Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Source: Scott Carney, Wired Science

A few days before the Indian celebration of Holi, an emaciated man with graying skin, drooping eyes, and rows of purple needle marks on both arms stumbled up to a group of farmers in the sweltering Indian border town of Gorakhpur. The city is the first stop for many thousands of refugees streaming in from Nepal, a country even more perpetually impoverished than India. Over the years endless refugee hardship stories had dulled the farmers’ instincts for sympathy, and junkies were even lower on their list for charity handouts. at first the farmers ignored the man’s request for bus fare. But he persisted. He wasn’t a refugee, he said. He was escaping from a makeshift prison where his captor siphoned off his blood for profit. The farmers shook off their stupor and called the police.

For the last three years the man had been held captive in a brick-and-tin shed just a few minutes’ walk from where the farmers were drinking tea. The marks on his arms weren’t the tell-tale signs of heroin addiction; they came from where his captor, a ruthless modern-day vampire and also a local dairy farmer and respected landowner named Papu Yadhav, punctured his skin with a hollow syringe. He had kept the man captive so he could drain his blood and sell it to blood banks. The man had managed to slip out when Yadhav had forgotten to lock the door behind him.

The emaciated man brought the officers to his prison of the last three years: a hastily constructed shack sandwiched between Papu Yadhav’s concrete home and a cowshed. A brass padlock hung from the iron door’s solid latch. The officers could hear the muffled sounds of humanity through the quarter inch of metal.

They sprung the lock and revealed a medical ward fit for a horror movie. IV drips hung from makeshift poles and patients moaned as if they were recovering from a delirium. Five emaciated men lying on small woven cots could barely lift their heads to acknowledge the visitors. The sticky air inside was far from sterile. The sun beating down on the tin roof above their heads magnified the heat like a tandoor oven. One man stared at the ceiling with glassy eyes as his blood snaked through a tube and slowly drained into a plastic blood bag on the floor. He was too weak to protest.

A crumpled nylon bag next to him held five more pints. Inside were another nineteen empty bags ready for filling. Each had official-looking certification stickers from local blood banks as well as bar codes and a seal from the central regulatory authority.

The room was not unique. Over the next several hours the cops raided five different squats on the dairy farmer’s land. Each scene was as bad as the last, with patients constantly on the verge of death. All told they freed seventeen people. Most were wasting away and had been confined next to hospital-issued blood-draining equipment. In their statements the prisoners said that a lab technician bled them at least two times per week. Some said that they had been captive for two and a half years. The Blood Factory, as it was quickly known in the press, was supplying a sizable percentage of the city’s blood supply and may have been the only thing keeping Gorakhpur’s hospitals fully stocked.

That evening police rushed the men to the local Civil Hospital to recover. The doctors there said that they had never seen anything like it. Hemoglobin supplies oxygen to various parts of the body, and low levels of it can lead to brain damage, organ failure, and death. A healthy adult has between 14 and 18 grams of hemoglobin for every 100 milliliters of blood. The men averaged only 4 grams. Leeched of their vital fluids to the brink of death, all of them were gray and wrinkled from dehydration. “You could pinch their skin and it would just stay there like molded clay,” said B. K. Suman, the on-call doctor who first received the patients from police custody.

Their hemoglobin levels were so low that the doctors were worried about bringing them up too quickly. One told me that they had become physically addicted to blood loss. To survive, the doctors had to give them iron supplements along with a regimen of bloodletting or they could die from too much oxygen in their circulatory systems.

After a few weeks in captivity, the prisoners were too weak from blood loss to even contemplate escape. A few survivors recalled to the police that the original group was much larger, but when Yadhav sensed that a donor was becoming terminally sick, he just put them on a bus out of town so that their deaths would be someone else’s responsibility.

Papu Yadhav kept meticulous ledgers documenting the volume of blood that he sold to local blood banks, hospitals, and individual doctors as well as the hefty sums that came back. The notes made it particularly easy for the police to understand the entire operation. Vishwajeet Srivastav, deputy superintendent of police in Gorakhpur in charge of the case, says that the records showed that Yadhav started as a small commercial venture that only propped up his dairy business. In the beginning, at least, he offered a straight deal to the drug-addled and destitute potential donors that he picked up at Gorakhpur’s bus and train stations.

