Digital Himalaya Journals

Himal Southasian Volume 19, Number 3, May-June 2006 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2006-06

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Taking you more personally
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Shikha Trivedl's Puruaticftal
This issue of Himal takes the reader on a tour of the heavily
populated, economically challenged heartland of India.
Purvanchal, which makes up the eastern half of Uttar
Pradesh, stands mute testimony to an alarming trend: the
growing class divide between the bullish states of the Indian
southern and northwestern regions, and the northern bank
of the Ganga plains. Writer Shikha Trivedi, who began as a
print journalist and has lately been engaged in bringing out
emotionally charged television footage from the Indian
grassroots, has traveled many times to the area. She believes
that Purvanchal and the adjoining state of Bihar together
are blighted by an enormous volume of human misery. She
believes it is important to bring this to the notice of the rest of
India and Southasia.
A satellite image of Purvanchal fields
adjacent to the city of Gorakhpur
Nepal's people phenomenon
Heading towards a breakdown
Graphic link
Time for the difficult issues
'Sita in the Metropolis'
Cover story
Between the grains: Purvanchal circumstances
Shikha Trivedi
Jinnah's wrong war
Malvika Maheshwari
'Progressive Islam' in Pakistan
Yoginder Sikand
The critical approach — Tariq Ramadan
Subindra Bogati
Insurgencies of despair, uprisings of hope
Again, in Trincomalee
DBS Jeyaraj
54, Chowringhee Lane
Ghazala Shahabuddin
Binku Dutta
Trapped in the Golwalkarian past
Assam upfront
Subhash Gatade
Akash Banerjee
Maashuq and Raqeeb
Irfan Ahmad
Blurry reflections
Subarno Chattarji
Photo feature
Jungle raj tourism vs. the people
Dvarasakha: the temple doorframe
Carey L Biron
Kashmir's Desaparecidos
lime anil a place
Mohamad Junaid
Touch and tell
Degree of risk in Afghanistan
Nandini Chandra
Fatima Chowdhury
The return to native consiousness
Book review
Tyler Walker Williams
Salty Oriya
Chandrahas Choudhury
Crossborder report
Kalimpong dreaming
Sindh and Kutch, cloth and verse
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Farhana Ibrahim
Wake up, Mrs Bangladesh
Back in 71: US policy revisited
Rubana Ahmed
Imtiaz Ahmed
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Vol 19   No 3   See notice*
May-June 2006 I
Contributors    to   th
aaada      «a?      %JS      Ta«a
Kanak Mani Dixit
Assistant Editor
Prashant Jha
Web Editor
Veneeta Singha
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Editorial Assistance
Kabita Parajuli
Nayan Pokhrel
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo       Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Kiran Maharjan
Bhusan Shilpakar
Sunita Silwal
Sambhu Guragain
Vishal Rana
Subhas K Das
Shahadev Koirala
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: QualiTech Scan
Printed at: Jagadaimba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
+977-1 -5547017 / 5547018
Akash Banerjee is a Delhi-based television journalist.
Chahdrahas Choudhury is a writer based in Bombay. His writings can also be found at
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and the Nepali Times.
David B S Jeyaraj is a Toronto-based journalist who writes regularly on Sri Lanka for many
Farhana Ibrahim lives in New Delhi and recently received her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell
University. This essay is excerpted from her thesis.
Fatima Chowdhury is a freelance journalist who shuttles between Toronto and Calcutta.
Ghazala Shahabuddin is an ecologist with the Environmental Studies Group of the Council for
Social Development in Delhi.
Imtiaz Ahmed is a professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka. This is a
revised version of a paper presented at a US Department of State conference in 2005.
irfan Ahmad studies sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Malvika Maheshwari is an M Phil scholar in Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Mohamad Junaid is studying International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Nandini Chandra teaches English at Hansraj College, Delhi University. The politics of
representation is crucial to her research interests.
Rinku Dutta is an educator who travels between Lahore and Delhi.
Rubana Ahmed is studying for her Masters in Literature at the East West University.
Shikha Trivedi is a New Delhi-based journalist with the channel NDTV.
Subarno Chattarji is a Reader in the Department of English at the University of Delhi, and
currently a Fellow of Comparative Culture at Miyazaki International College, Japan.
Subhash Gatade writes regularly for Hindu, Urdu and English publications, and edits the Hindi
journal Sandhan.
Subindra Bogati is studying International Relations at the London Metropolitan University.
Tyler Walker Williams is a Hindi researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta is in the Indian Administrative Service, based in Bombay. Her
writings can be found at
Vaijayanti Khare is an art historian specialising in temple architecture, currently based in
Venantius J Pinto is an artist who moves between Bombay and New York.
Yoginder Sikand writes mainly on issues related to Islam in Southasia, and edits the web
magazine www.islaminterfaith. org.
2 years
INR    290
INR  560
NPR   270
NPR 500
Rest o! Southasia
USD   17
Hong Kong/
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'Notice to librarians and archivists: Due to an
inadvertent error linked to Himal's republication in July
2005, the past two issues of the magazine were
erroneously marked 'Vol 18' when both should have
been 'Vol 19'. Our Jan-Feb 2005 issue should have
been labelled 'Vol 19, No 1' and our Mar-Apr 2005 issue
should have been 'Vol 19, No 2'. The error is regretted.
Visit the Himal website at, with full
text articles plus an exhaustive archive of past issues -
fully searchable.
For subscriptions, send payment in local currency in favour of our subscription agent.
Bangladesh International Book Agencies Ltd. 94. New Eskaton Road, Ramna Dhaka, 1000 Bangladesh
General Office Tel: +680-2-8359972 Email:
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Fax: +91-11-3626036 Email: or
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Ph. +92-21-5650623/5213916, email:
Subscribers who wish to pay through AMEX, VISA or MASTER CARD can fax details to:+ 977-1-5521013
or e-mail us at For AMEX cards, please include contact phone numbers.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
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 We are looking for a Director
The International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) is searching for a Director to head its Colombo
The ICES was established in 1982. Through its existence, ICES has striven to be a centre of excellence for intellectual activity in Sri Lanka and South Asia, engaging in cutting edge research on ethnicity, women's studies and human rights.  ICES has also been involved in policy research, human
rights activism and has a strong culture and media program. ICES, established as a non-profit
organisation chartered under Sri Lankan company law, is a non-governmental organisation situated
in Sri Lanka. The ICES commitment to diversity is reflected by its multi-ethnic Sri Lankan staff. The
ICES Board of Directors, international in composition, reflects its strong international ties. The ICES
has consultative status [Category II/Special status] with the ECGSOC/UN
the Director would in
o plan and supervise the programme5'
o supervise the administrati'oh/finana.c ui me i^j
.o engage in fundraising
to be responsible to the Colombo Board of Management and the IC
oard of Dtrectc
The applicants to this position must have the following qualifications:
■ a commitment to the values of pluralism, multiculturalism and human rights
■ minimum qualifications of a masters degree in law or in social science with a publication record.
• around 10-15 years of experience in conducting research and research program development in
areas related to ethnic studies
■ Experience in managing an institution at a leadership level
■ Familiarity with the South Asian Region and international experience required for candidates
based in Sri Lanka.
■ Age between 40-60 years
A competitive remuneration package with fringe benefits would be available to the applicant. This would
be negotiable depending on qualifications and experience. The contract will be initially for a duration of
two years, renewable.
Candidates wishing to apply for the post should submit their application and detailed curriculum vitae
with names and contact details of two non-related referees.
Applications could be sent by post, fax or Email to:
Administrative Manager
International Centre for Ethnic Studies
2, Kynsey Terrace,
Colombo 8
Sri Lanka
Fax- +94 11 2698048'
E-mail -
Further details on ICES can be obtained from its website    -
The closing date for receiving applications is May 31st 2006
International Centre for Ethnic Studies
2, Kynsey Terrace,
Colombo 8
Sri Lanka
Fax - + 94 11 2698048
E-mail -
Nepal's people phenomenon
Hum dekhenge ...
Jab takth giraye jayenge
Sab taaj uchale jayenge*
ell, the virtuous people of Nepal saw to it
that the crown was dashed. Very late in the
modern era, long after other countries of
Southasia had experienced their uplifting, cathartic
moments, Nepalis by their millions stood up against
feudalism. People Power simultaneously pushed
back a despotically inclined king, made space for
pluralism, and created the conditions for peace. The
mission now is to bring the Maoists in from the jungle
while ensuring that the kingship is forever barred
from mischief. Faiz Ahmed Faiz would have liked it
here in Kathmandu this week, as would have Iqbal
Bano, who sang that immortal people's anthem.
Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971; the
rest of Southasia, its freedom in 1947 and 1948. For
Nepal, the heady days of popular participation for a
common future were encapsulated in the spring of
2006. As predicted in these pages in our earlier issue,
a sputtering 'movement' suddenly converted into a
People's Movement of colossal dimensions, fuelled
by the scorn Gyanendra had continuously heaped
upon the citizenry. Suddenly, the weakened,
unarmed middle ground, represented by the political
parties and civil society, gained the upper hand.
Meanwhile, a hopefully chastened Maoist leadership
saw a non-violent mass movement achieve where
ten years of their war had failed.
A menacing autocrat who sought to rule on the
basis of dynastic right, outright misrepresentation
and military might, Gyanendra was incapable of
acknowledging the political maturity of the people.
Taking energy from an insular, self-serving
Kathmandu Valley upper class, equally
contemptuous of the political parties, he began
appointing prime ministers at will in October 2002
and finally took over as head of government on 1
February 2005.
h We shall see ...
When the crowns shall be toppled
When the palaces will be demolished
Victory cartwheel in Kathman
Gyanendra's excuse for his army-assisted
takeover was to fight the insurgency, but the intent
was to maintain himself as a corrupt, all-powerful
autocrat. His most unpardonable act was to
militarise an innocent society, already devastated by
years of insurgency. Fortunately, despite the worst
of intentions, this man did not have the intellectual
or organisational skills to run a police state.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Another spring
The people of Nepal first achieved democracy during
another spring, 15 years ago, through a more modest
people's movement that delivered the 1990
Constitution. For 12 years till 2002, they experienced
freedom and made the most of it. While the legacy of
two centuries of oppression by Kathmandu's
rulers was difficult to undo in a dozen years of
democracy, what pluralism did for Nepal was
electric. A voiceless people discovered the power of
speech; they developed a confidence unprecedented
in their history.
This empowerment of the masses is what the
feudocrat in Gyanendra never understood, and he
would have been overthrown immediately after 1
February had a violent insurgency
not been raging in the countryside.
For a decade, that misconceived
rebellion - one of Maoist chieftains
making their own grabs for power,
through the barrel of the gun - had
sapped the energy of the nation. The
politicians who were engaged in
non-violent politics were caught
between two guns. It was last
autumn, when the Maoists conceded
the failure of their 'people's war' and
agreed to come into open politics
through a constituent assembly,
that the People's Movement
became possible.
On 22 November 2005, tired of
waiting for dialogue with a sneering
Narayanhiti palace, and with the
Maoists having already signalled
their climbdown, the political parties
signed a 12-point understanding
with the rebels to fight the regime in
parallel. The political rallies
suddenly began to attract the public,
now that the parties were able to
promise a fight for the return of
both democracy and peace. The
participation in the rallies climbed to 50,000, a lakh,
two lakh. Meanwhile, Gyanendra continued to
display conduct specifically designed to emphasise
his scorn for the common masses. Even as he was
receiving felicitations as a 'Hindu Emperor' from a
dreadfully organised meeting of conservative Hindus
in the town of Birgunj, the movement sparked and
took off. The bottled-up anger against the aberrant
king exploded in the heady People's Movement
of 2006. It was a political tsunami of a force few
could believe.
People in other parts of the Subcontinent
have perhaps forgotten how it is to be one nation
together fighting for a cause. The Nepali People's
Movement was a Southasian, Asian and global
In the last issue of Himal, we
had suggested: "...But the best
will be if the Spring of 2006
yields a people's movement
that vanquishes Chairman
Gyanendra, at which point Nepal
can then start on the long-
delayed process of
reconstruction and
rehabilitation - and the revival
of a democracy better than
experienced between
1990 and 2002."
happening, where a people discovered the simple
pleasure of fighting together for pluralism. And
when Gyanendra sought to provide measly
concessions - too little and too late - on Friday, 21
April, another people's tsunami crashed against the
Narayanhiti gates. Gyanendra's resolve finally
crumbled. Close to midnight on Monday, 24 April,
he gave in to the popular will and restored the
Third Parliament, asking the political parties to form
a government.
Coming of age
This 'people phenomenon' holds larger meanings
than simply the shunting aside of an active monarch.
It has united a country that has been historically,
socially and geographically
divided. Between eight to ten
million citizens were engaged in
the weeks-long agitation, coming
in from the fields and terraces,
trekking to the roadheads,
demanding loktantra, the new term
for total democracy.
Perhaps the greatest gift of the
People's Movement of 2006, besides
creating conditions for an end to the
Maoist rebellion, is that it sets Nepali
nationalism on more inclusive and
solid foundations. To date, the
nationalism of the modern era,
together with its reliance on
xenophobia and frivolous
symbolism, was based on the
midhill caste/ethnic identity, the
Nepali language, a 'Hindu'
monarchy, and a particular brand
of hill Hinduism. Each of these
elements had the consequence of
excluding a large section of citizens,
even whole communities.
Having been ushered in by
citizens of all ethnicities, castes,
languages, faiths, gender and
regional origin, this new democracy is no longer a
gift from Kathmandu's powerful clique to the country
at large. The inclusive democracy, to be crafted on
the basis of the People's Movement through the
promised constituent assembly that will write a new
Constitution, will at long last provide all of the people
with 'ownership' of their country. The Nepal of the
future will be a raucous, occasionally unruly,
democracy. But the state will have the stability
We would like our readers to know that this issue of
Himal Southasian was edited with our editor in detention
for defying the royal regime in Kathmandu. He was
released on 25 April.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
required for nation-building.
Already, the people have gained confidence from
their ability to fight a despot and to define their own
future vis-a-vis a nervous international community.
This assurance adds to the country's stature, and
will henceforth provide it with self-assurance in the
conduct of foreign relations, particularly in dealing
with the overwhelming southern neighbour, India.
This new confidence will translate into numerous
other dividends, including more equitable
development works, where the goals are set
indigenously rather than by the ubiquitous 'donor'
government or agency.
The path ahead will be necessarily bumpy, but
the goal is clear: making inclusive democracy
happen, righting the historical wrongs against the
majority population in this country of minorities. The
task began with the defeat of Gyanendra's
preposterous agenda. The kingship has been brought
to its knees, which is where it will have to be kept, if
it is kept at all.
Nepal needs to go back to being a country where
the people smile; where villagers on the trail look at
you in the eye and brightly inquire into your personal
history, rather than fearfully looking away. Already,
during the People's Movement, the twinkle had
returned to the Nepali eye.
- Kanak Mani Dixit
Sri Lanka
Heading towards a breakdown
A victory by the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP)-led coalition of President Mahinda
Rajapakse in the local government elections
held at the end of March was expected. Political
parties that have won national elections immediately
preceding local polls invariably do well at the local
level. But a landslide victory of the sort that the SLFP
achieved was not foreseen, if only because its ally in
the presidential elections, the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP), was contesting in
opposition, and made no secret that
they anticipated winning at least
50 seats.
In fact, the JVP won only one seat,
while the ruling party secured
over 200. Even the main opposition
party, the United National Party (UNP),
came in a poor second, garnering little
more than 30 positions. The JVP's
surprise poor performance is revealing
of the moderate nature of the
electorate. The public gave its votes to the ruling party,
which has been making an effort to put the
Norwegian-facilitated peace process back on track,
with President Rajapakse taking the lead. The voters
indicated their clear rejection of the JVP's fiery brand
of xenophobic, revolutionary politics based on uni-
dimensional economic and ethnic nationalism. In the
pre-poll campaigning, the JVP leaders had
vehemently opposed foreign involvement in Sri
Lankan affairs, attacking the multilateral aid
if^Wta&WJaflSasi   ......
agencies and calling on the government to halt all
Norwegian involvement within a month.
Talks mired
The electoral verdict should have made it more
difficult for the Tamil Tigers to pull out of the second
round of Geneva talks, originally scheduled for
19-21 April. But events on the ground have put this
into doubt. There has been a steep rise in violence in
the northeast, and the LTTE has
expressed its discontent at the non-
implementation of the agreements
reached at the first round of Geneva
talks, held 22-23 February. The rebel
leadership believes that the
government should be disarming all
the paramilitary Tamil groups, in
particular the breakaway group of
former LTTE commander Karuna in
the east, which has not yet happened.
Within ten days of the signing of
the Geneva agreement in February, two LTTE cadre
were shot dead in rebel-controlled territory in the
east. This was followed by several other killings,
including the high-profile murder of a pro-LTTE
political activist, V Vigneswaran, in the government-
controlled town of Trincomalee. The government and
its security forces failed to take effective action to
identify or apprehend the culprits, however, and the
LTTE believes that the government may have had a
hand in the murders.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 The LTTE's mine ambushes and other attacks have
already taken a toll of over 30 security personnel in
April alone. This has generated fierce resentment
among both the Sri Lankan military and Sinhalese
civilian population, even more so following a
bomb blast in a crowded marketplace in
Trincomalee. Meanwhile, the security forces
themselves have turned a blind eye to sporadic acts
of mob violence against Tamils in the east. Relations
between the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim
communities who inhabit these areas have
plummeted, in keeping with the deterioration in
relations between the government and the
LTTE. While further talks in Geneva may stem the
violence for a limited period, a permanent peace will
require significantly more from all parties.
One part of the solution would be for President
Rajapakse to commit himself fully to the peace
process. Despite the president's pro-peace
orientation, his government retains hardliners who
regularly send mixed messages. Evidence of a single-
minded commitment would send a message
throughout Sri Lanka - including to the security
forces - that peace and inter-ethnic confidence-
building is the utmost national priority. The country
enjoyed such a period of commitment in 2002, in the
early days of the peace process, when then-Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to issue
orders to the security forces that were dutifully
carried out. At that time, the manner in which both
the roadblocks and the economic embargo on the
northeast were removed demonstrated that, when
the government leadership was of one mind, orders
would be followed throughout the chain of command.
The other part of the solution involves the LTTE,
whose demand is the disarming of the various Tamil
armed groups, as agreed in Geneva in February.
Given its own current reneging on the Geneva
agreement, the rebel leadership does need to
remember that they have previously attacked
disarmed paramilitaries, especially during the period
of the former UNP government. Obviously, verbal
guarantees will no longer suffice. Together with the
government and the international monitors, there is
a need to come up with a more workable solution
vis-a-vis the LTTE demand, so that those who
are disarmed do not suddenly become easy prey, as
has happened in the past. With the question
mark hanging over the peace talks themselves,
however, this question may remain unanswered for
some time,
- Jehan Perera
Graphic Link
If Southasian inter-state camaraderie could be oiled
with some good graphic design, then this effort, by
some unnamed creative artist, must be recognised
as a superior contribution. This design, a marriage of
the regular Devnagari ka and the Bangla ka, was a
logo designed to herald and mark the long-delayed
official visit by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia to
New Delhi in the third week of March. This was the
first trip made by Begum Zia to India during her
current term in office, which began in 2001. Most
observers say that nothing much came of the trip;
other say not so. Either way, we are happy that at
least the event produced a good Southasian graphic
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Time for the difficult issues
It has been three years since then-Indian Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced his
willingness to launch a fresh round of talks with
Pakistan. A year ago, Pervez Musharraf and
Manmohan Singh, enthused by the dialogue's
progress, termed the peace process 'irreversible'.
Indeed, there has been a drastic transformation in
bilateral ties during this period, to the benefit of all
Southasians. The truce has survived militant attacks,
past hostility and fundamental policy differences
between the two sides. To maintain the momentum,
however, what is needed now is intensified
negotiations and visible progress on contentious
issues. We must move from absence of war
towards peace.
There have been attempts at building peace
between these estranged umbilical neighbours in the
past. This current phase, however, is clearly different,
with a. confluence of factors pushing New Delhi and
Islamabad to talk with one another. Popular
sentiment, American pressure on both sides to
negotiate, the realisation in Pakistan that a proxy
war with India is neither strategically nor
economically prudent, New Delhi's understanding
that having peace at its borders is a prerequisite for
attaining greater status - all have contributed to the
current rapprochement.
Two rounds of composite dialogue over a range of
issues - including security, trade, culture and
terrorism - have resulted in a greater understanding
on both sides of reciprocal positions. The Srinagar-
Muzaffarabad, Rajasthan-Sindh, and the recently
inaugurated Amritsar-Nankana road and rail links
have revived ties between crossborder communities
and facilitated people-to-people contact.
On the core issue of Kashmir, both sides have
shown some flexibility. Five crossing points at the
Line of Control were opened up in the wake of the
Kashmir Earthquake of October 2005. Pakistan has
given up demands to implement the UN resolutions,
dating back to 1948, while India has acknowledged
Kashmir as an issue up for discussion. Providing a
further opening for progress on the issue is
Manmohan Singh's contention that, while borders
cannot be re-drawn, they can be made irrelevant.
Despite these credible achievements, however, the
peace process seems to have reached a stalemate on
Manhoman flags off Amritsar-Nankana bus
several important fronts. There is a feeling in
Pakistan, even among moderate and liberal elements,
that New Delhi has not done enough, especially on
Kashmir. South Block has also not responded to
several of President Musharraf's proposals on
Kashmir, including that of self-governance.
Islamabad fears that India's preference for the status
quo means that it is biding its time, hoping that the
dispute will lose steam. For its part, India claims that
Islamabad has not delivered on its promise to stop
'crossborder terrorism'.
The fact that there has been no recent high-profile
summit or joint statement outlining areas of
agreement has not helped matters either. The last
meeting between President Musharraf and Prime
Minister Singh - in New York in September 2005, on
the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting -
was frosty, with Pakistan demanding the
demilitarisation of three districts in Jammu &
Kashmir, which India flatly rejected. Little is known
of the back-channel diplomacy between the special
envoys - India's S K Lambah and Pakistan's Tariq
Aziz - nor whether there has been any breakthrough
on that front.
Public review needed
It is against this backdrop of mixed achievement that
a review of the peace process must be undertaken.
Manmohan Singh's recent proposal of a Treaty of
Peace and Friendship with Pakistan is a welcome
step. However, we believe it is crucial for New Delhi
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 to realise that till they address the Kashmir issue,
neither peace nor friendship with either Pakistan or
the Kashmiri people will be possible. The status quo
is clearly not acceptable to other stakeholders.
Instead, imperative moves include: a reduction of
troops,, a strict check on human-rights violations,
more power allotted to Kashmiris, liberalising
movement at the Line of Control, and a continuous
engagement with Pakistan.
On the other hand, though sections of the military
establishment in Pakistan admit that the politics of
violence in Kashmir has outlived its utility, the
crackdown on militant groups has been limited. And
as long as militants continue to strike with support
from across the border, there will be resistance in
New Delhi to any concessions. Islamabad must also
know that neither an independent Kashmir nor one
that is a part of Pakistan is feasible.
Pragmatism dictates that both sides operate within
this broad framework. Such a complex problem can
only be resolved through intensified diplomatic
negotiations between the two neighbours, with the
participation of Kashmiri representatives. Skirting
the issue or holding sporadic talks can only be
harmful for the prospects of peace in the region.
In addition, to combat the impression that the
peace process might be losing steam, and to sustain
the optimism among the people, it is important for
Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf to engage
in some high-profile personal diplomacy. A long-
overdue visit by the prime minister to Pakistan and
an agreement on an issue like Siachen - the contours
of which are reported to be ready - would indeed be
an ideal boost for India-Pakistan ties at this juncture.
Given past experience, the fact that the peace
process has lasted is a remarkable achievement in
itself. For the sake of the people of the region, however,
it is now time for India and Pakistan to build on that
success through greater flexibility on the remaining
stumbling blocks. k
'Sita in the Metropolis'
This work of art by Venantius J Pinto is a
reflection on the young modern
contemporary Southasian - a Sita who
arrives in the United States for higher
study. The billboards are actually
marriage ads. She has a cigarette that is
not yet lit and perhaps never will be.
Beneath all the innocuousness is a
symbol: the tattoo of a bow and arrow,
albeit upturned. Perhaps it is unwittingly
a distant reminder of politics - Hindutva,
or an abnegation that has a hold from
afar. She could be a Nepali politician's
daughter studying at one of the good
American colleges, awaiting
her turn to serve. In her
mind, she encompasses
Times Square - the
'Crossroads of the World', in
Manhattan, New York.       ,*,
This is part of a regular series of Himal
commentary on artwork by Venantius Pinto.
Inkjet Print
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Blurry reflections
Differing media accounts of Balochistan
study §! recent rliseiissisus mi Balochistan m the tertian anti
Pakistani press indicates a isnierini crosshardet si&kissis
about the oilier coit mrv's int er?e??mce.
by | Subarno Chattarji
For one month starting 15 January 2006, the
Media Foundation and Panos South Asia
monitored four daily newspapers from India
and Pakistan - Dainik jagran, Amar Ujala, Daily Ibrat
and Nawa-i-Waqt. The first two are Hindi-language
papers, while Ibrat is Sindhi and Nawa-i-Waqt is Urdu,
This exercise, which followed several themes and
issues common to readers on both sides of the border,
was undertaken on the assumption that a difference
in language implies different constituencies and (at
times) differing political
attitudes towards the
same event. As violence
has again erupted in
Balochistan over the past
year, the province's name
has become a byword
in Pakistan's media for
Indian    interference   in
Pakistani affairs, mirroring a paranoia in India about
Pakistani meddling in Kashmir. While such strongly-
held convictions as were found during the survey
reflect an undeniable difference in generally-held
opinions on either side of the border, the disparities
also raise the question of, to what extent, in the face
of such polemic and bombast, this type of media
culture will be able to contribute to a progressive,
cooperative peace process.
Pakistan perspectives
In a 15 January editorial, 'Indian interference in
Balochistan', Nawa-i-Waqt quoted the former
provincial governor and current rebel leader, Nawab
Akbar Bugti, who declared that although India was
not supporting the insurgents, the rebels would
Amar Ujala
accept India's offer of Jrelp. This declaration was tlren
editorially condemned and refuted. "There is strong
evidence of the Indian support to various sardars in
Balochistan," its editors wrote. "There have been
reports of money, arms and ammunition being
transferred to various sardars through the Indian
consulates based in Kandahar and Herat."
Accusations such as this parallel the frequent (and
often unsubstantiated) allegations in the Indian
media, which allege that Pakistani consulates in
Kathmandu or Dhaka are
cither terror-cell hubs or
conduits for counterfeit
Indian currency, aimed
at financing terrorism
in India or generally
undermining the Indian
economy. The editorial
went on to remind Akbar
Bugti of the debt he owes Pakistan: "Nawab Akbar
Bugti and other such sardars are in such high
positions only because of Pakistan. Otherwise, in
India princely states were abolished soon after 1947,
all property of rajas and sardars was confiscated and
they were forced to stand in the queue of ration
depots." There is a perverse pride expressed here,
both in the preservation of feudal structures and in
the refusal to consider that those inequities might
need to be addressed.
In mid-January, a Pakistani delegation including
Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan traveled
to New Delhi for the Composite Dialogue talks. On
19 January, during the delegation's visit to tire eastern
neighbour, Nawa-i-Waqt carried the following
headlines on its front page, some of which were
Dainik Jagaran
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 statements made by the Pakistan foreign ministry
spokesperson while in the Indian capital: 'India
should stop interfering in Balochistan otherwise
peace will he in danger. Balochistan is our internal
problem' and 'India has been told to find a
permanent and acceptable solution to the Kashmir
issue'. Sandwiched between these two was another
banner: 'Pakistan involved in explosions in
Bangalore and Delhi', a contention that the body of
the article subsequently refuted. That these charges
and counter-charges were traded while the peace
talks were taking place indicates the significant levels
of distrust. On the same dav, a back-page Nmva-i-
Waqt article further highlighted this suspicion and
paranoia. "Due to Indian interference in Pakistan's
internal affairs," the piece noted, "Pakistan has
asked federal ministers, members of parliament and
government officers to seek NOC [No Objection
Certificates] before accepting any invitation from the
Indian High Commission for parties, private dinners
from Indian diplomats, or any other invitation that
requires traveling to India to participate in any
conference or meeting."
In a commentary from 22 January, 'India-Pakistan
relations at a turning point', former Pakistani
ambassador Afzal Mahmood stressed an asymmetry
of trouble spots. "It is hard to digest the Indian
concern towards Balochistan, as the two do not have
a common border from which infiltration is feared,
neither has Balochistan a problem vis-a-vis religious
fundamentalism which might pose a danger to
India," he wrote. "Therefore, this Indian concern is
quite disturbing and it would be as surprising if
Pakistan were to show concern for the Naxalite
movement in AP, or a demand for freedom in Assam,
Nagaland or Mizoram." In comparing Balochistan
to Nagaland and Mizoram, Mahmood implicitly
accepts that there may be a problem in the former,
but holds out the veiled threat of India's
vulnerabilities and Pakistan's potential exploitation
of them.
The concern over Indian interference in
Balochistan was also addressed on the letters page,
for instance in a missive carried by Nawa-i-Waqt on
29 January written by a Karachi reader. Titled
'Jaswant Singh's new ploy', the writer saw the former
foreign and defence minister's peace mission to
Pakistan as part of a larger plot: "The army operation
in Balochistan and the ensuing chaos and India's
statements on the situation are enough evidence to
wake us up. Jaswant Singh's scheduled trip is part
of the same conspiracy. It has just one purpose and
that is to prove that India has a spiritual and religious
link with Balochistan." While the reader admitted to
Pakistani army operations in the province (unlike
the other articles surveyed), he too saw the province's
troubles as a means of extending Indian influence,
leading ultimately to the dismemberment of Pakistan.
No self-reflectien
Chairman of the National Language Authority Fateh
Mohammad Malik's 12 February commentary,
'India's nefarious activities and the Balochistan
situation', further stressed Pakistan's fears of the
Akhand Bharat ideology of 'greater India'. "Kashmir
is India's 'atoot ang' [unbreakable limbj and
Balochistan is the unresolved agenda of the
Partition," Malik suggested. "This Indian logic is the
result of the Western theory of calling an enemy a
friend, and which has now been adopted by our
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 leaders as well." Malik went on to catalogue aspects
of India's interference, including: "Balochistan CM
has disclosed that India has established 40 terrorist
camps where the terrorists are given a monthly
stipend of PKR 10,000 per month ... to give impetus
to the freedom movement in Balochistan."
Malik also delved into history in an attempt to
assert that Balochistan is an inalienable part of the
country: "Whereas there were military interventions
in Hyderabad, junagarh and other estates,
Balochistan opted for Pakistan through a clear
democratic process." The irony is obvious, in that
the inalienability predicated by such a democratic
process is now under threat precisely because of the
lack of democracy. Yet in his conclusion, Malik was
surprisingly candid: "It is true that we are responsible
for the present situation in Balochistan and India is
just making use of the bad situation, like it did with
East Pakistan. The greatest sin of our rulers has been
that they have never tried to better the economic and
political conditions in Balochistan, despite repeated
promises from them since the creation of Pakistan.
The present-day situation demands that we make
the dreams of the Pakistan Movement a reality and
do not just continue pleasing India for the sake of the
American goodwill."
Articles such as. this represent a direct mirroring
of the ways in which the Indian media details
Pakistani help for Kashmiri militants, as well as a
paranoid sense of being surrounded by the enemy.
Just as Ujala and Jagran portray the ubiquitous
Pakistani terrorist within India, so too does Naiva-i-
Waqt project a larger Indian plan to dissect Pakistan.
It is significant that the historical frame for this fear
is the Indian role in the creation of Bangladesh. While
Bangladesh is the archetype of India's perceived
desire to fragment Pakistan, there are no contexts
that explain the motivation for the freedom movement
in erstwhile East Pakistan. The creation of
Bangladesh thus becomes an example of Indian
perfidy and hegemony - and Pakistan's role is erased.
Malik did rectify this lack of self-reflection and
recognised a need for internal reform, lest India
capitalise on the provincial discontent. Yet the failure
to realise the "dreams of the Pakistan movement"
was attributed not so much to faulty internal policies
as to getting into the good graces of India and the US.
Once again, it was easier to make a scapegoat of
the neighbour than to analyse internal problems
in depth.
The Daily Ibrat joined this chorus of accusations,
although without the intensity of Nawa-i-Waqt, On 2
February it carried the headline, 'Proofs of Indian
involvement in Balochistan have started to become
visible: Zafarullah jamali'. The article cited former
Pakistan Prime Minister Jamali: "Improvement in
relations with the neighbouring country, India, is
welcome, but our neighbours have never been
faithful to us ... there has been evidence about the
Indian involvement in Balochistan. However, no
concrete evidence has been received, so we cannot
sav much in this regard ... Balochistan is not a
political issue, but it is an economic one."
Indian representations
With such rhetoric, Ibrat seemed to be echoing an
earlier piece from the Indian paper Amar Ujala,
'General Musharraf on same path as dictator
Saddam'. On 21 January, that article had cited Quetta
senator Sanaullah Baloch: "According to Sanaullah,
Balochistan is rich in gas, minerals and other natural
resources. Pakistan has been exploiting it since 1952.
But unfortunately, the people of Balochistan are
obliged to live in the Stone Age." The senator pointed
to the symbiotic relationship between politics and
economics - as opposed to the divergence stressed
by Zafarullah Jamali - stressing a type of economic
and political colonisation,
In a 2 January editorial, 'India-Pakistan over
Balochistan', Amar Ujala also took umbrage at
Pakistan's reaction to India's comments on the
Balochistan issue. "If there is the slightest of brawls
in a Muslim-inhabited area in India," the editors
fumed, "Pakistan gets enraged enough to threaten to
raise the issue in international forums. But if India is
to comment on the atrocities and oppression in
Pakistan, then it is seen as interference on India's
part. Balochistan is such a case." Such language
indicates a clear attempt to erase India's recent
communal history - including the 2002 Gujarat riots,
which cannot be dismissed as "the slightest of
brawls" - while maximising such oppressive
instances from across the border. This type of
historical amnesia and prickliness are inimical to
any attempt at peace between the two countries.
The editorial went on to articulate its real anxieties
about the ways in which Pakistan is perceived to
meddle in Indian affairs with impunity. "Pakistan
cannot expect India to be blind to its activities and
consider legitimate whatever steps it may take in the
region, while its secret agency, ISI, may have a free
hand in India," the editors warned. "Pakistani seals
were found on the grenades used in the terrorist attack
on the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Does
Pakistan imagine that India's statement would have
an adverse impact on the peace process and that its
own actions would give a boost to peace? Actually,
the root of the various problems of Southasia is ISI,
the control of which is the need of the hour. Therefore,
Pakistan should cleanse itself before adopting a
venomous attitude towards India."
The Ujala editorial harks back to the old strategy
of blaming outsiders for internal problems. At one
time, it was the 'foreign hand' (read: CIA) that was to
blame for all of India's ills; now it is Pakistan's ISI.
Foreign policy is predicated here on a simplistic
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 tit-for-tat strategy. The Ujala editorial, however, goes
further: 'various problems' is an all-encompassing
phrase that includes not only terrorism and security
issues (presumably the main cause of the editorial
ire), but also any other problem faced by Southasian
states. Thus, there is an implicit opposition created
between a terror-sponsoring - and therefore
irresponsible - Pakistan on ihe one hand, and their
victims on the other. Whether or not India has
designs on Balochistan is a moot point, but
media intolerance on tlie Indian side of the border
feeds paranoia and fear-mongering in the
neighbouring state.
While Pakistani papers in this one-month period
carried more articles on Indian interference in
Balochistan than did Indian media - seven as
opposed to two - there seemed to be a symmetry of
suspicion. Furthermore, fhe Pakistani media relished
pointing to the Indian hand in the troubled province,
just as the Indian media took delight in painting
the problem as indicative of Pakistan as a failed
state - also a favourite notion of the mainstream
English-language media. Of course, coverage of
Balochistan still pales in comparison to that of
Kashmir. Nawa-i-Waqt, for example, had four pieces
on Balochistan, compared to 71 Kashmir-related
articles. Nonetheless, Balochistan was significant
in that it .allowed the Pakistani media to turn fhe
tables: to blame India for meddling and fomenting
disaffection in its internal affairs, in much the same
way as the Indian media does with respect to
Kashmir. The cycles of accusation and counter-
accusation thus remained intact.
In general, this survey revealed a mirroring of
suspicions and stereotypes. The exceptions to this
straitjacketing of the 'other' as the perennial enemy
were few and only seemed to bolster the rule.
