial told a scrum of reporters.
“The police investigative officer asked the judge for a
five-day remand because he said there was a conspiracy
behind this killing that we have to investigate,” he added.
The next hearing was adjourned until January 11.
Before the hearing, several hundred radical lawyers and
madrassa students descended on the court premises in a show
of support for the 26-year-old.
The Punjab governor was shot on Tuesday by one of his
guards, Mumtaz Qadri, who confessed to the murder because of
Taseer’s vocal opposition to the law that was recently used
to sentence a woman to death.
But other private account holders used their Facebook status
updates to make comments such as: “We salute you Mumtaz
Qadri,” “thank God he (Taseer) is not alive (any) more” and
praise for the attacker as “a soldier of Islam”.
In a sign of mainstream media opposition, Pakistan’s leading
Urdu-language newspaper, Jang, ran a front-page story
declaring: “There should be no funeral for Salman Taseer and
no condemnation for his death.”
“A supporter of a blasphemer is also a blasphemer,” said a
sub-heading, reporting that 500 religious scholars and
clerics had paid tribute to Qadri.
But voices also came out to denounce the gunman, and
Facebook page named “I Hate Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri” had
70 “fans” with no comments or discussions.
Those Facebook users who spoke out in support of the
politician expressed sadness over the growing Islamisation
of the country.
“Sad over Death of Tolerance in Pakistan. Governor Punjab
killed by his ‘lunatic guard,’” said one man on his status.
“Pretext: Late Governor Salman Taseer was bold enough to
stand-up against Blasphemy law... extensively used/abused
against religious minorities,” he added.
“It is sad. I shiver thinking where we are heading and in
which society my kids will live their lives,” said another.
Police investigations are focusing on whether the bearded
police commando acted alone or as part of a wider
A lawyer from Islamabad’s high court, Farooq Sulehria, said
the assassin would find no shortage of support.
“We will provide all legal support to Mumtaz Hussain Qadri,
we will fight for him in the court,” said Sulehria.
wounds to Saudi court
|RIYADH (AFP) - An Indonesian housemaid who has accused
her female Saudi employer of stabbing, beating and burning
her appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday and
showed her wounds, an Indonesian official said.
Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, “showed the judge her
injuries, especially her head,” said Diddi Wahyudi, an
Indonesian consular official in Jeddah.
The Saudi woman was arrested after allegedly beating Sumiati
so severely as to break bones and cause internal bleeding,
putting a hot iron to her head and stabbing and slashing her
During the hearing, the woman “denied everything, saying
that the maid has beaten herself,” Wahyudi told AFP by
But “the judge said that everybody knows from these pictures
that (the maid) must have been beaten by someone” when he
was showed photographs of Sumiati’s wounds, Wahyudi added.
The Indonesian official also said the Saudi woman’s son has
earlier testified against his mother.
Wahyudi said the next hearing was set for a week later
without specifying a fixed date.
The case, being heard in the city of Medina, had been
postponed on December 28 because the maid was not yet ready
to confront the woman, Wahyudi said at the time.
“Sumiati is not psychologically ready to appear in court.”
Her case shocked and outraged rights groups and labour
activists as another example of the paucity of protection
for millions of mostly Asian domestic workers, especially in
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia’s labour ministry said it was sorry about the
case, but called it an isolated incident.
In November, Wahyudi said Sumiati had undergone surgery, but
that she would need to be operated on once more.
Wahyudi said she was still seeking her pay and other
benefits from several months of employment in Saudi Arabia.
“She has nothing, she does not even have a single abaya,”
Wahyudi said of the black cloak that all women in Saudi
Arabia must wear in public.
“She wants her employer to be punished severely,” he added.
He said the Indonesian government was still pursuing the
case of another maid, Kikim Komalasari, whose dead body was
found near Abha earlier in November after being beaten.
Two people, her employers, have been arrested in that case,
|Tourism campaign for
|MANILA (AFP) - Philippine authorities have launched a
fresh campaign to lure tourists to Manila after a deadly
hostage fiasco and terror attack warnings further tarnished
the national capital’s already shady image.
Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said the many festivals in
Manila and its suburbs would be promoted as tourist
attractions in 2011, in a bid to emulate the way similar
celebrations in regional areas already attract tourists.