The $3 he gave for a pint of blood would buy food for several days. It was illegal, but it was also easy money. Yadhav could easily turn over common blood types for $20 quick profit, while rarer groups could fetch up to $150 a pint. It didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate. As his operation grew, he got tired of trolling the city’s transit points. So Yadhav offered the donors a place to stay. With the men under his roof, it was only a matter of time before he took control of their fates though a mixture of coercion, false promises, and padlocked doors.

The blood business got so big that he needed help. He took on a former lab technician named Jayant Sarkar, who had experience running an underground blood farm in Kolkata before he was chased out of the city in the late 1990s. Together Yadhav and Sarkar grew into one of the main blood suppliers in the region. The business concept was similar to that of Yadhav’s milk farm. The two were so interrelated that he kept the cowsheds and human sheds next to each other to economize on space.

Two months after the initial raid the police rounded up nine men: lab technicians who oversaw collection, secretaries at local blood banks who wanted to line their pockets with extra profits, middlemen who ferried blood around the city, and nurses who tended the herd. Smelling trouble, Sarkar was able to escape the city, but Papu Yadhav was captured near his home and served a total of nine months in jail. After a month at Civil Hospital his former captives migrated back to their homes all across India and Nepal.

It is tempting to view the horrors of Gorakhpur’s blood farm as an isolated incident: the sort of aberration that only happens on the margins of the civilized world and unrelated to the blood supply anywhere else. But the existence of the blood farm suggests a deeper problem with the circulation of human materials in the market. The blood farm could never have existed without eager buyers who were either incurious about the supply or just didn’t care about the source. And once medical personnel were willing to pay money for blood without asking questions, it was almost inevitable that someone would exploit the situation to maximize profit. In fact, the world volunteer blood system is so fragile that a slight hit to the supply could immediately spark the sort of commercial blood piracy that blossomed here.

I arrived in Gorakhpur on the eve of Papu Yadhav’s release hoping to better understand how a city of two million people became so easily dependent on a blood farm. While the excesses in this city stretch the bounds of the ordinary, the situation was by no means unique to India. Perched precariously on the border of India and Nepal, Gorakhpur is a mashup of the chaos and pollution of an industrial boomtown and the endemic poverty of rural India. a single rail line and poorly maintained road connect Gorakhpur to the state capital of Lucknow. still, the city is the central hub for a dense string of villages in what is one of the most densely populated rural areas of the world. Gorakhpur is the only settlement for almost one hundred miles with any sort of urban infrastructure. As such it’s an important outpost for the government’s presence in the region. The city is in the difficult position of providing basic services for a giant swath of the country, and yet simultaneously being a low development priority. It is a city built on a foundation of shortages.

Worst hit are Gorakhpur’s overburdened medical facilities, which are a lifeline to tens of millions of rural farmers and migrant workers. offering subsidized—and in some cases free—care, the hospitals are magnets for the underprivileged. Even the gigantic Baba Ram Das hospital campus with almost a dozen buildings and a fleet of ambulances has lines of rural patients streaming out the front door. The other major hospitals are even more crowded. The glut of patients poses several major challenges, especially in the blood supply. Even procedures as routine as birth drive up the demand—a pregnant woman in need of a cesarean section will need at least two pints of blood on hand in case of complications. The millions of migrants who come to the city’s hospitals are already sick and in no shape to open up their veins. There are simply too few good candidates for blood donation.

