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Himal Southasian Volume 19, Number 6, September 2006 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2006-09

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Naga Peace Talks
Move Ahead 1
Wasbir Hussain
Faith Healers'
of Tamil Nadu y
S Gautham
The Southasian
Development Paradox
iriele Kohler
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Striving together
Designed by artist Venantius J Pinto, the cover of this
issue shows a Chinese and Indian soldier at Nathula on
6 July, at the opening of the pass to commerce. The
Himalayan clouds that form the backdrop represent
the increasingly porous nature of the separation
between Southasia and China. On the cover, these
clouds replace the Himalayan ramparts, which have
been the traditional imager}' to describe the separation
of the Subcontinent from Central and East Asia.
The sight of these two soldiers, standing together at
14,400 ft, is symbolic of the cooperative element in fhe
relationship between India and China. But it has a
hidden subtext as well, with the two soldiers engaged
in their own game of one-upmanship. When the
Chinese soldier realised that the Indian was taller than
him, he used a stool to elevate his position and look
more impressive than his counterpart. Not to be
outdone, the Indian too found a stool for himself and
regained his higher position. Even as the setting
represented the kind of relationship China and
Southasia must strive to build, tlie context reveals die
A tale of two civilisations
Comrades at odds
On the same side
'Sita Under the Full Moon'
SossiSjasliaE fetfefs
CGssr stars
The 'Forward Policy' and Southasia
Mahendra P Lama
Pakistan and the 'alliance maze'
Ejaz Haider
China, Southasia and India
Simon Long
Tackling China, regionally
Alka Acharya
The Naga talks move along
Wasbir Hussain
Divergent memories in Manipur
Dolly Kikon
Paradox of the Southasian welfare state
Gabriele Kohler
K ■oar.Qfe'v.c pesficitbe soup
Samir Kumar Sinha
Special resssfi
Faith, fetters and freedom
S Gautham
The price of power
Zia Mian and M V Ramana
competitive streak that characterises the Sino-Indian
equation. Himal's cover package seeks to understand
both this complex maze of connections and the seeming
contradictions, and explores the growing engagement
between China and us.
Cover photograph by Gangtok photojournalist Ashit Rai.
Cultural invasion by rail
Tenzin Tsundue
Dalit intellectualising and the OBCs
Shivam Vij
Taming of the Indian shrew
Laxmi Murthy
We the people, you the populace
Thin green line
Ananya Vajpeyi
^ess toetgra.
Sangsad Bhawan pilgrimage
Om Thanvi
F-16, object of desire
Rinku Dutta
The Narmada parikrama
Hartosh Singh Bai
UP badland ballad
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
The heroines o^ dignified struggle
Barnita Bagchi
Dispelling dangerous notions
Iftikhar Gilani
Xaying it right!
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 Vol 19   No 6
September 2006 |
Kanak Muni Dixit
Assistant Editors
Prashant Jha
Himaii Dixit
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Manager
Komal More
Editorial Assistance
Aastha Dahal
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
Roshan Tamang
Bhusan Shilpakar
Sunita Silwal
Kabita R Gautam
Santosh Aryal
Shahadev Koirala
UUV^aiUU\(iiUVtl£ \UV1V
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lailitpur, 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: ScanPro
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to    this    issue
Alka Acharya teaches al the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Ananya Vajpeyi is currently a Fellow at tlie Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi,
Barnita Bagchi studies the intersection of gender, education, narrative and development, at the
Institute of Development Studies in Calcutta.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
Dolly Kikon is a research studnet based in Guwahati.
Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Contributino Editor of Daily Times. He is
based in Lahore. This article was written with the help of MoeecTYusuf, consultant on economic
policy at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.
Gabriele Kohler is Regional Advisor on Social Policy, UNICEF Regional Office South Asia
(ROSA). The views expressed are those oi the author and not necessa'rily those of UNICEF.
This article is based on a May 2006 regional workshop on social policy, and received research
support from Jennifer Keane.
Hartosh Singh Bai is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, and co-author of A Certain Ambiguity,
to be released by Princeton University Press in 2007. He is currently working on a travelogue on
the Narmada parikrama.
Iftikhar Gilani is the Delhi bureau chief of Kashmir Times and India correspondent for Daily
Times and The Friday Times.