'Language papers' - particularly the two Hindi
ones surveyed from India, Dainik jagran and Amar
Ujala - have larger circulations than do their
English-language counterparts. Given their
statistical reach, they can notionally influence larger
sections of the population about issues such as
Balochistan, Kashmir, terrorism, Islam or the peace
process. By and large, that influence would seem to
negate hopes of mutual regard and peace between
the two nations, as the old fears and anxieties
continue to circulate. Indeed, for Nawa-i-Waqt,
Balochistan provided additional ammunition with
which to nail India. If regional media provides some
reflection of national consensus and if it is to be a
force multiplier for goodwill, some major paradigm
shifts are necessary. Until such a time, perhaps the
only spaces for moderation and dialogue lie in
articles on cricket or Bollywood stars. £
This is an adaptation of an original article at
www.thehootorg, which is part of a series.
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May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Again, in Trincomalee
Resent killings in Trincomalee, town and district could he a telling
indication of Sri Lanka's current direction, find that nuts fear in Tamil hearts.
by | D B S Jeyaraj
Trincomalee, called Thrikanaamale in Sinhala
and Thirukonamalai in Tamil, is once again
very much in the news. A cycle of violence in
mid-April resulted in more than 35 deaths and 60
injuries. The seriousness of the situation saw Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing
concern to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse
over the telephone, and evoked stark memories of
the July 1983 anti-Tamil violence on the island.
While the hostilities had ceased by the time of
writing, the smouldering tension can once again
erupt at the slightest provocation.
'Trinco', known for its geo-strategically important
deepwater natural harbour, has in recent times
become a communal powder keg. At the beginning
of the 20th century, the coastal town had a Tamil
majority of just under 80 percent, but their numbers
decreased over the years. Today, Tamils make up
about half of the population, with Sinhalas at 30
percent and Muslims making up 20 percent.
In the larger district, also called Trincomalee, the
three communities can be found in nearly equal
proportions. With such a heterogeneous ethnic mix,
both the town and the district could easily have been
a showpiece of racial harmony. But the downhill slide
of ethnic relations throughout Sri Lanka is also
reflected in Trincomalee, where again and again the
underlying tension results in bouts of violence, as
happened last month.
It all started with an assassination, wrhen on 7
April 51-year-old Vanniyasingham Vigneswaran
was gunned down at the bank where he worked,
located amidst a high-security zone in close
proximity of the police and navy headquarters.
Vigneswaran was a reputed Tamil political activist
and regarded as an important supporter of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is widely
believed that the killing was done by Tamil
paramilitaries affiliated with the state.
The LTTE made much of the murder, and a series
of condemnatory meetings were organised.
On a different track, a Tiger front called the 'Tamil
Upsurge Force' began targeting security forces
with claymore mines. 11 navy personnel were
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 killed when their vehicle hit a landmine in
Thambalagamam, while two policemen were killed
in another attack in Kumburupiddy. As a matter of
course the LTTE disclaimed responsibility, even
though few believed them.
Planned anack?
Trinco was a tinderbox waiting to ignite, and the
moment came on 12 April. The town was bustling
with commercial activity in preparation for the
traditional April New Year, common to both Sinhalas
and Tamils. Around 3:40 that afternoon, an
explosion occurred in the vegetable market, when a
parcel bomb tied to a bicycle was triggered
by a remote device. The 14 victims were
Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim.
Reprisals began barely a half-hour later.
The official line was that the victims were
all Sinhala, and that the infuriated
populace had risen in spontaneous
violence. The truth was somewhat
different: this was no instance of angry
mobs going berserk, but a case of coldblooded calculation. It appears that a plan
had been formulated to attack Tamils beforehand,
and that the explosion was like a green-light signal.
Gangs of young Sinhala-speaking men in civilian
garb arrived in trucks and vans. Most of them had
close-cropped haircuts and wore shorts and t-shirts.
Some of them carried clubs, rods, knives and swords.
A few threw bombs. Tamil houses and vehicles were
singled-out for assault. Some Tamils were hacked to
death and incinerated with gasoline. If these were
crimes of passion, there were profit-oriented crimes,
too. Tamil businesses were systematically ransacked
and looted, while the spoils were carefully loaded
into vehicles and taken away, leaving several of the
shops on fire.
At the time, Trinco was teeming with security men
from the army, navy and police, with additional men
having been deployed for the New Year festivities.
Despite their numbers, the security personnel did
not attempt to prevent or restrain the mobs. Instead,
most stood nearby, offering tacit encouragement.
Some men in naval uniform were seen aiding and
abetting the rioters. The marauders are now believed
to be members of the armed forces, auxiliary home
guards and criminal elements of
Sinhala society.
For those with any memory, this
was a repeat performance of the
violence that took place in the country
in July 1983, when massive
premeditated attacks were launched
against Tamils after a landmine blast
killed 13 soldiers. Then as now,
security personnel simply stood by
or outright assisted the mobs. Then
The pattern of events
has demonstrated
that another luly
1983 is quite
possible, for the
similarities are
frighteningly striking,
as now, a palpable fear and terror hung over
the Tamils.
Like 83
Local authority elections had just been held on 30
March. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with
close links to the LTTE, had swept the polls in the
Trinco urban council, as well as the Trinco
Pradeshiya Sabha, or regional council. This was the
result of bloc voting by Tamils concentrated in the
town. The victory was greatly resented by some
elements - an anger to which Vigneswaran's killing
was originally attributed, for he had been in charge
of poll propaganda for the TNA.
Now the rumour spreading like
wildfire was that Sinhala 'heroes' were
going to 'remedy' the situation, and an
'ethnic cleansing' campaign was going
to be conducted in Trinco town. Tamil
homes were to be destroyed and burnt.
Tamils were to be attacked and driven
away as refugees. Trinco was to be purged
of Tamils overnight. As drunken gangs
celebrated that night, the talk of ethnic
cleansing began to gather momentum.
It was obvious that neither the police nor the
security forces were going to protect the Tamils or
prevent any violence. Agitated Tamil politicians from
the district contacted the Indian High Commission
in Colombo, and New Delhi was alerted, setting in
motion important high-level developments. Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh tried to contact Mahinda
Rajapakse. When the latter called back, PM Singh
urged that, whatever the provocation, civilian lives
needed to be protected at all times. He requested the
president to take all steps to stabilise Trincomalee
and protect the vulnerable Tamil civilians.
President Rajapakse acted quickly. He despatched
police chief Chandra Fernando and Joint Operations
command chief Daya Sandagiri to Trinco, along with
Investment Promotion Minister Rohitha Bogollagama
and North-Central Province Chief Minister Bertie
Dissanayake. A curfew was declared, and slowly the
situation was brought under control. Although
security forces fired into the air to disperse mobs, no
one was arrested and a major calamity was averted.
This limited Indian 'intervention' also recalled the
July 1983 episode. At that point,
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had
called President J R Jayewardene
with concern about Tamils victimised
in the pogrom, even sending
Foreign Minister P V Narasimha Rao
to Colombo. Meanwhile, local
newspapers also reported that Health
Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva
had gone to New Delhi during the
critical period.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 According to analysts, there were several reasons
for India's prompt response on the Trincomalee
violence, beyond the purely humanitarian. India has
a vested interest in Trincomalee, with a 1987 India-
Sri Lanka pact having awarded New Delhi special
rights over the Trinco harbour. India has also leased
the strategic Trinco oil tank farm, having
allocatedUSD 30 million for its development. India
is also committed to constructing a coal-fired power
plant in the area.
With elections scheduled in the Tamil-majority
Tamil Nadu state in May, New Delhi did not want
violence against Trinco Tamils to become a
passionate pre-election issue. With its overt show of
interest in what was happening in Sri Lanka, India
was also conveying a subtle message to both parties
in Sri Lanka. To the Sinhalas, it was to confirm India's
concern for the welfare of Tamil civilians. To the
Tamils, the message is that in the end, it is India and
not the LTTE that can ensure their protection.
Paradigm shin
There was a brief climb-down of violence, but it
erupted two days later due to a landmine attack in
the area, killing two air force personnel. The dead
body of a Sinhala youth was also discovered around
this time. Fearing reprisals from these incidents, many
Tamils vacated their dwellings. There were sporadic
attacks against them, and three died, including an
Indian national. A Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva
was torched.
Although a reliable estimate of the deaths and
destruction has yet to be made, preliminary figures
indicate that at least 36 people were killed. Of these,
16 were Sinhala-speaking security persons, who had
been killed by LTTE-inspired mine and bomb attacks.
Of the 20 civilian deaths, 11 were Tamils, seven
Sinhalas and two Muslims. At least six Sinhala
civilians had previously been killed in the vegetable-
market explosion. More than 1500 people were
displaced in the unrest with at least 60 injured, 32
seriously. The record of destruction also includes
about 40 businesses looted, 31 of which were gutted.
At least 15 vehicles were burnt and 60 more smashed.
At the time of writing, normalcy was yet to return
to Trincomalee, both town and district. Very few
businesses were open and people had not yet
returned to work. Only a few vehicles ply the roads
and Trinco town bears a deserted look. But there are
still gangs moving freely about town, much to the
concern of the Tamil population. To date, no one has
been arrested for committing the violence in
Trincomalee, let alone charged.
There seems to be a repetitive pattern at work in
Trincomalee. The racial violence that visited Sri
Lanka in 1977 and 1983 saw Trincomalee Tamils
badly affected. The district has also been severely hit
over the course of the long war. The reason why it
faces extra rigour seems to be linked to its strategic
importance as well, as the ethnic mix. The local
Tamils have long suspected a design in the violence,
and they fear that conspiracies are underfoot to depopulate the town of Tamils. The recent violence has
strengthened suspicion of a 'cleansing' campaign
in the cards. Indeed, the pattern of events has
demonstrated that another 'July 1983' is quite
possible, for the similarities are frighteningly striking.
Political commentators have long talked of an
impending paradigm shift in Sri Lankan politics. The
country was said to be moving away from the unitary
state model, and towards a devolution amounting to
federalism. The recent presidential elections,
however, have reversed the trend, even if it was real.
The new president, Mahinda Rajapakse, dismissed
the very concept of devolution and argued for the
retention and preservation of the unitary state.
Aligning with Sinhala hardliner groups like the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna QVP) and Jathika Hela
Urumaya, Rajapakse won handsomely in the polls,
with massive support in the Sinhala electorate.
It was said that the country had learned its lesson
in the 1983 riots. There would no longer be a
repetition of that dark period, it was argued. The
Trincomalee violence, however, has shown
otherwise: all of the ingredients for renewal of anti-
Tamil aggression remain in place. If political will
and authority are lacking in Colombo, a flare-up is
inevitable, and last month's happenings in
Trincomalee could be the harbinger of terrible times
ahead. The sad lesson from the presidential election
and the Trincomalee violence is that the so-called
paradigm shift has not taken place after all. Sri Lanka
may be going forward to the past. A
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Cover Story
Between the grains:
Purvanchal circumstances
by | Shikha Trivedi
The double-digit growth touted for the Indian economy is being
accompanied by a growing gap between the urban middle class and
the rural poor, the latter exemplified by the conditions in Eastern
Uttar Pradesh, or Purvanchal. Here, impoverishment increases as
power looms displace handloom workers, and harvesters make
agricultural labourers redundant. The patchwork of tiny land parcels
that makes up the Purvanchal landscape in satellite imagery itself is
evidence of rural want, and the condition of the landless is somewhat
worse. Against this backdrop of poverty, Maoists organise and the
upper castes react. The state takes the side of the latter. A communal
twist is forced on the people by the opportunist politician, pitting
Muslim poor against Hindu poor. But Purvanchal, the most neglected,
most populated region of India, will survive because of the resilience
of its citizens and their spirit of tolerance. They will keep the designs
of the exploiters and communalists at bay.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Benaras, the oldest city in
the world it is said, is
where my travels through
Eastern Uttar Pradesh have
always begun. The coolies who
carry my luggage from the train
station, the rickshaw-pullers
who take me down the crowded,
tumultuous lanes to the Ganga
View Guest House on Assi Ghat,
the hawkers who sell incense
and flowers outside the Kashi
Vishwanath temple, the weavers
who produce yard upon yard of
beautiful silk at Pili Kothi ..
Gorakhpur, Gazipur, Mau, Bhadoi, Deoria - poor
Hindus and Muslims from all over Purvanchal,
looking for life in a city where others come to die.
Once, Razia and other
women from weaving
families used to earn a
good income hy
embroidering saris. Bat as
more and more machines
were installed to do thelob,
their hands slowly became
they come from
It is an incongruity that is
mirrored everywhere in
Benaras, reflecting the situation
in all Purvanchal, where
one finds stoicism amidst
indescribable want. In some
mohallahs here, the clang of
temple bells and the call of the
aazan are both often drowned by
the sound of hundreds of looms,
on which the famous banarsi
silk and brocade saris are
woven. The looms have been
worked by generations of
Muslim families, and sold by Hindu traders. Today,
the saris still fetch thousands of rupees in the market,
but men like Omar Sayed are paying the price of
weaving them with their blood.
Uttar Pradesh (Purvanchal shaded)
1 Bahraich
2 Shravasti
3 Balrampur
4 Sidharthnagar
5 Maharajganj
6 Kushinagar
7 Gonda
8 Basti
9 Sant Kabir Nagar
10 Gorakhpur
11 Deoria
12 Faizabad
13 Ambedkar Nagar
14 Sultanpur
15 .Azamgarh
16 Mau
17 Ballia
18 Pratapgarh
19 Jaunpur
20 Ghazipur
21 Fatehpur
22 Kaushambi
23 Allahabad
24 Sant Ravidas Nagar
25 Varanasi
26 Chandauli
27 Mirzapur
27   ) Jharkhand
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 I met Omar in the city's Bajedian Mohallah. Having
moved from Azamgarh District to Benaras nearly a
decade ago in search of work, he was employed by a
master weaver who had six other people working
the looms for him. But things started going wrong for
the 1.5 million workers in this industry towards the
end of the 1990s, when cheap Chinese silk fabric
became available in the country. In Benaras alone,
the daily demand for the Chinese material tops 25,000
metres, at nine rupees a metre. The locally made silk
fabric costs between 35 and 150 rupees per metre.
Weavers who made the shift from handlooms to
power looms in order to produce largely synthetic
saris managed to
This is an old story of stayafloat for a few
modemtimes,asold SaJSSS
as the indifference of of jobs But then
the noiiticians and ?ectric.i2 u- T
began stretching to
OUreaUCraCy. almost ten hours at
a time, and the
loom-owners too were doomed. Surat, in Gujarat, has
now begun to produce the same textiles, only cheaper.
As for Omar, he simply stopped getting work. The
skilled hands that once created magic from yarn are
today pale and trembling. "Poverty has drawn the
blood from these fingers," says Omar. I had thought
that he was simply using a figure of speech, until
another weaver pointed out the blue patches
discolouring his skin. Without a trace of emotion,
Omar tells me of selling his blood to feed both his
family and his opium addiction. He picked up the
habit to cope with the depression of being laid off.
Omar sells 200 grams of blood at a time and is
paid between 100 and 150 rupees. It sells for between
800 and 1000 rupees in the market, but the touts sent
out by the city's private nursing homes do not tell
him this. Besides, Omar is so desperate for money
that he is past caring, even though his neighbour
Abdul Matin died a week ago after selling blood for
the 20th time in less than two months. I make my
way to Abdul's house, where his uncle recounts the
story. "There was no work. His wife was pregnant
and he needed the money for her delivery. He had
become very weak. Then the day his child was bom,
he again sold blood and collapsed and died. He
thought of doing this because there was no other way
of making money."
The morning newspapers had stated that the
minister of handlooms in the Samajwadi Party
government, currently ruling Uttar Pradesh, was
visiting Benaras. Seeking out Jagdish Singh Rana at
a public meeting, I asked him what he was going to
do about the weaving industry. Although admitting
that there was a crisis, Rana appeared more keen on
blaming previous governments than on addressing
the issue with any sense of urgency. The best he could
do was to say that, since his party had just won a by-
election from a Benaras constituency dominated by
weavers, the people clearly trusted his government
to solve their problems.
Today, nearly 70 percent of the looms in the city
are still. Hunger stalks these narrow alleys, with the
few weavers who still have work making very little
income - some barely 20 rupees a day. Amidst the
silent looms, I met Razia Bibi, mother of five. Her
unemployed husband had turned to drugs in despair,
and the neighbours had started avoiding the family.
Today, they survive on the earnings of one 8-year-
old son, who is apprenticed to a master weaver. "But
he has not been paid for a week," whispers Razia.
There is no food in the house.
There was a time not long ago when Razia and
other women from weaving families used to earn a
good income by embroidering the saris. But as more
and more machines were installed to do the job, their
skills slowly became worthless. Their wages are
down to almost half of what they had been; even the
50 rupees that Nasreen now earns per sari - down
from 100 - is paid to her in bits and pieces over several
weeks. Out of this amount, she spends half to
purchase the material required for the embroidery,
mainly threads. As such, she actually makes no more
than 15 or 20 rupees on every sari.
In the last two years, Hindi papers such as jatra,
Amar Ujala and Hindustan have carried several reports
on the plight of the weavers. Of how Rasool sold his
son to a relative for 1000 rupees, or of how Hamid
committed suicide by consuming the same acid he
had bought to give extra shine to the woven silk.
There are many more such tragedies, there amidst
the silent looms.
During my wanderings through the maze of
narrow lanes that makes up the world of the weavers
of Benaras, and through die markets where they sell
their cloth, I have often chanced upon roadside
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 renderings of one of the most popular couplets of the
15th century poet Kabir. The saint, himself a weaver,
reminded all about the inevitability of death with
the lines:
Seeing the grinding stone turning, turning,
Kabir began to weep.
Between the two stones, not a single grain is saved!
The couplet's rendering was often accompanied
by a drawing of a woman rotating a grinding stone -
throwing not grains, but people into its maw. The
citizens of Purvanchal are perhaps comfortable with
this inevitability - to be able to live the lives they do
in remote villages and small towns, which both the
state capital of Lucknow and national capital of Delhi
have forgotten even exist.
250 bigha zamin
My first stop is the district of Chandauli. They call it
Dhaan ka Pihar, the home of rice. Despite the
production capacity of the region, the rice of this earth
does not belong to the tiller. More than 30 years have
passed since the state was to have distributed all
surplus agricultural land amongst the landless. But
the productive fields are still controlled by the big
zamindars, and in village after village across
Purvanchal it is the same story: the landowners
managed to evade redistribution, and everyone lives
the lie of land reform.
Bauri village, located amidst the green of ripening
paddy, is no different. Here, back in the 1970s, 250
bighas of farmland was declared surplus, but no more
than 15 bighas have been given away (one bigha is
about three acres). Ram Bear (pronounced 'byar'), a
local teacher, tells me that the rest remains in the
possession of the dabang log, or powerful men, even
though the poor have been given pattas (papers of
ownership) by the local administration.
In Bauri, supposed redistribution has been
thwarted because most zamindars of Purvanchal
have evaded ceiling laws, by declaring their families
'divided' in the land records while continuing to
cultivate jointly. What the large landowners did give
up was mostly barren, useless stretches of earth.
Indeed, 57 percent of all excess land acquired by the
state for redistribution is the kind that is unfit for
cultivation. No more than 5.4 lakh acres, or a little
over one percent of the total 430 million acres of
agricultural land of Uttar Pradesh, have been declared
surplus. Even out of that tiny amount, only around
one-fourth has been redistributed so far.
Land remains the most important socially valued
asset in the villages, and its unequal distribution
helps to maintain the traditional hierarchies, thereby
ensuring the domination of the upper castes.
According to Ram Bear, who belongs to one of the
Dalit communities with a large presence in Bauri,
the idea of releasing this acreage to people still
The monument in Chauranva
rb rr~
j   -M
"     "-jj
considered 'untouchable' is so distasteful to the
zamindar clans that they have simply not allowed it
to happen.
While Bauri remains locked in the traditional vice
of caste relationships, the power balance is somewhat
different in the neighbouring village of Naugaon.
This is because it has a large population of Yadavs,
the dominant 'other backward caste' in Uttar Pradesh
and one of the groups that has most benefited from
the implementation of the Mandal Commission
report, which in the late 1980s sanctioned 33 percent
'reservation' in education and government jobs for
oppressed    castes    and Hn> Inuitd« MP
tribes. Naresh Yadav, a W IIIHHCd HIG
panchayat   member    of |l0$H6 fG? ti QiSSS
Naugaon, shows me a plot fif ^ j^ | jy^
of land that now belongs ..      „
to the Gram Sabha,  or 06 C3H Hi 3ftOft
village assembly  It had ftllS Small $lt0W
X^Fe=^ ofhosnitality.So
a   caste   of   Purvanchal I 3Sl f 0!T SOOIS
Brahmin cultivators, until ^g, ggyfog |
thev were forced out, he '       *
says    Now  it   is  being Ml thlfSty, MU
farmed by members of his |83V8 QtiiCRiU.
Yadav community.
But there is no getting away from the fact that there
is just not enough land in Purvanchal. From the air -
like Bihar to the east - Purvanchal is a patchwork
quilt of land holdings. The fields that make up this
collage, however, are indescribably small - 82 percent
of the landholdings of Purvanchal are less than an
acre in size. While three-fourths of the workforce is
engaged in agriculture, no one has enough and the
poorest have nothing. The fact that the agriculture
sector has been stagnant, even as other sectors in other
parts of India have advanced rapidly, means that the
farm-dependent population of Purvanchal is hit hard,
Himal Southasian j May-June 2006
 To survive, aft*
steal from the
many others in the
and the landless labourers immeasurably so. Lately,
the first move by landowners intent on cost-cutting
has been to replace the labourers with harvester
machines and other farming equipment hired from
Punjab. People who never received the official
minimum wage of 58 rupees a day to begin with are
now being paid even less.
I traveled to three villages in three separate districts
of Purvanchal. In each, people are struggling to
survive, and the search for food is getting
increasingly desperate.
Village Chauranva, Dist Ballia
The first thing I see on entering Chauranva is a stone
memorial in a small, neatly laid-out garden. It is a
tribute to the freedom fighters of the village who fell
to British bullets during the Independence Movement.
Martyrdom earned these poor agricultural labourers
a small place in history, but this is remembered by
none but the people of Chauranva. But the place is
also known for being the constituency of the former
prime minister, Chandrashekhar, who was returned
to Parliament from here over and over again. It was
Chandrashekhar who made possible this memorial
to the fallen of Chauranva.
As I turn to leave the memorial I meet the caretaker,
who has come to light the evening lamp. He is Dinesh
Bear, grandson to one of the heroes commemorated
here. Dinesh is a tall man, and you would be forgiven
for reading defeat and resignation in his eyes and
bearing. He says little has changed for his family
since the days of his grandfather, some 70 years ago.
"He was a labourer, and so am I. We have
no land."
"How much do you earn for a day's work in
the fields?"
"Two kilos of rice."
"Do you not receive cash for work?"
He looks down at his hands and continues. "My
grandfather sacrificed his life for the nation, but for
us things have only gotten worse."
Dinesh Bear walks two kilometres to the nearest
market every day, where he sells half the rice he earns
for five rupees. The remaining kilo makes up his
family's evening meal. He has seven mouths to feed.
He invites me home for a glass of tea, but I know he
can ill afford this small show of hospitality. So I ask
for some water, saying I am thirsty, and leave quickly.
At my next stop, I meet a group of women who are
paid a daily wage, but the minimum possible.
Says Jagmati: "The zamindar gives us one rupee
and a one-kg bag of rice for a day's work. Plus water
to drink."
"How much did you use to earn earlier?"
"First it was 25 paisa, then 50 paisa and now
one rupee."
"How much time did it take you to move from being
paid 25 paisa to one rupee?"
"Three to four years."
She continues: "We are so poor, we cannot afford
to buy medicine or get our children married. The
money we need, we borrow from the zamindar on
whose land we work. When we demand higher
wages, he says 'you repay the loans first'. How can
we do that?"
The question was rhetorical, and of course I had
no answers.
Village Baidauli, Dist Kushinagar
Kushinagar is where the Gautam Buddha breathed
his last. It is one of the many sites on the northern
banks of the Ganga plains that have been associated
with the Sakyamuni for some two-and-a-half
millennia, including Lumbini, Sarnath, Kausambi,
Sravasti and Vaishali. It is ironic that the very region
that the Buddha trod in his mission to rid the world
of suffering is today converted into a premier
cauldron of suffering - not only on a Southasian scale
but a worldwide one.
The village is Baidauli in Kushinagar District.
Jhaliya is sitting outside her hut with a modest
stockpile spread out before her. In all, it makes up
25 kg of dhaan, unpolished rice, which was
painstakingly gathered over three months of foraging
in the fields. Each fistful of grain was dug up from
the burrows of field rats, painfully separated - grain
by grain - from the mud and sand. And all of this
foraging was done at night, after working on the fields
throughout the day.
Jhaliya is a Mushar, the poorest caste of Dalits in
Purvanchal. Traditionally rat trappers, poverty has
ensured that the community's association with this
mammal continues. Because there is no employment
outside of agriculture here - no industry, nor
construction activity - when Jhaliya was offered two
kg of rice for eight hours of backbreaking labour in
the fields, she had no choice but to accept. In the
winter months, even this kind of work is not available.
To survive, Jhaliya must steal from the rats, like
many others in the village. Pointing at the pile
of drying grain in front of her, she says: "I will have
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Purvanchal, the Bhojpuri realm
With Uttar Pradesh comprising the world's most populated
subnationai area - indeed, by itsell it would make up the fifth
most populous country - Eastern UP, Purvanchal, is one of
the most densely inhabited rural areas on earth. It is also
one of the poorest: according to one estimate, more than 80
percent of iandholdings in the region are less than one hectare
in area, and one 1998 estimate suggested that jhuggie huts
make up 95 percent of homes. A growing socio-economic
split developed after Independence between the western
and eastern halves of Uttar Pradesh. Western UP, together
with Haryana and Punjab, benefited from advanced
agriculture and urbanised rapidly, also taking advantage of
its proximity to the capital region of Delhi. Meanwhile, the
eastern half of the state remained mired in poverty, in tandem
with the basket-state of Bihar to the east. Urbanisation levels
in Western UP are more than double when compared to
Eastern UP - 26 percent as against just 12.
Western and Eastern UP are quite similar in physical
size, population and population density. These respective
comparisons stand at 89,589 sq km and 87,294 sq km, 58.5
million and 65.3 million, and 843 versus 867 people
per sq km.
Nonetheless, there gradually arose a distinction between
Purvanchal and Harit Pradesh, its counterpart to the west.
Both have long aspired to become separate states within the
Indian union, with Purvanchal particularly distinguished by
the widespread use of the Bhojpuri language. With an
estimated 25 million speakers in India alone, many claim
Bhojpuri to be independent from Hindi. Contiguous with Bihar,
Nepal and Madhya Pradesh, the region officially comprises
28 districts. While these extend as far west as Kaushambi
and Fatehpur [see map, page 21), the ethnic or cultural core
of Purvanchal is to be found clustered in the east and north,
taking in the area from the Bihar and Nepal border regions
to the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers at
Allahabad. For its sheer numbers, Purvanchal's people
exercise an overwhelming power in electing lawmakers,.
both to the state and national legislature. Indeed, there is a
saying within Purvanchal: "Satta uske anchal, jo jeete
Poorvanchaf (The one who wins Purvanchal assumes
power in the state as a whole). And yet, as is clear in its
current social and economic conditions, Purvanchal does
not reap the benefit from its power vis-a-vis the ballot box.
With land under the command of upper-caste landowners,
towards the end of the 19th century dire poverty forced the
'lower caste people of the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh
to migrate to distant regions, from the Southern Pacific to
the West Indies. In 1991, the greatest concentrations and
numbers of India's Scheduled Caste members lived in Uttar
Pradesh - 29.3 million, or 21 percent - followed by West
Bengal (16 million, 24 percent) and Bihar (12.5 million,
14 percent). UP's Scheduled Caste proportion was
slightly higher in the east than in the west - 20.7 percent
versus 18.6.
Historically, Eastern and Western Uttar Pradesh had
different systems of landholding, and although land reforms
have been put in place, Eastern UP still has a higher share
of marginal Iandholdings. Under British rule, the zamindari
system of tenancy in Eastern UP estranged cultivators from
the land, as it further stratified rural society into layers of
tenants, subtenants and rentier landlords. In Western UP,
the bhaichara system allowed for peasant proprietorship
and gave tenants a greater incentive to invest in land and
improve productivity, as is reflected by changes in cropping
patterns, increases in yield and capital accumulation.
Purvanchal Mukti Morcha (the Liberation Front
for Purvanchal), headed by Raj Kumar Singh, first
demanded a separate state of Purvanchal comprising
^ 20 districts of Eastern UP in 1996. The leaders of
Purvanchal have often claimed that the discriminatory
policy of the Uttar Pradesh government in Lucknow
responsible for the backwardness of the region,
leading to the demand for a separate state. The
Pragatisheel Bhojpur Samaj (Progressive Bhojpuri
Society) has made frequent demands for an even
larger 'Bhojpur', comprising 25 districts of Eastern
UP as well as neighbouring Bihar, with Benaras as
its capital. It also demands the inclusion of the
Bhojpuri language in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian
Constitution, which would provide it with official
recognition even as the government regards Bhojpuri
as a dialect of Hindi. 4
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 to look for some work when this grain
is finished. If I don't get work, we will
have to starve."
Thus far, Jhaliya has been more
fortunate than her neighbour,
Inderpatiya, about whose death I had
read in a local newspaper published
from Gorakhpur. The report said she
had died of starvation; the district
authorities said it was tuberculosis. By the time I
reached the home of the bereaved family, I saw
Inderpatiya's mother Jyotiya had arrived to look after
her four grandchildren. The oldest was 14. Jyotiya
said that ever since Inderpatiya's husband had died
three years ago, she had eaten less and less herself so
as not to deprive the children. She insists that had
her daughter eaten well, she would have been able to
fight the disease.
How often did the family get to eat?
"Once in two or three days. They ate if someone
gave them some food, because Inderpatiya was too
weak to go out and work."
Jyotiya does not know what will happen to her
grandchildren. She has received no official help so
far, except the 200 rupees she was given for cremating
her daughter. There is a sack of grain remaining in
the house, nothing more. "How long will this last?"
she asks. The poor of Purvanchal are reduced to
counting grains of rice, literally.
As I leave the village, 1 see that a row of clay urns
meant for storing grain has been placed very
prominently at the fronts of the houses. They are large,
visible and completely empty, and every family has
at least one. What is the use of these empty vessels, I
want to know. Quickly enough, an elder fills me in:
"No one will marry their daughters to our boys if
they know our level of poverty. They will think we
can't provide for them. We are showing the containers
prominently, knowing that no one will take a ladder
and look inside. That would be ungracious of the
prospective bride's party." I found this innovative
thinking a bit like the government's food-for-work
Labourer from Bhulia
village, branded as
Naxalite for demanding
minimum wage
"The zamindar
gives us one
rupee and a one-
kg bag of rice for
a day's work. Pius
water to drink."
programme and employment-
guarantee schemes, which exist on
paper but are nowhere to be seen on
the ground.
When the government does step in,
it is with too little, too late. A news item
in the Gorakhpur paper said that a
man had died of hunger in the village
of Bansgaon. This was not some remote
hamlet, but within 10 km from the town of Dudhi,
where 'Below Poverty Line' ration cards are
distributed. At the government shops, any cardholder
can get 35 kg of foodgrain at the subsidised rate of 99
rupees per kilo, once a month. But the poorest of the
poor are not even able to put together that amount,
especially during the monsoon and winter months,
when there is no work to be had. Villagers told me
that, very often, they borrow even for buying this
subsidised foodgrain. There is a court ruling that
allows them to buy the rations in instalments, but no
one follows the order.
Village Chakiya, Dist Naugarh
The car stops. It cannot negotiate the potholes in the
dirt road, rapidly filling up with water as the rain
comes pouring down. There is no other way to get to
the village of Chakiya, deep inside the forest of
Naugarh District, so I start walking until I reach a
cluster of huts. There is no one inside. The villagers
are all busy collecting snails and plucking a certain
type of grass, which they themselves are eating even
as they are feeding it to their cattle.
I ask an old woman, Dhunia, why she does not
cook the grass. "Who has oil here?" is her response.
If the skies had not opened up over the past few days,
there would not even be this grass to eat. "We are no
different from the wild elephants who break and
eat the branches, leaves and twigs of the tree -
anything that can be consumed," says a villager
standing nearby.
Here, too, no one has the money to buy the
subsidised supplies provided by the district
administration. It is people living above the poverty
line who have access to the ration cards. None of the
very poor people here earn more than four rupees a
day, from collecting tendu leaves used in making
beedis. "Why are you shocked?" the villager
continues. "Wherever you go, you will find that only
the rich and powerful people have Below Poverty
Line cards. If we do manage to raise the money and
go to the ration shop, we find that our quota has
already been sold on the black market."
In the more deprived parts of Purvanchal, the
grinding poverty, together with a level of exposure to
political matters, finally has villagers raising their
voices against corruption. They have begun
demanding their rights using tried and tested
democratic means, but the fight against injustice is
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 proving tough. This is why some have opted for
violent methods; there are now districts where the
Maoists are strong in numbers and influence, and
waging war against the state.
It is the peasantry that suffers when the authorities
decide to go after the Maoists. "The police are trying
all the time to prove the innocent guilty. Yet if we do
not fight, we will remain poor and hungry forever,"
said Javed Ahmed, a 60-year-old agricultural worker
from Chupepur village. He had met us in a field away
from the village, scared that the landlord would see
him. Soon, other men and women joined in, and all
complained of harassment. Said one, "When we ask
for our wages, when we demand our rights, we are
branded Naxalites and terrorised." Javed recalled
how he was threatened when he asked his landlord
for a raise of five rupees in his daily wage: "I was told
that I will be tied to a tree and shot, or be sent to jail as
a Naxalite." This is a fate many poor people in
this region now consider worse than death -
imprisonment on charges of being a 'Naxal' or a
sympathiser of the party, the Maoist Communist
Centre (MCC).
Naxal encounter
Across the Chandauli, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra
districts of Purvanchal, the security forces have been
waging a long and bloody battle against the MCC.
Meanwhile, villagers maintain that any fight for
justice is now being smashed by the landlord-police
nexus using the Maoist threat as excuse.
In Bhulai village, when a group of landless
Muslims, Koi adivasis and Dalit labourers tried to
occupy and cultivate paddy on a patch of government
wasteland, they were forcibly stopped by the
upper-caste farmers - chased away, their huts razed
and crops destroyed. The upper castes then started
cultivating the land themselves, and nobody
stopped them.
the villagers say the landlords and police are
increasingly targeting the few boys from the depressed
communities who happen to be educated. "This is
because the feudal elements are scared of us," says
Mahesh, a graduate who has been thrashed more
than once for trying to organise the villagers around
the minimum-wage demand. "The landlords don't
like it and so they always single us out to the police,
saying that 'these boys can create trouble, they are
Naxals'." Mahesh speaks in a dialect of Bhojpuri,
which is close to Bundelkhandi.
In Kanach village of Sonbhadra District, Mallu
Baiga and 13 others were accused of setting fire to
the house of one of the richest landlords in the area.
The police declared them to be Maoists and dragged
whomever they could find to jail. Eight of these men
had previously worked as bonded labourers for the
same zamindar, before being freed three years ago by
local social workers. Mallu, who had evaded arrest
thus far by hiding at a relative's house, explained the
real reason behind the accusation: "My landlord was
very angry that we had been rescued from his clutches.
So he has taken revenge on us."
The villagers in these districts report that the
harassment has increased sharply over the last year,
following a November 2004 attack in which a Police
Armed Constabulary van was blown up in
Chandauli, killing 17 policemen. A special operations
group (SOG) made up of armed policemen in
plainclothes was formed by the Samajwadi Party
government in Lucknow to hunt down the attackers.
The SOG has unleashed a reign of terror in the area.
It is not that the state has not tried other measures
as well. To counter the growing Naxalite problem,
successive state governments have implemented a
number of development schemes in the areas where
the rebels have strong presence. For instance, 80
million rupees was allocated for 98 villages of
Sonbhadra District. As expected, however, there was
a rush by the rich and powerful of the area to
monopolise these funds. Several police 'encounters'
were arranged in which innocent villagers were
passed off as Naxalites and arrested or killed.
With both the rebels and police training their guns
on each other, the few human rights groups working
in the region, including the National Forum of Forest
Workers, say that more and more innocent men and
women are becoming caught in the crossfire. When
they are victimised, the locals hardly have any
recourse to justice, says Tanvir .Ahmed, a member of
the Human Rights Law Network from Benaras,
which is also active in this area. Reports Ahmed,
"The people here are so poor they cannot keep a
lawyer or move bail applications. They are Dalits,
adivasis, Mushars, Nats, and they are languishing
in jail."