It’s a perfect storm for the worst forms of medical malpractice and ethics. There are no opportunities for the comparatively small local population to replenish the stocks of blood through voluntary donations, so hospitals have little choice but to rely on the underground machinations of local blood dealers. A blue-and-white neon sign hanging a five-minute walk from Papu Yadhav’s former blood farm announces Fatima Hospital, one of Gorakhpur’s five blood banks. There, a patchwork of concrete rubble and construction debris lies just inside the hospital’s iron-and-brick gateway, as the hospital is in shambles while undergoing a major renovation. But the blood bank was too important to put off or leave nonfunctional during the renovation. so the Jesuit church that is financing the construction saw to it that the blood bank was finished first. But for now, that means avoiding stray cats, picking my way across piles of rebar and sand, and climbing unfinished stairways to get to the hematology department.

But once I’m inside it’s like being in a different world. The place is packed with state-of-the-art equipment, including a sub-zero refrigerator that can store blood almost indefinitely and shiny new centrifuges that can separate blood into its component parts. The unit is the brainchild of Father Jeejo Antony, who runs the hospital for the local diocese. However, all the high-tech gear in the world won’t help his main problem. He tells me that they barely collect enough blood to meet his own hospital’s needs, let alone the city’s. The problem, he says, is that most people in India won’t give blood voluntarily. He says that many local people here are superstitious and believe that losing bodily fluids will make them weak for the rest of their lives. This is partly why the city began depending on professional donors.

“Papu Yadhav is only a scapegoat. There are many more people behind the blood sales than low-level people like him,” he says when I bring up the case, adding, “There are agents in every nursing home and every hospital. When a doctor requests blood, it gets arranged somehow.”

After showing me around the lab, he leads me to his expansive office downstairs and offers me a cup of spiced chai. When we’re comfortable he tells me that he moved to Gorakhpur from his home state of Kerala to make a difference in people’s lives, but he’s unsure that anything he does with a voluntary blood bank is going to lessen the pressure. In fact, he says other people have come up to replace the Yadhav gang. One week after the police arrested Yadhav, requests for blood at the blood bank spiked 60 percent. But now, a year later, “the demand has fallen off.” There are no new blood banks in the city, and no sudden influx of donors, but blood is coming from somewhere.

Legal blood donation works slightly differently in India than it does elsewhere in the world. since few Indians are willing to donate through pure altruism, patients are expected to provide their own donors to give blood to a blood bank to replace the pints that they will use during surgery. once the patient has received credit for a blood donation through a friend, they can draw a matching unit for their own surgery. In theory this means friends and family must step forward to come to the patient’s aid. But the reality of the system is different. Instead of asking their relations to give blood, most people rely on an informal network of professional donors who hang out in front of hospitals willing to give blood in return for a small fee.

Father Antony says that there is little he can do to stop the blood selling. Hospitals are caught in a double bind between saving the lives of patients on the operating table and potentially exploiting donors. From the clinical perspective, when a patient is dying on the operating table, buying blood seems like the lesser of two evils. He tells me that his hospital is too small to attract semiprofessional donors, but all of the major hospitals in the city have them. a good place to start, he says, would be the same hospital that treated papu Yadhav’s prisoners after their rescue by police.

—–

Dr. O. P. Parikh, director of Gorakhpur’s Civil Hospital, has donated thirteen pints of blood in his life and would like to donate four more before he retires at the end of next year. Yet he says that he is the exception to the rule. The rest of the city is not as giving as he is. Responsible for the overall operation of the hospital, he says that blood supply is a constant problem. “People here are afraid of donating. They don’t want to exchange blood; they just want to buy it.” And at 1,000 rupees, or about $25 for a pint, it isn’t hard to find donors.

Fifty feet outside of Parikh’s door is a string of makeshift tea shops and cigarette sellers who double as blood brokers. After a discreet inquiry with a man with paan stains across his lower teeth, I’m told to meet a man named Chunu, who is the resident professional donor. “Just be sure that you trade it in at the bank. He’s got HIV; the blood isn’t always screened,” the man warns before sending me on my way. Five minutes later I’m in an alley behind the hospital face-to-face with a small, bearded man holding a shawl over his head and ears. I tell him I need a pint of B negative blood as quickly as possible.

“B negative is rare and difficult to find these days,” he says. “You can get it but we need to send for it from Faizabad or Lucknow,” two district capitals about one hundred miles from here. He says he could arrange it for 3,000 rupees, a high figure. I tell Chunu that I will think about it and leave him outside the hospital gate to speak with other customers.