Jawed Naqvi is India correspondent for the Dawn newspaper. He is based in New Delhi.
Laxmi Murfhy is a Delhi-based journalist who has been active in the Indian women's movement
for the past two decades.
Mahendra Lama is the chairman of the Centre for South, Central, South East Asia and South
West Pacific Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
M V Ramana is a physicist at Princeton University.
Om Thanvi is editor of the Jansatta daily, New Delhi.
Rinku Dutta is a research consultant at the Lahore Museum. She portions her time between
Lahore and Delhi.
Peerzada Arshad Hamid is a Srinagar-based journalist.
S Gautham is based in New Delhi, and works as a researcher and producer of television
Samir Kumar Sinha is based in Patna. He works with a conservation organisation, and writes
on issues of wildlife, environment and public health.
Shivam Vij is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. His writings can be found at
Simon Long is The Economist's Southasia correspondent, based in New. Delhi. He previously
worked in Beijing and Hong Kong.
Tenzin Tsundue is a writer and activist. He lives in Dharamsala.
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta is in the Indian Administrative Service, based in Bombay. Her
writings can be found at
Venantius J Pinto is an artist who moves between Bombay and New York.
Wasbir Hussain is director of the Centre for Development and Peace Studies a CumJxtL
political commentator.
?ia Mian is a Btwsieist at Universitywh0 is enaaBed Vj:"' " i;:":: ■'
Disarmament sr>t> peacn.
Cover: vena/iritis
; Address 32]
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September 2006 | Himal Southasian
The psyche of foeticide
This is in reference to Astri Ghosh's
special report ("The missing
daughters of Punjab", July 2006). The
high incidence of female foeticide
in Pakistan came as a great surprise
to me. In informal meetings with
social activists, gender experts and
at seminars, I have often been told
that this was not a major problem
in Pakistan. The fact that dowry -
considered one of the main reasons
for getting rid of the girl child - is
less prevalent among Muslims
than Hindus made this
contention logical. The prevalence
of preconception selection of foetal
sex, the Jarge number of illegal
abortions, and the existence of
Safiya clinics tell us that the fairer
sex is headed in the same direction
in Pakistan as in India. The notion
of 'honour' might be an important
reason for the phenomena across
the border.
While Ghosh must be lauded for
highlighting the widespread
nature of the problem, she has not
adequately explored the causes for
declining sex ratios and high rates
of foeticide. Reports have made it
clear that this is not linked to
income or prosperity levels, but to a
certain kind of psyche. Highly
qualified and educated parents,
doctors and women themselves are
a part of the act. What are the
underlying factors giving rise to this
kind of psyche?
If one trend spans across the
diverse social structure in India, it
is the patriarchal setup with
a strong preference for a son. Sons
are considered ritually and
economically desirable, not just to
conduct the last rites of their
parents but also to ensure
continuation of the lineage and
property, and as economic lifelines
for their parents in their old age.
The traditional cultural values,
which held the woman as the
symbol of family honour and
prestige, in fact works against them
now. Women are associated
instinctively with negative notions
like insecurity, fear and tension.
While dowry is an age-old
phenomenon, recent changes in the
Indian society in the aftermath of
liberalisation have not helped
matters. This has given a spurt to
materialist aspirations, and one of
the mechanisms to fulfil it is dowry,
especially among urban, educated,
middle-class families. This has
made the girl a costly proposition
and the son a profitable venture.
Dr Geeta Sinha
Social scientist
Greater Noida, India
In an earlier issues of Himal, I had seen
an awe-inspiring interpretation of the
term 'Southasia*. I was going through
the recent issues of the magazine but
could not get that on hand. May I
request of you those defining tines,
which build a sense of bonding and
aggregation while in most places we
hear of disintegration and fractions!
S Shukla
Thank you! Here it is, as also available on our website. Editors.
'Southasia' as one word: Himal's editorial stylebook favours
'Southasia' as one word. As a magazine seeking to restore some
of the historical unity of our common living space - without
wishing any violence on the existing nation states - we believe
that the atoof geographical term 'South Asia' needs to be injected
with some feeling. 'Southasia' does the trick for us, albeit the
word is limited to English-language discourse. Himal's editors will
be using 'Southasia' in all our copy, except where context requires
retention of the traditional spelling. We also respect the wishes of
contributors who prefer to stay with 'South Asia'.