Talking to the victims of political or caste violence,
it became apparent to me everywhere I went in
Purvanchal that no government to date has seriously
addressed the needs of the people of this most
backward region. Here, crores are being spent by the
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 "Panchlight" performance in Jokhera
government to fight the Maoists, and by the
politicians to win elections. But there is no
employment for the adivasis who have been
displaced from their lands, the Dalits still have no
access to safe drinking water, and most villages still
do not have electricity or functioning schools.
Poverty in Eastern Uttar Pradesh continues despite
the clout this region commands in terms of seats in
Parliament - 33 out of Uttar Pradesh's 80 total in the
Lok Sabha. Unfortunately, the powerful national
leaders have all been from Western Uttar Pradesh,
including the earlier chief minister Mayawati, current
chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, and central
ministers like Ajit Singh. The best Purvanchal has to
show for itself is Rajnath Singh, the new chief of the
Bharatiya Janata Party, but he has never served a term
in the executive.
It was purely by chance that I met Shankuntala Devi,
on a hot summer afternoon. Stopping near the town
of Renukoot for a drink of water, I saw a group of
women in saris, their heads covered, glass bangles
catching the sun, repairing a hand-pump. The sight
was extraordinary, and they barely looked up when
I approached them.
"What is the problem?" I asked.
"There is something wrong with the washer," one
of them replied. "To replace the whole thing will cost
1700 rupees. If the sarpanch gives us the
money immediately, it can be done.
Otherwise we will have to do a temporary
job, so that people don't suffer. A wedding
is being held here - at least they will get
water. Later, when the Block District
Officer releases the money, we will fix
it properly."
This was Shankuntala Devi, their
confident 30-something group leader,
from whom I learned that 80 of the area's
women had been trained as hand-pump
mechanics. This was part of a project
initiated by UNICEF and implemented by Hindalco,
a company that produces aluminium at its plant in
Renukoot. The aim was to empower women in a
region where the rigid feudal mindset had not
allowed them even to go to school. Less than five
percent of the women in the area are literate.
When Shankuntala Devi's husband died, she did
not know how to make ends meet for herself and her
four children. She heard about the hand-pump project
from a man in her village who worked at Hindalco,
and made up her mind to join. "We were hungry. I
had to do something. My father-in-law tried to stop
me, but I did not listen to him. I hid from him and
went for training every day."
"Did you find it difficult to go out of your home in
the beginning?"
"When the officers spoke to us for the first time,
we were so scared! It took us several days to even
give our names."
"This is hard work..."
"It was tough. But now that we have learned the
technique, it's easier. And if we don't do it, how will
we earn money?"
"Do you have fixed rates?"
"We earn during the four summer months and
live off that money for the rest of the eight months.
We charge 1000 rupees to repair a broken hand-
pump, 348 rupees for overhauling it, and 116 rupees
for minor problems."
"So, how much do you earn every summer?"
"Sometimes it pours money, sometimes it's enough
only for two meals a day, sometimes not even that.
But if we work hard we can earn up to 25,000 rupees.
This is our only income."
"Do women hand-pump mechanics earn more
than their husbands?"
"Yes, many of us!"
None of the 80 women hand-pump mechanics of
the Renukoot area can read or write, but they
understand better than anyone else the value of each
drop of water. Today, they cycle from village to village,
repairing and maintaining hand-pumps, defying the
traditional roles laid down for them by men - in fact,
doing what has been very much a 'man's' job.
These winds of change are also blowing in
Jokehara, a small village of Azamgarh
District in another part of Purvanchal.
Here, a local library, set up in 1993 by
a police officer who wanted people to
develop the habit of reading, is now
organising theatre workshops with the
help of the National School of Drama
from the national capital. The singular
aim is to break down caste barriers in
the village and to give young girls a
sense of their lives' possibilities.
Although it is a Sunday, the libr.ary,
set amidst yellow mustard fields, is
Maulana Iqbal
exclusion of
young Muslims
from the Indian
mainstream as a
larger culprit
than poverty.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 buzzing with activity. Rehearsals have
commenced for a new play based on the
great Hindi novelist Phaneshwar Nath
Renu's short story "Panchlight". The
play is a comment on how the caste
system divides society: a village in
darkness gets a panchlight (a Perromax
lantern) and, though everyone is
excited, no one knows how to use it.
Eventually it is a Dalit, treated as an
untouchable all of his young life, who is able to light
the panchlight.
Sunita, the oldest member of the drama troupe
and a Dalit herself, says that while enacting the story
in rehearsals, boys and girls of different castes have
been able to reach out to one other. "At first, the
Bhumihars would not talk to us, and they even ate
their meals separately," she recalls. "But slowly, as
we sang, danced and acted together, the barriers
began to crumble. I can't say when or how it
happened. But one day we went to put up the play
in a neighbouring village, and were invited for tea to
the house of a relative of one of the actor.s, Anita,
who is a Bhumihar. When the girl's aunt realised I
was from a lower caste she served me tea in a clay
tumbler, so that it could be broken after use. All the
others were given steel tumblers. d\nita refused to
have tea till I was given a glass like the rest."
These were girls who had never stepped out of
their village, had never been exposed to theatre,
cinema, books - but they were just as restless to
explore the world beyond their village and familial
confines. It was not proving easy for everyone,
however. Some of the girls who stood outside the
library, looking in on the rehearsals, tell me that
initially they, too, had taken part in the play, but
their parents had forbidden them from continuing.
One on thern explains, "This is the fallout of an inter-
caste marriage that took place here last year. It was
for the first time. The villagers told our families that
no one would marry us if we continued to spend
time with so man}' different boys. We just could not
reason with our parents."
"Will you fight their decision?"
"We don't want to go against their wishes. But
at least we realise how closed our minds were. If
not today, then tomorrow we will surely be our
own person."
The hand-pump mechanics and these budding
village actors of Purvanchal provide us with hope:
that it is possible to kindle initiative and excitement,
even as dreadful discrimination remains and
prejudice runs deep. These are shafts of light in a
dark landscape. These are small efforts that, although
they do not seek to transform all of society,
have touched a few lives and have given them the
strength of one day conquering the brave new world
of Purvanchal.
"Wherever you
go, you will find
that only the rich
people have
Una cards."
The flooded madrasa
Eastern Uttar Pradesh is watered by the
tributaries of the Ganga - rivers that
uproot the poorest people from their
homes, even as they water the land and
nurture civilisation. During the rains,
starting from the Kosi in eastern Bihar,
and moving westwards through
the plains of the K-^mla, Budi Gandak
and Ghagra, the rivers become
unrecognisable from the meandering watercourses
of the dry months. Once, the people knew where their
rivers came from, where they emptied, which stretches
were safe, which were dangerous. Today, these same
rivers have become angry strangers. People do not
recognise them, nor do the rivers understand the new
and ever-growing boundaries of human habitation.
This is an old story of modern times, as old as the
indifference of the politicians and bureaucracy.
Supposedly to end this annual devastation, official
forces built embankments large and small, and they
added more embankments as band-aid attempts to
placate the population. But this was and remains
unscientific, for the rivers that originate in the
Himalaya carry a heavy sediment load. These rivers
have now been locked into their flow within the
embankments, which has in turn raised their beds.
These riverbeds are never excavated and, over the
years, the rising level of the water table within the
embankments has led to increasing breaches.
Everywhere, the floodwaters have left a trail of
destruction and disease. Long gone are the engineers,
bureaucrats and politicians who pushed these
infrastructural improvisations into the lives of the
people of Purvanchal. I came across several battles
being waged between villages located in the doab
(land surrounded by rivers), as each tried to save itself
from drowning. One group would be breaking rail
lines and roads so that the excess water could flow
out of their homes, while another other group would
be trying to stop them, because that water would
Encephalitis victim,
Gorakhpur hospital
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 immediately flood their villages. Both sides would
use whatever weapon they could find - stones, sticks
and guns.
Meanwhile, the water that finds itself outside the
embankments cannot locate an outlet. Unable to join
the river's flow, it collects in elongated lakes over the
months, a watery breeding-ground for mosquitoes
spreading disease. Every year, hundreds of children
die in Gorakhpur and Deoria districts alone, from
encephalitis spread by mosquitoes. There is never
any contingency plan to deal with this epidemic,
although everyone knows it happens with annual
regularity. In 2005, the media did not pay attention
until the death toll crossed the mark of 1000 child
deaths - the 'score' required for the editors and
television producers to concentrate on the neglected
regions of Purvanchal and Bihar.
Last year's rains came and went
in Jagdishpur Katra, leaving its
madrasa in ruin. More than 500
children of this large, Muslim-
dominated village in Gonda District
had studied the Koran here, and had
taken lessons in Urdu and Hindi.
The villagers, all poor farmers, are
not able to repair the building, and
the authorities will not help. This is
one of the 10,000 madrasas in the
state that the government does not
'The people here are
so poor they cannot
keep a lawyer or
move bail
applications. They
Mushars, Nats, and
they are languishing
in jail."
recognise. Mohammed Khalil, a teacher who is
holding classes in an empty field outside the village,
says that they have tried hard to get the school
registered, but failed. Many of the parents are
convinced that this is the result of deep prejudice.
Says one: "The officials make us run from pillar
to post. It is because we are Muslims that nobody
listens to us."
This sense of discrimination is further reinforced
by the pathetic condition of the government primary
school located three km away. The school has more
than 1000 students, with a faculty of all of two
teachers. Uttar Pradesh has the lowest literacy rate
among Muslims in the country, with only 35 percent
having received any education, just eight percent
having completed middle school, and a dismal 2.9
percent having finished high school. The worst off
Muslims are those who inhabit the districts of
Bharaich and Gonda, bordering Nepal. "The
poverty and illiteracy is at such a level that the
question of educating children does not arrive," says
Mohammed Khalil. "As soon as a boy becomes five,
he is sent to Bombay to be a restaurant boy."
Maulana Iqbal, who heads Furkaniya, one of the
largest and oldest madrasas in these border districts,
sees the relentless exclusion of young Muslims from
the Indian mainstream as a larger culprit than
poverty. "Even those children who have received
good educations and are highly qualified have
realised that, as Muslims, getting jobs is very
difficult," he says. "Very often, if they pass the written
exam they are failed in the interview, and if they
somehow get through, other reasons are given
for disqualification."
This exclusion, says local politician Fazlul Bari,
is one reason Muslim boys get involved in smuggling
activities across the UP-Nepal border. "The big
operators, also including Hindus, live in towns on
both sides of the border," he explains. "But most of
the carriers who smuggle the goods are youths from
our community. They are poor and illiterate,
and this is the only source of income. They have
no prospects."
Both literally and figuratively, the region
bordering Nepal has remained firmly in the margins,
before and since Independence.
During British rule, tens of
thousands of people from here
were sent across the oceans to
provide indentured labour for
sugarcane and other plantations in
the West Indies, South Pacific,
Mauritius and elsewhere. Large-
scale migration at a similar scale
continues to this day, with young
men heading off to Bombay
and Calcutta by the thousands
every year.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
The largest town in Purvanchal is Gorakhpur, set
amidst an agricultural backwater largely untouched
by the Green Revolution that has boosted the regions
to the west - Haryana, Punjab and the western half
of Uttar Pradesh. Indeed, Gorakhpur has been
excluded from the economic advance that other cities
of India's west and south have experienced as part
of the national economic boom. This lack of economic
activity is seen in the downtown Golghar locality,
which retains the flavour of an oversized agricultural
town centre. The biggest economic activity in
Gorakhpur, besides agricultural trading, is the
pilgrimage based on the Gorakhnath Math complex,
around which the town was built. Gorakhpur also
serves as a transit point for travelers and goods
entering the central region of Nepal through the
border point of Bhairahawa.
Unemployment in Gorakhpur has soared with the
shutting down of a nearby Fertilizer Corporation of
India factory and the collapse of the sugar industry
on which the countryside had largely depended.
Every day the number of frustrated, jobless youth is
swelling, and they are both Hindu and Muslim. Crime
is the easy way out. Many of these angry Hindu
youths have found an anchor in Gorakhpur's sitting
Member of Parliament, Yogi Adityanath. To others,
he is a sworn enemy. In his 30s, the yogi is successor
to the former Hindu Mahasabha President Mahant
Avaidyanath. The mahant was also head of
the powerful Gorakhnath Math of the Nath
sampradaya, or sect.
Although this ancient sect has traditionally
opposed the caste system and idol worship, its
modern-day followers have joined forces with the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ram Mandir movement,
which gained strength in the 1980s. Even though
many conservative leaders themselves look askance
at this unusual sect leader in their ranks, Adityanath
is an energetic voice of the Hindutva brigade, and he
is leading a growing band of the unemployed Hindu
men of Purvanchal. Descending from his pulpit,
Adityanath is building his political base by raising
popular demands that resonate with this
demographic category; this he has done under
different banners, ranging from 'Ram Prakostha' for
pavement dwellers to the 'Bansfod
Hindu Manch' for woodcutters. All
of these fronts together make up
the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Yogi
Adityanath's army of religious
crusaders who are increasingly
targeting the Muslims from
Gorakhpur, Deoria, Sidharthnagar
and Bharaich.
At one end of this stretch of
instability is Ayodhya; on the other,
lies the serpentine Nepali border. It
Dalit children in
Naugarh District
is said that there has been a sudden rise in the number
of madrasas on the other side of the open international
frontier, in Nepali districts such as Kapilbastu and
Rupandehi. According to Adityanath's propaganda,
these madrasas are serving as training camps for
Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, to hit at India's
soft underbelly. What Adityanath forgets is that the
demographic nature of Purvanchal also carries across
the open border, and there is a large concentration of
Muslims in the Tarai plains of Nepal. Traditionally,
Nepali Muslims have been a quiet minority in what
has been proclaimed as a traditionally 'Hindu
kingdom'. Since the advent of democracy in 1990,
there has been an assertion of identity among all of
Nepal's disfranchised communities, including Nepali
Muslims. This would better explain the increase in
Islamic religious centres and schools than as the
nefarious designs of a foreign intelligence agency.
The Gorakhnath yogi's use of propaganda against
the Muslim community is helping to create a powder
keg of communalism in Purvanchal - and this is a
region that did not witness significant violence even
after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, in
Ayodhya. Today, however, religion is being used by
the criminal-politician nexus in both communities to
fight not just electoral battles, but also to further
their business interests. These can include any
thing from gun running to drug smuggling,
kidnapping, extortion and land grabbing. There
is religion everywhere in Purvanchal, as well as
its manipulation.
In Kushinagar, on my way back
to Benaras, I pass a playground
and am told it is actually an
airstrip tliat was built by the Dalit
chief minister, Mayawati. The
strip was constructed to fly in
pilgrim tourists to where the
Sakyamuni breathed his last, but
was abandoned as soon as
Mayawati was ousted from power.
On the outskirts of Benaras, I come
across a white, newly built temple,
The same faith that has
sustained the people of
this region since the
times of the Buddha,
Mahavir, the Sufi saints,
and Kabir and Valmiki,
is today being divided in
the name of religion.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 dedicated to the 15th century poet saint Ravidas -
worshipped by Sikh Dalits as their guru, and today
attracting as many politicians as pilgrims. Sunder
Dass Shastri, the head priest, explains why: "When
the political parties see the increasing crowd, they
want to associate with us. They want all of Ravidas'
followers to be part of their vote bank."
It was after the demolition of the Babri Masjid that
the secular and left parties rediscovered the secular
credentials of the poet Kabir, whom both Hindus and
Muslims claim as one of their own. Acharya Vivek
Das, of the Kabir Math in Benaras, feels that they are
losing ground to fundamentalists of both faiths. But
the attempts to use religion for political gain is more
insidious than this. Mahant Vir Bhadra Mishra of
Tulsi Ghat - the Benaras locale where the 16th century
poet Goswami Tulsidas is said to have written his
epic Ram Charit Manas - maintains that some
politicians are attempting to divide even tlie Hindus
by pitting the Ram Charit Manas against the
Ramayan of Valmiki.
An over-populated economic backwater,
Purvanchal has remained underdeveloped before
and since Independence, serving as nothing more
than a vote bank for politicians that have made this
region their launching pad to state-level and
national political platforms. Purvanchal's economic
backwardness translates into daily
impoverishment, the wrant and hunger of millions
of its residents. Today, the people of Purvanchal are
excluded from the progress that has touched other
parts of India, which they are able to experience only
during travel as menial migrant labourers to those
regions. The feelings of caste- and class
discrimination, of regional neglect, already create a
potent force for violent rebellion. In the last few years
there has been the addition of communal
differentiation, which is adding an element of
belligerence to the region's politics.
Purvanchal and neighbouring Bihar jointly form
the cauldron that produced many of the great saints
and sages of Southasia. The same faith that has
sustained the people of this region since the times of
the Buddha, Mahavir, the Sufi saints, and Kabir and
Valmiki, is today being divided in the name of
religion. This can only add to the miseries of the
people, who have deep ties to the land and would
not wish to be anywhere else. Amidst the turmoil
and destitution of Purvanchal, there remains that
faith. It is said that the Buddha was born repeatedly
in Benaras in his previous lives - as a dice player,
an ascetic, an acrobat, a snakebite doctor, a rich
Brahmin. And like him, they too never wish to be of
any other place. All they wish is that Purvanchal be
governed a little better, so as to be able to taste a bit
of the progress and prosperity tliat citizens in other
areas are experiencing.
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May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
54, Chowringhee Lane
by | Rinku Dutta
Chowringhee Lane, then and now
In the fork of a branch on.tlie neem tree, a crow's
nest: an artless, untidy tangle of twigs, with stray
strands dangling in the air; a pair of birds
hopping in and out, arranging the twigs with their
beaks. So that is what a crow's nest looks like! Must
tell G. He had enquired about the nesting habits of
the common crow when I had described to him the
weaverbird's meticulously crafted, pendulous
homes I had seen in a eucalyptus tree in Lalitpur,
in Nepal.
It was the crow's nest that had first drawn my
attention to the old neem tree, and beside the tree,
the house - the house with a quaint fence at 54
Chowringhee Lane, Calcutta.
Stepping out of the medical facility where my
brother's MRI was being done, I had looked up,
spying first the crow's nest in the tree and then the
house. A blue sweater was hanging over the wooden
fence at the door-front. A couple of red-oxide-painted
steps led up to the door. There were flowerpots on
either side, against the ochre-coloured wall: a money
plant, some crotons with variegated leaves, a
sansviera with tall spikes, a few mums. The
afternoon light, filtering through the sickle-shaped,
saw-toothed neem leaves, was making delicate
filigrees on the red steps.
It was the teal blue, two-and-a-half foot tall,
swing-out fence fixed at the front of the door that
was most unusual - the first of its kind I had seen
here in Calcutta: a number of vertical spikes of
wooden shafts, spaced by a couple of inches and
nailed together by one diagonal and two horizontal
bars. Betty Keyes, the 73-year-old Anglo-Indian lady
who lives there and who I would soon get to
know, told me that they had the fence made when
her husband - Frank Keyes, ex-District
Commissioner of the Lalbazar Police Department
in Calcutta - had kept a ferocious Doberman
named Kimmy.
So it was that I walked up to inspect the open
fence that had once kept Kimmy from attacking
strangers like me, arriving unannounced at Betty's
door. But Kimmy is dead, buried in St. Paul
Cathedral's graveyard right across the street. Frank
is dead, too, buried in his family graveyard in Lower
Circular Road. I did not ask Betty where her only
son, who died while still a baby, was buried. When
she opened her door to answer the postwoman's
knock .and saw me sitting on her red steps, I told her
that my brother was sick and he was having an
MRI done. Betty responded with disarming
directness, "I'm sick too - sick of living."
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 A couple of minutes earlier, as I had sat on her
steps watching a couple of cats grooming
themselves under the neem tree, a sari-clad woman
with a brown bag swinging from her arm had
walked up to the house. She knocked on the door,
shouting, "Me, postwoman!" When Betty had
opened the door, the postwoman had handed her a
white envelope. From where I was sitting on the
steps below, I could clearly read: To Betty Keyes. 54
Chowringhee Lane, Kolkata. From the stiffness of the
envelope, I could make out that it was a card.
"But you just received a New Year's greeting
card!" I exclaimed. "There are people who care for
you! How can you be tired of living?"
"Yes, I do have people who send me cards. Look!"
She opened her door wide and invited me to step
in. I stood at the doorway and took in her small,
neatly kept living space, softened by depictions of
Jesus, a decorated Christmas tree in one corner, and
greeting cards strung across a wall. "But who do I
live fori" She asked me. "My three
cats?" I looked at the two playing under
the tree. "That's Whitey, he's Tiger, and
Taamu must be somewhere..."
In the showcase, along with
porcelain dolls (one of a pensive girl:
her face cradled in her palms, her
elbows resting on her knees) and a
bronze sculpture of a high-heeled shoe
("my mother's; I kept it"), I spied a black-
and-white photograph of an attractive young face
framed in curls - Betty, in her teens. Now, with a
toothless smile and short, grey hair pinned away
from her face, wearing a pink t-shirt and faded
sweatpants, she still paints her toenails - silver, I
noticed. I also noted the feathers on one of the
shelves: long, brown ones, some striped white - kite
feathers, of cheels, hawks ("my father's, he used to
collect them"). Two fluffy toys reclined on one of
the four cushioned chairs in the room - a well-worn
brown teddy, a grey koala. A printed, yellow curtain
at the high window kept out the light. Inside,
beyond the tall shelf partitioning the hall-like room,
a small, two-chaired dining table sat against one
wall. A curtained door led into a bedroom or a toilet.
That was all that comprised Betty's home.
Ups and downs
"There used to be many Anglo-Indians living in
this area, before the Birlas bought this building,"
Betty told me. "One by one they all went away. I'm
the only one left."
"Did you see Aparna Sen's film 36 Chowringhee
"Yes, and she fed the cake to the dogs in Victoria
... very moving. You think of me as her?"
"You reminded me," I responded. "That aged
teacher's role was so beautifully played by Jennifer
"Our bandied.
And India
changed. We had
many ups and
Kapoor. At the end, the way she quoted King Lear,
'Pray do not mock me -1 am a very foolish, fond old
man...' Yes, Aparna Sen paid a touching tribute to
the Anglo-Indian community in Calcutta. Have you
always been in India?"
"I was born here," Betty said. "My father was in
the railways. I got married to Frank in 1946, the
year of the Great Calcutta Killings."
"You mean the Bengal riots?"
"Yes. We were then living on Park Street. There
were killings on Wellesley Road. The Hindus were
killing the Mohameddans and the Mohameddans
were killing the Hindus in their areas."
"How has Calcutta changed since
Independence?" As I asked the question, I could
recall the lines I had seen painted on the coaches of
fhe local trains that were arriving into the Sealdah
station in Calcutta: Hindu hai hum. Watan hai
Hindustan humara.
"There's no courtesy any more. No respect. Have
you noticed how they talk to you on the
streets, in the shops, in the buses? No
regard for others, even for the aged. The
other day I fell down in the market and
broke my hand. I can't see in my right
eye - the doctor damaged my cornea
while operating on the cataract. I can
barely manage with the vision that is
left in my left eye. I can't cook. So I have
to get someone to buy me some food and
some for my cats - I spend 30 rupees every day
to feed them fish fries. So you see why I'm tired
of living?"
"But you seem to have had a good life..."
"Yes, as head supervisor of fhe Trunk Exchange,
and with Frank as DC Lalbazar, we had a good life.
Frank was Irish and was very jovial. He was in the
police. So he could help many people, you see.
Everybody loved him. But our baby died. And India
happened. Things changed. We had many ups
and downs."
That reminded me of something that had
happened earlier that very day. "I was going up
the elevator with my 8-year-old nephew today
morning," 1 began, "and I quizzed him, 'What is
red and round and goes up and down?' He didn't
have the right answer. I said: 'a tomato in an
elevator!' He smiled, and then turned and quizzed
me: 'Whose life has the most ups and downs?' I
didn't have an answer. 'A lift man's!'"
That made Betty laugh and show me her toothless
gums, where a few last teeth were holding their
ground. "It's late," she said. "I need to feed my cats.
Will you be sitting here? Can you watch my
house? They fry fish just across the street. I'm
coming. Okay?"
And she shuffled away, leaving her open house
in my custody. ^
May-June 2006 [■ Himal Southasian
 Photo feature
Dvarasakh&Vhe temple doorframe
by | Vaijayanti Khare
Temple architecture has an important place in
the history of the subcontinental civilisation, as
part of both its religious and aesthetic
expressions. Whether Buddhist, Jain or Hindu, the
architecture is extremely rich in ornamentation and
infused with symbolism. One such feature, with
origins in structural requirements but which later
became elaborated upon, was the dvarasakha, the
doorframe. The dvarasakha is the frame that holds
the two leaves of the door - its jambs (sakha) embed
the door (dvara) in the adjacent wall. The
accompanying threshold and area above the lintel
are also considered parts of the dvarasakha.
Ornamented doorframes are an integral feature
of temple architecture, in all styles. The immense
variety among the ubiquitous dvarasakha is
bewildering, and it may well be impossible to find
two identical frames anywhere. What lies beneath
this apparent variety? Was it the result of some
tradition, a response to prescriptions of the holy
Silpa texts, or was there some underlying
symbolic significance?
Spiritual amalgam
The frame at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh (c 5 AD, see
photo), taken as the earliest sample, shows the
Vestibule (antarala)
real Hall (mahamandapa)
Hall (mandapa)
Entrance Porch
A North Indian Nagara temple
essentials: two vertical supports to hold the leaves of
the door, with a horizontal lintel that extends into
the adjacent walls. This extended lintel is clearly a
continuation of timber frames, and gave the
doorframes their characteristic 'T' shape.
The prevalent 'vernacular' housing style added
another influence to the doorframe: a porch at the
door was faithfully translated from wood and thatch
into stone. One of the best-rendered porch types was
flat-roofed, with curved, S-shaped sides. Cave no 19
at Ajanta in Maharashtra (see photo) is perhaps the
best-preserved specimen of this kind. When the
antarala and mandapa (the transitional area into the
inner sanctuary and the columned porch area,
respectively) were added to the temple structure, such
a porch became redundant. It was not forgotten,
however, but rather 'compressed' onto the
doorframe. The Basesvar Mahadev temple at Kangra
(in Himachal Pradesh) and Sisiresvar temple at
Bhubanesvar (in Orissa) depict this 'compressed
porch' (see photos).
The third peculiar influence on the evolution of
the dvarasakha was that of the tradition of the torana,
or entryway arch. A free-standing torana outside the
Mukteshvar temple in Orissa is one of the best-
preserved examples of this tradition (see photo). The
wooden village gates of the Vedic
settlements are the precursors of the
earliest torana designs: a pair of high
posts, crossed near the tops by one to
three bars. An auspicious note was added
to festive occasions by hanging a garland
or festoon over the entrances to villages
or homes, a practice that continues today.
And so it came to be that the
mature dvarasakha was a complex
representation of the porch, the torana,
the gopuram and more often a
combination of these features. Thus did
the simple become the complex. The
seemingly complicated dvarasakha at the
Sas Bahu temples or the Osian and Jagat
structures in Rajasthan, however, are
but simple doorframes with ornate
treatments of the space around
the frames.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Temple 17, Sanchi
Basesvar Mahadev, Kangra c late 9 AD
Torana at Muktesvar Temple, Bhubanesvar
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Konorak Sun Temple 13th Century
(continued from p 35)
But why the multiple sakhas? The bas-reliefs that are taken as
indicative of the Vedic settlements show no such presence,
and even today, simple village dwellings do not sport sakhas.
Even the early translations onto the cave temple entrances
bear ample evidence of this absence. Simple bamboo
structures were eventually replaced by mud-cement, dry
masonry or stone constructions, materials that necessitated
thick walls. The answer to the emergence of frames, then,
could lie in the thickness of the walls of such structures. An
abrupt cut in a wall has a much more jarring effect on the eye
than does a gradual cut inwards, which makes the doorway
welcoming rather than intimidating, not to mention
more aesthetic.
When temple structures were made from quarried stone,
the rolling, lateral rhythms of the cave wall were taken over by
vertical and horizontal bands of stone. The imagery of the
doorway was split into numerous units. The dvarasakhas
ranged from single sakha to nine sakha depictions. The doorway
of the Sun temple at Konarak in Orissa is an excellent piece of
the Navasakha depiction (seephoto).
A third plausible theory could lie in the 'lintel-theatre'. It
seems that at some stage in the evolution of the doorframe, the
space above the lintel was the theatre and stage. This would
have subsequently decided the thickness of the horizontal top
and, in turn, necessitated the multiple frames - though more
for the visual aspect than for their load-bearing characteristics.
Since time immemorial, artists have impregnated
ordinary elements from nature with spiritual significance.
In the dvarasakha, the search for that significance
becomes imperative.
■'di     £\ o    v
Porch at Cave No 19 Ajanta
Sisiresvar Temple Bhubanesvar
Dvarasakha photographs courtesy American Institute of Indian Studies, New Delhi
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Victimisation of the ecological refugee
forest-dwelling villagers, and yet they are asked to pay the highest price
when the state decides to take a stand for the sake of biodiversity and
removes resident peoples from protected areas. Displacement should be
undertaken only as part of a consultative process involving scientists,
social activists and local government, and should be minimised whenever
possible. Above all, the relocation process, when it is adopted, must
show absolute concent for humanitarian values.
by | Ghazala Shahabuddin
There are more than 580 national parks and
sanctuaries in India. They have been set up with
the primary aim of conserving biodiversity, and
the rules prohibit human habitation as well as fhe
exploitation of natural resources. However, surveys
indicate that there are people living within many of
these protected areas (referred to as TAs) who are
economically dependent on the natural resources
available inside these regions.
Over the decades, there has been a widespread
trend towards relocating villages from protected areas,
with the forest managers blaming the inhabitants for
'biomass extraction' and otherwise posing a threat to
biodiversity conservation. Such displacements have
been strongly opposed by local communities as being
both unnecessary and inequitable. Over the years,
Relationships between residents and park
management are marked by distrust
there has grown a controversy of considerable
proportions, with social activists siding with the
communities and pitted against biologists who tend
to speak for the forest managers. The conflict has come
to a head after the sudden decline of the Royal Bengal
Tiger population in India due to poaching, which
had the forest departments of many states pushing
for 'people-free zones'. In this, the forestry officials
have been egged on by influential wildlifers.
Social activists have been typically opposed to the
relocation of villages from wildlife sanctuaries, as
the process has historically been a cause of
impoverishment and grievous social harm to the
'oustees'. Numerous studies have shown that
emplacement invariably endangers the livelihood of
forest-dependent people, often leading to destitution.
Such impoverishment has been comprehensively
documented in the case of Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
in Madhya Pradesh, from where 24 villages were
removed starting in 1998. In another instance, a
recently framed village relocation plan in the Tadoba-
Andhari Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra is likely to
take the Gond tribal inhabitants away from their
traditional forest resources without development of
substitutes. It is true that concerns over forced
relocation have recently generated .some attentiveness
towards the livelihood security of oustees, as has been
seen in the case of the Corbett Tiger Reserve
(Uttaranchal) and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
(Kamataka). By and large, however, the humanitarian
challenge remains unaddressed in PAs throughout
the Indian landscape.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Inviolate areas
The relocation drive is spearheaded by biologists and
foresters who believe that wildlife conservation
cannot succeed without large 'inviolate' areas of
forests from which all human residents have been
evacuated. They justify their stance by pointing to
drastically declining populations of large mammals
- the result, they say, of growing competition between
human needs and those of wild fauna. These
scientists and technocrats point to habitat
degradation due to overexploitation of the forests,
which no doubt is rampant even inside the high-
profile tiger reserves. The biologists, meanwhile,
maintain that the community-run forests, such as in
Joint Forest Management areas, have not been ideal
for corrserving the entire spectrum of flora and fauna.
Yet the justification for village relocation by
emphasising the ecological benefits has not been
backed by quantitative studies of biodiversity
indicators or of endangered species. Apart from
anecdotal accounts, there is usually little information
on the relative ecological impact of various human
activities within the PAs from where relocation is
planned. Forest managers are therefore unable to
prioritise the kinds of activities that can be sustained
within, or that need to be relocated to outside the
protected areas. The confusion is exacerbated by the
fact that few PAs in India have scientific management
plans that clarify the conservation objectives based
on ecological studies. Given the prevalence of such
an unscientific regime, it seems unconscionable to
evict forest inhabitants because of a presumption of
ecological damage caused by them. In many cases,
for instance, a closer look has revealed that the extent
of damage caused by extraction and poaching by
outsiders in PAs is several times greater than that
caused by local residents.
There is another important humanitarian reason
for reconsidering the Indian policy on relocation of
people from protected areas. To a great extent, resident
peoples have been kept in limbo for years, deprived
of both a present and a future. Numerous villages
located inside planned national parks and
sanctuaries have been denied infrastructural support
because PA legislation prohibits developmental
activities such as the construction of roads, clinics,
schools and even wells. Livestock-grazing, collection
of fuelwood, and agricultural activities are usually
restricted soon after the notification of protected areas,
but the inhabitants are rarely provided with
alternatives. Meanwhile, the relocation plans for
these villages, usually faulty and inadequate, stay in
files for years due to local opposition or simply
mismanagement. Villagers within the PAs are
therefore forced to live in a state of deprivation for
years, with little access to basic amenities and in
continuous conflict with the forest authorities. This
state of uncertainty is part and parcel of the lives of
large numbers of people still living inside
conservation areas all over India, and particularly
those that are proposed to be upgraded to
national parks.
Blame the villager
In considering the question of relocation in relation
to ecology and human rights, we must not forget the
larger politics of protected-area management.
Uprooting resident villages is a favoured
management tool in most PAs, while the forest
authorities habitually ignore the other sources of
pressure on the habitat. Officials commonly come
down heavily on the local subsistence-level
inhabitants while overlooking the damage caused
by hydroelectric plants in the conservation areas,
commercial tourism, mining and quarrying. A
particularly egregious instance of misplaced
priorities is to be found in the case of the Narayan
Sarovar Sanctuary in coastal Gujarat, where 90
percent of the PA (originally 765 sq km in area) was
denotified by the state government in 1993 to make
way for mining, although residents were not ousted
from the area.
In another instance, the right of private companies
to mine marble at the periphery of the Sariska Tiger
Reserve was defended by the Rajasthan State Forest
Department, which pleaded in court that the exact
boundaries of the reserve were still unclear. The
deleterious effects of unrestricted commercial tourism
on tiger behaviour, mostly by city-based operators,
have already been well documented in places such
as the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.
- A
- A
>- A
,    A
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Conservationists make the valid point that in the
rush to relocate communities, the authorities rarely
look at how people and wildlife can coexist. For
example, there is no serious attempt to funnel tourism
profits to local communities to compensate for their
loss of livelihood from bans on grazing and collecting
forest produce. In the meantime, decades after the
official notification of protected areas, oustees have
yet to receive even the legally mandated settlements
in the majority of Indian PAs.
The Tiger Task Force, set up by the government of
India to suggest solutions vis-a-vis controversial
conservation issues, recommends minimising
displacement. It suggests using the relocation of
villages as a last resort when it comes to reducing
extractive pressures on PAs, emphasising the
selection of other alternatives to achieve conservation
objectives. For this, the role of biologists becomes
crucial - in determining the management objectives
for a protected area, assessing impacts of various
uses on forest habitat, and quantifying relative
importance of activities on biodiversity. The decision
as to which villages are to be shifted from within a
protected area is clearly one that must be taken on
the basis of sound scientific and socio-economic
study, through consultation between village
representatives, environmental and
social scientists, local NGO
representatives and forest authorities.
Along these lines, conservationists
have suggested the establishment of
a properly mandated Protected Area
Advisory Board for each PA. Such a
body would be given the task of
transparently deciding which
villages, if any, would need
to be relocated, and would
also be required to search for
innovative ways to mitigate the
impact of extractive activities through more
participatory means.
science, it seems
unconscionable to
evict forest
inhabitants because
ecological damage
caused by them.
Oustees' burden
If one challenge is to protect the forest communities
from being unfairly evicted from their traditional
spaces, the other deals with the rights and
livelihoods of those who have been displaced - the
unfortunately-named oustees. It is a sad commentary
on the priorities of the Indian government that,
despite wanton displacement over the years, there is
so little legal backing available to fight for oustees'
rights, including the right to just and equitable
rehabilitation. The only law relating to displacement
remains the Land Acquisition Act, based on a 19th
century colonial law that does not allow dissent on
the part of the oustees. The National Resettlement
and Rehabilitation Policy, which attempts to set right
many injustices to proposed oustees of development
projects, is yet to be finalised or converted to a law,
even after two decades of discussion. The Settlement
of Rights provision in the Wildlife Protection Act,
which is sometimes invoked during the relocation
process from PAs, is so vague that it is prone to be
misused. Beyond the matter of existing laws, there is
no binding mechanism that places the onus for an
effective rehabilitation on either the Forest
Department or the District Administration, and the
whole matter of resettlement is often left to
the individual commitment of local forest
officers and/or district officers to carry out a just
resettlement programme.
