Readers of east know that unlike many media outlets we document the road less traveled. We’ve always taken a critical approach to probing the stains on the carpet of the globalized map. We’ve tried to put intelligence and reason ahead of gut responses. But some situations tax even the heartiest sobriety. Consider the female teens forced into bonded labor, a practice known as the sumangali system, in southern India.
Though illegal since 1961, traditional dowry protocols remain powerful. Relatives of the bride must turn over cash to the bridegroom’s family ahead of a wedding. In small villages, most poor families can’t raise the needed money. As a result, young women are often forced to work in urban textile mills, sucked into the rigors of “sumangali” (the word means marriage in Tamil). The women or their parents reach a three-year deal with their employer in which a portion of their earnings is deducted for use as a dowry. They money is then turned over to their parents. During the three years, the mostly preteen girls work in what amounts to labor camp conditions. Those who endure receive a lump sum of between 500 and 800. But many go home in poor health, all but destroying their ability to marry, let alone lead normal lives.
Union representation is rare, despite Indian law. In many respects, “sumangali” is a feudal reminder of a time when women had no rights. But those who use the system also furnish goods to major Western outlets, including C&A, H&M, Gap and Decathlon. We asked photojournalist Alessandro Brasile to get to the heart of the matter, and he complied, painfully.
Continuing on the theme of human rights, we also focus on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests , which includes a parallel report by Rita Barbieri on Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Chinese author and journalist Lijia Zhang makes her first appearance on our pages with a look at the “ernai” phenomenon, tantamount to the modern-day concubine.
Finally, we speak to two major figures in 20 -century philosophy, the Hungarian thinker Agnes Heller, interviewed by Francesca Lancini, and Frenchmen André Glucksmann, who chatted with Alessandra Garusi.