Civil Hospital’s blood bank is a picture of helplessness. The steel refrigerator containing blood packets is close to empty, with only three packets ready for transfusion. The blood bank’s director, K. M. Singh, says, “Yesterday someone came in and asked for blood, but we had to turn them away. I tell them that blood is not for sale; you have to give it to get it. But they went away and came an hour later with a donor. How am I to know if they paid that person?”

Gorakhpur’s five blood banks can only fulfill about half the required demand. Responsible for providing their own blood for operations, patients sometimes don’t even know that they are breaking the law when buying blood.

The maternity ward at Baba Raghav Das Hospital, the city’s largest government medical institution, is a dismal place to bring life into the world. A coat of translucent green paint on the giant bay windows, put there presumably to reduce the glare, bathes the concrete wards in a sickly light. In the cramped ward about fifty women, still wearing the clothes they brought from home, recover from cesarean sections on thin cots. Some have beds, while others are forced to recline on the concrete floor.

There are dozens of newborns in the room, yet oddly none of them seems to be crying. It is as if the place’s cavelike qualities swallow up all the sound. A woman coddling a baby girl adjusts her robe before removing her own catheter and draining a red soupy mixture into a wastebasket below her bed. Despite the conditions, BRD offers these people a rare chance to see a doctor. The wards are just one of the prices they pay for access to medical assistance.

One migrant, Gurya Devi, has traveled more than one hundred miles from a farming village in the neighboring state of Bihar because she feared there might have been complications during labor. A doctor who never told her his name spent a total of five minutes meeting with her. He said that she would need a cesarean section. As a precaution, he said they would need a pint of blood on hand, and could get a donor for 1,400 rupees (about $30). “It was easy,” she says. “We didn’t even have to think about it; the doctor arranged it all.”

The blood could have come from anywhere.

Images: Scott Carney

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist and contributing editor at Wired and the author of The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. His new book of which the above post is an excerpt is called The Red Market.

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Isabel Allende tells tales of passion.

She’s not only a brilliant writer but also an activist, a feminist and a wonderful story teller. It’s a talk that, when you listen to it with your heart, makes you laugh, cry and, at least for a moment, very passionate. Allende easily outshines most of the other TED talks I have listened to so far!

Click here to go to the TED website to listen to the talk.

Nearly 700,000 people so far have take action to stop ‘corrective rape’ and activists in South Africa have forced the government into talks. Let’s urgently reach a million and ramp up the pressure for concrete action — click below to sign and forward this email to everyone:

Dear friends,

‘Corrective rape’, the vicious practice of raping lesbians to ‘cure’ their sexuality, is becoming a crisis in South Africa. Activists on the ground are risking their lives to stop this brutal crime and have got the government’s attention. Let’s support them — a global outcry now could force the government to take concrete and urgent action. Sign the petition and send it to friends!

Sign the petition!

Thembi (name changed) was pulled from a taxi near her home, beaten and raped by a man who crowed that he was ‘curing’ her of her lesbianism.

Thembi is not alone — this vicious crime is recurrent in South Africa, where lesbians live in terror of attack. But no one has ever been convicted of ‘corrective rape’. Amazingly, from a tiny Cape Town safehouse a few brave activists are risking their lives to ensure that this heinous practice is stopped and their massive campaign has forced the government into talks.

If we shine a light on this horror from all corners of the world — and enough of us join in we can escalate the pressure, and help make sure these talks lead to concrete and urgent action. Let’s call on President Zuma and the Minister of Justice to publicly condemn ‘corrective rape’, criminalise hate crimes, and ensure immediate enforcement, public education and protection for survivors. Sign the petition now and share it with everyone — when we reach one million signers we’ll deliver it to the South African government with unmissable and hard hitting actions:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_corrective_rape_6/?vl

South Africa, often called the Rainbow Nation, is revered globally for its post-apartheid efforts to protect against discrimination. It was thefirst country to constitutionally protect citizens from discrimination based on sexuality. But local organisations record multiple ‘corrective rapes’ every week, and impunity reigns.