“Soon, both foreigners and locals will know the metropolis
beyond being the premier gateway and capital city of the
Philippines. There are special events in Metro Manila worth
witnessing,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
The campaign comes after a tragedy in August last year when
a disgraced ex-policeman took a busload of Hong Kong
tourists hostage in Manila, leading to the deaths of eight
of them in a botched rescue operation.
The city’s image was further hurt when Australia, Britain,
Canada, France, New Zealand and the United States issued
advisories in November warning of an imminent terror attack
in the capital.
Some of the countries downgraded their warnings after the
Philippines complained, and no such attack has occurred.
Even before last year’s events, foreign tourists often
bypassed or spent little time in Manila as they made their
way to the idyllic beaches outside the capital.
Poor infrastructure, rundown tourist attractions,
confronting poverty, corrupt police and nightmarish traffic
are the some of the factors that have long contributed to
foreign visitors skipping Manila.
But Lim said his department and local governments were
developing the capital as a vibrant tourist destination,
showcasing the various religious and arts festivals that are
celebrated in the city of about 12 million people.
Such annual festivals in Manila include processions for
fertility rites and infant Jesus statues, a river parade, an
arts festival and a mardi gras-style celebration before
|UN names panel for
Haiti cholera probe
|NEW YORK (AFP) - The UN named four experts who will lead
an investigation into the source of a cholera epidemic in
Haiti, which some have blamed on UN peacekeepers.
“Determining the source of the cholera outbreak is important
for both the United Nations and the people of Haiti,” UN
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released
by his spokesman.
“The panel will seek to determine the source of the 2010
cholera outbreak in Haiti. They will review all of the
information and data available to date and travel to Haiti
to conduct investigations on the ground,” added the
“The panel will operate completely independently from the UN
and will have access to all UN records, reports, facilities,
and staff members as required. It will present a written
report of its findings to the secretary general and to the
government of Haiti.”
Cholera has killed more than 3,650 people and infected
170,000 since it appeared in the impoverished Caribbean
nation in October, according to latest Haitian government
figures. Some blamed Nepalese peacekeepers in the UN force
in Haiti and there were protests against the contingent.
The panel will be led by Alejandro Cravioto, a Mexican who
heads the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease
Research in Bangladesh.
The other three members are Claudio Lanata of Peru’s
Institute for Nutritional Investigation, Daniele Lantagne of
Harvard University in the United States and Balakrish Nair
of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in
Ban said he worked with the World Health Organisation and
other international bodies to find experts on leading
technical experts in public health, epidemiology,
microbiology and water and sanitation for the independent
Ban has been “been deeply concerned by the cholera outbreak
in Haiti since the first cases were detected,” said the
“The members of the panel have been selected based on their
global stature, expertise and extensive experience working
with cholera in all its aspects,” it said.
‘LePad’ combines tablet, laptop in one
|LAS VEGAS (AFP) - Chinese computer colossus Lenovo
unveiled an IdeaPad computer that serves as a laptop for
work tasks then converts to a touch-screen tablet for play
The IdeaPad U1 hybrid, with a “LePad” slate that serves as a
laptop screen but unplugs to become a tablet computer, made
its debut on the cusp of the Thursday opening of the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“It is one device to balance life and work,” Lenovo product
manager Leo Li told AFP.
“A keyboard is more important and Windows software more
powerful for a lot of things you need to work, especially
productivity and creating content,” he continued. “At the
same time, people want to enjoy music, see videos, go to
websites, read e-books, and play games in their personal
The LePad tablet is powered by Android software backed by
California Internet giant Google and a Snapdragon chip from
Once plugged into the keyboard base, the computer switches
to Windows 7 operating software by Microsoft and a beefier
Lenovo is targeting consumers who embrace today’s mobile
“Use the light-weight slate when you’re mobile, and then
simply slide it into the U1 base when you need to create and
edit content,” Lenovo Idea Product Group vice president Liu
LePad has a 10.1-inch (26 centimetre) colour screen, weighs
less than two pounds (one kilogram) and connects to the
Internet using 3G telecom service.
It has a front-facing camera for video chat and promises as
many as eight hours of battery life.
IdeaPad U1 with LePad will be available in China by the end
of March but won’t be available in the United States until
next-generation Android mobile software is available for use
in the tablets.
IdeaPad U1 with LePad will be priced at 8,888 Chinese yuan
(1,340 dollars) and the tablet will be sold separately for
3,499 Chinese yuan ($528).