Indeed, the process of rehabilitation of oustees
tends to be faulty from start to finish. The government
departments' views of rehabilitation are limited to
monetary compensation and land allotments. There
is almost no sensitivity towards the matters of skill
development and social adjustment among the
oustees, nor towards the quality of land that is allotted
or infrastructure that must accompany relocation.
All of this stems from the attitude of the forestry
establishment and others towards the oustees, most
of whom belong to the marginal Scheduled Caste or
tribal communities.
Simply handing out money and plots of land does
not guarantee security of livelihoods, nor does it
equip the uprooted oustees with
skills to help them cope in an alien
physical, economic and social
environment. In fact, a dedicated
relocation effort must perforce engage
with oustees on deciding their new
mode of living, energy substitutes and
educational/skill development that
will allow them to make a satisfactory
transition. The absence of such a
planned relocation has impoverished
numerous oustee communities, with
the result that many uprooted
families 'illegally' seek to return to their original
homesteads. In the case of the Kuno Wildlife
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Sanctuary, despite a relatively progressive package,
many of the oustees have made their ways back to
the reserve. There, the traditional sustenance system,
balanced between grazing and agriculture, has also
broken down. Successive years of drought
exacerbated the situation and, in 2004, the oustees
faced a starvation crisis.
Studies also indicate that the existing financial
packages for rehabilitation of oustee communities
need to be made much more realistic. According to
the   Beneficiary-Oriented   Tribal   Development
Scheme, INR one lakh has been pegged as the upper
limit for expenditure per household for relocation-
including personal costs and community works (but
excluding cost of land). Given the wide diversity in
needs   of  different   communities   in   different
geographic contexts, this ceiling seems both low and
needlessly limiting. The Tiger Task Force has
recommended that at least INR 2.5 lakh be set aside
per household, apart from land costs. It
is noteworthy that the relocation from
the Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Kamataka,
where the process is said to have been
relatively successful, cost over four lakh
per household, excluding the land.
Since relocation must include at least
three years' income compensation, and
allowances   for   fuel   and   fodder
requirements (among other needs), this
higher figure seems much more realistic.
Yet •  another    lacuna     in    the
rehabilitation packages is the lack of SHOW if ISS6Ht Sil tftO
income compensation to tide the oustees par| §| |||g 0^00$
the oustees are seriously expected to develop
agricultural livelihoods.
m7zm7§ 7Wm
law that does not
over during the transition period, as
they try to carve out a new life in an alien environment.
When a semi-nomadic grazing community (such as
that of the Gujjars in Sariska or Maldharis in the Gir
Protected Area) attempts to shift to an agriculture-
based living, it is likely to take at least a few years for
a family to learn and adjust to the new livelihood.
During this period, it is critical that their incomes are
compensated; otherwise, oustees are prone to
destitution. The inability to provide income security
in transition appears to be a systemic problem of most
relocation projects implemented in the country.
It is obvious (except to the relocation authorities)
that beginning agricultural livelihoods in new areas
requires expensive inputs in the form of seeds,
fertilisers and pesticides, apart from irrigation works,
for which no provisions are generally made in the
relocation plans. The only allotment made for
agricultural livelihood is usually under the heading
of'land development'. Sometimes crop compensation
allotments are also made, but these are usually
paltry (in Sariska, it stood at INR 6000 per family
overall) and are supposed to be disbursed only
in the case of crop failure. In semi-arid zones,
provisions for irrigation facilities are a must if
Prior right
The problems in relocation plans for protected areas
throughout India have their genesis in the planning
stage itself. After all, a just and equitable transfer of
communities can happen only if the programme takes
popular aspirations, needs and constraints into
consideration   and   rationally   evaluates   the
requirements before relocation. In most cases, there
is no logical assessment of fhe needs of the villagers
who are to be shifted. Part of the reason for this is that
oustees are hardly ever consulted before the plans
are drawn up. If the principles of 'prior informed
consent' or 'voluntary displacement' are to be
adhered to, the target population must be provided
with full information about the new site before their
consent is solicited. This almost never happens. Thus,
the most basic and obvious needs of
oustees tend  to be ignored with
impunity, such as the substitute for
fuelwood, what is to be the fodder for
livestock, and what are the alternatives
to incomes in relation to non-timber
forest produce.
Apart from socio-economic and
anthropological studies of the
communities to be relocated, social and
ecological assessments of the new site
are also required. For example, the local
social dynamics at new sites in terms
of caste play a significant role in
deciding whether the settlers are to
experience an easy or difficult transition. Conflicts
with existing communities over water sources,
grazing lands and forests must be foreseen and
averted. Neglect of such issues, for instance, has led
to explosive situations at the relocation site for former
inhabitants of the Sariska Tiger Reserve, where
oustees are competing for access to drinking water
with prior residents, who, additionally, belong to a
different caste.
The lack of involvement of the district
administration with the relocation process is another
identifiable weak link. Dovetailing existing rural
development policies and schemes with the relocation
project would surely reduce the overall cost of the
relocation package, since many of the infrastructural
needs could be met through these programmes. This
is important, for most relocation takes place on
forestland that has been 'denotified' for the purpose
of resettlement, after which its development becomes
the responsibility of the district authorities. The
inability to make the link between the park
management and the district administration has
proven to be a key bottleneck that makes oustees' lives
exceedingly difficult.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 implementation hurdles
As relocation plans are carried out, the required
roads, wells and health posts are almost never built
before the people - the victims - are moved. Such is
the lackadaisical attitude towards the displaced that
even the formal allotment of plots and infrastructural
development are often found uncompleted decades
after the actual shifting has taken place. It should be
obvious that connecting roads, schools, health posts
and panchayat buildings must be in place before the
relocation has begun, and that land allotments and
the assignment of pattas should have happened prior
to the physical relocation.
Because the translocated population does not
participate - and with poor management of the
relocation exercise almost a given - even relatively
generous allotments for community works or
fuelwood and pasture development rarely re.sult in
satisfactory completion. For instance, in the Kuno
case, as much as INR 8000 was allocated per
household for fuelwood plantations, a similar
amount for pasture development, and INR 9000 per
household for community works. A study showed
that none of these goals were realised on the ground,
whereas the involvement of village panchayats or
gram sabhas from the initial stages might have led to
efficient implementation of pasture and watershed
management programmes.
It is problematic that the relocation exercise is
generally left to the Forest Deparftnent, whereas it
should involve both local non-governmental groups
and development agencies with expertise in
rehabilitation, apart from local government entities.
Indeed, there are well-established NGOs in and
around most protected areas, which can work
jointly with the Forest Department and district
administrations in effectively rehabilitating
the oustees.
Exclusionary paradigm
A socially just relocation can take place only in the
context of a coherent and rational PA management
strategy. It is unfair to promote the biological diversity
agenda with sole reliance on relocation of forest
communities, when action on other 'extractive
pressures' on conservation areas are not planned or
are tardily addressed. Neither should something as
drastic as relocation of a human population be started
in the absence of attempts to reduce local extractive
pressures. A number of improvements are
required in PA management across India for
increasing the probability of effective rehabilitation,
where undertaken.
Before jumping onto the relocation agenda, for
example, have the authorities tried to minimise the
impact of the forest-dwelling communities on the
ecology and biological diversity? Has thought been
given to creating livelihood alternatives for villages
that currently depend on firewood and other biomass
from the forest? This can happen through non-
consumptive use of the protected area - the best
example of which is eco-tourism, in which the income
must be diverted to local communities rather than to
tour operators in faraway cities (See accompanying
story "Jungle raj tourism vs. the people"). The authorities
must also develop systems for controlled extraction
of fuelwood, fodder and other forest products
through licensing systems.
Improving the relationship between the human
population within a protected area and the forest
authorities might create a live-and-let-live situation
that reduces the need for translocation. For example,
compensation for injuries and crop-raiding by wild
animals, and controlled access to forest resources via
a transparent permit system would help to develop a
positive attitude among the population. Currently,
the relationship between that populace and park
management is marked by distrust and conflict,
where local residents are unlikely to submit to the
types of controls required for conservation or to help
protect animals against poachers.
Relocation is, then, not simply an 'either-or'
question. It has to be evaluated in the context of the
larger nature-conservation models that have been
adopted since Independence. There is a clear need
for the forest authorities and wildlife managers of
India to move away from the hitherto exclusionary
paradigm, towards more participatory, science-based
models. This vexed issue also requires sensitivity from
all sections for a clearer and consensual resolution.
While scientists and forest managers need to
understand the socio-economic and cultural needs
of resident peoples, so are social scientists required
to understand the ecological demands of endangered
species. Surely there will be instances when moving
people out of a forest tract is the only way to save an
endangered habitat or species, but such decisions
need to be taken via scientific and democratic
processes. Most often, this is not the case. For too
long, the shortcut that authorities have taken has been
simply to penalise the forest communities because it
is the easiest thing to do - the traditionally
disadvantaged forest dwellers do not have the voice
to create a political reaction.
Relocation must be the method of last, rather than
first, resort. When there is no way around it, the
transfer of population must happen scientifically and
with full respect to humanitarian principles. This
requires the coordinated thinking of social scientists,
biologists and forest managers on such critical
questions as how and where to relocate existing
villages. Conservationists owe this to the thousands
of people who are likely to be displaced from protected
areas during the coming few years, as well as to those
who remain in limbo from the failed relocation efforts
of the past.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Jungle rai tourism
the people
In the mountain fastness of Nanda Devi, which gave the Chipko
movement to Southasia, the local communities are battling the
Uttaranchal authorities to retain benefits from tourists
when they arrive - ecotourism' or not.
by | Carey L Biron
It is oddly tempting to describe the area known as
the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve as 'tucked
away' up in India's newest mountain state of
Uttaranchal. In reality, the region towers and sprawls
for all to see, so long as one is up at the level of the
vultures and eagles. For better or worse, getting to
such soaring heights has been a necessary first step
for seeing the area over recent decades; since the early
1980s, the Indian government has largely outlawed
actual tramping through these hills, in the interests
of conservation. 'Reserve' ma}' ideally refer to a
reservation in favour of natural ecosystems, but it
has also meant that the communities in the foothills
of the Nanda Devi mountain complex (see photo) have
been left in legal limbo, living their lives in a "buffer
zone' and legislated outside of these lands.
Since Uttaranchal was carved out of
northwestern Uttar Pradesh in 2000, there
has been a movement to re-introduce an
exotic species into the backwoods and upper
reaches of Nanda Devi - tourists. Although
this thrust for the reintroduction of tourism
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Chipko fight
is coming from both state and grassroots levels, there
the similarities end. While the Dehra Dun-based state
authorities would like to spread the largesse or
exploit it for remote beneficiaries - depending on how
you read it - adamant local groups are actively
seeking to maintain their hold over tourism. They
would like to retain the decision-making power as
well as tourism revenue among the communities who
live here. Their success would keep control over
Nanda Devi tourism with the residents of the Niti
Valley, along the Dhauliganga and Girthiganga
rivers, in the villages of Reni, Lata, Kailashpur,
among others. While benefiting the locals, the
initiative would also be a path-breaking example for
communities in other areas, where tourism potential
exists amidst economic marginality.
Nanda Devi is the second-highest peak
in India, standing 7817 metres in the thin
air between India and Tibet. After being
expanded last year, the Reserve itself now
covers more than 5860 sq km of gorges,
peaks and rivers, but the most critical area
 for the current discussions is referred
to as the 'core zone', a region
surrounded by Himalayan peaks and
ridgelines. This core sanctuary
constitutes around 620 sq km of the
Rishi Valley - a part of the larger Niti
Valley - where the Rishi Ganga
constitutes the only drainage out of
the core region. The zone is almost
entirely above 3500 metres, where a
unique and remote microclimate has
allowed for the flourishing of a host
of Himalayan species, including the
snow leopard, musk deer and
hundreds of flora. Although it was
traditionally used for grazing in the
high alpine bugiyal by the local
communities, the core zone was declared off-limits
to all in 1982, when the Nanda Devi Biosphere
Reserve was declared a national park. Permission to
step foot within the reserve is presently the
prerogative of Reserve officials in Joshimath, about
25 km away. That stricture has, however, been
challenged on several notable occasions over the
years, both by unlicensed trekking parties and
groups of outraged villagers practicing pointed
civil disobedience.
This rugged region was part of the local economy,
mostly used for grazing during off-winter months,
and there was a trading route that led through the
area into high Tibet. The mountains also provided
another source of income to the inhabitants, after the
first climbing expedition arrived in 1934 to set foot
in the 'inner sanctuary' with an eye on the Nanda
Devi peak. Two years later, another group succeeded
in making it to the peak's summit. Over the of
the following 46 years, 14 additional expeditions
achieved the Nanda Devi summit, while trekkers and
climbers began to explore other parts of the Rishi
basin. The effect of unregulated tourism on the area's
fragile ecosystem was compounded until 1982, when
Lata and officials in
promulgating plans
based on the
relatively new ideas
of eco tourism,
sustainable tourism
and community-
based tourism.
all activity was suddenly stopped.
More than a decade later, an ecological
expedition carried out over a tonne of
garbage, left by a half-century's worth
of climbing and trekking.
Chipko legacy
At the time of the closure, when the
region was still part of Uttar Pradesh,
the UP Chief Secretary gave
instructions for an official assessment
of the ecosystem impact on the core
zone by the local villages. This was
never undertaken. While some
outlying communities were not
affected, villages like Lata and Reni
were heavily impacted. Not only did
tourism-related monies dry up (estimated at roughly
an annual INR 8000 per family - a large sum for the
subsistence peasantry) and traditional grazing
grounds suddenly become out-of-bound,
surrounding villages too began to levy taxes for use
of their grazing lands. With livestock reportedly
reduced by more than half, these villages began to
crumble, as families were broken up with menfolk
moving to the plains cities. Those who remained
behind became dependent on government handouts.
Beyond their position on the mountaineering
circuit, the villages of Lata and Reni were already
well-known socio-political hubs, distinguished in
these hills as the physical and spiritual wellspring
of Chipko, the women-centred movement that
successfully chased the logging industry from the
community's forests in the mid-1970s. Gaura Devi,
the tribal Tolchha woman who mobilised the area's
women, was born in Lata, and agitated on behalf of
the forests surrounding Reni. "Ecology is permanent
economy," the Chipko leader Sunderlal Bahuguna
famously wrote, and it was towards this potent local
resource that the people of the Niti Valley inevitably
turned in the face of the lost land and economy. It
was, after all, those very communal forests saved by
Chipko - arguably the most famous environmental
movement to emerge from Southasia - that, a half-
decade later, were 'reserved' by the state. "We won
the Chipko fight but lost the battle," sighed one
villager in Sangharshnama, a compilation on the
region's land fights. "Armed with strange laws ...
the Forest Department came to loot us." In an October
2001 manifesto, the citizens rededicated themselves
to their new transformative task, "drawing
inspiration from Chipko's radiant history".
Chipko itself had weathered increasingly stringent
criticism as the movement moved into the late 1980s,
particularly for having paradoxically moved away
from its local roots. Dhan Singh Rana, the former
pradhan of Lata, explained recently how this
happened: "While the locals' role was that of
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 performer, various scholars with diverse sources of
scholarship took the role of rapporteurs and made
their own interpretations." Dhan Singh is now one
of the driving forces in the current movement to make
tourism productive for the sake of the local
community, through an 'experimental' local
organisation called Mountain Shepherds, known in
the local Garhwali as Bhed Palak. The lessons learned
from Chipko's straying, he continued, "makes our
case stronger to take the lead in issues concerning
our lives and livelihood". Sunil Kainthola, an
activist with the Dehra Dun-based forest rights
organisation Janaadhar and a fellow Mountain
Shepherds organiser, agrees that the new movement
is in continuation of the Chipko spirit. "Though the
rights over fuel and fodder is still a contentious issue
in the state," he says, "the Forest Department is more
keen on selling the landscape and wilderness of the
area under the guise of 'community-based tourism'."
Green wash
In April 2003, the Nanda Devi Reserve's core zone
was opened for limited 'ecotourism'. Indeed, the
story of Uttaranchal's push to reopen
the Nanda Devi Reserve to tourism has
not  necessarily been one of overt
attempts to bulldoze roads, level ridges
or construct towering resorts. Both the
activists in Lata and officials of the
Forest Department in Dehra Dun are
ostensibly promulgating plans based
on the relatively new ideas of ecotourism,
sustainable tourism and community-based
tourism - ideas so new, if not radical,
that they are still lumped into a category
termed 'experimental' tourism. Each
definition has technically in common a
stated  goal  of  tourism  improving
the     welfare     of    local     peoples
and communities.
Ecotourism is a term that has been in use in the
Himalayan region for more than a decade, with
Bhutan and Nepal also practicing their own
versions. Overall, the idea is to benefit locals even
while conserving the environment - and culture -
as a 'renewable' resource that needs to be preserved
if tourism is to be 'sustainable'. There is no doubt
that there is 'big money' in ecotourism. According to
reports published by the US-based International
Ecotourism Society (IES), between two-thirds and 90
percent of tourists from the US, UK, and Australia
consider "active support of the environment" and
"support of local communities" to be part of any
tourism entrepreneur's responsibilities. The survey
also suggested that up to 70 percent would pay as
much as USD 150 more for a two-week stay at
accommodation with a "responsible environmental
attitude". IES further reports that the ecotourism
The ecotourism
market has
grown more than
34 percent
during the past
times faster
than the tourism
market as a
market has grown more than 34 percent during the
past decade - three times faster than the tourism
market as a whole.
While the seeming proliferation of
pro-environment and pro-community tourism
around India over the last decade may seem
heartening, there is a vast gap between the rhetoric
and the results. For instance, the website of the state-
run Uttaranchal Forest Development Corporation
(UFDC) blithely introduces its work programme as
including: Timber production, sale of forest products,
eco-tourism, in that order. (Repeated attempts to
contact UFDC for this article failed.) While the
flourishing of 'ecotourism' initiatives has led to
widespread accusations of green-washing, the lack
of a precise definition of the term may also have
played a part. For example, there is no reference to
local communities in the etymology. And where are
the guidelines for dealing with communities - such
as those of the Niti Valley - where economy, ecology
and cultural heritage are so intricately entwined? Is
the UFDC, or even Uttaranchal Tourism, equipped
to consider such matters?
In the early days of the ecotourism
debate, a 1997 paper published by the
Bangalore-based advocacy group
Equitable Tourism Options (Equations)
foresaw the problems of such ambiguity,
noting the semantic pitfalls common to
'ecotourism' and one of its progenitors,
'sustainable development'. Reacting to
the then-governrhent's Draft Tourism
Policy, the Equations researchers stated
that, "Sustainable development remains
a fashionable phrase that everyone pays
homage to but no one cares to define."
The authors pointed out that, with
India's tourism policy following
mainstream sustainable development
thinking, it may be useful for "building a very broad
consensus ... yet the debate at the operational level
continues." Dhan Singh Rana, living at the
'operational level', suggests that he believes that the
importance of any imminent tourism activity in the
Nanda Devi area should be used firstly to repair
the livelihoods and traditional cohesion of Niti
Valley families.
Based on such hopes, locals worry that the Forest
Department is currently overreaching, in terms of
both its knowledge and prerogative, by acting as an
inexperienced 'development agency' - collecting
taxes (including from areas normally overseen by
the Lata forest councils, or van panchayats) and
redistributing funds to those communities that
collaborate with them. More than anything else,
however, is the lingering animosity on the parts of
the villages towards the state for decades of ill-kept
promises. Along with the 1982 designation and
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 restriction of the forest lands of the core zone came
official promises, most notably for compensation and
alternative grazing grounds and employment
schemes. Community members say that such
promises have still not been kept. With the 2003 reopening still barring the local communities from
utilising the lands themselves, the locals have no
desire to have the potential tourism industry be
defined and overseen by anyone but themselves.
Equity equations
According to the IES definition, as much as 95 percent
of the revenue generated under a true 'ecotourism'
project should remain within the 'host communities'.
While this might sound like an idealised or even
outrageous amount to the ears of Dehra Dun
authorities - much less to those of private tour
operators, who are mostly based in Delhi -
approaching such a figure would be relatively
straightforward if the tourism infrastructure were
simply to be owned and operated by the local
communities. Such models are exactly where groups
like Mountain Shepherds are pinning their hopes.
In   its   12   points,
Is the SIHSB, or even the 2001 manifesto
fitiaranchaiTeurisiii Sf^t
eHUiPPed tO COnSider intended structure of
.such matters?        pr.°pfed i°<™
initiatives, but also
sets out the objectives to give preference to "our
unemployed youth and under-privileged families"
and to provide for the "special needs of our senior
citizens and disabled persons".
Dhan Singh Rana offers that he is most concerned
by the "equity equations" of the upcoming tourism
opportunities. Although he refers particularly to the
desire to spread the benefits of any additional
revenue throughout the region's population, there is
also the crucial issue of pride. Despite the significant
income from tourism prior to the 1982 ban, there are
bitter memories of that experience. Says Dhan Singh,
"Our role and status was on the last order of
hierarchy in the mountaineering business. It was the
outside travel agents, labour mates and western
sahibs who usually called the shots, and all
this happened in our own areas. Frankly, it
was sometimes humiliating and compromising
to self-respect."
An ecotourism programme in the nearby Valley
of Flowers, also in Uttaranchal, is often portrayed as
a success story. Sunil Kainthola begs to disagree,
however, maintaining that the only income for the
locals comes through sales of bottled water and
packaged food. The inhabitants themselves, he says,
"have been relegated to the role of sweepers". The
Mountain Shepherds initiative seeks to learn from
Uttaranchal's own experience with tourism, as well
as the experience of others who have experimented
with ecotourism.
Fulfilment of such bedrock goals as dealing with
under-privileged community members, keeping
families intact and bolstering individual self-respect
is desirable from any vantage point. However, even
such ambitions require an intrinsically localised
approach, in terms of establishment as well as
sustenance. And it is obvious that in both the
planning and implementation phase, the grassroots
push for ecotourism will butt heads with the priorities
of state authorities. In 2004, Uttaranchal and the
Corbett National Park were awarded a prestigious
National Tourism Award for the development of a
'community-based tourism' project involving three
park-area villages. The potential irony inherent to a
'community-based' project sponsored and run by the
state, however, is not hard to see: the award was
given directly to Uttaranchal Tourism, not to the
villages of Kyari, Choti Haldwani or Bhakrakot.
On the other hand, when the Nanda Devi
Biosphere Reserve won a runner-up spot in the
highly regarded international ecotourism awards
given out by Conde Nasi Traveler magazine the same
year, one Indian daily was moved to point out that,
"While the villagers of the Nanda Devi region are
pleased with their achievement, Uttaranchal
Tourism's silence remains deafening." That silence
is the gap between bottom-up and top-down
approaches: even when dealing with new and
potentially progressive policies, most officials are
convinced that bidian forests remain the realm solely
of the state - such policies may be enacted for the
bottom, but they will come from the top.
Back to the valley
Sunil Kainthola has described the inability of
authorities to seriously contemplate community
ownership as remnants of the lingering 'Jungle Raj'
mentality. With all involved interests - public, private
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 and local - salivating for a chunk of the looming
ecotourism pie, it is hardly surprising that entities
like the UFDC are hesitant to loosen their control
over the landscape resources. Unfortunately, much
of the government's tourist-friendly talk regarding
tlie importance of the grassroots and community-based
programmes is undercut by the fact that the
advisory committees constituted to develop tourism
and ecotourism policies over the past decade have
largely been made up of outside individuals. "As
far as J know," says Kainthola, "there was never an
honest attempt to involve communities in the
planning process."
Some of the advisors have been benign, others
well-meaning and still others suspect; some experts
have been national, others international - but nearly
all have been specifically external to the area under
consideration. Such criticism is similar to that
levelled regarding the past two decades of
hiccupping progress made by India's Joint Forest
Management programmes, the
problematic national and state projects
set up to develop degraded forestlands
with increased community involvement.
More immediately, however, it also
bears a remarkable resemblance to the
problems originally encountered by the
Chipko movement itself: a process that
is over-reliant on external 'experts'
with origins in India's cities simply
cannot- adequately address local
needs - good intentions and social-
scientific acumen notwithstanding.
All of which is not necessarily to say
that the state should not be allowed to
set up some tourism infrastructure on
its own. It is just that programmes that are not truly
'ecotouristic' should not be advertised as such.
Dhan Singh Rana would prefer that the Forest
Department focus on its own projects and "create
their space on a competitive basis". It is when the
villages of the Niti Valley have been forced to
be dependent upon the state, after all, that
problems have arisen.
Despite suspicions of the Forest Department's
intentions - there are fears that it wants to maintain
control over the land in order to auction or lease it
to private interests later - Kainthola says that some
kind of public-private partnership should not be
ruled out. "For setting up a community-owned
project, the need is to strengthen and empower the
Panchayati Raj institutions to manage and take
responsibility in the ecotourism management of
their area," he says, referring to the local government
initiatives already in place. "This could not be
achieved all at once, so the government should
allow experiments like Mountain Shepherds."
If a model were to be required for Nanda Devi
policies, most
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ecotourism that would genuinely support the host
communities, the mountain communities of
Uttaranchal are already a repository of experience
on local community involvement and action. These
states' mountain districts are unique for their
roughly 6000 Van Panchayats, which since the
1920s have overseen more than 400,000 hectares of
community forestland. Community members also
have a long history of battling the Forest Department
in the exploitation of forest products, and hence are
well prepared to take on the authorities when it
comes to tourism management.
When it comes to the specifics of tourism
management, Mountain Shepherds is studying the
possibility of utilising the area's Bhotiya homes as
pre-made tourist infrastructure, so that trekkers
spend money in the mountain homes rather than
stay in tents provided by trekking companies.
Mountain Shepherds is currently involved
in training 40 unemployed youths from the
Niti villages as guides. After a
probationary period, they will be
offered a percentage ownership in the
initiative itself. Within two years, the
organisers envision that around 40
percent of the project will be owned by
such grassroots tourism professionals,
with the rest of the money maintained
in a trust aimed at funding the
objectives of the 2001 declaration. The
trust would be run in collaboration
with the Gram Panchayats and other
village institutions.
While proponents admit to several
potential pitfalls in attempting to set
up an entire 'tourism industry' based
on the ecological- and community-friendly model,
they are resolute to learn from both past and
surrounding experiences. Explains Kainthola:
"Let's take the case of bottled water. Do only tourists
need safe drinking water? Is bottled water the only
solution, or is it the market behind it? We are not
aiming at changing the entire face of mountain
tourism, but we certainly intend to experiment
on new ideas."
Ultimately, proponents of Nanda Devi
ecotourism are hopeful that their model's
success - economic and otherwise - will lead to
greater political support. "We are trying to seize an
opportunity," says Khila Bisht, a member of the
Dehra Dun-based Alliance for Development, which
includes both Mountain Shepherds and Janaadhar.
"It is one of the few opportunities that fhe area
provides that allows the community to work in its
own area, on its own terms, with no detrimental
impact on the environment - a natural progression
of the work that the community has done
for centuries."
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Assam upfront
The diary of a Delhi reporter who decides to visit Assam i
simply write about the state from afar.
by | Akash Banerjee
Assam is one ofthe poorer states of India. About 36 percent
of its population of 27 million lives below the poverty line
and per capita income (INR 13,925) is 40 percent below
the national average. The state is marked by poor road
infrastructure, tenuous communication, low agricultural
productivity, and low levels of industrial activity...
- Project Information Document, World Bank, 2005
This is the kind of report that journalists regularly
pull off the Internet and use in their articles. One
can sit in Gurgaon and write a story on
Guwahati without the botheration of traversing the
country west to east. It is not necessary to go to Assam
to write about Assam. But this has never been entirely
adequate, because the numbers inevitably remain
digits, and the stories remain nothing but a collection
of visuals. Information, when it is printed or
broadcast without firsthand reporting cannot
generate depth of feeling. It fosters stereotypes.
This is especially true when it comes to coverage
of the Indian Northeast. Violence in Manipur, student
protests in Assam, the Nagas demanding autonomy
- all of these are presented as if those who live in
the seven-sister states have nothing better to
do than agitate constantly - and harbour
'anti-India' sentiments.
It was only when this Delhi-based writer went
out to Assam, to cover the state's assembly elections
this April, that the numbers added up and the stories
really hit. It was a humbling, learning experience.
And over a fortnight spent in the state, I discovered
AUDF founder * |
Mohd Baruddin
Ajmal Al-Qasimi
that Assam is intrinsically much closer to heartland
India than any South Indian state will ever be. Despite
its geographical alienation, as a 'northerner' I found
Hindi to be widely understood and often spoken.
I also discovered that Assam is different from its
northeastern sister states. That it does not grapple
with identity or nationality-based issues. That it does
not hate Hindi or 'anything Indian', and is not
secessionist. And that Assam is a state crying out for
basic infrastructural development.
So, revelation No 1 for the Delhi reporter: That
the neglect of basic infrastructure, including roads,
is so glaring, it is no wonder the Assam economy as
a whole is so depressed. It is poor infrastructure -
and not insurgency - that has Assam stuck in the
morass of poverty and underdevelopment. Here is
what the same World Bank report has to say on the
condition of the roadways of the state: "Assam's road
network is poorly developed and has suffered from
years of neglect, under-funding, inadequate
maintenance, and flood damages. Its current
condition is an obstacle to achieve the objective of an
Assam development strategy. Only 20 percent of the
roads are paved, compared to the national average
of 58 percent."
In central Guwahati, the state capital's arterial
road is potholed and perpetually traffic-jammed.
Further afield, in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia, even
potholed motorways are a luxury. Some do not seem
to have been maintained since World War II.
"Sometimes it takes five hours to cover a 20-km stretch
of road. The jerks are so bad that the injured die on
the way to hospital," says Assamiya writer Indra
Goswami, who had a harrowing time when she
toured the state to research for a novel. As I myself
traveled the backwaters, I could see that it was not
only a matter of roads. Village after village was
surviving without basic amenities like water and
electricity. Guwahati itself sees frequent power cuts.
With its infrastructural bottlenecks, Assam
continues to see low levels of economic growth. There
are therefore limited career options for Assam's
youth. Explains noted journalist Sanjay Hazarika:
"With more than 30 lakh students unemployed or
unemployable, it gives insurgent groups like ULFA
a ready recruiting ground." If only the state
and   Centre   had    dedicated    themselves   to
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 development years ago, they would not now be forced
to spend hundreds of crores every year on anti-
insurgency operations.
Revelation No 2 for the Delhi reporter: Factional
fighting drags Assam down, and there is a further
process of political fracturing underway. For
example, the election campaigning of this April
witnessed the dangerous rise of parties such as the
AUDF (Assam United Democratic Front), which
focuses its energies on the Muslim minority vote.
Considering the fact that this 'minority' today
constitutes fully 30 percent of the state population
and has always been the traditional Congress party
vote bank, the worried Congress now has to play the
'Muslim appeasement card'. In a recent campaign
visit, Congress President Sonia Gandhi felt the need
to focus exclusively on the Muslim-dominated areas.
In one rally at Naugaon, three hours from Guwahati,
Gandhi quite unabashedly told the gathering that it
was the Congress that had been and would always
be with the Muslims.
But while everyone chases the Muslim vote, the
Muslims are still treated as second-class citizens.
Merely wearing a dhoti and baniyan vest can make
a Muslim a 'Bangladeshi infiltrator'. Ismail Ali, a
daily labourer living in the outskirts of Guwahati,
was so tired of proving his Tndianness' to the
authorities time and again that he hit upon an
ingenious idea. After casting his ballot, Ismail
bandaged his finger where the indelible voter's ink
had been applied - so that it would not be washed
■way and he would be able to brandish this proof of
;itizenship for at least a few weeks.
Revelation No 3 for the Delhi reporter: The
central government has taken too much blame for
Assam's developmental disaster, whereas the role
of the state government is not given enough
importance. With parties of long-standing such as
the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) having started the
politics of divide-the-people-and-rule, the arrival
of new entrants such as the AUDF is bound
to exacerbate the public by emphasising religion
and ethnicity. All of this will deliver
more mal-governance, further victimising the
27 million inhabitants.
The very mention of Assam stirs up two distinct
images in one's mind: that of gun-toting ULFA
(United Liberation Front of Assam) militants, and
lush, green tea gardens. Both of these are quickly
disappearing. With the ULFA in a virtual ceasefire
with the Centre after years of fighting, the elections
happily went off so smoothly that some
correspondents with experience of more violent times
were moved to complain of boredom.
The arrival (howsoever momentary) of peace from
insurgency is the most significant development for
Assam, and this single factor may be able, over time,
to undo a lot of the fallout of the existing political
The 2006 elections went si
instability. Many observers believe that the advent
of stability will ipso facto lead to socio-economic
advance and good governance. Meanwhile, the state
never falls short of crises - the current one being the
disaster of the state's tea.
Assam's 'tea belt' is struggling today with the
falling price of the processed leaves, rising costs and
increased international competition. Tea estates
across the state have gone bankrupt and pulled down
the shutters. Those that remain are desperately
struggling to keep their heads above water. With
competition pushing down margins, these tea estates
do not even have the money to replace the tea plants
- which after half a century, are at the fag end of their
productive cycle. On a visit to one plantation, the
anger against Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's Congress
government was palpable. When this writer asked
Gogoi about the condition of the estates, he said that
his Congress government had announced a special
revival package for the tea planters, and that their
concerns were being looked after. The chief minister
should be concerned: the tea belt decides which way
35 of the state's 126 assembly seats go.
The final revelation for the Delhi reporter: That
Assam is no longer the land of tea and ULFA. Like
every state, today's Assam has its own set of
problems, but nothing that needs to be looked at
through the 'unique' prism. Just spending some time
in the land of 'Asom' made it amply clear that there
are ready answers to many of the state's woes, but
little political will to address them. Assam must
override its infrastructural problems, prevent
chauvinism from rearing its head again and again
in state-level politics, and commit funding towards
a long-term plan to revive the tea industry. Although
the people are willing, for now the political
spirit is weak.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Back in 71. _.
US policy revisited
m77b77 b7MbZ7oZZ7Zm77Zi Wo. -0:Obb777 Zbm77 7 ?m - Mz bbMZZ W^mm mMM 7b
what took place behind the scenes of the 1S71 Southasian Irisis in
Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington, DO. They also show a softer side of
the involved leadership. But who takes responsibility for the violence that
was perpetrated during that period?
by | Imtiaz Ahmed
Some 22 years back, this writer published a paper
titled "The Superpowers Strategy in the Third
World: The 1971 South Asian Crisis". Three key
arguments were central to that paper. First, that
there was a sharp difference between the US
administration, on the one hand, and the country's
Congress, press and people on the other, over the
issue of Bangladesh, particularly regarding the
genocidal killing of the Bengalis by the Pakistani
military. Second, the 'China policy' of President
Richard Nixon and then-National Security Advisor
Henry Kissinger became a factor in the US policy
towards Southasia. Finally, the US-USSR rivalry -
or what is referred to as the First Cold War - informed
and influenced the US policy towards Southasia,
including the liberation war of Bangladesh.
These arguments were laid down on the basis of
secondary sources and some personal interactions
with the policymakers of the 'interim government' of
Bangladesh. In recent years, however, available
information on the 1971 Southasian Crisis has
suddenly proliferated, especially with the
declassification of secret and confidential documents
relating to the US government's policy towards the
region during that period. Particularly significant in
shedding new light on the era are the US State
Department's 2005 South Asia Crisis, 1971, as well as
Foreign Relations ofthe United States, 1969-1976, Volume
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 XI, and Roedad Khan's 1999 The American Papers:
Secret and Confidential India-Pakistan-Bangladesh
Documents, 1965-1973. Also important are some of
the memoirs and reflections on the crisis published
in the late 1980s and 1990s by the policymakers of
Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the US, including
those by Muyeedul Hasan, K M Safiullah, A A K
Niazi, Hamoodur Rahman, Archer Blood and
Subrata Banerjee.
In light of the richness of material now available,
there is a pressing need to revisit the US policy
towards Southasia in 1971. One may also, in the
process, return to the three arguments presented
above. For the sake of economy, this review will base
itself almost exclusively on the declassified
documents published in 2005 as a US Department of
State Publication (DOSP).
Unilateral administration
The 'sharp difference' between the US administration
and the US Congress, press and people during the
Crisis can now be looked into more objectively and
interpreted with some measure of confidence,
particularly with reference to four issues. First, that
of genocide. There are only two references to
'genocide' in the DOSP documents, one by East
Pakistan Consul General Archer Blood and the other
by US Ambassador to India Kenneth Keating.