‘Corrective rape’ is based on the outrageous and utterly false notion that a lesbian woman can be raped to ‘make her straight’, but this heinous act is not even classified as a hate crime in South Africa. The victims are often black, poor, lesbian women, and profoundly marginalised. But even the 2008 gang rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, the national hero and former star of the South Africa women’s national football team, did not turn the tide. Despite this high profile case, Minister Radebe insists that motive is irrelevant in crimes like ‘corrective rape.’

South Africa is the rape capital of the world. A South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. Astoundingly, one quarter of South African girls are raped before turning 16. This has many roots: masculine entitlement (62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence), poverty, crammed settlements, unemployed and disenfranchised men, community acceptance — and, for the few cases that are courageously reported to authorities, a dismal police response and lax sentencing.

This is a human catastrophe. But courageous South Africans and partners at Change.org have opened a window of hope to get action on targeted sexual violence and hate crimes. They have got the government’s attention, now if the whole world weighs in, together we could get justice for the victims and concrete and urgent action to end ‘corrective rape’:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_corrective_rape_6/?vl

This is ultimately a battle with poverty, patriarchy, and homophobia. Ending the tide of rape will require bold leadership and concerted action to spearhead transformative change in South Africa and across the continent. President Zuma is a a Zulu traditionalist, who has himself stood trial for rape. But he condemned the arrest of a gay couple in Malawi last year, and, after massive national and international civic pressure, South Africa finally approved a UN resolution opposing extra-judicial killing in relation to sexual orientation.

If enough of us join this global call for action, we could push Zuma to speak out, drive much-needed government action, and help a national conversation that could fundamentally shift public attitudes toward rape and homophobia in South Africa. Sign on now and spread the word:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_corrective_rape_6/?vl

A case like Thembi’s makes it easy to lose hope. But when citizens come together with one voice, we can succeed in shifting fundamentally unjust, but deeply ingrained practices and norms. Last year, in Uganda, we succeeded in building such a massive wave of public pressure that the government was forced to shelve legislation that would have sentenced gay Ugandans to death. And it was global pressure in support of bold national activists that pushed South African leaders to address the AIDS crisis that was engulfing their country. Let’s join together now and speak out for a world where each and every human being can live without fear of abuse.

With hope and determination,

Alice, Ricken, Maria Paz, David and the rest of the Avaaz team

SOURCES:

South Africans decry rape of Lesbians (AP)
http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/cae69a7523db45408eeb2b3a98c0c9c5/Article_2011-03-15-AF-South-Africa-Lesbians-Raped/id-a57dac2d808a4297828a284269a027b0

‘Corrective Rape’: Fighting a South African Scourge (Time)
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2057744,00.html

Change.org blog post on local campaign
http://news.change.org/stories/victory-ministry-of-justice-agrees-to-corrective-rape-activists-demands?avaaz

Protest against ‘corrective rape’ (The Sowetan)
http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2011/01/06/protest-against-corrective-rape

“South Africa’s shame: the rise of child rape” (The Independent)
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/south-africas-shame-the-rise-of-child-rape-1974578.html

“Exploring homophobic victimisation in Gauteng, South Africa: issues, impacts, and responses” (Centre for Applied Psychology, University of South Africa)
http://www.avaaz.org/out_ucap_gauteng_study

“We have a major problem in South Africa” (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/18/south-africa-murder-rape

“South Africa: Rape Facts” (Channel 4)
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/south-africa-rape-facts

“Understanding men’s health and use of violence: interface of rape and HIV in South Africa” (Medical Research Council)
http://gender.care2share.wikispaces.net/file/view/MRC+SA+men+and+rape+ex+summary+june2009.pdf

“Preventing Rape and Violence in South Africa” (Medical Research Council)
http://www.mrc.ac.za/gender/prev_rapedd041209.pdf


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The number is shocking and sobering. It is at least 10 times greater than most estimates cited in the US media, yet it is based on a scientific study of violent Iraqi deaths caused by the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.


