BERLIN - In the debate in Germany over circumcision, you often hear people say jokingly that if cutting the foreskin off a baby boy’s penis for religious reasons is outlawed then piercing little girls’ earlobes shouldn’t be allowed either. But that’s just the scenario that may be shaping up. After a Cologne court ruled in June that circumcision was illegal, a Berlin judge is examining whether or not ear-piercing should be as well.
The issue has come up in conjunction with a suit against a tattoo studio by the parents of a three-year-old girl whose ears were pierced at the studio. A judge must rule on whether the parents should be punished for having sought the piercing, and whether the studio can be prosecuted for not having refused to perform the procedure. A decision is expected by August 31.
The parents of the girl said in their suit that the child cried from an inordinate amount of pain as her ears were being pierced. During a medical examination three days later the child was still manifesting a traumatic reaction.
Many doctors argue that the same holds true for circumcision: although it’s just a small cut, Jewish and Muslim boys who undergo the procedure suffer not only physically but psychologically from it.
The issue of circumcision could be coming up before a German court again shortly as the prosecution in the city of Hof in Bavaria completes an inquiry against Rabbi David Goldberg who conducts ritual circumcisions some 30 times a year.
Sebastian Guevara Kamm, a doctor in the central German city of Giessen, has filed a complaint against the rabbi, accusing him of inflicting bodily harm. According to Kamm, Rabbi Goldberg does not have a medical license to perform the operation, and performs it without anesthetic in medically unsuitable conditions.
The prosecution in Hof is aware of the explosive nature of the issue, and lead prosecuting attorney Gerhard Schmitt has said that he wants to "examine all aspects" before proceeding. He stated that the material was very complex due to its considerable political importance and that the inquiry could thus stretch out over a matter of weeks.
Just how complicated the issue is became clear on Thursday in Berlin when circumcision was discussed by the German National Ethics Council. The Council agreed unanimously (albeit conditionally) that the religious practice could not be forbidden, yet Council member Reinhard Merkel, a legal scholar in Hamburg, stated that it was "bizarre" that religious communities were allowed to define when and how a human body could be injured.
Merkel spoke of a "legal policy crisis" that entailed weighing a child’s right to bodily integrity against religious requirements. In the case of the Jews, “indebtedness” to them on the part of the world community should allow for a “special law” with regard to the practice, he said.
Cologne-based Council member Wolfram Höfling, an expert in constitutional law, considered the issue in terms of parental rights, saying that if parents for religious reasons consider the ritual to be in the best interests of the child then this should be respected, particularly as circumcisions have been performed millions of times without complications or traumatization.
Jewish Council member Leo Latasch and Muslim representative Ilhan Ilkilic both stressed the importance of the ritual in their respective religions.
But despite differences of opinion, the Ethics Council had, said its Chair Christian Woopen, come to the conclusion that circumcision should be allowed albeit under qualified medical supervision, with anesthetic, and provision of comprehensive information to the parents beforehand about possible risks of the procedure.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.