Send your compliments, questions and corrections - or anything else - to
Himal Southasian | September 2006
A tale of two civilisations
Civilisationally speaking, we should be talking about
the relationship between China and 'Indie'
Southasia, rather than between China and the
individual countries of our region. But there will be some
romantic idealism attached to that notion, because the
reality lies in the separate bilateral relations nurtured
by each of our capitals with Beijing. And so, when we
speak of Southasia's China policy, we are necessarily
referring to the sum of seven or eight different
China policies.
At Himal, we do not propose a one-size-fits-all China
policy for all Southasia, but we do see the benefit in
comparing notes between Islamabad, Delhi,
Kathmandu, Dhaka and Colombo - if not between the
diplomats then between academics, analysts and
business leaders. It would surely be useful to have a
minimally coordinated approach, especially as Beijing
linking Kathmandu to Lhasa, show the way to the future
- something that New Delhi is experimenting gingerly
with, as reflected in the opening of Nathula a couple of
months ago.
A full 45 years after the PLA's incursions in
Arunachal and Aksai Chin, it is heartening that New
Delhi's generals and analysts are at long last shedding
their paranoia about the 'vulnerable' Himalayan frontier.
This obsession - born out of the long-ago military
unpreparedness and resulting mortification - for
decades made New Delhi rigid on all issues related to
the Himalayan rimland, from the Indian Northeast to
Nepal to Kashmir.
Proof of increasing Indian flexibility is found on
several fronts: in talk of reopening the Stilwell Road
connecting the Northeast to Burma and Yunnan, in
the Nathula opening, and lately in New Delhi's
acceptance of Nepal's right to invite a United Nations
team to monitor the peace-building efforts in the
insurgency-torn country. All these advances have at
their core a reduced suspicion in New Delhi of Chinese
intentions, which itself received a boost last year when
seems to have completely abandoned its ideology-
export industry and become market-oriented and
pragmatic in its dealings.
It becomes necessary to pay close attention to
India's China strategy, as New Delhi's arrangements
are bound to impact the rest of Southasia. In the era
of economic globalisation, India sees itself as both a
partner and competitor of China when it comes to world
power status. The other capitals, in varying degrees,
tend to highlight the importance of Beijing in their
foreign policy radarscope, in an attempt to balance
the overbearing presence of India in the neighbourhood.
Pakistan's relationship with China also looms large
because Islamabad is utilising the economic and
geo-strategic openings to West Asia to increase its
leverage with Beijing. The evolution of Gwadar port
will be worth watching.
Himalayan paranoia
Even though the 2500 km Himalayan ridgeline marks
the border between China and Southasia - from the
Hengduan to the Karakoram - it is no longer the great
strategic barrier of dated school textbooks. The reality
of missile travel-time and the ability to push highways
through the mountains indicates a need for us to set
aside geopolitical blinders and to engage economically
and socially with China and Tibet. The Karakoram
Highway, and to a lesser extent the Kodari highway
China officially recognised the incorporation of Sikkim
into the Indian Union.
The engine of fast-paced growth arrived in Tibet this
July in the form ofthe railway from Beijing via Golmud.
The overall impact of this mechanistic incursion on
the indigenous Tibetan culture will doubtless be drastic
and tragic. At the same time, Tibet is also going to
see increased economic activity. This, and the
expanded exploitation of natural resources, will no duobt
be supported by the advent of large numbers of Han
Chinese from the mainland.
The economic growth of the high plateau will as a
matter of course bring Tibet closer to Southasia,
through new highways, air corridors and even railways.
A large part of the Southasian engagement with
China in the years to come will be in the form of
engagement with the TAR. This is as it should be,
because - civilisationally - while Tibet is of course its
own society, it is more a part of Southasia than of the
Chinese mainland.
Since it is not possible to contemplate a One China
policy by all Southasian governments, might we
suggest that at the very least the various countries
evaluate their own attitudes - and those of their
immediate neighbours -towards the People's Republic
in these times of flux? This issue of Himal, with its
focus on 'China-Southasia Bhai-Bhai', seeks to promote
that capacity for evaluation. jt,
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 ■ I I II ^ 1
Comrades at odds
The differences were bound to surface. As Nepali
Maobaadis embark on the thorny road to
mainstream politics after a decade-long stint as armed
revolutionaries, ripples can be felt across the Naxalite
realm in India. In a scathing critique ofthe Nepali rebel
leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka 'Prachanda'),
Communist Party of India (Maoist) spokesperson
'Comrade .Azad' has attacked the Nepali Maoists for
deviating from the revolutionary goal of attaining
'People's Democracy'.