The terms otherwise used within the Nixon
administration to refer to the indiscriminate-
yet-calculated killing of unarmed Bengalis were
'bloodshed', 'bloodletting', 'blood-bath', 'atrocities'
and the like.
In terms of proximity, both Blood and Keating were
closer to the event - that is, in Dhaka and New Delhi,
respectively - and therefore probably had a better
sense of what had actually taken place. While one
could play with the scholarly relationship between
distance and diplomacy, it now seems quite clear
that key policymakers were using more toned-down
concepts, even wilfully blocking reports of genocide
from reaching the president in the White House. Apart
from having the immediate impact of not jeopard ising
the 'special relationship' between Richard Nixon
and Pakistan President Yahya Khan, this type of
rhetoric had a far-reaching consequence insofar as
the violent acts were concerned. In
fact, it allowed a substantial number
of murderers and war criminals to
escape the crisis free from obligation,
harm or penalty - with implications
having national and global relevance
even today.
The second issue entails the
break-up of Pakistan. There seems to
have been less disagreement between
the US administration and the
Congress, press and people on the
A substantial
number of
murderers and war
criminals were
allowed to escape
free from
obligation, harm or
Where's the truth commission for Bangladesh?
issue of Pakistan's dismemberment. Even as early as
6 March 1971, before the military crackdown, the
Senior Review Group (a National Security Council
committee chaired by Henry Kissinger) came to the
conclusion: "The judgement of all of us is that with
the number of troops available to Yahya (a total of
20,000, with 12,000 combat troops) and a hostile East
Pakistan population of 75 million, the result would
be a blood-bath with no hope of West Pakistan
re-establishing control over East Pakistan." More
interestingly, Ambassador Keating, in a 12 April 1971
telegram, noted: "Pakistan is probably finished as a
unified state; India is clearly the predominant actual
and potential power in this area of the world;
Bangla Desh with limited power and massive
problems is emerging."
The view did not change in the following months.
On 3 June, more than two months after the military
crackdown, the Memorandum of
Conversation (MoC) between
Kissinger and Keating noted:
"Kissinger continued that we have a
difficult gradual process ahead of us
while the situation ends up 'where
you [Keating] want it.' We want to
buy time for this to happen. We have
no illusions that West Pakistan can
hold East Pakistan and we have no
interest in their doing so." The
difference, as is now apparent, is on
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 the 'timing' of dismemberment. Kissinger is often
found pleading with American, and even Indian,
officials for a 'three-' to 'six-month' delay - that is,
until the delicate American negotiations with Beijing
on the issue of Sino-American rapprochement
(incidentally, with little help from Yahya
Khan) were over.
The third issue deals with the 'special
relationship' between Richard Nixon and Yahya
Khan. This sounded mysterious in the begimiing,
and remained so for some time during the Crisis. On
28 April 1971, in a handwritten note to Kissinger,
Nixon wrote: "To all hands. Don't squeeze Yahya at
this time", underlining 'Don'f three times. Moreover,
the MoC between Kissinger, Keating and National
Security Council adviser Harold Saunders on 3 June
noted: "In all honesty, Dr Kissinger pointed out, the
President has a special feeling for President Yahya.
One cannot make policy on that basis, but it is a
fact of life."
Two bits of information now help demystify the
'relationship'. One is Nixon's late response to Yahya
Khan's letter of 31 March, sent through Pakistani
.Ambassador Agha Hilaly and US Secretary of State
William Rogers. In fact, Yahya Khan had to write a
second letter to President Nixon on 17 April, the
response to which came only on 7 May. Second,
following Kissinger's debriefing of his discussion
with Keating on 15 June, Nixon concluded by saying
of Yahya Khan, "it just may be that the poor son of a
bitch can't survive." Nixon's 'special feeling' for the
Pakistani president appears to have remained in
place only while the latter was helping him link up
with the Chinese, and therefore could be dispensed
with once that aim had been achieved.
The final issue is the nature of diplomacy. Nixon
administration officials (including the president)
repeatedly made reference to 'quiet diplomacy' -
impressing upon not only the Indians but also the
larger world that the administration was doing its
best to bring Yahya Khan to his senses
and was looking for a political
resolution to the civil conflict in
Pakistan. Two critical features,
however, informed this diplomacy.
First was the sliding of 'quiet
diplomacy' into something
that can be referred to as 'secret
diplomacy'. The rationale for this, of
course, was the rapprochement with
Beijing via Islamabad. The second
feature was the empowering of a
small coterie in the name of
'quiet diplomacy', which at times
included short-circuiting even the
State Department.
The combined implications of
these two features can hardly be
probably finished
as a unified state;
India is clearly the
and potential
power in this area
of the world; Sangla
Desh with limited
power and massive
problems is
minimised. Indeed, it seemed to have included
rewarding officials, like that found in a conversation
recorded on 7 May 1971 between Kissinger and US
Ambassador to Pakistan Joseph Farland:
"Ambassador Farland voiced some mild complaints
about living in Pakistan and expressed the hope that
if the China meeting came off successfully, a new
post could be offered. Mr Kissinger replied
noncommittally that if this gets done, 'we will owe
you a great debt of gratitude'." Meanwhile, the
activities of 'quiet diplomacy' could include
supplying Pakistan arms already in the 'pipeline' or
"authorized before March 25", as well as considering
"a request for CIA provision of
unmarked small arms [redacted] to
provide to the 'freedom fighters' in
East Pakistan". (The redacted section
of this quote was censored by US
authorities before this material was
released under the Freedom of
Information Act.)
Foreign policing of such nature
and magnitude could result in its
own dynamics, often violating the
regulations of a democratic state. But
more importantly, the Nixon
administration had taken the reason
of the state, in its quest to connect
with China, to the point of
instrumentalising rationality -
something that the German political
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
economist Max Weber warned against
in the beginning of the last century,
for   its   tendency   to   reproduce
alienation. Indeed, when it comes to
the issue of genocide committed by the
Pakistani military, the upper echelons
of the Nixon government believed that
it could be dispensed with or given a
low profile, because stressing the issue
could jeopardise the US goal vis-a-vis
communist China. So bizarre is the
outcome of such policy-making that,
in the end, the democratic aspirations of an
impoverished population could be sacrificed for the
sake of opening up with a non-democratic but
economically promising state. In the end, the
government of Richard Nixon could not live up to
the expectations of the democratically-minded
people at home or abroad.
The Chinese orbit
There is now a better understanding of the Nixon-
Kissinger China policy, particularly with regard to
how it affected the US government's actions in
Pakistan. In fact, the administration seemed to be at
times obsessed, at times overly impatient with its
attempts to hook up with China. The MoC between
Kissinger and Amb Farland on 7 May 1971 noted:
...Mr Kissinger explained to Ambassador
Farland that for some time, we have been
passing messages to the Chinese through the
Pakistanis ... Mr Kissinger stated that he would
talk to [World Bank chief Robert] McNamara
on Monday, 10 May, and tell him that Yahya
must be kept afloat for six more months; one
problem will be that McNamara is emotionally
against Yahya - as is the entire liberal
community ... Mr Kissinger stated that he
would tell McNamara that this is the only
channel we have, and he must give Yahya at
least three months. Ambassador Farland stated
that six months should be the goal.
The transcript of an interesting telephone
conversation between President Nixon ('P') and
Kissinger on 23 May 1971 also highlights the overlap
in the China and Pakistan policies, particularly
when suggestions were made that India
might resort to military action:
P: ... if they go in there with
military action, by God we will cut
off economic aid.
K: And that is the last thing we
can afford now to have the
Pakistan government overthrown,
given the other things we are doing
[emphasis added].
When it comes to the making of
policy, an obsession or even lack of
genocide will not
lo away until
is a national or
are still alive.
The President
has a special
feeling for
One cannot make
policy on that
basis, but it is a
fact of life."
patience can hardly be considered a
virtue. It now seems that the US
administration was using Yahya
Khan as much as the latter was using
the 'goodwill' of the US president,
although the objectives of both
differed substantially. For Yahya
Khan, the 'special relationship' with
Nixon proved useful for crushing the
political movement in East Pakistan.
In fact, Pakistani policy-makers knew
very well that they were the only
channel (bypassing even Amb Farland) for the US
into China; they therefore rightly concluded that
whatever they did in East Pakistan, the Nixon
administration would be hard put to oppose it, either
in open or in private. In the process, 26,000
(Pakistan's estimate) to 3 million (Bangladesh and
India's estimate) people died, thousands of women
were raped, and some 10 million ended up refugees
in India, all within a period of nine months.
While frantically pursuing the goal of opening up
with China, the Nixon administration had little
illusions about that country vis-a-vis Southasia.
There were two sides to this mindset. First was the
fear of pro-Chinese radicals, or even China itself,
gaining control of the movement in East Pakistan.
As Farland noted in a telegram dispatch to the State
Department on 8 April 1971: "If AL [Awami League]
movement crumbles before it [is] able [to] consolidate
position on ground, resistance movement likely to
pass to more radical and left extremist groups such
as Naxalites." Similarly, Central Intelligence Agency
Deputy Director Robert Cushman pointed out to the
Senior Review Group meeting on 9 April: "We think
this is a very dangerous period. There is a possibility
of Chinese Communist influence. Or that an extremist
grotip, like the Naxalites in West Bengal, might
take over."
Interestingly, in discussions with the US, the
Indians also voiced fears of Chinese influence in East
Pakistan. In a letter to President Nixon on 13 May
1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi frankly stated:
"Since the expressed will of the people is being stifled,
extremist political elements will inevitably gain
ground. With our own difficulties in West Bengal
the dangers of a link-up between the
extremists in the two Bengals are real."
The Indian ambassador to the United
States, L K Jha, was more candid. He
told Kissinger on 21 May: "There is the
question of Chinese involvement •
eventually in East Pakistan which is
'ripe for this'."
Second, even while secretly trying to
open up with China with support from
Pakistan, Nixon was also fearful
of Pakistan going over to China. In a
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Indian troops arrive in Dhaka
back-channel message to Kissinger on 21 April 1971,
Amb Farland noted: "To eliminate what leverage we
have with GOP [Government of Pakistan] today is
tantamount to moving it directly into the Chinese
orbit. The implications, military and political, which
would then apply for this whole region of the world,
are monumental." But this was two weeks before
Farland came to know about Nixon's secret policy
of connecting with China through Islamabad. The
fear of Pakistan falling into China's orbit surfaced
again on 28 June, barely ten days before Kissinger's
secret trip to China on 9-11 July. A memorandum
from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence
Armistead Selden to Secretary of Defence Melvin
Laird-warned that a potential embargo could damage
relations with Islamabad so badly that, "As a
concomitant Pakistan might fall entirely within
China's orbit." While the US may have worked out
the global implications of a Sino-American
rapprochement, it seems to have done less work
regarding the regional implications.
Indeed, if Henry Kissinger, in his private meeting
with Indira Gandhi on 7 July 1971, wanted to impress
her on the need for drawing China into "the
international community of nations" for "a more
normal world order", the prime minister could not
help fearing Nixon's opening up with China -
especially, as came to be known a week later, with
Pakistan's help. Moreover, the timing of the briefing
on the new US policy towards China could not have
been worse, for Indira Gandhi had just finished
informing Kissinger how "afraid" she was "of
mounting Chinese influence in East Pakistan". Not
knowing the outcome of a Pakistan-facilitated
Sino-American rapprochement, the prime minister
hastily resolved to conclude an Indo-Soviet
agreement on 9 August 1971 - although letting the
Americans know, as Ambassador Jha informed
Kissinger on the same day, that this was done as "a
counter-weight to Pakistan's repeated claims to the
effect that in a new war China would be on its side".
Kissinger seems to have accepted the argument. In
his memorandum to President Nixon on 24 August,
he mentions:
... the Indians seem to feel that the treaty
puts both the Pakistanis and Chinese on notice
that India does not stand alone. If Indo-Pak
hostilities do break out, the Indians are probably
hoping that the treaty will at least serve to limit
Chinese intervention and perhaps even bring
the Soviets in directly on their side ... However,
the Indians do not seem at all prepared to write
off the US. They have been at pains to make
clear that the treaty is not directed at the US.
Without going into the merit of Kissinger's
position on the Indo-Soviet treaty at the height of the
Crisis, it can be safely concluded that India shifted
from its erstwhile non-aligned position to a much
closer relationship with the Soviet Union. The fear of
Cold War politics was being replayed once again.
Cold War III
In light of the declassified documents, the argument
relating to a US-USSR rivalry (the 'First Cold War')
contributing to the events in Southasia seems to be
the least tenable, particularly in the early and middle
parts of the Crisis. The memorandum from National
Security Council staffers Samuel Hoskinson and
Richard Kennedy to Henry Kissinger on 25 May 1971
makes this all the more clear:
In the short run at least we share a strong
interest with the Soviets in avoiding another IndoPak war. The Soviets have very little clout in
Islamabad but they do have a so-called 'special
relationship' with New Delhi. Is it possible and
desirable to encourage the Soviets to play a
peacemaking role? Or would some sort of
consultation and joint, or at least parallel,
action with the Soviets be more in our interests?
[Emphasis in the original.]
In fact, even after the signing of the Indo-Soviet
Agreement on 9 August 1971, Kissinger continued
to share this view and informed Nixon accordingly:
"... the Soviets seem to have gambled that, by
simultaneously strengthening India's position and
making New Delhi more beholden to Soviet counsel,
they can best restrain India and also deter Pakistan
from taking steps likely to lead to war." Kissinger
was also led to believe this by Amb Jha, as the latter
informed him on the same day that "India was not
going to be anybody's diplomatic satellite". Again,
on 25 August, Jha made it known to Kissinger that
"Madame Gandhi was not at all pro-Soviet", and
that Kissinger "could be certain that she did not have
her heart in it".
But then, following the outbreak of war between
India and Pakistan in the first week of December
1971, the spectre of Cold War emerged to haunt the
Nixon administration. On 6 December, in a telephone
conversation with President Nixon, Kissinger
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 suggested flat-out, "All this talk about Russian
restraint that we heard all summer was complete
poppycock." Ten days later, in another conversation
between the two, Nixon made a dramatic outburst
against the Soviets by laying out a possible US
counter-strategy: "Cut off the Middle East talks, pour
arms into Israel, discontinue our talks on SALT, and
the [UN] Economic Security Council can go [to] die
public and tell them what the danger is ... And be
very cold in our public statements toward them."
An hour later, however, Kissinger informed the
president about India's unilateral ceasefire on the
western front by simply saying, "We have made it."
He then "credited the Soviet Union with exerting
sufficient pressure on India to produce the desired
result". Nixon had regained his composure by then,
and responded, "If Soviets have
cooperated on this I think we have
got to play on an arm's-length
deal." At the same time, however,
he "reiterated that there was to be
no economic assistance for India
in the budget that was prepared".
Nixon's less-flexible position
towards India now leads to the
fact that the Cold War, while
being replayed towards the end
of the Crisis, had complex layers,
two of which bear further
First,- rudiments of what later
came to be known as the New or
Second Cold War could be found
as early as 1971 (see Noam
Chomsky's 1982 Towards a New
Cold War and Fred Halliday's
1984 The Making ofthe Second Cold
War). The Soviet Union tried to balance the position
of the United States in the region by way of supporting
India, while the US attempted to beef up Pakistan
against India and the Soviet Union through the
benevolence of Iran, Jordan and, if possible, China.
Not only did Nixon encourage Iran and Jordan to
deliver military equipment and aircrafts to Pakistan,
but he enjoyed hearing about the Sino-Soviet conflict
at the United Nations during the last days of the
Crisis. In fact, throughout the Crisis, Nixon had
hoped that the Chinese would stand by the Pakistanis
against the military intervention of India, and more
so if it were done with the support of the Soviet Union.
On 16 December 1971, when the victory of Indian
troops against Pakistan became a reality, Nixon
confided with Kissinger in an almost tragic tone over
the Chinese role in the Crisis: "And also let it be
known they have done nothing".
India too falls into the same Cold War logic, for
having itself 'aligned' with the Soviet Union. In the
same 16 December conversation, the president told
.given the
we are
Kissinger: "I know the bigger game is the Russian
game, but the Indians also have played us for squares
here. They have done this once and when this is over
they will come to us to forgive and forget. This we
must not do." Indira Gandhi's letter to Nixon of a
day earlier had a tone more of 'reaching out' to the
president than anything close to 'forgive and forgef:
"... it is my earnest and sincere hope that with all the
knowledge and deep understanding of human affairs
you ... will at least let me know where precisely we
have gone wrong." Nixon responded immediately
the following day with a tone of compromise -
without, however, forgetting his misgivings: '
We recognize that India is a major Asian power
and that we share the common values of
genuinely democratic government. No act has
been taken with a desire to
damage    the    relationship
between    our    two    great
countries. We would hope that
the day may come when we
can work together for the
stability of Asia, and we deeply
regret that the developments of
the past few months in South
Asia have thrust the day of
stability farther into the future.
The tone of 'reaching out'
inherent to Indira Gandhi's letter,
however, raises the second
complex layer of Cold War
politics, which can be referred to
as 'Cold War III'. This involves
both India and Pakistan using the
Cold War syndrome for their own
interests. While New Delhi used
the Soviet Union without Prime
Minister Gandhi having "her heart in it", Islamabad
also thought of using the US for its civil conflicts and,
later, against India - although it knew full well that
comprehensive support from the US would be less
forthcoming given its violent acts in East Pakistan.
In the process, however, both India and Pakistan have
come to internalise the Cold War syndrome - the
implications of which have been no less devastating,
indeed, as both countries geared up to become nuclear
Today's lessons
What, then, are the lessons from all this? First, the
issue of genocide will not go away until there is a
national or international trial of the perpetrators,
some of whom who are still alive. The trial is needed
not only to bring solace to the victims in Bangladesh
but for Pakistan's own sake; after all, no society can
re-energise itself morally, not to mention spiritually,
if murderers are allowed to go free. There is enough
evidence to pursue this in the Hamoodur Rahman
other things
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Commission Report of 1974, the secret
report commissioned by the president
of Pakistan in 1971 that found
significant evidence of atrocities and
other abuses of power by the Pakistani
brass.   The  responsibility  of  the
The democratic
aspirations of an
population could be
Third, the 'special relationship'
between Nixon and Yahya,
which caused much of America's
embarrassment and policy
limitations, was directly related to
the US policy necessity of having to
international community is clear, SaCriflCCO f©r SIO SOKO open up with Beijing through just one
given that it continues to take matters
of extreme violence, including
genocide, very seriously. This applies
specifically to the United States, given
its participation in the Southasia
Crisis of 1971.
Second, the sliding of 'quiet diplomacy' into 'secret
diplomacy', particularly in the hands of a 'small
coterie', has become more of a norm with successive
US administrations, often with results contrary to that
country's democratic ideals. Two relevant examples
would be the Iran-Contra affair and - most recently -
the fiasco over 'weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
It is imperative that structures be evolved in
Washington, DC to overcome this tendency, lest the
diplomatic manoeuvrings slide into something more
totalitarian in nature. In some ways, the Watergate
scandal and the fall of Richard Nixon were
vindications of what secret diplomacy and a small
coterie could result in if extended beyond the
boundaries of democratic norms.
of opening up with a
non-democratic but
.promising state.
T\a Nepaft;sp£da1ihj JU:sttSp^F»t Dwarika's
Dv/arika's Hotel
ffispytal;. KMhmandj. Nepal
channel, Islamabad. Nixon and
Kissinger may have profited from the
age-old wisdom of Kautilya, the third
century BC Indian political thinker,
of having to approach both friends
and enemies alike through
multilayered networks. For both Richard Nixon and
the US, the cost of this 'special relationship' was
immense. On 27 December 1971, a week after Yahya's
'resignation' and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's assumption
as president and 'chief martial law administrator' of
Pakistan, Nixon passed a handwritten note to
Kissinger with the remark that Bhutto "must be
strongly informed - RN [Richard Nixon] will be very
opposed to trial of Yahya" (emphasis in the original).
Nixon probably feared that any trial at that stage
would expose the nitty-gritty of Yahya's help in the
secret negotiations with China. In the process,
however, Nixon spared a person who, from all
accounts at the time, was responsible for the heinous
crimes against the people of East Pakistan. America
lost a significant portion of its global moral standing
as a result, which it has yet to recover.
Finally, the declassified documents provide a
complex picture of the US role in 1971 - and they
actually provide some hope for both US-Bangladesh
and US-India relations. It is now clear that the Nixon
administration had a 'softer side' to the civil conflict
in East Pakistan, and in large measure he was also
supportive of an independent Bangladesh, although
within a 'long-term' framework. Even Kissinger,
although known for his dispassionateness?, could not
hide his 'softer' side when he queried on 31 March
1971, less than a week after the military crackdown:
"Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of
my students."
In 1971, this writer was only a Class IX student
but saw the mass killing and destruction and looting
by the Pakistani soldiers, and later on also the
readiness of the people to join the struggle and the
stream of refugees into Agartala in India. Had we all
known of this American 'softer side', we probably
would have been more emboldened, and perhaps
could have brought about the fall of the Pakistani
military without the direct military intervention of
India. But that is now a matter of history. Let the final
lesson from the Southasia Crisis be a recognition by
the powerful rulers in states near and far to develop
a sensitivitv for humanitarian values, and not to
engage in traumatising millions in the name of grand
strategies and policy-making.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Southasiasphere by C K Lai
Insurgencies of despair,
uprisings of hope
Two truths
Twin determinations
Two sets of values
An unproven person
Has been created inside
The existing individual
- Naresh Mehta in "Sansay ki Ek Raat"
Afghanistan continues to burn in the inferno of
insurgency and counter-insurgency. Unlike the
colonial forces of the earlier era, the army under
US command likes to think that maintaining law and
order is not a part of its brief in occupied territories. It
seems to operate with a divine mission - Bush II
prefers the term 'crusade' - to eliminate its designated
enemies, with little or no concern for collateral
damage. In the indiscriminate bombings by helicopter
gunships high in the air, safe from the sniper bullets
of insurgents on the ground, all kinds of people die.
Among the victims are women, the elderly, the young
and infirm. But for those who keep the score in Kabul,
all the dead are counted as remnants of Taliban and
Al-Qaeda extremists on die run. As if giving a label to
the victim justifies the killing.
East of the Durand Line, the situation is hardly
any better in Pakistan, where US forces routinely cross
over in search of fugitives from the vengeful regime in
Kabul. This happens despite the fact that General
Pervez Musharraf has posted 70,000 troops in tribal
areas, at the beck and call of Americans hunting
Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters and sympathisers. The
deadly attack by fidayeen suicide bombers in the
Kashmir Valley continues, despite the fact that the
742-km Line of Control that divides the region between
India and Pakistan is one of the most fiercely guarded
ceasefire lines in the world. In Jaffna, the volatile peace
still holds, but no one knows when it is going to snap
in the absence of a lasting solution to the festering
ethnic conflict.
Elsewhere in Southasia, left extremism is spreading
like a prairie fire. By consistently ignoring the seven
parliamentary parties' attempts at moderating the
Maoists, die horse-and-buggy-age monarchy of Nepal
has added fuel to the fire of rebellion. The Communist
Party of India (Maoist) is now a formidable force in
the region, with its guerrillas operating in 170 districts
of 15 states across the country, which cover 40 percent
of its geographical area and 35 percent of the Indian
population. The Coordination Committee of
Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia
(CCOMPOSA) may just be an exotic acronym for now,
but with the possibilities of leftwing extremism rising
up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the next
wave of insurgency to shake up the Subcontinent will
probably be in the realm of politics, rather than
ethnicity, religion or culture.
Insurgencies of despair
Islamist Jihadis and Hindutva obscurants have eyes
in the backs of their heads. There is no doubt that the
Shariat is a fine document, but any attempt to run a
contemporary society on the basis of rules framed
one-and-a-half millennia ago is absurd. Even more
bizarre is the response of Hindutva militants who
believe in fighting fire with fire, and wish to re-enact
another all-consuming Mahabharata for their version
of monopolistic truth. Proponents of militant
Hinduism often ignore the most fundamental lesson
of the Mahabharata epic: In any war fought to
settle scores, it is the manifest destiny of everyone to
die defeated.
Cultural insurgencies are rooted in the past, look
towards history for inspiration, and have no vision
for anything that has not been tried in myths and
memories. Failure is thus an integral part of all
revivalist ideologies. The Taliban wrote the script of
their own downfall by gouging out the Buddhas from
the rocks of Bamiyan. Even though American
excesses in Afghanistan vastly exceeded the atrocities
being inflicted by occupation forces in Iraq, there is
no way that retro-extremists such as Omar and
Osama will ever get the reluctant respect extended
even to a confirmed dictator like Saddam Hussein. It
is unlikely that the bombers of the Hanuman Temple
in Benaras, Nishter Park in Karachi or the Jama
Masjid in Delhi will ever be feted anywhere by the
oppressed. They may have taken great personal risks,
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 hit headlines, received attractive compensations from
their sponsors, extracted revenge or been promised
happiness in the afterlife. But whenever and wherever
these soldiers of the past die, they will die in extreme
loneliness - unkempt, unwept and unsung.
Ethnic uprisings, as in Kashmir, Assam and Jaffna,
are somewhat different from cultural revivalism in
the sense that they aspire to transform ethnic
identities into political entities. But most ethnic
insurgencies too are doomed to fail, as they seek to
take revenge from some, rather than ensuring justice
for all. Pundits were a minority in Kashmir Vallev,
but to prosecute them on the flimsv grounds of guilt
by association with a certain religion was so atrocious
that it destroyed the independence movement ot
Kashmiris for good. Every time insurgents in the
Indian Northeast abduct or kill an innocent, the
sacrifice of their cadres goes to waste and their cause
suffers a setback. Most ethnic uprisings fail to mature
into independence movements because the verv
premise of ethnic exclusivity is antithetical to nation-
building. And wherever countries are built upon the
idea of purity, thev are cursed to remain in a constant
state of war. The most illustrative case in point is
Israel; but Pakistan is not much different, and Sri
Lanka for the Sinhalese hurled the Isle ot Serendipity
onto a similar rollercoaster.
Cultural insurgencies and ethnic revolts are
doomed to collapse in the long run, but they burn
fierce as long as they last. Issues related to self and
identity are so fissile that if ignited, the resulting fire
consumes all of an individual's rationality- For causes
related to culture, people die, often rushing towards
their death with a grit and determination that would
have made some real differences in society had they
lived. But hope is not the motive force of ethnic
uprisings and cultural insurgencies; they are
propelled instead by despair. Regardless of the name
given to their cause - nationalism, patriotism,
or religious duty - the 'martyrs' of despair die
essentially of rage.
The Page Three intelligentsia of New Delhi loves
to point out that the cultural insurgencies of Kashmir
and the Northeast affect only three percent of their
national population, whereas leftwing rebellion is
much more widespread and entrenched. Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh too has bought that line,
and begun to portray the Naxalite revolt as the
premier threat of this century. Perhaps the risk
assessment is partially correct. Right-wingers tend
to burn out or die out if monitored closely or
consistently contained within a limited geographical
area. The rebellions of the Left are altogether different.
They are caused by the hope of an alternative future.
Whereas cultural insurgents are willing to die, rebels
of class-warfare would rather kill the enemy than
sacrifice themselves for the cause. In communist
ideologies, the 'cause'  in any case is  fluid and
subjected to the whims of the leaders at the vanguard
of revolution.
Uprisings of hope
There is a very popular proverb in Nepali, which says
that axioms are not false and stories are not factual.
But most analyses of communist uprisings are based
on stories rather than axioms. John Reed wrote: about
the Russian Revolution in the 1922 Ten Days That
Shook the World, and its grand narrative has continued
to influence even the critical accounts of all subsequent
class wars. No narration of the Mao phenomenon
escapes the myths manufactured by Edgar Snow in
his 1936 Red Star over China. Did Lenin and Mao do
what they did strictly according to the maxims of Karl
Marx, or did they go by their own interpretations? An
honest answer to this question is necessary. There is
no reason for all leftwing revolutionaries everywhere
to forever bear the crosses of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.
Unlike the self-destructive trait of everv cultural
insurgency, leftwing rebellion begins with an
alternative vision of a shared future. Once there is a
plan, howsoever flawed, the space for negotiation
remains. A communist revolutionary cannot succeed
by dying; her cause .survives only if she does. That is
the reason leftwing insurgents concentrate on killing
and do not embrace death as willingly as do the suicide
foot-soldiers of identity politics.
Just as it used to be fashionable to be socialist in the
1970s and 1980s, these days it is chic to be ethnic and
to sympathise with those who extol the slogan, "Say
it with pride that we are Hindus". But the pride of
being Hindu does not explain the widening gulf
between the rich and poor. It does not stop subsidy-
starved farmers from committing suicide, lt does not
say why a tractor buyer in Telangana has to pay
higher interest rates lhan does an IT professional
acquiring his second car in New Delhi.
The states of Southasia will have to deal
simultaneously with both challenges - the
insurgencies of despair and uprisings of hope - as
they gear up to meet modernity. Adoption of Gandhian
ideals would have lessened the stress in society and
alleviated the need of violent uprisings. But that has
already become a road not taken. Driving on the
highways of capitalism is smooth, but the risks of fatal
accidents are much greater at higher speeds.
Containment and control are the only tools to tackle
rightwing regression; but to deal with leftwing
resurgence, engagement is the more effective option.
Should the understanding between parliamentary
parties and Maoists succeed in Nepal, a template
will hopefully emerge to design workable methods
of mainstreaming leftwing insurgents. Meanwhile,
the War on Terror is the wrong model to fight
any insurgency in Southasia, be it of despair
or of hope - a fact that has been proven beyond
a shred of doubt.
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Crossborder report
Sindh and Kutch,
cloth and verse
if Emphasis on common elements of
m everyday life - a piece of cloth, a
2H verse of poetry - allows pastoralists
in Gujarat to express a memory and
yearning for Sindh.
by | Farhana Ibrahim
A couple of years ago, while living and
researching in Bhuj, the capital of Kutch District
in Gujarat state, I became interested in
purchasing some recorded qafis. This haunting poetic
genre is originally from Sindh, but remains popular
among the Muslim pastoralists of northern Kutch,
sung in the wide expanses of the Great Rami of Kutch.
Although Sindh is a mere 140 kilometres away from
Bhuj, I had found few overt traces of the Pakistani
province. The qafi, however, remains a rich
source of regional, crossborder history for both
Kutch and Sindh.
It seemed, however, that transborder references
were somewhat taboo in public, and none of the well-
stocked music shops had what I was looking for.
Finally, directed to a narrow lane of stalls tucked away
behind the main market street, I found what I was
looking for. Here were all kinds of smuggled and
second-hand goods - leather, electronics, Islamic
literature, cassettes of music and religious discourses,
cloth and a myriad other sundries. Amidst tall stacks
of cheap copies of music cassettes from popular
Indian films, I also found an equally large selection
of music from across the frontier - popular Pakistani
singers singing in Urdu and Sindhi, some of whom
were even born in Kutch, the shop owners said with
pride. This narrow row of shops, in the heart of Bhuj
and yet somewhat hidden, was a transformed space.
Here, Kutch was no longer insulated from its
historical linkages - Sindh thrived here, most
notably in its folk music. But it was hidden away;
one would not stumble upon these stalls or their
wares unbidden.
As with goods, I found it remarkable how little
Sindh came up for discussion in Kutch. Certainly,
political oratory in Gujarat regularly refers to
Pakistan. But it is generalising and rhetorical, used
to extract political mileage by advocates of right-wing
Hindu nationalism - such as the representation of
Islam, Pakistan and, by extension, Indian Muslims
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Shrine to Shah Abdul Latif in Bhit
in general, as isomorphic and therefore 'other'.
Nowhere does one find reference to cultural traits
that are shared in fact shared by Sindh and Kutch.
It is not difficult to understand why this is so.
Classification and boundary-making, both real and
epistemological, are at the heart of constructing
identities. Modern territorial nation states are
ideologically invested in imagining themselves to be
territorially discrete and internally homogenous.
After the separation of Pakistan in 1947, Kutch gained
new significance as a strategic border territory; it lay
on a newly defined boundary that needed to be
naturalised and legitimised at all costs. In Kutch, and
Gujarat more generally, this has been done through a
relatively consistent 'othering' of Pakistan and
Muslims within Gujarat, particularly pronounced
after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in the state. This
has generated a peculiar ambivalence in Kutch about
adjacent Sindh: they are immediate neighbours, they
share historical and cultural ties, but they now lie
across a problematic boundary.
The Jats are a semi-nomadic pastoral group that
inhabited both sides of this border region before 1965.
Prior to the present geopolitical reorganisation of
1947, mobile groups like the Jats were involved in
trade linking Kutch and Sindh and going as far as
Punjab and Afghanistan. The Jat pastoralists would
wander back and forth in search of fodder,
particularly in times of drought. The
border is now blocked and the Sindh
pastures are only a memory, and yet
Sindh remains present in the lives of
the Jats in other ways.
The narratives of the Jats provide
an interesting contrast to the manner
in which Sindh is presented in the
nationalist narratives of Gujarat. In
particular, cloth and poetry remain the
condensed expressions of the cultural
celebration of Sindh in the northern
Kutch region of the Banni grasslands.
Through cloth and poetry, the pastoral
communities are able to express a
desire for Sindh that cannot quite be articulated in
the political realm.
All-purpose cloth
Ajrakh is a type of block-printed cotton cloth common
in both Sindh and Kutch, especially among the
pastoralists. It is a ubiquitous, multipurpose wrap
that can be tied as a turban or lungi, or used as a
blanket or shawl. The cloth is worn mostly by
Muslims, and is exchanged within groups that are
entirely male and usually Muslim. The geometrical
and abstract traditional designs often mirror those
found in Indo-Islamic architecture. Although widely
produced within Kutch itself, Ajrakh from Sindh is
more highly valued.
Journeying through the Rann, Jats would
frequently assert that they could not sleep at night
unless they had an Ajrakh sheet with which to cover
themselves - and only Ajrakh would do. In her 1990
Sindh Jo Ajrak, the textile historian Noorjehan
Bilgrami writes of similar habits across the border in
Sindh: "A Sindhi feels ill at ease without his Ajrak;
for him it is an all-purpose cloth." Jat men refer to
Ajrakh as their "original" garb, even though today
many of them have given up such turbans and
waistcloths for modern wear, keeping the Ajrakh
pieces for special occasions.
The name itself is thought to be derived from azrak,
the term for 'blue' in Arabic and Persian, and indigo
has remained the traditional dye used in Ajrakh
printing. Grown in Sindh in vast quantities, indigo
was a common dye for cotton cloth - used for clothing
by all classes of Muslims - and was one of Sindh's
chief exports during the 19th century. Today, blue,
red and white are the three colours typically found
in Ajrakh patterns. In Kutch, the Khatris, a Muslim
dyer community, specialise in Ajrakh printing.
Ismail Khatri, a master printer and dyer, recounts
how their ancestors were asked to come into Kutch
from Sindh by the Maharao of Kutch during the
17th century.
The superior value ascribed to Sindhi Ajrakh by
the Kutch Jats is an interesting comment on notions
of cultural authenticity and value. It
quickly becomes relatively easy to pick
I out unusual patterns and colours from
across the border. Sindhi Ajrakh is
produced on cloth that is first bleached
a   stark   white,   after   which   the
chemically dyed colours appear much
more vibrant than the hues on the
| Kutchi cloth, which are more muted
and     subtle.     The     quality     of
groundwater   also   makes   a   big
difference to the final colour tones.
The village of Dhamadka is the only
place in Kutch that produces
vegetable-dyed Ajrakh, where Ismail
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Khatri and his brothers produce their ancestral wares
for national and international buyers. The 2001
earthquake nearly destroyed Dhamadka, forcing the
surviving members of the Khatri family to relocate.
The earthquake had changed the groundwater table
in Dhamadka, with the water's increased iron
content preventing the a<\jrakh colours from attaining
their fullest potential.
Most of the men in Banni wear Ajrakh waist- and
shoulder-cloths that appear to be from across the
border. One day in a small town in western Kutch, a
man wearing a particularly outstanding and
unusually coloured Ajrakh wrap responded
abruptly when asked about its origin - "From here"
he said, and walked away. Later, upon learning that
my research assistant was a Khatri, the man quietly
divulged that his wrap was from Pakistan.
The Sindhi .Ajrakh, as a pri/ed commodity among
Muslims in Kutch, is illegally smuggled
across the border. It is not only that the    Ktm,h ^ , „.
Sindhi Ajrakh is inherently superior, its    »"iE"1 WOWs !1v
value also seems linked to the social lllll^ft?
context of its production. It is valued over  jittc«ihi4i^h<V!?]
Ajrakh produced in Kutch precisely for the "
connections across the border. One Kutch
resident who was interviewed insisted
that no matter how hard one tried in Kutch,
it was never possible to get the kind of
Ajrakh that came from Sindh. "lt is the
whiteness of the star that is crucial," he
explained, referring to the image in the
centre of most traditional Ajrakh patterns.
