Germany gets its first black MPs; Muslim winner a first for Merkel's party

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Updated 24 September 2013

Germany gets its first black MPs; Muslim winner a first for Merkel's party

BERLIN: A chemist and an actor — both with family roots in Senegal — have become Germany’s first black federal lawmakers, according to official election results released Monday.
They were among 34 lawmakers with immigrant backgrounds to win seats in Sunday’s election, up from 21 in the previous term, said the Migration Media Service, a group that provides facts and figures on immigration in Germany.
Although nearly one in five of Germany’s 80 million people are immigrants, or the children or grandchildren of immigrants, relatively few have made it into the federal legislature. Until now there were no black lawmakers in Parliament, despite more than 500,000 people of recent African origin believed to be living in Germany.
“My election into the German Parliament is of historical importance,” said Karamba Diaby, a Senegalese-born chemist who moved to the city of Halle in 1986 after receiving a scholarship to study in communist East Germany.
The 51-year-old, who gained German citizenship in 2001, said his priority would be to promote equal opportunities in education. “Every child born in Germany should have the chance to be successful in school regardless of their social background or the income of their parents,” he said.
The other black lawmaker elected Sunday was Charles M. Huber, a 56-year-old actor born in Munich to a Senegalese father and a German mother. Huber is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, which won the election with 41.5 percent of the vote.
Merkel’s party also now has its first Muslim lawmaker in the Bundestag. Cemile Giousouf was elected in the western town of Hagen. The 35-year-old was born in Germany to Turkish immigrant parents.
Several lawmakers of Turkish origin have previously been elected to the lower house, but most were with the Social Democratic Party, which Diaby represents, the environmentalist Green Party or the Left Party.
“Measured against the 630 seats in Parliament, some 5.4 percent of deputies now come from immigrant families,” the Migration Media Service noted. “In the population as a whole their share is more than three times as high, with about 19 percent.”


COVID-19 puts Mumbai’s ‘dabbawalas’ back in the box after 130-year reign

Updated 14 July 2020

COVID-19 puts Mumbai’s ‘dabbawalas’ back in the box after 130-year reign

  • Instantly recognisable in their white uniforms paired with the traditional Gandhi caps, the dabbawalas were the envy of delivery giants such as FedEx and Amazon
  • The process would see teams of 40 to 60 men collect the “dabbas” from the registered homes by 9 a.m. before carting them off in cycles and handcarts to the nearest railway station

MUMBAI: A 130-year-old delivery network that has fed Mumbai for decades could collapse after the coronavirus lockdown rendered thousands of its employees jobless.

The delivery system was the primary source of income for 5,000 men who are mostly semi-literate and earned around INR15,000 a month ($200) by lugging more than 200,000 lunch boxes across the city every day, irrespective of rain, thunder or riots, earning themselves the moniker of dabbawalas or the “ones who carry a box.”

But with India imposing a nationwide lockdown in March, the state government of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, was forced to shut down all public transport and essential services as well.

“After the lockdown in March, our service came to a standstill since the suburban trains, Mumbai’s lifeline, came to a halt,” Raghunath Medge, a third-generation dabbawalla and president of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, told Arab News on Monday. “Though some offices have opened now, we cannot function without trains.” 

Instantly recognisable in their white uniforms paired with the traditional Gandhi caps, the dabbawalas were the envy of delivery giants such as FedEx and Amazon, with billionaire businessman Richard Branson reportedly travelling with a group of them to deliver tiffins to his employees at Virgin, Mumbai, to learn their operational secrets.

However unlike Uber Eats or Swiggy, which connect customers with their restaurants of choice, the food delivered by the dabbawalas is always homemade.

The process would see teams of 40 to 60 men collect the “dabbas” from the registered homes by 9 a.m. before carting them off in cycles and handcarts to the nearest railway station, where the boxes are sorted and deposited in wooden crates in the luggage van of trains.

At the other end, the next batch picks, sorts and delivers these boxes to the offices mostly in South Mumbai, after which the empty boxes are returned to their owners by 6 pm through the same system.

Medge said Mumbaikers preferred the service as they could “relish on homemade food at a reasonable price,” with charges ranging from $11-16 per customer, depending on their location.

Mistakes were a rarity, he added, a fact corroborated by a 2010 Harvard Business School study which said that the dabbawalas made fewer than 3.4 errors per million deliveries.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak has had a disastrous effect on the lives of these delivery boys.

“Dabbawalas were paid salaries only up to March and after that our workers have been unable to collect their payment from customers – since housing complexes are not allowing their entry into buildings due to fear of COVID-19,” he said.

Most of the dabbawalas are from Pune, which is a three-hour drive from Mumbai. Since the lockdown, more than 4,000 have returned to their villages in Junnar, Ambegaon, Maval, Mulshi, Rajgurunagar, Sangamner and other places in the Sahyadri-Western Ghat hilly region, Medge said.

“They went by whatever vehicle they could get hold of— motorbikes, scooters, private cars and even cycles. They have been doing odd jobs, working in their farms, or others’ fields. Cyclone Nisarga also affected agriculture.”

Those who stayed back have been subsisting on food items supplied by charitable organisations, while facing the grim prospect of sourcing money for rent and essential medicines.

One of the worst affected dabbawalas is Rambhau Jadhav, a 59-year-old resident of the Malad suburb and a father of four sons who lost one to COVID-19 recently.

“My son Santosh, 39, was admitted to a municipal hospital after he developed a fever,” he told Arab News. “His wife was also admitted. Without informing us, my son, whose condition was deteriorating, was taken to Nair Hospital where he died in the ambulance on June 24. We were informed of his demise in the evening.”

Santosh is survived by his wife, who is now out of quarantine, and their five-year-old son.

The conditions are no better for those who have returned to their villages either.

“I came with my family in March itself as no job meant I could not pay my rent for my Jogeshwari home in Mumbai,” Pandurang Jadhav, 38, told Arab News by phone from his village in Maval, Pune district. “Here, we do get rations from our Association which helps us stay alive. My family includes my wife, three kids, my mother and a brother who is very ill.” 

The dabba service was conceptualized by a Parsi banker who wanted to have home-cooked food and assigned the task to an unemployed man to deliver his lunch to him at work.

The idea caught on and, in 1890, Mahadeo Havaji Bachche, a migrant laborer from Maval who was working as a loader at Bombay Port, began a lunch delivery service with nearly 100 men.

The service became an instant hit as the city lacked canteens or eateries in those days and rail commuters found it difficult to carry lunch boxes in crowded trains.

Bachche unionized the dabbawalas and, in 1956, registered it as a charitable trust under the title of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust.

Thirty years later, they came to be known as the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association.