Azad accused the Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) of collaborating with 'bourgeoisie' and
revisionist parties, and giving up the ideal of an armed
overthrow of the feudal state. The disagreement,
coming from ideological co-travelers in two Southasian
states, assumes critical importance in light of alarm
about linkages between ultra-left groups in the region,
something that Indian intelligence agencies in particular
like to play up.
Left parties, of both parliamentary and revolutionary
hues, have a history of bitter feuds and endless
divisions. The current phase of ultra-leftist confrontation
in Southasia may have been triggered by the Nepali
Maobaadi decision to engage with other parties of
Nepal. At a more fundamental level, it may also be
about a clash of perceptions regarding global and
country-specific situations, and the possibilities
of revolution.
But mostly the Naxalite ire seems to stem from the
leadership's fear of loss of power and prestige, when
the much-romanticised Nepali Maobaadi decided to give
up the class war. Just as the mainstream Left in India
headed by the CPI (M) was worried that the success
of the Maobaadi would give energy to the Naxalites,
the latter are now worried about the message that
Dahal's compromises will be sending to their flock.
The rift
A year ago this August, at a party plenum, the CPN
(M) decided to enter multiparty politics. This decision
stemmed from the realisation that neither a military
takeover nor a one-party setup was possible in Nepal.
The regional and global context, primarily the presence
and attitude of India and the continuing frailty of the
international communist movement, meant that any
ultra-left regime would be difficult to sustain.
Gyanendra's coup of 1 February 2005 provided the
Maoists with an opportunity to join an opposition
movement, led by mainstream parties, against an
autocratic monarch. In the aftermath of the historic
People's Movement, the Maoists are engaged in a
process that can provide a rare example of an
entrenched insurgency entering competitive politics.
It is this tilt of the Maobaadis, and the various
reasons that propelled the change, that now has the
Naxalites across the border, so to speak, up in arms.
Dahal's advice to the Naxalites to rethink their strategy
and adopt the parliamentary path, clearly stated in an
interview in The Hindu newspaper, seems to have
raised the hackles ofthe Indian revolutionaries. Azad's
riposte, which took some time coming, sought to
question this understanding and the re-orientation of
the Maobaadis.
The criticism hinges on several issues. The Naxalites
believe that the Nepali Maoists should have continued
with the task of expanding their base areas, and not
compromised with reactionary parties; that the
Maobaadis' tendency to let the 'sub-stage' of
bourgeoisie democracy dominate the path of revolution
was a mistake; that the Maobaadi should not be so
desperate to engage with the UN as they have been;
and that the quest for an armed overthrow is crucial
because only complete destruction of the state and
ruling classes can bring about rea! change.
Azad and his comrades argue that international
conditions - the rise of anti-Americanism, the
devastating impact of neo-liberal policies, and the spurt
in people's movements have brightened the prospects
for an armed insurrection. Caught in a somewhat
different geopolitical context in Nepal - plus in a terrain
where it was easy to conduct an insurgency but difficult
to sustain it once it had achieved a certain scale -
Dahal's assessment now seems to differ significantly
from that of his Indian comrades.
Impossible revolution
A couple of weeks after Azad's outburst became public,
the Naxalites and the Maobaadi released a joint
statement expressing solidarity and asserting that their
differences revolved around tactical, not fundamental,
questions. Even that last-ditch attempt to maintain a
shred of unity revealed the deep difference between
the two groups.
The Naxalites may have spread to 160 districts in
India; the Indian Home Ministry may have raised the
alarm and instigated Manmohan Singh to categorise
them as the country's largest internal security threat.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 But the revolution is not about to happen in India.
There can be a strong ethical case made for the
inherent wrong in the use of violence for political ends.
But from a purely pragmatic perspective as well -
and we shudder at the reaction this simple statement
is going to arouse-it would be prudent for the Naxalite
leadership to realise the futility of the path.