"Anyone who knows their Ajrakh will be
able to tell a genuine [meaning Sindhi] one by looking
at the white star."
iftsiafeSf m its
Sill mtttsifi
A largely illiterate population, the Jats continue to
excel in the recitation of qafis, the classical poetry of
Sindh. Bv far the most famous poet in the region is
Shah Abdul Latif, of the Sindhi town of Bhit. The
compositions of 'Bhitai' and others, still recited
today, form an extensive body of oral-historical
accounts of the region. Singing qafi and sher verses
is considered central to the pastoralist ethos - a good
way to pass time while grazing in the desert. The
verses and their recitation also evoke the romantic
image central to the ideal of the pastoral life as one
of ease and independence. Well-known poets recite
classical verse and compose new ones, keeping the
traditional meter and verse style. Thus, traditionally
composed narratives now recount the events related
to the 2001 earthquake. These verses provide a
wealth of information that make up somewhat for
the absence of historical or ethnographic research
in the region.
Perhaps the most popular poetry is derived from
the story of Sasui-Punu, a tragic love story and
perhaps one of the more famous compositions by
Shah Abdul Latif. In Sindh, Hindus and Muslims
alike have identified with this poetic tale. Sasui's (also
known as Sassi) ceaseless wandering in search of
her lover was one of the metaphors of exile used in
early Sindhi Hindu literature following Partition
and their move to India; "Wandering aimlessly like
Sasui, / criss-crossing mountains and streams, / we
shred our shoes ..." wrote the Sindhi poet Parsuram
Zia. More recently, Sasui has also been incorporated
by ethnic nationalist forces as a regional Sindhi
heroine in Pakistan.
Another popularly recited verse is related to Umar-
Marai, a folktale from the Thar region of Sindh. In a
short poem called "Moti Mi" (heavy rain), Marai is a
young girl from Sindh, held captive by Umar. In some
versions, she falls in love with her captor; in others,
she is already in love with Umar and is abducted by
an evil king, 1 lamir Sumra.  In "Moti Mi", she details
the arrival of the rains in her hometown of
Malir. "It has rained; the trees are in bloom
and the fruit is ripe for picking; mv friends
are in the gardens waiting for me to pick
the fruit with them; please let me go," she
pleads with her captor. This narrative is
rich and evocative of the landscape of
lower Sindh, and of the welcome arrival
of the rains. The remembered landscape
is one that richly belongs in Sindh.
Stories like these are narrated and sung
in everyday contexts in Banni today. Thev
address the proximity of Sindh in a
manner quite different from the way in
official regional narratives have chosen to
do. In an analysis of Bedouin poetry, Middle Eastern
scholar Lila Abu-Lughod argues that a "discourse
on sentiment" can also be a "discourse of defiance"
when poetic narratives from the grassroots contradict
the systems that are defined from the authorities.
For those links with a transborder territory that
cannot be freely expressed in the everyday political
context, traditional recitations and attachment to
cloth have become a way in which the 'system' can
be critiqued. This is what is referred to as
'infrapolitics'. Among the jats of northern Kutch, the
past is not a rupture, but instead flows into the present
through specific tropes. Poetry and Ajrakh become
ways to bring Sindh into their daily lives - integrated
into the present in ways that are always and already
there. This form of cultural flow, across a boundary
line that is officially presented as discrete and
impermeable, provides an interesting twist to the
collective imagination of a region. The appreciation
of qafi verses and Ajrakh on the Gujarat side of the
border indicate that the Jats' subjective experience of
a region encompasses both Sindh and Kutch. The
Jats embrace Sindh as intimately as it is rejected in
the discourse of Gujarati nationalism.
which the
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Kashmir's Desaparecidos
Despite the appearand of an increasingly peaceful Kashmir, fhe state's
citizens are still disappearing or being.kllied under suspicious
circumstances in drastic numbers.
by | Mohamad Junaid
The subcontinental air has recently been thick
with talk of the possibility of peace in Kashmir.
Indian government officials say that violence
has decreased and that 'infiltration levels' have come
down. The security bunkers in Srinagar, which have
stood like blots on the city's face for the last 15 years,
have been given a facelift: before the new tourist
season began, wooden cubicles replaced the old ones
made of brick-and-sandbag. President Pervez
Musharraf threw down his gauntlet of possible
Kashmiri self-rule, and most of the Kashmir-based
political parties - including the People's Democratic
Party and the National Conference - are
discussing his proposals. On the ground, however,
things have yet to change significantly. In
particular, Kashmir Valley continues to witness
enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and
custodial killings.
On 11 January 2006, Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie, in
his mid-twenties, was arrested by the Rashtriya Rifles
(RR) during a raid on an Anantnag District village.
He died in custody and his body was handed over to
police. Amidst widespread protests, an army
spokesman claimed that he had died of cardiac arrest,
though the suspicion was that Mushtaq was tortured.
After Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called for
an official enquiry, Inspector General of Police K
Rajendra Kumar told a Jammu-based daily the
following day that, "Ganie was an innocent civilian
and it is also a fact that he died in the army's custody.
However, two separate enquiries have been ordered
to ascertain whether Ganie died an accidental death
or was tortured to death." At press time, results from
both probes were still awaited.
Three days later, on 14 January, two youths, Abdul
Majid Parray and Fayaz Ahmed Bhat, were picked
up from Baramulla District, again by RR troopers,
and tortured. Parray succumbed, but Bhat lived to
tell his horrific tale to the media. Again, there were
protests. Bhat's relatives later disclosed to the media
that the army had tried to rearrest him while he was
recovering in a Srinagar hospital, apparently wanting
him to change his statement. Army officers,
meanwhile, claimed that they had simply wanted to
move Bhat to an army hospital.
These incidents took place just a few days after the
Congress-led state government boasted that custodial
deaths had ceased under its rule, with one local
newspaper headline trumpeting: "No Custodial
Killings in First 50 Days." In yet anotiier blow to the
chief minister's assertions, on 17 January, three
madrasa caretakers were killed by RR personnel
in an 'encounter' in Pulwama District. The three
maulvis - Wali Muhammad Khatana, Farooq Ahmad
Dar and Muhammad Farooq - were killed while
collecting hides of sacrificial sheep for their madrasa
in southern Kashmir. Army officials claimed the three
were militants, but the public was unconvinced.
Residents near the madrasa claimed that the
army had suspected the three of spreading
fundamentalism. Their deaths provoked huge anti-
government protests throughout the Valley, and
relatives of the three refused to bury the victims until
a probe was ordered into the killings.
The opposition National Conference expressed its
'concern' over the increasing number of custodial
killings, and on 19 January Chief Minister Nabi Azad
was compelled to warn the army to avoid custodial
deaths. He also asked die local police to accompany
army personnel in all search operations, which in
the past have been a source of constant harassment
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 to the Kashmiris. The independent Public
Commission on Human Rights reported that during
the first four months of the Congress-led government
- whose term started on 5 November - the number of
custodial killings had already reached eight. During
the previous three years of the People's Democratic
Party-led government of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed,
122 such cases were recorded.
The number 8000
Reliable activist groups claim that about 8000 people
have gone missing in Jammu & Kashmir over the last
16 years of insurgency. The official count is not
reliable, particularly because it depends on the
political party in power and a host of other factors.
The earlier National Conference government put the
figure at 3184 in July 2002. The PDP's Mufti Sayeed,
however, told the state assembly in 2003 that 3741
persons had gone missing since 2000 alone, a figure
that he repeated at a press conference in the presence
of then-Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Only a
week later, he retracted that statement, saying that
no more than 60 people had actually disappeared
"following their arrest by security forces" in the
previous 13 years. The flip-flop came as a rude shock
to the Kashmiri public.
Zahir-ud-din is a journalist who has documented
more than 4000 cases of forced disappearances in
his book Did They Vanish in Thin Air? He says as
many as 500 cases of disappearance have been proven
by the state's High Court. The Srinagar-based
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons
(APDP), which began collecting information on
enforced disappearances in 1994, say the actual
number goes well beyond 8000.
On 29 March this year, Jammu & Kashmir Police
named two Indian Army officers for engineering a
fake surrender of 27 militants in November 2004 at
the Army's headquarters at Nagrota. At that time, it
was considered a major success by the establishment.
The story, however, was soon exposed, leading to a
year-long police enquiry, which has subsequently
concluded that these 'militants'  were in fact
unemployed youth from central Kashmir, who were
lured by a surrendered militant-turned-Congress
politician by offering them jobs in Delhi. He instead
handed them over to the Army officers, who kept them
in custody for more than six months before presenting
them for the 'surrender'.
Although for most cases of disappearances the
military has been blamed, militants too have been
responsible for a significant number. In early 2003, a
teenager named Fayez Ahmad Malik, from the town
of Doda, was abducted and later killed. Militants of
Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the
killing, accusing the young man of being an informant
for the security forces.
While custodial deaths and disappearances
represent the most severe misuse of state power,
under the Congress-led government the incidence of
arbitrary arrests, molestations and excessive use of
force against peaceful demonstrators continues to be
significant. On 16 January, local media agencies
reported the arrest of 11 civilians by RR soldiers
during a search operation at the village of Kheru.
The detentions triggered angry protests against the
troops, but the prisoners were not immediately
released. Instead, the locals were thrashed by
the army men.
The lack of effective agencies to investigate acts of
human rights violations has made it extremely
difficult to pursue complaints of alleged custodial
death and disappearance. Section 19 of the Protection
of Human Rights Act (PHRA), which also provided
for the establishment of the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC), restricts the Commission from
investigating allegations of violations by the armed
forces (see Himal Nov-Dec 2005, "The healing can begin
here"). Meanwhile, it is also a fact that decades-old
killings of prominent activists in die state remain to
be investigated.
Not so long ago, the running joke in Kashmir - a
dark one - was: Beta soja, warna Mufti Saab 'Healing
Touch' de denge (Sleep son, or else Mufti Sayeed will
give you his 'Healing Touch'). With new Chief
Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad taking over the reins of
the government last fall, the joke has lost its sheen.
As the political actors in and out of Jammu & Kashmir
scramble for places on the official roundtables and
counter-roundtables to discuss the state's situation,
many of those who have lost friends and relatives
are far from amused either with the joke or the
peace process.
"What peace process? It means nothing for us,"
says Mugli, a widow whose only son disappeared
after he was taken into custody 15 years ago. "If India
and Pakistan are talking about Kashmir, they should
talk about our miseries first ... My son was my only
hope. From interrogation centres to jails and to
shrines, I went everywhere and pleaded before
everybody, before Khuda, but could not find him." ^
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
Degree of risk in
Demands hi the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan for
Freedom, Democracy and Social Justice' remain as critical - and
contentious - today as they were three decades ago,
by | Fatima Chowdhury
In 1977, in the heady days before the Russia-backed
coup, a group of Afghan women intellectuals set
up the Revolutionary Association of die Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA). The new organisation was an
attempt to address women's rights and social justice
by engaging Afghan women in peaceful sociopolitical activities to promote secular, democratic
values in the country. Despite its important social
work, during its subsequent three decades RAWA's
activism has been far from welcomed by the country's
succeeding governments and conservative social
leadership, due to its specific attempts to challenge
the status quo.
The initial years saw RAWA's activities largely
confined to demonstrations for women's
rights and democracy. But after the
Moscow-directed coup d'etat of April
1978 and the eventual occupation in
December 1979, RAWA joined the war of
resistance, advocating democracy and
secularism. It was during the Soviet years
that the organisation began to spread its
influence, sending activists to work
among refugee women and children in |
Pakistan, establishing schools and "
helping to provide much-needed healthcare facilities.
It confronted the Soviet occupation both politically
and physically - demonstrating in public, while at
the same time working to uncover crimes being
committed. RAWA reports that during this time, many
of its activists were arrested, tortured, and kept in
some of Afghanistan's most notorious prisons for up
to eight years at a time.
In 1992, the Soviet-installed puppet regime
collapsed to herald a new and more brutal era under
the Taliban. Due to rigid policies and growing
atrocities, RAWA faced increasing social, economic
and political challenges. In October 2001, the US 'war
on terrorism' led to the fall of the Taliban but the
struggle against religious fundamentalism remained.
The government of Hamid Karzai aligned itself with
the Northern Alliance - seen by many as equally
brutal as the Taliban - and former warlords began
taking positions on the political dais. For a group
that believes that one Afghan fundamentalist regime
has replaced another, RAWA's calls remain poignant
and pertinent: "Freedom and democracy cannot be
donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to
fight and achieve these values."
Family network
Mariam Rawi (not her real name) remembers being
enthralled by RAWA as a young girl, impressed with
its independence and thrilling emphasis
on women's rights. Unlike many of the
group's other members, Mariam's parents
respected her decision to get involved. At
the age of 15, her father chose to send her
to a RAWA school instead of more-
traditional institutions. Now 31, Mariam
says that her father wanted her not just to
receive an education, but to develop a
conscience - to "choose the right padi and
have a purpose in life by fighting for the
rights of the voiceless people, especially women."
Now, Mariam is a member of the group's foreign
affairs committee, travelling around the world to
raise awareness about the plight of Afghan women.
Despite her high-profile success within the
organisation, however, to this day security remains
a major issue for RAWA and its workers: Mariam
declined either to be photographed or to use her real
name for this article.
Partially due to such concerns, RAWA members
behave like a family, sharing their problems and
aspirations. Many who are involved in work on the
same project live collectively in a single house.
Although for safety's sake those who have families
Martyr Meena
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 are not allowed to invite their relatives, the collective
house nonetheless provides a supportive
environment. "There are many RAWA members who,
on their very personal issues, such as marriage,
choose to first consult with RAWA and then with
their own family members," explains Mariam, who
has lived with the organisation since she first became
involved. In this way, RAWA is able to offer an
element of stability, particularly for women, in what
can at times be a chaotic environment.
Having started work with the group when she was
18 (able to distinguish, she says, between her
country's friends and enemies), Mariam notes that
she was well aware of the difficulties that her
decision would entail. RAWA's legendary founder
and eventual martyr, Meena Keshwar Kamal
(commonly known by just her first name), provided a
critical early inspiration, as have the stories and
experiences that Mariam has subsequently
encountered from women around the world. Some of
her greatest motivation, however, is the ongoing
preaching in her own country that "women are half
of men and are weak creatures". While these
fundamentalist traditions may be particular rigid, the
organisation has operated on the assumption that,
with courage, its members can break a crucial
path - "We must be the vanguards," she emphasises.
Confronted with such issues, Mariam feels that
her time with RAWA has offered more than simply
stability, but has also helped her to formulate her
identity. She says she has become aware not just of
her political, social and legal rights, but has also been
allowed the opportunity to help others who have been
deprived of those same rights. In Afghanistan - as in
many odier places in Southasia, but perhaps more so
- speaking up for personal rights, confidently
interacting with others, and even staying away from
one's family can be considered revolutionary steps,
challenging as they are to traditional teachings and
beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, Mariam explains
that the person she has become is a woman who can
enjoy the same rights as that of her brother and other
Afghan males.
Incurring wrath
To believe that positive change is possible takes a
certain amount of tenacious idealism grounded in
a strong faith in the cause. RAWA sees one of its
largest achievements as the fostering of a wider
consciousness among Afghan men in support of
women's rights and equality. On a more material
level, over the years RAWA has provided women and
children with education and health facilities in both
Afghanistan and in Afghan-refugee areas in
Pakistan, where a large part of its operations are
concentrated. They have built a health centre in
Quetta, as well as a number of schools in Quetta and
Peshawar, aimed at Afghan refugees.
RAWA has provided shelter to women who have
been raped, along with their female relations, fathers
who have sold their daughters out of hunger, widows
forced to beggary and prostitution in order to feed
their children, and orphans with nowhere to go. To
run its schools, literacy courses, hospitals, mobile
health teams and income-generating projects, RAWA
has increasingly relied on funding from international
sources. Seeking financial support within
Afghanistan has been difficult, partly due to the
desperate economy and partly due to the
organisation's contentious radicalism. RAWA has
also, however, been donated free land for many
of its projects, and many of its teachers work
without salary.
The worldwide network of supporters that has
arisen is also noteworthy, with a large number of
individuals and small-scale organisations having
taken it upon themselves,
particularly in recent years,    "|jj|g m||Sl J,g iJjg
to keep RAWA solvent. The _   w   .
organisation does not WSH
receive monetary aid from
governments, international
aid agencies or large NGOs, and it faces regular
challenges due to its adamantly anti-fundamentalist
stands. A few years back, some embassies promised
the group some money, on the condition that RAWA
remove the word 'revolutionary' from its name. The
members refused.
Despite having incurred the wrath of the
governments in both Kabul and Islamabad, RAWA
continues to point out that it is not Western
governments but ordinary people that have
contributed to its global support. Even as RAWA has
become something of a darling of certain progressive
Western groups, critics worry that it is overly radical:
unnecessarily and harmfully critical of other Afghan
women's organisations working for many of the same
causes while maintaining cordial relations with the
fundamentalist forces. Although RAWA vehemently
denies such accusations, emphasising the "great
harmony" between the group and other women's
rights and anti-fundamentalist organisations, it
categorically states that it does not acknowledge the
At a RAWA school
a^' W  HS. «
j^^dv ftft^Bkft
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 women who have been appointed into the present
government, due to their perceived weak positions
against fundamentalism. Perhaps part of the
problem lies in the fact that, having heralded the
struggle for women's rights within Afghanistan for
so many years, RAWA mav now find it difficult to
cooperate with some groups that it sees as being
diplomatic in criticising the current state of affairs.
The reaction by the Afghan people themselves to
RAWA's activities has ranged from admiration
to condemnation, and at manv times both
simultaneously. Although the group's projects are
generally supported in particular by local women,
anv community approval is equally confronted with
contempt. Members are often labelled as prostitutes,
infidels or Maoists. This last reference is one that
has long dogged the group. It is a debate that
probably stemmed from tire fact that Meena's
husband, Faiz Ahmad, was the leader of an Afghan
Maoist group (the Afghanistan Liberation
Organisation) and that the vear RAWA was
established was an era when Maoist groups were
on the rise. RAWA supporters dismiss such tags as
fear-mongenng, and suggest that many people
simply find it difficult to accept that a woman can be
independent - including mentallv - from her
husband. RAWA itself counters, "If an irreconcilable
fight against the Taliban and their Jihadi brethren
reflects a 'Maoist' stand, then ves, RAWA is more
Maoist than the Maoists!"
Nonetheless, members admit that such reactions
do tend to have a large influence, with many
otherwise sympathetic people subsequently
choosing not to support RAWA and its cause, A
RAWA-published magazine called Payum-e-Zan
(Woman's Message) is generally unable to be sold
in the bookshops. "In a number of places,'' Mariam
recalls, "booksellers have been abused and warned
by gunmen not to sell RAWA publications." On
several occasions, the magazines have instead been
collected from shops and burned, while the
shopkeepers have been pressured to identify the
RAWA members who transported the publications.
As has been the situation throughout the
organisation's three-decade existence, RAWA
members in both Afghanistan and Pakistan live in
constant fear of violence, including death threats.
Members keep information about their homes and
contacts secret, and have no offices - although the
official RAWA website docs provide addresses in
Quetta and California for donations, as well as
other forms of indirect communication. Their
demonstrations have been attacked several times in
Islamabad, while even today most of their activities
remain underground in Afghanistan, as they were
during the Taliban regime. "Even now RAWA is
regarded as an illegal group according to
Afghanistan's law," savs Mariam. "This creates
limitations to the extent of outreach RAWA
can accomplish."
RAWA has always been its founder's organisation,
even in death. Meena was born in Kabul in 1956,
where, as a voung schoolgirl, she became deeply
involved in social activism. Influenced by the mass
movements of the time, she left university early to
devote herself to the education and social upliftment
of Afghan women, of which the 1^77 founding of
RAWA was seen as a necessary step. Her organising
work during the Soviet occupation gained much
recognition. In addition to her regional work, Meena
traveled to several European countries to spread
awareness of the plight of the Afghan people. In 1981,
she was officially invited to represent the Afghan
resistance movement at the French Socialist Party
Congress, where the Soviet delegation walked out
due to a cheering crowd hoisting a victory sign.
But Meena also garnered displeasure for her
views and activities, from Russian and
fundamentalist forces alike. On 4 February 1987,
Meena was assassinated in Quetta along with two
family members. While the loss of its leader was
initially difficult, RAWA has remained strong since
Meena's death. The end of the Soviet regime brought
with it internal strife, more bloodshed, and the rise of
the Taliban, which in turn brought a cruel brand of
rigidity. The US-led war in Afghanistan in October
2001, bringing an end to the Taliban regime, was
initially welcomed with significant hopes for a new
beginning. But from the outset RAWA was highly
critical of the intervention, emphasising the
mounting civilian casualties and warning that the
US-installed government was no less fundamentalist
than the last.
Throughout these changes, RAWA's social work
among refugee Afghan women in both Pakistan and
Afghanistan has continued to provide healthcare,
education and financial assistance, as well as much-
needed support to victims of war and assorted
atrocities. Today, their central mandate remains
unchanged, as Afghanistan struggles to transition
to a peaceful and stable nation state. RAWA continues
to remind the world that outside of the capital, the
situation for Afghan women remains grim.
Even in the face of such solemn issues, however,
RAWA members like Mariam Rawi maintain a spirit
of optimism: that change is not a possibility to be
desired, but a reality to be shaped through deeds. "If
we want to see change in our life and conditions,
only having a desire for a better future can't change
things," explains Mariam. "We must put our desire
into action and take practical steps for the realisation
of our dreams. And in societies like Afghanistan,
women have to accept some degree of risk in the fight
against tyranny and injustice."
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Time and a place
Touch and tell
by | Nandini Chandra
A few people have a bed for the night. Lor a night the
wind is kept from them. The snow meant for them falls on
the roadway but it won't change the world. It won t improve
relations among men. It will not shorten the age of
- Bertolt Brecht, "A Bed for the Night"
I recently went to Vrindavan with two women, a
high-art photographer from New Zealand and a
Mexican art critic. Their purpose was to
photograph the widows of Vrindavan and I their
guide, interpreter, girlfriday. The salon photographer
(whose employee I was) was interested in the iconic
image and wanted to fit in the widows as part of a
larger project on Madonna/ motherhood. Her
photographing technique consisted of taking not
very good pictures, in flat light, with very little depth
of field, somewhat bleached, and then to manipulate
the images into something exotic and pretty. The idea,
she said, is to maintain the 'grittiness' of the subject's
situation - even as she would attempt to
mitigate the exploitative conditions in
which the photograph was to be taken - and
finally, if I understood her correctly, to not
fetishise the subject.
I did not understand how obscuring the
details through digital manipulation and
bleaching  could  do that.  In  any  case,
1 admired her for her clarity and th
well-thought-out  programme  to
execute her plan. She was very
clear about how she was going to
photograph the widows: in an
intimate space, in pure white,
with the light shading off their
faces. The mood and feeling of
the moment would decide the
posture they would take up. She
had done her research and knew
her ground intimately, with a
target of 20 women. I was to enlist   ►
25 as they scurried from the
various bhajan ashrams to different households to
finish their chores. The idea was to offer them 300
rupees each in exchange for their time and body - the
money an over-valuation of their otherwise
diminished worth in the eves of society, to let them
know that they do count. In general, the widows get
about three rupees in the morning and three in the
evening for singing kirtan in the city's ashrams and
temples. So this was like a bonus.
The art critic intended to photograph at least 100
widows as part of a project in which her husband
was currently engaged. He is top of the international
art charts. Collecting third-world human crap is his
current project (he is buying truckloads of Indian shit
to take back) and the photographs and the film are a
way to support the main sculptures. His
methodology involves shooting people from behind,
like executing a tribe or a police identikit. According
to him, it is naive to pretend that they are not
"colonisers", coming down to the third-world with
their bulging pockets to shoot the
destitutes. The best way of going
about, then, is to shoot the backside,
making explicit the ruthlessness
and ad hoc-ism of the entire process.
I managed to get .38 women enlisted.
There was no attempt to pre-select the
widows, according to look or status.
Thev were chosen on a first come, first
serve basis and I meticulously took
down their names, age, the duration
of their stay in Vrindavan, and other
details that would surely be lost in
translation. When 1 asked them about
their   sons,   (me   woman   reacted
aeerbically, "Well don't we all live in
the same society, and we know what
sons do to their mothers, so don't
ask"  -  and   that  shut me  up,
thwarting    any    attempt    at
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 bonding. It was business and 1 was a pimp in action.
The salon photographer wanted a house-front
against which to press her subjects. We finally chose
a house whose nameplate turned out to be a deterrent,
since an upper-caste, 'respectable' household, we
reasoned, may not want widows to infiltrate its
were new, saying yes ma'am to the names I had
already put down in my book. 'Ihe ones who were
confirmed suggested that I verify the place and age
details and smoke out the impc>stors. We had upped
the number of women to be photographed to 61, so 1
jotted down some more names; already, however, my
sacred space. But since the light washing its front muscles were tensing with the spectre of those wh
steps at eleven o'clock was so perfect, I thought I would be turned away. I had to personally escort the
should test the stereotype of how an upper-caste male women, since a few gatecrashers were brought to my
mind works. In addition, I also had to negotiate flic notice by my colleagues, the rickshaw men who had
amount they expected for renting out their veranda
for a couple of hours. It seemed absurd to test people
for hospitalitv and self-respect, but middle-class
economism can rationalise almost anything. And
under the benediction of global capital, one almost
feels a compulsion that the money ought to reach all
those people with which it had come in contact.
Nevertheless, when i asked how much, I was glad to
appointed themselves event managers and crowd
regulators. The queue had turned serpentine and
was threatening to block the road. Of course, every
passer-by stopped to ask if they couldn't enlist their
name too. Like in Eugene lonesco's play Rhinoceros,
the herd mentality just had to happen, one would
have been curious if it did not: mendicants, married
women, people with disabilities, busybodies, children
hear the doctor - the son of the family to whom we     - the storm of the miserables was only gathering.
had   been   directed   -   announce
haughtily that they were not
materialists like that, and that any
amount that we liked could
be offered at the altar of the
household deity.
Our rickshaw man, co-beneficiary
in the project, drove the nails into the
wall; the boys of the house got the
ladder and helped him with it. The
women aided with the white
bedsheets that were to be used as
curtains. They then graciously made
their exit from the room, as the
photographer wanted her space and
the illusion of intimacy with her white Madonnas.
What she did not want was the vaishmro marks on
their foreheads to be visible. The women were to go
in one by one, drape the pure white saris that we had
purchased, and then sit down on a little stool kept
behind the curtain. It was like a sanctum sanctorum,
Under the
henetiicUon of
almost feels a
tooisHiision that the
money ought to
reach all those
p^orilB witii which it
come in
On the other side of the road, in the
widow market, 1 had been transformed
into doctor, lifesaver, second assistant
to the district magistrate, into a yamraj-
like gatekeeper figure, one who could
let them pass inside the walls of
paradise. I had just come to know that,
technically, paradise is a garden with
a fence. Some of the women were
showing me their tongues, others their
broken limbs, others their leprous,
dissolving skin. Most were trying to tell
me that there did not live a widow
sadder than them. The whole ditty
of more-sorrowful-than-thou was
beginning to catch fire like in a really dry forest. I
tried to engage them, saying, "Look, there has been
no attempt at discrimination. We haven't tried to
impose any criteria, either of destitution, of poverty,
of ill health or age." But the low-level fighting
continued. Accusations were hurled - you have a roof,
and they were indeed goddesses. The photographer you get two square meals - and I was told to watch out
was to spend at least five minutes or more so that it as married women with sindur on their heads wore
would not seem impersonal. But before they went in, slipping in.
they would be photographed by the art cntic, and I All this while, 1 was surrounded by a circle of about
was asked to explain that this was for office work. It 50 women, and the ten closest to me were poking me
wasn't as if we lied. After all, who could tell the in my chest, hands, hair - never menacingly, just as
difference between work and art, art and work? So an appeal. When the cacophony of pleadings and
outside the sanctum, they were lined up - facing a plaintiveness became unbearable, I began to lose it,
drain, no frills, just their soiled, everyday clothes, bags saying, "I am sorry but I can't accommodate you. It is
slung over their shoulders, faded shawls, some best for you to go home." 1 could not help it - the tone,
stooping, some with crutches, others erect despite the the language, the ghost of the ruling class was lurking
70-odd years. round the corner and it had me. Strangely, it brought
them comfort and buttressed the wailings, because
SBttCr at least they were used to that language. A number of
Even as the stage was being set up, the women started them, for instance, had asked me if this was the
streaming in. 1 asked them to sit quietly, already the pension plan finally coming through, and despite
thikadar in charge. When 1 started ticking them off in denials, we had been imbued with the divinity of
my notebook, T realised that half of the women present government reps. Some of them tried to dissuade the
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 others from climbing onto me, saying, "Give the poor
girl some space, do not harass her, back off you two".
One even confided Bangalira bodo chololok
("The Bengalis are such lowlifes"). When onlookers
tried to rescue me, I resented it, because I needed the
women as much as they needed mc. The men came,
officiously suggesting that I should write the names
down and ask them to come in the evening, as if
they did not understand Hindi. When I responded
by shouting that I was not about to give them dhoka
and let them down, the women rallied behind me,
at last an honest person.
The wave of pleadings increased ten-fold. Even
the woman who had been rationalising the entire
process like a policymaker, saying things like, "Why
don't you understand, they have a 'budget' after
all, they can't please everyone", and then arguing
with me about how she could not buy the logic of
"overvaluation" - "Why should they give us
money?" She refused to understand it and she
convinced me. But oven she joined in with the
raucous crowd, pleading, ma aamar naam ta ekbaar
likhc ne ma ("mother, write down my name just
once"). I phased out then, dreaming
about things beyond this pale, and there
I was surrounded by 60 ragged women
living on below-subsistence wages - not
feeling threatened, but dreaming as they
pleaded with me to register them. Half of   §g.«||^|||, mm* pml
them who were still trooping in had not   "'K     1
realised what this was all about; they did
not even know about the money, thev just
wanted their names written down. I was
afraid that if I actually wrote down their
names, there would be shattered glass,
shards of broken hearts. I was party to
this thing. We had generated this wailing, these
hands beseeching, the supplication and the agony
of rejection,  and  this thing was going to get
irrevocably transformed and hung in the galleries
of the First World in the Biennales. So I stuck to
my dreaming.
From across the road 1 saw the women emerge
out of the sanctum, their faces glowing, each
clutching one of the 61 envelopes into which we
had inserted 200 rupees each, down from the
original 300. The money had been in currency notes
of thousands and five hundreds. We had ridden to
the derelict petrol pump on the Mathura highway
to get it broken down. The friendly women with me
had refused to trust the men at the petrol pump,
handing them the notes only after having carefully
counted what they offered. The stone had glinted
then. Why had I bought into the photographer's
justification that economic compensation was a
better gesture?
Fortunately for the women who had the privilege
of being photographed, it had paid off, and not
Himal Southasian | May June 2006
Tills titiin mm
galleries irf tfse
first WM in the
simply in terms of money. The photographer was all
aglow, too. She told us there had been a lot of
hugging, stroking, touching, crying and sharing, of
feeling counted. Outside, the identikit photographer
and 1 felt completely frazzled. Oh, yeah, we both
wanted to say, but did not because we knew that
she meant well.
There were only five women who had gotten past
the hawk eyes of the self-appointed managers. Thev
were hauled up before me for judgement. I felt an
almost irresistible urge to sign them in - vou had to
"give flowers to the rebels who failed", goes the old
poem commemorated by the Italian-American
anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti: the saboteurs hiid to
be rewarded. Why had there not been a riot, ais the
rickshaw guys had predicted? Why had thev not
used a threatening note even once? Why had their
rage not boiled up? Why had they been so deferential?
Why hadn't even a single one of them spat at me, or
roughly pushed me down? For three hours they had
stood in the sun, hoping to be included.
When the set was dismantled, the
camera lens covered and the procession
about to leave, the women cornered me.
lust write my name down write my name
down, my name, write it, lekh na ma, ma
lekh na, kkh na ... like a siren. I felt if I did
not write the names, 1 would die. 1 was
saying, "If it gives you peace then 1 will",
so I kept madly jotting their names
down, going through with the entire
ritual of name, place, animal, thing, like
the  game   we  used   to   play  in   our
childhood, a compensation secondary
to the economic. The little sons of the doctor were
dragging me physically inside as more widows kept
streaming in, pulling at my hand, shouting their
names into my face as if their lives depended on it. I
realised I could not write all the names down, just
like the white colonisers could not pay all of them.
But at least they had resolved to return with 30,000
dollars, to be able to satisfy everyone. Could I, brown
patchwork skin, make a similar resolution to come
back and write down all of their names? The census
puts the figure at 5000. That was doable. But there
would always be those who were left behind, those
always trooping in when it was pack-up time, and
the rejected, the maimed, the impostors - they could
not be compensated, despite all the good intentions
in the world.
Back in Delhi, when 1 was being paid my dues,
I was told I had been given an extra tip, and the
money was not in an envelope since 1 was not a
widow. Only later 1 realised that the tip was mv
surplus from the five widows I had not taken down,
unsure of whom not to select.
Trapped in the
Golwalkarian past
As 1SS Matmis 11 India celebrate i S's birm centenara
this year, it is not dear whothor f fiey art eelebiating tlie Second
Supremo himself m a cieaaed up version.
by | Subhash Gatade
ocial change' is an ongoing, continuous
process, uniquely affected by both progressive
1 and regressive forces. The cumulative impact
of these forces determines both the direction and
intensity of subsequent changes. Such an
understanding certainly colours any objective
assessment of Independent India. After the most
prominent names have found mention - ranging
from the Nehrus and Patels, to the Ambedkars or
Jayprakash Narayan - is it possible to avoid that of
Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second
Sarsanghchalak (Supremo) of the Hindu nationalist
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)?
Founded in 1925 by a Telugu Brahmin, Keshav
Bahrain Hedgewar, over the next three-quarters of a
century the RSS (translated as 'national volunteer
corps') succeeded in expanding its influence into
much of India's civil society and state organs. Its
leadership, however, continues to call it a 'cultural'
organisation. The central figure who helped to
achieve this success was undeniably Madhav
Sadashiv Golwalkar - 'Golwalkar Guruji' to his
followers, for his brief stint in the early 1930s as a
zoology teacher at Benares Hindu University.
Golwalkar led the fledgling RSS for 33 years, from
1940 until 1973, providing not only the theoretical
foundation for the Hindu rashtra project, but
expanding its influence through a plethora of
affiliated organisations. These 'anushangik partners
today range from the parliamentary Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) to extra-parliamentary units such
as the Bajrang Dal, which has a record of affiliation
with many unsavoury incidents. A BJP-led coalition
government did hold power at the Centre for an
uninterrupted six years, a unique feat for any
non-Congress government. But overall, the political
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 record of the wings of the RSS parivar as it gained
national prominence was geared towards
destruction of the social fabric. These encompass
the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 and the
subsequent communal conflagration, and a decade
later the genocide of minorities in Gujarat in 2002.
Golwalkar was born on 19 February 1906, and
2006 is being celebrated across India to mark his
centenary. The commemoration started near his
birth town on 24 February, with a large gathering in
Nagpur, Maharashtra. The festivities are scheduled
to culminate in February 2007 with a large
programme in Delhi. Organisers say that samajik
samrasta, or 'social harmony', is the commemorative
year's central theme, and 'Hindu rallies' are to be
organised at the block level throughout the country.
Says a RSS document, "Meetings of caste and
religious leaders will also be held with the objective
of promoting social harmony. Seminars, symposia,
lectures, etcetera, will also be organised to propagate
the ideas and vision of Shri Guruji."
The anniversary activities have opened up
uncomfortable questions for Golwalkar's many
detractors, in particular in comprehending the
undeniable 'success' of his Hindutva project. How
was it that such a worldview, which reached back
to medieval supremacist Brahminism
and glorified the Fascist experiments
in Western Europe, was able to achieve
such an advance in the latter decades
of the 20th century?
Hindu rashtra
According to his biographers, young
Madhav was keen to follow a spiritual
journey and initially studied under
Swami Akhandanand at the
Ramakrishna Mission in West Bengal.
The Swami's sudden death in 1937,
however, prompted Golwalkar to
return home and rejoin his work as a swayamsevak
(volunteer) with the RSS, an organisation preaching
'Hindu resurgence' founded by Keshav Baliram
Hedgewar. Although a latecomer to the
organisation, Golwalkar quickly earned
Hedgewar's confidence due to his quick mind, and
the following year was appointed the group's
sarkaryavah (general secretary). That same year, his
long essay entitled "We or Our Nationhood Defined"
was published in book form, a work that
demonstrated Golwalkar's theoretical acumen.