Iraq Deaths Estimator

Sign the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Help us expose to Congress the true costs of war.

A study, published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, estimated that over 600,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006. Iraqis have continued to be killed since then. The death counter provides a rough daily update of this number based on a rate of increase derived from the Iraq Body Count. (See the complete explanation.)

The estimate that over a million Iraqis have died received independent confirmation from a prestigious British polling agency in September 2007. Opinion Research Business estimated that 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed violently since the US-led invasion.

This devastating human toll demands greater recognition. It eclipses the Rwandan genocide and our leaders are directly responsible. Little wonder they do not publicly cite it. You can use the simple HTML code above to post the counter to your website to help spread the word.

Add your name to the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Help us continue this important work with a tax-deductible contribution.

See the list of some folks we know have posted the counter.

Alternate Languages:

If you want to remind visitors to your site of the awful human costs of continued war, you can post the Iraqi Death Estimator on your website. To get the code go to Just Foreign Policy.

from the wtf dept @ techdirt

One refrain we keep hearing against Wikileaks is that the cable releases aren’t really “whistleblowing,” because they’re not really revealing anything. However, it seems like each day there’s another big revelation of rather horrible things being done (and covered up) by the US government. The latest, pointed out by Boing Boing, involves a report from a cable that US-based private security contractor DynCorp, who was hired by the US to train Afghani police, was apparently supplying drugs and young boys for a sort of sex party.

The details are horrifying. The Afghani interior minister apparently went to US officials to warn them that reporters were sniffing around this story, and urged them to try to kill the story. He specifically warned that this would look bad if the connection to DynCorp was made clear (he called them “foreign mentors”). Apparently, US diplomats told him not to worry, and the eventual story was in fact watered down greatly (until now, of course) calling the whole thing a “tribal dance,” rather than a party where young boys wear “scanty women’s clothes” and “dance seductively” before being “auctioned off to the highest bidder” for sex.

Oh, did we mention that DynCorp makes $2 billion per year — 95% of which comes from American taxpayers.

And US government officials are declaring Wikileaks as an organization to shun and not to work with? What about DynCorp? Are their DNS providers pulling the plug? Are their banks shutting down their accounts? Are they being denounced by Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman? No? Why the hell not?

Lia Tarachansky speaks to Nancy Youssef, Pentagon Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers currently based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Youssef speaks about a list recently released by Pentagon, identifying that 14% or 74 former detainees of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention center are “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities.” Following to story of former inmate #798, Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil who after imprisonment for 6 years in the Bagram Airbase and Guantanamo Bay was found back on the list in spite of the allegation, Youssef says, being baseless. She says that, “It’s not really clear who compiles that list and how they determine who’s a suspected terrorist and who’s a confirmed one. As I mentioned earlier, this is the fourth list that they’ve released, and there are a lot of inconsistencies. The list is not complete. They say that there are 74 people suspected or confirmed as returned to terrorism, but the names listed is only partial ones.”

Bio

Nancy Youssef is McClatchy Newspapers’ chief Pentagon correspondent. She spent the past four years covering the Iraq war, most recently as Baghdad bureau chief. Her pieces focused on the everyday Iraqi experience, civilian causalities and how the US’ military strategy was reshaping Iraq’s social and political dynamics. While at the Free Press, she traveled throughout Jordan and Iraq for Knight Ridder, covering the Iraq war from the time leading up to it through the post-war period.

(more…)

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Israeli soldiers involved in the attacks on Gaza at the start of this year claim that they were ordered to fire, regardless of the risk to civilians. Israel banned journalists from its invasion of Gaza in December and January, making it hard to verify allegations of indiscriminate firing, the use of phosphorous bombs, and forcing Palestinians to be human shields. Now an Israeli human rights group has produced a disturbing account of what it says happened in Gaza, as told by soldiers.

This Channel 4 clip is already a few days old but it’s good to get a reminder of how the anti-Semitic Nazi State of Israel operates (even though I find it hard to cope with having to listen to Mark Regev).