Golwalkar emerged as one of a triumvirate of
Hindu nationalists - together with Indian
nationalists Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and
Keshav Baliram Hedgewar - which actively sought
a Hindu rashtra based on 'Hindutva', a term coined
by Savarkar in or around 1923. When Hedgewar
breathed his last in 1940, he left a note asking his
worldview mas
able to achieve
such an
advance in the
of the 20th
followers to make Golwalkar the next Supremo, a
post that he held until his passing in 1973.
The period when Golwalkar was anointed
Supremo was marked by three worldwide currents:
the ascendance of the forces of Nazism and Fascism;
the surge in anti-colonial struggle; and the
emergence of militant socialist movements in several
countries, with help and support from Soviet Russia.
Upon arrival in India, the anti-colonial movement
and the rising communist movement mediated their
paths through the existing socio-cultural movements
that were challenging caste and gender hierarchy.
This was also the first time in Southasia that new
bonds of solidarity - cutting across caste,
community and regional loyalties - were being
forged in opposition to the British colonialists.
Meanwhile, Golwalkar's project of Hindu unity took
inspiration from the social engineering experiments
undertaken by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
In seeking refuge in the discredited Hitlerian scheme,
he failed miserably in understanding the march of
history. In the controversial We or Our Nationhood
Defined, he wrote: "To keep up the purity of Race
and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her
purging the country of the Semitic races - the Jews.
Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.
Germany has also shown how well
nigh impossible it is for Races and
cultures, having differences going to the
root, to be assimdated into one united
whole, a good lesson for us in
Hindusthan to learn and profit by."
On the domestic front, this 'nation-
building' project not only hinged on
opposing Islam and Christianity, but
also countering the parallel challenge
posed by anti-Brahminical struggles. It
was also a time when the cultural
revolts led by activists like Babasaheb
Ambedkar and Periyar Ramaswami
Naicker had already made significant headway.
Meanwhile, Golwalkar had no qualms in keeping
himself and the RSS aloof from the anti-colonial
movement, and he opposed the demands for
eqtiality of Dalit and tribal communities. He derided
the anti-imperialist struggle as one for 'territorial
nationalism', as opposed to his fight for 'cultural
nationalism'. It would be more than 30 years before
a RSS leader, Nanaji Deshmuk, would raise the
crucial question: Why did the RSS not take part in
the liberation struggle?
With Partition and the bloody riots that followed,
Golwalkar and the RSS were suddenly catapulted
to the centre stage of Indian polity. Even while
working to provide assistance to the Hindu refugees
from Pakistan, the RSS took advantage of the
communalised environment to strengthen its ranks.
The RSS was blamed for the assassination of
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Mohandas Gandhi in 1948. Home
Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, in a
letter to his Hindu Mahasabha
colleague Shyama Prasad
Mukherjee, wrote:
Our reports do confirm that,
as a result of the activities of these
two   bodies   particularly   the
former [the RSS], an atmosphere
was created in the country in
which such a ghastly tragedy
[Gandhi's assassination] became
possible ... The activities of the
RSS constituted a clear threat to
the existence of the government
and the state. Our reports show
that those activities, despite the
ban, have not died down. Indeed,
as time has marched on, the I?SS
circles are becoming more defiant
and   are   indulging   in   their
subversive activities in an increasing measure.
As the post-Partition riots subsided, and with the
new approaches being followed by India's new
leaders, Golwalkar and the RSS found themselves
out on a limb. The Hindutva forces were stigmatised
for their ignoble alleged participation in Gandhi's
death, as well as for staying out of the anti-colonial
struggle. As his organisation faced marginalisation,
Golwalkar sought to devise new ways and means to
sustain the project of building a
Hindu rashtra.
Throughout those attempts at
reviving the fortunes of the RSS,
Golwalkar courted controversy. He
created one final uproar towards the
end of his life, in an interview to a
Marathi daily, Navakal, when he
extolled the virtues of Chaturvarnya
(the division of the Hindus into four
Varnas) and glorified Manusmriti, the
ancient edicts that sanctify a
structured hierarchy based on caste
and gender. Similar views had
gotten him into trouble decades
earlier, as well. While leaders
independent India were struggling to create a
constitution premised on the inviolability of
individual rights, Golwalkar was advocating
Manusmriti as the country's sole constitution. The
RSS mouthpiece, The Organiser, complained in
November 1949: "... in our constitution there is no
mention of the unique constitutional developments
in ancient Bharat. Manu's laws were written long
before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this
day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the
admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous
obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional
Official Indian stamp
released in 1997
Even while he is being
lionised for His
'contributions', his
supporters are
sanitising the man's
Image, presenting
him with a more
publicly acceptable
lift' ^d']
of the newdv
pundits that means nothing."
When in the 1940s, under the
stewardship of Jawaharlal Nehru
and Dalit leader B R Ambedkar,
attempts were made to give limited
rights to Hindu women in property
and inheritance, Golwalkar and his
associates launched a movement
opposing the historic Hindu Code
Bill. Their contention was simple:
such a step would be inimical to
Hindu traditions and culture.
Revisionist project
Despite the feverish preparations to
celebrate the anniversary of their
departed mentor, it is clear that some
of Golwalkar's followers are
uncomfortable with his legacy. Even
while he is being lionised for
his 'contributions', they are
surreptitiously sanitising the man's image,
presenting him with a more humane, publicly
acceptable face. Such attempts are particularly
prominent in a new publication, as noted in a recent
media account:
In a major ideological shift, RSS has for the
first time officially disowned M S Golwalkar's
book We or Our Nationhood Defined published
in 1939 as "neither representing the views of
the grown Guruji nor of the RSS
... The booklet Shri. Guruji and
Indian Muslims, authored by Delhi
University lecturer Rakesh Sinha
and published by RSS' Suruchi
Prakashan ... argues that in his
lifetime Golwalkar had revealed
that the book carried not his
own views but was an abridged
version of G D Savarkar's
Rashtra Mimansa."
Other elements of this sanitising
project include: attempts by RSS
members to show that Golwalkar
was not even the author but merely
the translator of the controversial book; the concocted
'proofs' that have been made public to show that
the Hindutva lobby did indeed participate in the
Independence movement; and the dedication of the
year-long celebrations in Golwalkar's honour to the
cause of 'social harmony'. Despite such attempts at
revisionism, however, it is important to remember
that Golwalkar's current followers do not have any
second thoughts about his exclusivist vision - they
are only concerned about how to present that vision
less problematically. Despite this year's attempts to
update the Second Supremo for a modern audience,
the RSS appears to remain trapped in the past.    $
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Jinnah's wrong war
The 'partitioned Independence' of the Subcontinent was,
ultimately, the result of Mohammed Ali Jinnah mistaking the forest
for the trees, even as he sought to protect the interest of his Muslim
flock. The legacy of Partition can only be undone by a
confederation, and it is time to think the unthinkable.
by | Malvika Maheshwari
[hy did the Partition of India take place? Was
it the inevitable result of a Subcontinent
divided by religion and facing a power
vacuum at the end of the Raj? Or was it a chance
occurrence, arising from a unique set of historical
circumstances? Many believe that, in fact, nobody
was particularly keen on Partition - yet it happened
anyway. A confluence of complex socio-economic
realities and political compulsions in the wake of an
intense and troubled colonial encounter provided a
setting for the simultaneous climax of Partition
and Independence amidst the dying embers of the
British Raj.
The dissolution of British imperial authority in
1947 was as remarkable an event of modern times as
was the camel-in-the-tent entry of the empire into the
Subcontinent in the first place. The epic that was
Partition continues to be perhaps the most tragic and
controversial event of our times. Some commentators
plead for an erasure of the memory of Partition, rather
than to remind each generation of this crucial but
painful outcome of the struggle for freedom. Literary
evidence is adduced to illustrate the public's
disillusionment with the leadership for having
accepted the dismemberment of the country, and
several related theses remain strong in popular
literature and opinion. First, that Partition was
demanded by the Muslim League and its leader,
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and that the Indian National
Congress resisted it until nearly the end. Second, that
the constituent assembly election of 1946 proved that
the Muslim masses endorsed the Pakistan proposal
by voting for the Muslim League. Third, that the bitter
experience of the Calcutta killings of August 1946,
in the wake of Jinnah's call for Direct Action, changed
the nature of the entire political movement.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 It is understandable that the sensibilities of literary
celebrities - concerned more with the human
dimension of Partition than with the dilemma of those
involved in the related negotiations - would
inevitably differ from historical writings. Similarly,
the emotive sensibilities of literary creations are
bound to be more profoundly moving than are their
prosaic historical counterparts. But if Jinnah was
opposed to majority rule, and the myth of nationalism
was exploded by the Pakistan resolution, then what
were the alternative options that were available but
not accepted?
The legacy of Partition still haunts the collective
consciousness of the Subcontinent. It has bedevilled
good-neighbourly relations between the two
sovereign states of India and Pakistan in the endless
questioning: Who, exactly, was responsible for this
sordid political drama? The British, the Indian
National Congress, the Muslim League - all have
been blamed. Both Jinnah and Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi have also shared
the limelight for their political designs
and attitudes, and, according to many,
must share the responsibility for
Partition. But the complex process of
understanding why Jinnah chose to snap
his bonds of nationalism and began to
champion the cause of what he called
'Muslim India' raise several crucial
questions. When did this journey from
nationalism to communalism begin?
When did Jinnah w7ear the mantle of
aggressive communalism, and why? Why this
metamorphosis from the liberal Jinnah to the
'anti-Hindu' Jinnah? What kind of transformation
took place in the Indian political scenario to bring
the relations between Hindus and Muslims to a point
of no return?
The separatist
It was partly due to the influence of English liberalism
and partly the political beliefs of stalwarts like Indian
political leaders Dadabhai Naoroji and S N Bannerjee
that drew Jinnah to politics. Although he had been
attending the Indian National Congress (INC)
meetings for some years, it was only in 1906 that
Jinnah took a prominent part in deliberations in its
annual session. He was subsequently elected to the
British Indian government's Imperial Legislative
Council from the Bombay Muslim Constituency in
1909. His interest in Muslim mass welfare became
apparent from the qualified support he gave to then-
INC leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale's Elementary
Education Bill in 1912. The following year, he joined
the All-India Muslim League, which that year had
changed its creed to declare as its objective, "the
attainment of self-government suitable to India".
Jinnah was elected president of the League in 1916.
Jinnah did net
regard Muslims
as a'minority',
but as a'nation'
entitled to a
Dual membership in the Congress and League
enabled Jinnah to work more effectively for Hindu-
Muslim unity. He has been acknowledged as the real
architect of the 1916 Hindu-Muslim constitutional
agreement known as the Lucknow Pact, where he
persuaded the Congress to accept the Muslim right
to separate electorate. This dual membership ended
in 1920, however, when Congress adopted a new
article that decided to resort to non-violence and
non-cooperation towards the attainment of self-rule.
Jinnah, after all, was convinced that Gandhian
methodology in the end would do greater harm than
good to India, particular for its Muslims - as in fact it
did. Indeed, Gandhi and Jinnah symbolised each
other's antithesis in both belief and way of life.
Neither Jinnah nor the League counted for very
much in Muslim politics in the first half of the 1920s.
The Khilafat and non-cooperation movements had
captured the imagination of the masses. Disillusioned
by the narrow communal approach of Hindu
leadership to the constitutional question,
Jinnah assessed that it was time to part
ways. And so it proved to be. His
"disillusionment and disappointment"
at the 1928 Calcutta Convention led him
to the conviction that Muslims had no
chance of fair and equitable treatment in
a united India. A few months later,
Jinnah formulated his Fourteen Points,
in which he lucidly summed up the
Muslim demands. This represented
neither despair nor a challenge;
nevertheless, it is the first inkling we have of Jinnah's
ultimate decision that if Hindus and Muslims could
not be united, he would at least unite the Muslims -
if necessary, against the Hindus. The historic
Government of India Act 1935, which promised an
Indian federation, was on its way to the statute book
at the time, and it had conceded to some material
Muslim demands. The Act opened opportunities for
Muslims, but only if the communities could stand
united on a common platform.
Although the demand for the creation of 'Pakistan'
did not emerge at the national level until March 1940,
the Sind Provincial Muslim League conference in
October 1938 did adopt a significant resolution. That
decision stated: "This conference considers it
absolutely essential in the interests of an abiding
peace of the vast Indian Subcontinent and in the
interest of unhampered cultural development, to
economic and social betterment, and political self-
determination of the two-nations as Hindus and
Muslims to recommend to the All India Muslim
League ... to devise a scheme of constitution under
which Muslims may attain full independence."
Jinnah was unmistakably moving towards
separatism at this time, which he believed to be the
only solution to the Muslims' problems. Henceforth,
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 he would work only towards this goal. The adoption
of the Lahore Resolution at the League's annual
session in March 1940 was the starting point of the
Pakistan Movement. Did the Muslims truly want
separation? If they did not, the solution was simple:
Jinnah could have gone to the Congress leaders and
told them that all that Muslims asked for was separate
electorates, special weightage and similar safeguards.
He was certain that Congress would grant him any
special concession he demanded - even though there
was the danger that the Congress leaders would go
back on such promises in the future, after they had
secured control over the governmental and
parliamentary machinery. In that case, however,
Muslims would have had to accept the position of a
'minority' and expect to be treated as such. Jinnah
did not regard Muslims as a 'minority', but as a
'nation' entitled to a separate homeland, and he said
that no new constitution scheme could be evolved or
implemented without the consent and approval of
the Indian Muslim League. In short, the exquisite
structure of Hindu-Muslim unity, of which Jinnah
had been the chief architect at the Lucknow Pact
of 1916, was demolished by his own hand in
1939 and 1940.
Historian Ayesha Jalal insists that Jinnah's
nationalist character remained unchanged, although
he often altered his garb to deceive his opponents.
Those opponents were not merely the British and the
Congress, but also his 'followers' in the Muslim
League. What did Jinnah want? Jalal says he wanted
an India united by a strong centre. But he also wanted
an effective Muslim voice at that centre, and for this
he felt it necessary that there be one organisation that
would speak for all Muslims - arguing that since
they would be a minority voice, they should at least
be a united minority voice. Local Muslims in each
province could thus come up with their own
arrangements, but Jinnah urged that they speak to
the centre through one common front. Naturally, this
common front would be the Muslim League, under
his leadership.
Jinnah had to find a way to unite the Muslim-
majority provinces behind a plan that
would also protect the Muslims in
areas where they were a minority. To
this end, he took up the 'two nation'
idea. The Lahore Resolution of 1940,
later popularly known as the 'Pakistan
resolution', made no mention of
partition or 'Pakistan'. Instead, it
asked that the Muslim-majority
provinces be grouped into
"Independent States in which the
constituent units .shall be autonomous
and sovereign". The boundaries of the
independent states were to be those of
the existing provinces. Nothing was
It can be argued
that people of
imng in the same
region have more
in common with
each other than
with their coreligionists in other
said about the nature or role of the centre. At first
glance this may appear to be a setback for Jinnah's
assumed aim of a strong centre, but the plan can also
be seen as a victory of sorts. As he was not then in a
position to impose onto the provincial leaders his
own concept of a strong centre, the best he could do
at the time was to keep them from creating a weak
federal structure of their liking. .And this he did.
Struggle for supremacy
The Partition of India and Pakistan can now be
analysed from a distance provided by time. What
were the actual consequences and effects of the ideas,
theories and implementation of the Partition
proposal? What can be said of the Two Nation theory?
It is open to discussion now (as it was questioned
then) whether Hindus and Muslims are separate
entities with different cultures, social practices and
mores. It can be argued that people of different faiths
living in the same region have more in common with
each other than with their co-religionists in other
regions. But if we concede to the idea that Hindus
and Muslims are two separate 'nations', can this be
a basis for choosing a mode of government? The
answer is a definite no: it is impossible to have two
parallel governments in one state. The solution is to
have a government that is blind to this separateness.
To have reserved seats or separate electorates for
Muslims, or a partial separation coupled with a
'mutual hostages' theory is not a cure.
All of these approaches only set the
stage for battle. As experienced earlier,
the only complete solution along such
lines would involve a mass transfer of
population - and we have already seen
the carnage resulting from the
relatively limited transfers of 1947.
What, then, of the fears of Hindu
domination at the centre? With the rise
of the BJP in India, at least this worry
may appear to have had some basis.
Yet this has also been something of a
self-fulfilling prophecy. While the
Hindutva movement does feed off
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 pre-existing prejudices and works
hard to continue spreading them, the
'betrayal' of Partition has been a potent
weapon in its armoury. The Muslim
League itself suffered early and severe
setbacks because Muslims did not vote
as a bloc. It should have been realised
that the case would be similar with
Hindus. Further, democratic ride is not
merely a matter of who receives the
most votes. Small parties often hold the
balance of power between larger rivals,
as has been the case with recent
coalition governments in both India
and  Pakistan.   While  Jinnah  was
perhaps kept from seeing this due to
the overwhelming success of the Congress among
the non-Muslim voters and the lack of any serious
rival to its power, he must at the same time have been
aware of the factionalism within the Congress itself.
Whether Hindu-Muslim conflicts should be seen
as part of a struggle for supremacy between two
'nations' is another matter. Because of its implicit
assumptions about different communities with
conflicting, irreconcilable aims, the question of how
to protect 'Muslim interests' must itself be seen as an
attempt at creating and escalating such conflicts. If
Jinnah did not achieve the Hindu-Muslim unity he
wanted, it was not merely because he fought forces
that were stronger than himself. It was also not
because he made a crucial error or two in tactics or
strategy. Instead, in the opinion of this writer, he
simply fought the wrong war. By seeking to protect
'Muslim interests' at the centre through some special
arrangement, he had already conceded that
these interests were essentially different from those
of non-Muslims.
All of the preceding discussion assumes that
assumes that
Jinnah did indeed
have one
underlying plan.
There is a
possibility that he
did not.
Jinnah did indeed have one
unswerving, coherent underlying plan.
There is a possibility that he did not. It
is certainly true that some of his
followers were chasing the most
fleeting and irrational of hopes.
Perhaps their leader was no different.
Or perhaps this man, acknowledged
by his contemporaries to be a master
lawyer, became so caught up in the
game of negotiation and making sure
that the 'opponent' did not win that he
failed to recognise what it was that he
himself was fighting for.
How cruelly ironic that
Independence, claimed to have been
achieved through Gandhian non-violent and
peaceful means, in fact resulted in one the most
barbaric of communal holocausts of the 20th century,
accompanied by one of the largest migrations the
world has seen. The artificiality of the Partition based
on religion was glaringly proven a quarter-century
later with the creation of Bangladesh. 'Partitioned
independence' proved disastrous, and not only for
the contemporary population. Trouble lingers as a
potent legacy of these decisions: three wars and
constant tension between India and Pakistan, the
sway of communalism and fundamentalism, the
menace of terrorism, the dangerous rise of communal
fascism - all are rooted in one ill-fated Partition.
Undoing that process remains an important dream
and shared need of Soudiasia. Such a reconciliation
cannot come about through the Akhand Bharat of
Hindutva dreams, however, based on the subjugation
of 'minorities' by 'majorities'. Rather, it must be
through some form of confederation of India-Pakistan-
Bangladesh, on the basis of independence and
equality, as well as shared culture and heritage.    £
11^ 11 rUNIFORMITY-ianiB di
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Importance §
Intellectual approach
interview: Tarin Ramadan
Named as a "spiritual leader" in Time
magazine's 'Next Wave' of 'global
innovators', Tariq Ramadan is currently a Visiting
Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford. Previously,
he taught Islamic Studies and Philosophy at
Freiburg University in Switzerland.
A prominent critic of the 'war on
terror' policy, Ramadan is one of
the most influential Muslim voices
in western society - a profile that
has regularly gotten him into
trouble. Political commentators
accuse him of being anti-Semitic
and of varying his .message
according to his audience. In 2004,
he was forced to resign as professor
of Religion, Conflict and Peace-
building at the University of Notre Dame, when
the US government suddenly revoked his visa. Since
then, Ramadan has been banned from traveling to
the US under a Patriot Act provision that bars entry
to those who endorse or support terrorism. Saudi
Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt have acted similarly,
for his proposals to suspend Sharia Law, corporal
punishment, beheadings and stonings in the
Islamic world. On the suspicion of his ties with
terrorist groups, he was banned from entering
France between 1995 and 1996.
Ramadan's grandfather was Hasan Al-Banna,
the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic-
revival movement that began in
Egypt and opposed the dominance
of secular and Western ideas. When
the organisation was outlawed in
Egypt in 1954, his parents and their
six children fled to Switzerland. As
he grew up, he became determined
to figure out how simultaneously
to be both a Muslim and a
Westerner. Since the 11 September
2001 attacks in the US, scholars and
others have increasingly discussed
what is referred to as a 'clash of civilisations'.
On the contrary, Ramadan emphasises
the possibilities of reconciling Islamic and
Western values.
Tariq Ramadan spoke to Subindra Bogati in
London on the issues of Muslim integration, the
recent controversy over cartoons depicting Islamic
subjects, and Southasian migrants in the UK.
You have been accused of preaching violence covertly.
I am helping young Muslims to remain Muslims. The fact is that
i am a Muslim and I am proud to be a Muslim, which is not
acceptable to some people. For them, to remain
Muslim is too much. They want Muslims without
Islam. But I am saying, No, we can be both
Muslims and at the same time Europeans,
Americans, Canadians or whatever. For them,
this is a problem. There is nothing about
radicalisation. It is just a question of identity and
self-consciousness, and some people don't want
Muslims to feel like that.
For them, to
remain Muslim
is too much.
They want
Muslims without
is misleading. The Islamic universe is as complex as the Christian,
Buddhist or Hindu universe, where you have shrines, readings,
interpretations, histories and memories. We also have Sufis, the
mystical groups, the literalists, the traditionalists,
the reformists, rationalists, and we have political
readings. From here, it is quite difficult and
impossible to say 'good' or 'bad'. I am always
saying this to my fellow citizens in Europe: The
moment you respect me is when you accept
that my universal references are as complex as
your own.
What do you say to those who use religion to justify
their terror?
I am not only saying it is not Islamic, I am saying it is against
lslam. So they are acting against my belief and my principle.
How do we distinguish between a 'good' Muslim and a
'bad' Muslim?
This is a mystic way of looking at Muslims. You say 'good'
Muslims are like us and 'bad' Muslims are not like us or the
others: the 'motherhood' Muslimsor radical Muslims. I think this
It is common to quote Islamic historian
Bernard Lewis's thesis that Muslim anger is a product of
their failure to keep up with the West and modernity.
It is not completely wrong that the Muslim world in particular is
facing economic, scientific and technological crises today, when
compared to the West. But I do not think it is because of Islam.
There are parameters we need to keep in mind. Power struggles,
colonisation, economic colonisation - all of these are the dimensions
we have to take into account while assessing this situation.
Throughout history, Islam was not the hindrance to development.
It became so when you are not self-confident and you perceive
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 We must be critical
towards the Islamic
education we
provide in our
society. It is
that you are dominated by the 'other', lhe
'West. You use Islam as the protection instead
of using your mind, your critical approach
and your creativity. Yes, what we call the
'Muslim world', we are going through crisis.
We really need to use our resources to
reverse our way of thinking. This is what we
call ijtihad, making a decision by independent cniflPtIIIIP^ flfiPIltPlI
interpretation. This is what I am trying to do. -   -     •    -
towards isolation or
Has a shadow been cast over the     SClf-SeUreQatJOn.
prospects of Muslim integration in
Europe after the London and Madrid bombings, the
murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, and riots
in France?
I think the problem is not about integration. The problem is the
gap between the ideals of the society and its current policies.
For example, when you listen to lhe official British discourse,
they talk about multiculturalism, living together, pluralistic
society, respecting each other, equal opportunities, equal
citizenship- this sounds fine, but the reality is otherwise. 'Equal
opportunity' is not true: 'equal access to job opportunities' is
not true: 'no racism' is not Irue. There is a big gap between
what you want and what your ideals are, and what kind of
things you accepl on a daily basis. It is not the integration
process, but you are not consistent with your principles. This
is why the systems and models are failing. It doesn't matter
whether it is a French or British model - it is the interest that
matters. Teli me your ideals and show me your practices.
society means that officially we consider you as
our part of society and officially we teach our
kids that you are here. So our societies have
changed. You have schools in this country
where 98 percent of kids are coming from lhe
same background, same religion, same
suburbs, and still you are saying that this is a
multicultural society. Once again, the British
government has a great deal of responsibility.
The two parents should come together and
work together in order to change the situation.
What is hindering social integration between British and
migrant communities?
I think there is a great deal of fear, and you have political forces
using this fear in order to set an agenda - I call this as an
ideology of fear'. To build something from this situation, they use
an 'us-versus-them' theory - the 'clash of civilisations', fears, that
we are all victims. So we perceive ourselves as the victims of the
expansionist's agenda. On the other side, Muslims feel that they
are the targets of a new Islamophobia. So we are in a world of
victims, unable to live together. We are driven by emolions,
which is really frightening. The riots in the French suburbs show
that it has nothing to do with culture or religion.
viewed the  Danish  cartoons  and
The involvement of the UK-born and -bred Pakistanis
in the London bombings shows that Southasians have
not yet been able to integrate completely here. What
could be the reasons for this?
Their cultural and religious integration is done. But because of
the flawed social and urban policies, social problems remain.
My understanding from the beginning was to say 'don't blame
the others'. It is as if these kids are the sons of two parents: one
parent is the Muslim society, and one is the British society.
When one of your kids is going astray, you don't blame only
one parent - both of them are equally responsible. We have
to say to lhe Muslim community: What kind of education are
you providing? What are you doing on the ground to let your
kids understand that British culture is their culture? You are in
a process of appeasing or helping them to make them feel
they are at home. Here we must be critical towards the Islamic
education we provide in our society. It is sometimes oriented
towards isolation or self-segregation.
Meanwhile, what is British society saying about Muslims'
A real educational agenda is needed - you have to let them
feel they are at home. When you go to the history curriculum,
the only thing that it says is about 'us', white
British people. You are forgetting about the
memories of these people coming from
Southasia. You don't give value to their pasts,
yet you are telling them you are part of their
society, which is not true. To be a part of our
We need a
movement of
local initiatives
How have you
Muslim anger?
You have governments and people instrumentalising it on the
Islamic side. On the other side, you have conservatives using
this event saying, 'We told you Muslims are not for freedom of
speech.' So on both sides freedom of speech is at risk, and Islam
is insulted. We respect the freedom of speech, but what you are
asking is not about freedom of speech. We are not asking to
'emove the right to speech, but we are asking you to be
reasonable in the way you use the right to speech. I think this
is natural and normal. On the other side, the Muslims should
take a critical and intellectual approach, rather than just
reacting emotionally.
In India, there are often riots between Muslims and Hindu.
How can this be minimised?
It will be a difficult proposition, as there are radicals on both sides.
For some Hindus, the only way of being who they are is to be
against the Muslims. On the other side, radical Muslims are
thinking exactly the same way. In between, there is a great
majority of Indians willing tc live together. They seem to be silent
and passive because of the fact that the vocal people are more
extremist. But the passivity is not neutrality. You have to understand
that you have to take a stand, which is to actively come together.
Hindus and Muslims at local levels should come together and be
able to say: "Look, we have so much in common. We have
common values, common agendas. What we
want is for our kids to live together." I have met
so many people in India who are able to do that,
but they remain silent. I really think that what we
need today is local-level movement. We need a
nalional movement of local initiatives.
May June 2006 | Himal Southasian
'Progressive Islam'
Today, Pakistan needs a liberalised islamic theory, at a time when Sufi
shrines have been reduced to places of pilgrimage.
by | Yoginder Sikand
Home to one of the largest Muslim populations
in the world, Pakistan describes itself as an
'Islamic republic'. Yet both radical Islamist
and traditionalist ulama groups alike bemoan the fact
that Pakistan is hardly an Islamic state - at least
insofar as they define the term, as one ruled in strict
accordance with shariah law as developed by
medieval-period Muslim jurists. For their part, liberal
and secular groups, along with the country's minority
communities, complain that Pakistan is
hardly the model Muslim state that its
ideological  founder Muhammad Ali
Jinnah is said to have envisaged: one in
which different communities could live
together harmoniously, where the state
would have no truck with religion at all.
As many Pakistanis themselves would
admit, Pakistan has failed miserably to
live up to the promises of its founders.
Widespread   poverty   and   illiteracy,
rampant        corruption,        mounting
inequalides, the formidable power of the
feudal    lobby,    enormous    regional
imbalances, slavish subservience to American
dictates, the feebleness of democratic institutions, the
might of the military, the clout of the mullahs and
Islamist groups - all these have combined to create a
heavy anchor on Pakistan's development.
In this context, and given the fact that Pakistani
nationalist discourse is so heavily imbued with
an Islamic stamp, it is important to explore
the possibilities of an alternate, progressive
understanding of Islam in contemporary Pakistan.
As an Indian citizen just returned from a month-long
visit to the western neighbour, having met a wide
cross-section of Pakistanis, this writer found people
asking questions that they dared not ask in the past:
Is Islam compatible with democracy and human
rights? Is it possible to evolve an understanding of
Islam that is not tied to the prescriptions of the
medieval ulema? Can an oppositional Islam be
evolved that critiques the 'military-mullah-market
Bulleh Shah
nexus' and is vigorously anti-imperialist? How can
Islam be interpreted as to accept the truth-claims of
other religions and the rights of non-Muslims as equal
citizens? Finally, and most boldly, some citizens are
now asking whether the so-called 'two-nation theory',
on which the official ideology of the Pakistani state
is based, has relevance today.
Contrary to visions propagated by sections of the
Indian media, the average Pakistani Muslim certainly
is not a bearded, Kalashnikov-wielding,
vehemently anti-Hindu or anti-Indian
monster. What first strikes the Indian
visitor to Pakistan is the similarity between
North Indians and Pakistanis in looks,
dress and behaviour. People in any village
in Pakistani Punjab and Sindh could pass
for the average North Indian over the
border, whether Hindu or Muslim. Overt
signs of conventional 'Muslim-ness' are
rare in personal deportment - in contrast
to India, for example, where Muslims,
being in the minority, are naturally more
protective and, therefore, demonstrative of
their religious identity. For the average Pakistani
Muslim, Islam is an integral part of his or her cultural
identity, but it is not something that dominates every
act or thought. This perhaps explains why religious
parties have consistently won relatively few seats in
Pakistani elections, with the political discourse
instead dominated largely by economic, personal,
caste, biraderi ('brotherhood') and regional issues.
Unlike what the international media would have
the public believe, the vast majority of Pakistani
Muslims are not ideologically programmed
'fundamentalists'. This understanding opens up the
prospect of progressive visions or versions of Islam
that could challenge the claims of radical right-wing
Islamist groups, which indeed appear to enjoy
little popular support. While this has not yet
taken place in Pakistan's public domain on any large
scale, such perspectives are routinely articulated in
private conversations.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 Cognitive elitism
Both Punjab and Sindh, Pakistan's most populous
provinces, have had a long tradition of dissenting
Sufi saints and poets. These figures could be defined
as revolutionaries in their own rights, crusading
against religious and political elites while
simultaneously calling for a generous acceptance of
adherents of other religions. BuIIeh Shah, the love-
intoxicated majzub ('unbalanced person') of the
ancient Sindhi town of Kasur, boldly berated the
Muslim mullahs, Hindu pandits and rulers of his
times - even publicly announcing that he was neither
a 'Muslim' nor a 'Hindu'. Baba Farid, whose tomb at
Pak Pattan is a major pilgrimage centre, composed
mystical verses that had such a wide appeal that
some of them were incorporated into the Granth Sahib,
the Sikh holy book. The Qadri Sufi Miyan Mir of
Lahore was such a widely revered saint that Arjan
Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, invited him to lay the
foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit, Sindh's most acclaimed
Sufi poet, continues to be held in high regard by both
Hindus and Muslims in the province for his
message of universal love and for his denunciations
of oppression.
Numerous such examples exist of Sufis who
continue to be held in great reverence by millions of
ordinary Pakistanis. Their teachings provide a rich
resource for developing indigenously rooted Islamic
theologies of liberation and inter-community
dialogue. At the same time, such a movement could
effectively challenge the shrill rhetoric of radical
Islamist groups, who bandy about empty slogans
calling for the 'Islamic revolution', but whose actual
agenda, many Pakistanis insist, is to perpetuate the
stranglehold of the military, the mullahs, and the
feudal lords and their American patrons.
"One of the greatest errors of the Left in Pakistan,"
says friend Hasan, a Lahore-based activist who
describes himself as a 'leftist Muslim', "is that we
blindly followed Western Marxism.
Many of u s openly condemned religion,
and this earned us widespread public
disapproval. The Saudis, egged on by
the Americans, pumped vast sums of
money into Pakistan to publish
literature and patronise the madrasas
and mullahs, who branded all Leftists
as atheists and anti-Islam."
By blindly imitating the West, Hasan
feels that modern Pakistanis have failed
to explore its own traditions for
possible counters to the country's
entrenched social problems. "Our own
popular Sufi traditions contain enough
such resources," he suggests. "Had we
used them in our campaigns, we would
not have given our opponents an
excuse to brand us as anti-religion. Progressive
politics in Pakistan would have had more popular
appeal, rather than being seen as a Western import,
had we developed an appropriate contextual Islamic
theology based on local Sufi vocabulary and idioms."
Hasan blames what he calls the cognitive elitism of the
Pakistani Left for ignoring the revolutionary potential
of popular Sufi discourses: "They have no real contact
with the masses and so can't speak in their language."
Despite their powerful history of social critique,
however, Hasan does not place much hope in the
current custodians of the Sufi shrines either, noting
that such shrines have been reduced to centres of
pilgrimage and personal mediation rather than
centres of instruction. "Popular Sufism has been
thoroughly ritualised, shorn of its progressive
potential," he says. "In fact, many shrine custodians
have become powerful landlords and maintain strong
political connections, and so have developed a vested
interest in preserving the system as it is."
Dearth of discourse
There are other reasons for the failure to develop an
effective Islamic theology of liberation and interfaith
dialogue based on Pakistan's rich Sufi culture. The
society lacks a tradition of serious research on Islam
through the various social-science disciplines, a
symptom of the severely weakened state of education
in Pakistan. Bookshops in cities like Lahore,
Gujranwala and Hyderabad have few titles on
Pakistan's Sufis. Of those books that are stocked, almost
all are simple hagiographies of Sufi saints. Few seek
to relate their teachings to issues of contemporary
concern, such as human rights, economic and social
inequalities, democracy, gender justice and the
problems of minorities and inter-community relations.
Interestingly, in the few bookshops that sell English-
language publications, most titles relating to social
issues or Sufism and Islam are foreign publications,
published in India or in the West and written by
foreign (including Indian) writers.
In addition to the Quran, the
Hadith, and biographies of the
Prophet and pious Muslim elders,
Urdu titles on Islam in most
bookshops generally reflect
traditional approaches, rooted in
medieval jurisprudence, focusing
mainly on the nitty-gritty of Muslim
law and inter-sectarian polemic.
Islamic publishing in Pakistan is still
dominated by madrasa productions
and by Islamist ideologues. Next to
nothing appears on bookshelves on
the themes of 'progressive Islam',
'Islamic liberation theology', or
even on contemporary issues argued
from   a   progressive  perspective
Shah Abdul Latif of
Bhit, Sindh's most
acclaimed Sufi poet,
continues to heboid
in high regard hy
both Hindus and
Muslims in the
province for his
message of universal
lone and for his
denunciations of
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
Alam shrine in
within    a    broadly    defined
Islamic paradigm.
Riaz, a teacher of Islamic
studies in Lahore, had an
interesting explanation to offer.
He says the middle class, which
could have been expected to
champion liberal or progressive
perspectives on a range of social
issues, remains miniscule in
Pakistan, which partially
accounts for the "pathetic" state
of faith-based intellectual
discourse in the country. This is
why public Islamic discourse
remains the preserve of the
ulema and Islamists. Few
middle-class families send their children to train as
Islamic specialists, preferring instead better paying
career options. Hence, Riaz notes, public religious
discourse in Paldstan "remains stuck in its traditional
groove, unable to respond positively and realistically
to issues of contemporary social concern ... with few
middle-class progressives bothering to intervene".
Making matters worse, Riaz continues, is the
cynical misuse of religion by the state to pursue the
interests of the national ruling elites. "Brainwashing"
modern Pakistani students into believing that Hindus
and Muslims cannot get along together, he says, "is
calculated to perpetuate rivalry between India and
Pakistan and to bless this in the name of Islam, which
in turn helps ruling elites perpetuate themselves by
claiming to represent Islam and Pakistani
nationalism." Riaz notes that a hypocrisy found in
Pakistani textbooks is mirrored in the patronage of
radical Islamist groups that "spew anti-Indian and
anti-Hindu rhetoric but remain silent on the
horrendous exploitation of the poor, the working
class, the peasantry, women and minorities within
Pakistan itself."
Mired in the past
The continued dominance of traditionalist discourses
and approaches to Islam in Pakistan's public realm
is also linked to the extensive madrasa system. In a
country that devotes less than two percent of its
budget to education, where poverty and inequalities
are immense and continuing to mount, the free
schooling provided by madrasas is the only
educational opportunity for millions of poor families.
There can subsequently be little wonder at the
rapid rise in the number of madrasas in Pakistan in
recent decades.
Rashid, now a social activist based in Hyderabad,
Sindh, attended a madrasa as a young man. He
explains that Pakistani madrasas have been slow to
change due to the perception that demands for
reform originate in the United States. Calls for
reform from the Pakistani state
are subsequently interpreted as
an attempt to curb the influence
of ulema groups that are vocally
anti-American. Rashid adds that
this reaction also reflects the fear
on the part of many ulema that
reforms could threaten their
places as spokesmen of Islam.
The fact that hardly any
Pakistani madrasa teaches
modern social science leads to a
dangerous rigidity, Rashid
explains. The ulema are unable
to respond creatively or positively
to a host of issues of modern
concern, and can only draw from
the solutions proffered in the ancient texts. The same
holds true, he suggests, of the departments of Islamic
Studies in Pakistan's universities. "They are more
like glorified madrasas. There are simply no Pakistani
counterparts of the Indian Muslim scholars like
Asghar Ali Engineer or Wahiduddin Khan, who offer
innovative approaches to issues such as women's
rights, capitalism, democracy and inter-faith
dialogue ... the feudal lords, the military, the mullahs
and the Americans will simply not let them survive".
Along similar lines, Azmat, a sociology student
in Lahore who dabbles in Sufi poetry, points out that
neither the ulema nor the Islamists are discussing
issues, like land reforms, that have a direct impact
on the poor. Says Azmat, "Maududi, founder of the
Islamist Jamaat-I-Islami, denounced land reform as
anti-Islamic, claiming that private property is
sacrosanct in Islam." Whereas in reality, "Islam calls
for equality - not just in the mosque, as the mullahs
want us to believe, but in society as well." The same
general hypocrisy, Azmat notes, can also be found
among the mullah-led parties in NWFP and
Balochistan, which have come to power by
emphasising Islam but have done little for the poor.
"Our only hope," Azmat concludes, "is to develop
an alternate Islamic paradigm that is grounded in
the perspective from below. One that seriously
addresses the plight of the poor and the
marginalised, challenges local and global
oppressors, and embraces people of other faiths
as equals."
What Azmat suggests about Islam in Pakistan
would seem to hold true for Hinduism in India, or
any religion anywhere else, for that matter. "That's
why we need to go back to the Sufis," he nods in
agreement. "Because when religion gets ritualised,
it inevitably works as a tool of oppression." Indeed,
what is needed in Pakistan today is to move beyond
the trap of this ritualised religion, monopolised by
self-proclaimed spokesmen, and rediscover visions
of Islam that empower people.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
The politics, love and life of Fail
Ahmed Faiz.
by | Irfan Ahmad
Over the past three centuries, Urdu has
produced an immensely diverse set of poets.
There is the simple yet appealing lover-
next-door in Mir, the brilliant philosopher and
thinker in Ghalib, excellent wordsmiths in Dagh and
Josh, a revivalist and messenger in Iqbal, and a
freedom fighter in Hasrat. The role of the critical
rationalist and revolutionary was filled by Faiz.
It is the poet's task to find, invent and create a
special language that alone will be capable of
expressing his personality and sentiments. Born in
1911 in Punjab, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was to become such
a master. It is crucial to recognise the importance of
his work in the evolution of contemporary Urdu
poetry - both what he had inherited from tradition,
and what he added to it, through the analysis of his
period's socio-political conditions.
Of course, all great poets would have been
influenced by their contemporary political contexts.
In giving voice to the reality around them, however,
poets tend to use indirect expression, through
metaphors and symbols. In this process, dominant
literary traditions have often been
brushed aside. Faiz drew his inspiration
less from classical models of perfection
and more from the varied and vital
nature of human beings, their attitudes
and behaviour; he also explored new
avenues of intellectual thought. His
poetic collection is subsequently infused
with a kind of rebellion against
established convention and decadent
societal practices.
In the last years of the 19th century, a
new style and attitude arose as a reaction against
formalism and traditionalism. 'Progressivism'
created a desire of rationality, originality and
curiosity in literature and initiated much of modern
political activity. This had a profound impact on
Faiz. He conceived the universe as something more
mysterious, meaningful and rational, and very
unlike a machine. In his poetry, readers can discern
a transfer from the universe conceived as a machine,
to the society conceived as a well-knit organisation.
With a few exceptions, Faiz's works are replete
with themes of social realism. He lived through a
time when forces of capitalism were radically
changing the internal structure of the Subcontinent.
With deep empathy for his surroundings, Faiz talked
not about the philosophy of life, but about life's
problems. As a freethinking man searching for a
solution to the suffering and exploitation of
humanity, he turned to socialism. This brought him
closer to the day-to-day struggles of India's workers.
The grief of one's love can no longer be separated from the
grief of the suffering humanity, he wrote.
With deep
empathy for Ms
Faiz tailed not
philosophy of
life, but about
life's problems.
New classicism
The increasing political participation of
the working classes and the peasantry -
a process that the British quickly
dubbed a 'communist threat' to India -
significantly influenced the perspective
of the Indian intelligentsia, including
Urdu intellectuals. Many of those who
wrote in Urdu (and other Indian
languages) became aware of a new type
of reality: massive oppression, and the
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 denial of humanity. His own personal outrage
moved Faiz to become increasingly politically active
within Pakistan's Progressive Writers' Association.
He recalls:
Those were the days when smiles on the faces
of children were suddenly extinguished.
Ruined farmers moved to the cities to labour,
abandoning their fields and farms. Daughters
of very respectable families were forced
into prostitution.
In Faiz's poetic style can be found traces of both
Ghalib and Iqbal. He is a lover, a socialist, a
revolutionary, a critic. However, what gave Faiz an
edge over his contemporaries was that he never
compromised  with  his  cherished beliefs  and
principles, nor allowed changes to creep into his
poetic diction. Instead, Faiz demonstrated how a
poet could transcend the circumscribing restrictions
of convention. Even as he infused those conventions
with socio-political thought, he brilliantly retained
their universal structures. Throughout his canon,
his imagery is classical but pregnant
with contemporary meaning. In his     J||B rB3
poetry, Aashiq, a lover, becomes a
patriot or a revolutionary; Maashuq
(beloved) is the country and people;
Raqeeb (rival) symbolises imperialism,
capitalism, tyranny and exploitation;
Haq (truth) becomes socialism; Visal
(union), a revolution or social change;
and junoon (sublime madness) is the
zeal for social justice
Faiz's    critical     rationalism     is 81163111118.
particularly poignant in the way that
he described the 'freedom' of the Subcontinent, for
instance in "Subhay-e-Azadi" (The Morning of
Freedom), written in 1947 on the eve of Partition:
This stained light, this night-bitten dawn -
This is not the dawn we yearned for ...
The earthen lamp shakes it head in despair.
The night is as oppressive as ever.
The time for the liberation of heart and mind
Has not come as yet.
Continue your arduous journey.
Press on, the destination is still far away.
Despite India's impending 'freedom', Faiz was
clearly disenchanted with the country's
institutional chaos. According to him, the real
freedom was that of thought and expression; as long
as that was not achieved, freedom held no meaning.
Lover's protest
After Independence, Faiz continued to pursue his
intellectual discourse, which found an effective
outlet through the Pakistan Times. He also became
increasingly engaged in political activities as vice
presideni of the Trade Union Congress and as
ras ilia! of
expression, as
long as that was
not achieved
freedom held no
secretary of the Pakistan Peace Committee. In 1951,
Faiz was arrested on charges of conspiracy to
overthrow the government, a major setback to the
Progressive Writers' Movement. Jail did not shatter
his spirit though, as attested to by his own account
of the detention:
Being imprisoned itself is a basic experience
which is similar to falling in love. First, all
your sensations become sharpened ... all the
glow of sunrise, the shadows of the evening,
the blue of the sky, the soft touch of the breeze
regain their impact on your curiosity.
Secondly, the intimacies and the distances of
the outside world become negated. And
thirdly, the leisure of separation from the
object of your love provides an opportunity to
attend to the sensual ornamentation of The
Faiz's imprisonment actually proved fortuitous
for Urdu poetry. Over the course of his time in
prison, he came up with Dast-e-Saba and Zindan
Nama, two of his best poetic collections.
Matters not if one niche lacks its candle;
when the entire place besides is ablaze with
light. These lines embody some of the
poet's most moving and paradigmatic
sentiments: in spite of oppression and
tyranny, the struggle for peace and
freedom continues. Such ideas became
more apparent in Faiz's poetry while
he was in prison, and continued after
he was released with both indirect and
direct   writings   against   what  he
viewed   as   Pakistan's  oppressive
regime. Being away from the day-to-day struggles
of the working class and peasants while in prison,
Faiz addressed his nation by combining traditional
romantic imagery with the harsh material realities
of oppressed  societies.  Even  while he often
addressed his beloved, he was actually questioning
the state and bureaucracy. Today I ventured into
my world of sorrow, he wrote. Today I remembered
you the most.
This is how Faiz attempts to reconcile his politics
and his art. He protests, but his protest is in the
language of a lover. Although such an approach
provided a new synthesis, some feel that Faiz's
protests became muted due to their diffused nature,
as well as the fact that they were directed not at a
particular object, but at tyranny in general.
Nonetheless, because of his creativity and lucid
language, Faiz became the prophet of a new insight
and trend in Urdu literature. No other Urdu
poet dissected the illusions and conflicts that
Faiz explored with the same poetic flair for
language, expression, imagery and symbols. His
canon has amounted to a new literary program,
taste arid truth.
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
The return to
Renorts of Hindi's &&mi%$s are greats eiagneiaie A but the growing
world of Hintfe Mi cratgutt ^ir^mernftf ^ ?™, y>j -;tf rfc wuws
by | Tyler Walker Williams
Kavi Sammelan, Delhi 2004
In Priya, one of New Delhi's bustling shopping
malls and a symbol of the new consumerist culture
in India, billboards written in Hindi (but printed
in English script) call out to shoppers Piyo thanda,
jiyo thanda (drink cool, live cool) and Yeh dil mange
more (this heart asks for more). For North India's
middle and upper classes, Hindi has become 'cool'
again, establishing itself as the lingua franca of both
the marketplace and the mass media. The majority of
news and entertainment television channels are now
broadcast in Hindi, and the number of FM radio
stations in Hindi has doubled in the past five
years. But lias this return of Hindi to the metro
media translated into an increasing interest in
Hindi literature?
A survey of those both inside and outside the Hindi
literary world reveals that the Hindi of the
marketplace and the Hindi of the book have little, if
any. connection. "I don't think I've ever read a Hindi
book," says Aditya, a college student in Delhi.
"Middle-class people like me speak Hindi, but we
would never read a book in Hindi " Dharmendra
Sushant, an editor at the Hindi publishing house
Vani Prakashan, explains: "There is a gap between
the marketplace and Hindi literature. The Hindi that
is used in the marketplace is actually for English
speakers - it is for their consumption." This 'bazaar
Hindi' tends to be a parody of vernacular Hindi, a
satire of the native Hindi speaker and his literature.
This irony reflects the paradoxical status of Hindi as
a national language that has never actually been
accepted as such by either India's rulers or its
common people.
Estimated to be spoken by over 500 million people,
Hindi is the world's fourth most widely-spoken
language, and is bv far the most used language
within India, Despite having been made the national
anguage of India bv a constitutional provision in
1950, however, Hindi has never managed to gain
egitimacy as either the language of the government
or of the people. Instead, it has been repeatedly-
rejected by the speakers of other regional languages
and sidelined by English, the language of status in
post-colonial India. In fact, in contrast to its
aspirations of national prestige, Hindi is largely
perceived as a subaltern language, the dialect of the
rural, uneducated Hindiwatla.
In terms of literature, books in Hindi seem
completely absent from the mainstream marketplace,
which is dominated by English paperbacks and
glossy hardcovers. Even in Delhi, considered to be
the capital of the Hindi literary world, it is bard to
find bookstores selling works of Hindi fiction. The
leaders of the Hindi literary establishment themselves
are well aware of Hindi's marginalised position,
having, with obvious irony, named the annual festival
of Hindi as the Hindi Pakltwada (Hindi's Funeral).
Contrary to the festival's title, Hindi literature itself
has been experiencing an undeniable growth spurt.
Indeed, decades after some predicted that it would
be eclipsed bv English, Hindi literature is currently
flourishing, growing daily in terms of both readers
and writers. Its readers are not the same as those
urbanites for whom Hindi is suddenly 'cool',
however. Nor are they even necessarily the ones that
can be seen perusing through India's larger
bookstores. The question remains, then: Where, and
who, is this expanding Hindi-reading public?
Sahriday aficionados
The answer lies partly in the fact that Hindi
publishers have not created the type of market for
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 their wares that English publishers
have managed to create in India -
fanfare-filled book launches, page-3
literati, the 'must-read' syndrome,
the cult of the bestseller list - a fact
that Hindi publishers are proud of.
The Hindi literary world has its own
kind of publishing industry, its own
kind of heroes and stars, and its own
kind of readership. Rather than
trying to adopt the financially
successful English publishing
model, Hindi has stuck to its
traditions and created its own model
of success. Thus, the world of Hindi
literature is a mix of hundred-year-
old traditions and new technologies, old classics and
experimental forms.
Hindi publishers speak of a constantly growing
market of diehard readers spread out across cities,
towns and villages all over Tndia. Whereas the
- a      - ' -    d      .    .
Prem Chand
emphasising and repeating certain
lines in response to the audience's
cheers of encouragement.
As during the Freedom Movement,
poetry continues to be the medium
through which political ideas are
voiced and spread among the
Hindi-speaking working classes.
Revolutionary and protest songs
handed down since the turn of the last
century are still heard at protests and
political meetings today. Over the last
forty years, the Naxalite movement in
particular has used poetry with great
success in its efforts to mobilise
workers and sections of the landless
poor. In Hindi, a substantial body of iNaxalite poetry
has emerged in the Khari Boli and Bhojpuri dialects,
representing the creative energies of common farmers,
workers, students and political activists.
The Hindi publishing industry is aware of these
'     ■ ' ■!             ladl	
towns and villages an over inuia.  wuedeu.-a mc ...^ , ,,i...... r ....     ..    ,.,
readers of English literature tend to be confined to traditions, and sees no need to change them. When
metros and smaller cities, Hindi readers can be found asked why they have not been able to create the same
in all corners of the country, including some of its kind of consumerist market for their publications as
least-developed areas. "It is a seemingly paradoxical their English counterparts, Hindi publishers respond
thing that in places like Bihar, which have the least that they prefer to concentrate more on the particular
development, we sell the highest number of books," demands of their long-time and hardcore readers,
says Vani Prakashan's Sushant. "The average Hindi Jayprakash of Prakashan Sansthan dismisses the
reader wants to read serious literature ... Hindi recent consumerist trend in English publishing: "It's
readers also tend to be very politically well-informed nothing like that in Hindi. There was always a good
and opinionated." Another quality of Hindi readers market for Hindi books, and there is a good market
should also be mentioned: their extreme enthusiasm, now. In fact, our market is expanding. Our books go
The average Hindi reader tends to be a serious and all over the country." Rather than selling primarily
emotional aficionado of the literature - any Hindi through bookshops as is the tendency with English
sahriday (connoisseur) can recite to you lines of their volumes, Hindi publishers rely heavily on sales to
favourite works and authors by heart, and can usually libraries and universities, at book fairs, and to
tell you the tales and histories that accompany both individuals. "We are constantly getting letters from
the authors and their works. readers all over the country and outside of the country
Interestingly, it is often through this very medium asking for particular titles," says Sushant. "We do
- oral transmission - that Hindi continues to spread our best to make sure that these books reach the
and flourish. While English literature, in particular readers wherever thev are. We release as many
the novel, is dominated by prose forms, poetry paperback editions as possible, and try to keep the
•••'-■ ■ •     -d      .111 U ' '     ' ''■'■.-      aL.       a
remains the heart of Hindi literature. And although
poetry is not easy to sell in the book market, it is ideal
for spreading bv word of mouth. (It is for this reason
that the Hindi writers of the Freedom Movement of
the 1870s to 1940s chose poetry as the
medium through which to spread
their nationalist and anti-colonial
messages.) Thus poetry readings, in
the traditional forms of the mushaira
and the kavi sammelan, continue to be
one  of the  primary  channels  for
dissemination of Hindi literature.
These readings tend to proceed in
much the same manner as they did
hundreds of years ago. After proper
summoning   and   coaxing   by   the
host   and   audience,   poets   recite
bv    heart    their    lines    of    verse,
mpMt oi:nP» u-
si! m vtm
price down. But there are problems, like the cost
of shipping, which can be as much as the cost of
the book ... In this way, Hindi publishing
is unorganised."
Outdated syllabi
Because of this lack of organisation and
the continuing importance of oral
transmission, it is nearly impossible for
any writer in Hindi to survive on the
earnings of the writing alone. Prem
Chand and Nirala, two of the greatest
Hindi writers of the modern era, are
also seen as archetypes of the typical
Hindi writer: both died in poverty after
living lives of periodic destitution,
during which they put every last bit of
their  money  and  effort  into  their
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 writing. Many aspiring Hindi authors, however,
continue to pursue writing as a part-time pursuit. A
survey of today's popular Hindi writers reveals that
most are government servants, academics or private-
business owners, who write during their spare time.
Hindi's most prominent authors, like Shrilal
Shukla (whose Rag Darbari is regarded as a classic of
Hindi literature), Ashok Vajpayee and Vinod Kumar
Shukla were fulltime government servants when they
penned their masterpieces. Award-winning poets
and essayists like Anamika, Purushottam Agarwal
and Manager Pandey write while teaching at
university. Many aspiring authors are forced to use
their own money to see their titles into print. Amidst
all this, the increasing market for Hindi literature has
also led to an increase in Hindi authors, with
everyone from office babus to tea-sellers trying their
hand at both poetry and prose.
Despite this thriving, living literature and its
corresponding rich tradition of literary criticism,
Hindi literature as an academic discipline has yet to
develop strength. The study of Hindi remains mired
in outdated syllabi and antiquated methods, which
together have turned off generations of potential
Hindi readers. At the primary- and secondarv-school
levels, Hindi is a casualty of the antiquated Iearn-
by-rote system and of perfunctory, uninspired
teaching. "We study Hindi in school because we're
forced to, and most people drop it as soon as they
can," says Padmini, a college student from
Jamshedpur. "Even though 1 liked Hindi literature,
the teachers didn't care about what thev were
teaching and made it completely boring."
At the university level, lack of funding and, more
importantly, lack of respect has led to stagnating
I lindi departments. As a result, there is little research
work being done. Professors everywhere cancel
classes so that they can pursue more lucrative work,
like competitive-exam coaching. Students too tend to
abandon any serious study of the literature, simply
using their degrees as stepping-stones to more
'serious' careers. "When you tell people that you're
in a university like JNU, they're very impressed and
ask 'In which department?'" says Vivek Shukla, an
MPhil Hindi student ot Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"But when you tell them you're in the Hindi
Department, they lose interest and ask you why you
didn't choose a more sensible field."
Native consciousness
What ma)' prove to be the redeeming feature ot the
sagging Hindi academic world is interest from
outside of India, including from the Hindi-literature
readership. Recognising the political importance of
the Hindi-speaking populace and the of its
literary tradition, universities in both the West and
much of the rest of the developed world are
increasingly providing funding and support for the
study of Hindi language and literature. This interest
has led to the development of ties between Indian
and foreign universities, as well as the recruitment of
Hindi professors as temporary or permanent faculty
in universities abroad.
Perhaps more importantly, the native Hindi-
speaking readership abroad has also begun putting
pressure on Hindi academics and litterateurs to
increase the size and scope of their attempt. With the
increasing migration of Hindi-speaking Indians to
foreign countries over the past 30 years, a large and
dispersed Hindi diaspora has developed; these are
not only consumers, but also producers of Hindi
literature. Publishers report that they send a large
number of copies of their publications to countries
like Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. Hindi
aficionados and writers in those countries have also
begun publishing their own Hindi literary
magazines, as well as sending longer works back to
India for publication. "In several countries, lots of
people have begun writing," says JNU Hindi
professor Chamman Lai. "Some have become big
names in the Hindi literary world." Although the
diasporic writing scene is still in flux, says, "it is
certainly much bigger than it was a few years ago."
This interaction between the Hindi-speaking
diaspora and their host populations is proving to be
an important force in shaping modern Hindi
literature. Thirty years ago, Nirmal Verma challenged
the notion that Hindi literature could only be about
'Indian' themes when he published his stories and
travelogues of Europe (See Himal Jan-Feb 2006, "The
atmabodh of Nirmal Verma"). Now, there exists a whole
genre of Hindi literature detailing the experiences of
Indians abroad, like the writings of Krishna Bihari
and the short stories published regularly in the Hindi
journal Wagarth. For some Hindi critics and
publishers, globalisation and migration abroad -
phenomena typically seen as threats to regional
languages like Hindi - have actually given a new
strength to the literature. "It is an interesting
development that with the spread of English across
the world and the movement of peoples due to
globalisation, the advantage is actually 170/ with those
who speak English, but with those who speak
languages other than English," says SusJiant of Vani
Prakashan. "This is because those who come from
other languages can bring something new to the
dialogue. There is something ot the place and the
language that is in one's blood."
Sushant's optimism and excitement about the
future of Hindi literature seems to be shared by many
critics, writers and publishers, who see Hindi
readership expanding across India and beyond its
borders, At the same time, they also see this movement
as a kind of return to a native consciousness. WJiile
not completely separate, this nonetheless remains
distinct from and alternative to the colonial
consciousness symbolised by English literature. Says
Sushant: "Hindi is spreading in all four directions.
And yet, people are returning to their roots. It is a
question of identity."
May-June 2006 |  Himal Southasian
 Book review
Salty Oriya: The price of a plot
by | Chandrahas Choudhury
The 19th century Oriya novelist Fakir
Mohan Senapati was, at least in his
fiction, a most oblique writer - he
hardly said or meant anything in a
straightforward way. Much of his work
is ironical and satirical, and of course
irony and satire work through
indirection, by way of the meaningful
glance rather than the plainspoken
word. Irony can often be applied too
thickly, too predictably, and then it
becomes as unsubtle as the more
homespun narrative mode it disdains.
Thankfully, this is not the case with
Senapati: he always worked with a light
and delicate hand.
At one point in Senapati's newly-
translated novel Chha Mana Atha Giintha
(Six Acres and a Third), the narrator, in
one of many instances in which lie
directly addresses the reader, notes that
"unpleasant truths are better left
unspoken; in other words, we are forced
to forget halt the truth and tell you the other ha
Chha Mana Atha
Guntha (Six Acres
and a Third)
by Fakir Mohan
Penguin Modern
Classics, 2006
INR 250
magistrate in Khulna in Bengal, wrote
his first novel, Rajmohiin's Wife,
in English.)
Senapati, like Bankimchandra and
many other early Indian novelists, had
some connection with the business of
government, and therefore to British rule.
He was born Braja Mohan Senapati, but
when a mysterious illness threatened to
take his lite when still a child, his
grandmother took him to a dargah and
promised to offer him as a fakir if he lived.
The boy recovered, but the grandmother
was loath to give him up, and instead he
was renamed Fakir Mohan and made a
mendicant for eight days every
Mohurrum. Later, Senapati worked
as a schoolteacher and a dewan, or
administrator, on feudatory estates. Set
in a feudal setting and concerning a land
dispute, Six Acres and a Third obviously
has its roots in the author's own
experiences. While tJie work is
recognisably a novel, it is less a copy of the classic
This might serve as a loose definition of satire, which Victorian novel than one that has been 'Indianised'.
tells the truth by denying the truth. When Senapati Its plot is not linear, its methods of characterisation
describes the greedy ways of his hero, the venal
zamindar Ramachandra Mangaraj, defending him
all the while by saying that he is really a "kind and
pious man" who is slandered by his subjects,
Mangaraj is exposed more effectively than a simple
and uninfected chronicle of his evils could have
managed.  The  nam
are fruitfully eccentric, and its storyteller's tone seems
to fuse the torm of traditional novelistic narrative with
older Indian narrative traditions.
The plot revolves around Ramachandra
Mangaraj's attempt to appropriate a village peasant's
verdant smallholding, six-and-a-third acres in area.
is,  in  effect,   repaying     Senapati's is a moral tale: Mangaraj's devious
Mangaraj with the same duplicity that Mangaraj
himself practices on those around him - he has a
friendly hand on Mangaraj's shoulder, even while
simultaneously winking at the reader, confident tliat
"for intelligent people, hints usually suffice". This
jaunty line of attack is Senapati's wav of pointing
to unpleasant truths in a wav that also gives
the reader pleasure.
Chha Mana Atha Ghuiita was written in 1LH-2; at
this point, the novel in India was about tour decades the one of Mangaraj's shrewish maid Champa, and
old. The novel form was a legacy of colonial rule, and meditations upon human nature and Indian history,
most of its initial practitioners belonged to the new The narrative works simultaneously on multiple
class of Indians who had, after the implementation levels. "What do these six acres and a third
of Lord Thomas Macaulay's Minute on Indian represent?" the narrator asks towards the end of the
Pducatian, received an education in English and book. It is mostly a rhetorical question, for we already
gained exposure to Western art forms. (In lSc.4, the know how much such a plot of land can represent,
young Bankimchandra Chatterjee, as a district     Senapati prods and pokes at the injustices of the
stratagems are successful, but soon his deeds return
to haunt him, and he falls spectacularly from grace,
losing every piece of his wealth. This plot outline
makes the novel sound unsophisticated, but its
richness comes from the subtlety of Senapati's prose
and also tlie fact that he was a happily digressive
writer. In Six Aires and a Third, the reader will find
long sections on the place of the temple and the pond
in village life, extended character portraits sudi as
Himal Southasian | May-June 2006
 zamindari system, as well as the depredations of
British colonialism, the suffocating hierarchies and
prejudices of caste, and, more generally, at man's
capacity for inhumanity to other men.
But the truth is - and this is what is most charming
about Senapati - the author was really an incorrigible
ironist. If his novel persuades us about anything, it is
about the ubiquity of human vanity and frailty. The
tone of narrative is that of the village gossip - sly,
garrulous, conspiratorial, and full of hints, winks and
insinuations. At one point, while describing the
representations of some mythological scenes in
Mangaraj's courtyard, the narrator remarks,
"Somewhere in Rajasthan, on seeing the image of a
nude woman, Tod Sahib came to the conclusion that
all women in ancient India went about naked." (Tod
Sahib' referred to Colonel James Tod, the author of a
widely-read book called Annals mid Antiquities of
Rajasthan, often mined bv Indian novelists for
historical material.) On another occasion, we are told
about the village priest, a greatly respected man who
runs the shrine of the village goddess, Budhi Mangala.
"The priest was very highly regarded in the village,
particularly by the women," the narrator notes. "The
goddess frequently appeared to him in his dreams
and talked to him about everything," That 'about
everything' - as if the goddess personally reports to
the priest - is a damning phrase.
Cranes and kingfishers
One strand of thought in Six Acres and a Third that is
particularly striking from our 21st century point of
view is Senapati's response to the British - their
reshaping of Indian civilisation, the adoption of new
systems of government and jurisprudence, the
discourse of Western rationalism and scientific
progress, and the missionary zeal of Christianity,
Senapati's reading of these matters is quite complex.
On the one hand, he makes fun of the assumptions of
racial superiority held by the British. "Today, in the
19th century, the sciences enjoy great prestige, for
they form the basis of all progress," he declares. "See,,
the British are white-skinned, whereas Oriyas are
dark in complexion. This is because the former have
studied the sciences, whereas the latter have no
knowledge of these." And so, once the Oriyas learn
science, thev too will become white-skinned, and then
the British will have neitJier an intellectual nor racial
basis for lording over them.
But elsewhere the author chastises his own
countrymen for the weakness of their opposition to
the outsiders. "Historians say it took Clive less time
to get the Bengal Subedari from tlie emperor of Delhi"
the author remarks, "than it takes one to buy and sell
a donkey." He also worries about the manner in
which the new class of English-educated Indians had
uncritically adopted Western assumptions: "Ask a
new babu his grandfather's father's name," he sniffs,
"and he will hem and haw, but the names of the
ancestors of England's Charles the Third will readily
roll off his tongue."
Senapati's prose is strongly metaphorical. Indeed,
his metaphors are often striking not just for their
vividness and specificity - water lilies fold
themselves up and hide during the day "like young
Hindu daughters-in-law", while cows chew their cud
"like baishnavas, moving their mouths as if they were
repeating the divine name". But his narrative is also
notable for the ways in which small details suddenly
take on grand meanings. At one point, speaking of
the birds found near the village pond, the narrator
notes how the cranes churn the mud "like lowly
farmhands" looking for fish all day long, while
kingfishers appear suddenly, conduct swift raids,
and gorge themselves on the stolen pickings.
"Oh, stupid Hindu cranes," he cries, "look at these
English kingfishers..."
The great virtue of this new translation
(carried out jointly by Rabi Shankar Mishra, Satya
P Mohanty, Jatindra K Nayak and Paul St-Pierre)
is that it recaptures the music of Senapati's
wonderfully salty and colloquial Oriya in a limber
and mellifluous English. Nayak has already
translated sections of Senapati's autobiography,
and perhaps the entire book will be widely
available in an English translation soon. In the
meantime, we have this piquant, clever and gossipy
book to savour.
Kalimpong dreaming
by | Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Kiran Desai's second novel is set in the Darjeeling high by the storms at its summit." As the girl reads
hills. It opens in Cho Oyu, a beautiful, crumbling an old National Geographic, the old man plays chess
house in Kalimpong, from where a retired judge, against himself: and, in the old kitchen, an ancient
his grand-daughter and his beloved dog can see cook boils water in the kettle, pours milk into an
Kanchenjunga. "a far peak whittled out of ice, enamel basin for the dog,  warms the leftover
gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown chocolate pudding for the judge's teatime - all the
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
 while dreaming of his own son, Biju, who is now an    to this: "Little pearl," he said to the dog when Sai
illegal immigrant in distant New York, scurrying from     had left, in case Mutt's feelings had been bruised.
job to job. Outside, around them all, the mist twists
and turns.
What a sweet opening for a novel. The scene is
almost cinematic, like Kulu-Manali, as the novel says,
or Kashmir in 'pre-terrorist' days, "before gunmen
All life is portrayed here in careful detail: the old
and thick forests, the bamboo thickets, the stone
walls of the house, the dog who eats sitting at the
table. Even a tick-removal scene is brought vividly
to life: "The cook and Sai were sitting with Mutt on
came bounding out and a new kind of film had to the steps leading to the garden, picking the ticks off
be made". her, and this was always an hour of contentment
Yet it is the mid-1980s here in the mountains, and for them. The large khaki-bag ones were easy to
the region is filled with the unease of the impending dispatch, but the tiny brown ticks were hard to kill;
insurgency. And so, here come the boys creeping they flattened against the depressions in the rock,
along the grass, clad, guerrilla-fashion, in leather so when you hit them with a stone, they didn't die
jackets and bandanas. They are here for the judge's but in a flash were up and running. Sai chased them
guns, left over from His ICS days. up and down..."
The guns are not the only baggage that the judge It is difficult to dislike any of the characters, even
has left over from his youth. He also has troubled the hard-hearted judge whose grumpy exterior hides
memories, of many humiliations
endured, and some passed on to
others. Memories of "undignified
love, Indian love, stinking,
unaesthetic love" that have tried to
follow him across the oceans - and
which he flung back into the
very ocean that "traveled around
a globe".
Everyone has their memories of
loss that excavate other memories,
other losses. The girl, Sai, has
indistinct recollections of her
parents: she is, after all, the "orphan
child of India's failing romance with
the Soviets". In America, Biju has
memories not only of the "old songs,
best songs", but also of the "old war,
best war" - "desis against Pakis" -
tliat made him feel as if he was
"entering a warm, amniotic bath"
until it grew cold; because of course
it wasn't a real war, but an itch that
was "never scratched". And the
The Inheritance
of Loss
by Kiran Desai
324 pages
INR 495
tlie deepest of wounds, and who is
befuddled by the complexities of the
newly-independent nation: "India
was too messy for justice." It is hard
not to love dear, bright, young Sai,
enveloped in her hopes and the
Himalayan mists; it is hard not to
feel the ache of Biju's loneliness as
he bicycles along bravely in the
North American cold.
All the characters in the narrative
have suffered various kinds of loss
- of pride, roots, identity and more.
Their wounds remain, turning
ceaselessly in their minds; creating
new lacerations, each demanding to
be assuaged but finding no comfort.
Hardly anything happens, and yet
everything happens. Love formed
and broken, relationships tested and
betrayed. In this novel of so many
kinds of absences, there is vet
another tragic loss at the end. Other
things are found in  its  place -
great, crumbling house itself, Cho Oyu, has its including the possibility of a kind of redemption
memories, not only of happier days, but of the bandv- As for Sai, she reflects early in the novel on the
legged and bent-faced porters upon whose struggling meaning of love: "Could fulfilment ever be felt as
labour its boulders were fitted, one on the other. deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love
And Gyan, Sai's young lover, has his memories - must surely reside in the gap between desire and
not only of Gorkhaland dreams, but of an overnight fulfilment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was
bus to Calcutta and a job interview conducted in
darkness, when he had heard the insincere promise
of the interviewer and had known that he would
never be hired.
Desai's prose is delicate and nuanced as it tells of
the sweetest of emotions. The onset of love between
the young girl and boy, their terms of endearment:
the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything
around it but the emotion itself," By the end of
the novel, however, she has come to a new
understanding of truth.
Pankaj Mishra, in a review in the New York Times,
called this "the best kind of post-9/11 novel".
Although set in the 1980s in a remote corner of the
memo, kishmish, ktijit. The dance of the beautiful dog Himalaya, the novel urges us to examine our deepest
as she chases her tail, running happily about the assumptions about today's world and its borders;
garden. The light-hearted comment of the girl to the about inequality, injustice and violence; and about
dog: "Silly girl." The judge's affectionate follow up the need for compassion.
Himal Southasian I May-June 2006
Wake up, Mrs Bangladesh
by | Rubana Ahmed
There's aan acute lack of philosophy in this land.
Basics haunt us, secure us, insecure us, and rule our
cramped identities.
Our fears have gotten bigger than us.
Breakfast at 8, lunch at 2, a cuppa at 5, dinner at 9:
Ifs as if food's running out on us.
We never skip meals and simply eat because we have
to keep the routine alive.
The routine of routinely complaining about weights
and looks
The routine of routinely blaming Atkins and our
The routine of 'Dhuro' has done us all a great disfavor.
A dog or a cat in a car, a quick trip to the nearest video
A bite at a Korean restaurant nearby,
Kids leaving for school after High School,
All fall under: Routine.
Last night; Hanufa bua's brother who's a loyal caddy
At the golf club has been arrested ...
At 3:00 in the morning, they woke him up, tied his
Shoved a gun into his pocket
And took a picture.
Under Routine, this is the perfect arms case.
A photograph will prove it too.
'Dream of Mona Maya': Kanak Champa Chakma
Amra kotipoye amlar stri. The old poem on the wives
of the bureaucrats?
With diamond studded lives,
Children graduating,
Working abroad,
Joining your empire.
Taking your grand children to the club for a swim.
Or a gelato in summer,
Is not what 'Desh needs right now.
Your nightmare has to cease.
The picture perfect scenario.
Is unreal in this land.
If my bad poetry doesn't get to you,
Disaster will.
Wait till your kid gets kidnapped,
Wait till you are taken hostage for a ransom,
Wait till your area gets bombed.
Woman, what are you waiting for?
Wake up, women!
'Shadharon' is not your land,
You have been raped in 71,
You have been violated all your life.
With nothing more to part with,
Defy Routine,
You were meant to be an epidemic.
So be it.
Pass it to the next voice lying in your next room.
Invade her heart, teach her the langue of freedom,
Be brutal in the process
Wake her, shake her up and tell her
That all that you have taught her for so long
Was simple Routine.
Sire needs to change her Major from Business to
Walk in the crowd,
Get arrested,
Beat the shit out of the bastards that wear the garb of
propriety and preach intolerance.
Get there, woman.
And help me get there too. A
Amra kotipoy amrar stri- a poem on the bureaucrats' wives, Hanufa bua - the ever-loyal house help, Shadharon - ordinary
May-June 2006 | Himal Southasian
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