The Indian Naxalite reach is confined to select
areas, especially forests. Their capacity to overthrow
state structures barely reaches divisional
headquarters. Their base is confined to tribal
populations and in a few areas to landless labourers;
in the absence of support among either the peasantry
or industrial workers, it is difficult to fathom how the
revolution will come The overwhelming might of the
Indian State and states; the accommodative nature
of India's democracy, with a proven ability to co-opt
disenchanted groups; irreversible economic change
and a powerful constituency that favours it; and the
international politico-economic situation - all these
make Naxalite rhetoric about the inevitability of
revolution unconvincing.
The Naxalites are not only challenged in expanding
their support base. Their programme and actions also
leave room for scepticism. After all, the targets of
their attacks are those groups ideologically closest
to them - primarily the Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation and the mainstream
Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Naxalites do
little to support grassroots people's movements, nor
do they rush to protect the hard-won rights of such
campaigns. Where, after all, are the Naxalites when it
comes to India's National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act or the Right to Information? It is also striking how
they have carefully avoided political contest with
rightwing Hindu fundamentalist outfits. Meanwhile, the
Naxalite role in fighting imperialism is limited to
publishing rhetorical statements.
If anyone has some learning to do, it is the Naxalites
of India. The Nepali Maobaadi, to their credit, are trying
to shed the bane of most ultra-left movements: dogma.
Even as the transition in Nepal throws up its own
challenges, the Naxalites and their sympathisers will
hopefully realise that there is little to be gained from
rocking the Nepali boat from the outside. Let the
experiment of the Nepali Maobaadi continue, even as
Naxalite groups of India seek their own 'safe landing'.
At a time when urban middle classes are romancing
the United States and jumping on the consumerist
bandwagon, what the people of India need is a broad,
non-violent Left movement comprising different groups
- not dreams of a revolution that is not to be. .*.
On the same side
In what has become an established tradition, at
" midnight on 14 August peace activists from India and
Pakistan lit candles at Wagah as a mark of solidarity
and a symbol of peace. At the same place a few days
earlier, following a diplomatic tit-for-tat, an Indian
embassy official
returned home after
being expelled on
spying charges. The
Pakistani diplomat,
for his part, took the
flight back to
Islamabad from Delhi
after being declared
persona non grata.
Step    by    step,
Pakistani ralliers in Wagah, 14 August   we   are   seeing  an
unravelling of what is
known as the 'composite dialogue' between India and
Pakistan. The powder keg of populist nationalist politics
is easily lit by terrorist acts, and when this happens
and the media grabs onto the story, there is little that
otherwise responsible diplomats and politicians on
either side can do but go with the flow.
The Bombay blasts, which followed the Benaras
temple bombing and the New Delhi market terror, have
effectively brought public diplomacy between
Islamabad and New Delhi to a halt. Conservative
commentators in both countries are suddenly in high
demand on television shows and newspaper columns,
and they question the logic of the peace process. We
dare say that the Indian and Pakistani intelligentsia and
diplomatic echelons had better brace themselves for
more blasts. Because it seems that the militants
responsible for brutalising the innocent will do everything
to destroy the peace process. Let us not succumb
to this all-too-obvious plan, and let terror get the
upper hand.
In a very real sense, Pervez Musharraf and
Manmohan Singh are on the same side when it comes
to wanting peace with the other country, and not wanting
the militants to wreck the peace process Look at it
this way: seen from a New Delhi perspective, President
Musharraf has the right 'enemies' - as proven by the
fact that the groups India has accused the president of
harbouring have in fact been those that have attempted
to assassinate him.
The realisation that both governments face a
common challenge, from radical militant organisations,
must begin to form a platform on which the peace
process can be rebuilt. Dare we say that such a platform
will be more powerful than a peace process predicated
only upon the ethical demands of good-neighbourliness?
Once this is accepted, India and Pakistan can help
each other - not merely in terms of intelligence-sharing,
but by creating space for the other to take the
detente forward.
As things stand, the Indian establishment feels that
Pervez Musharraf has not lived up to his word, by
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 allowing militants to use Pakistani soil for anti-Indian
activities. While some New Delhi commentators argue
that the top echelons of the Pakistani state, including
President Musharraf himself, are complicit in the
process, this is not the kind of hearsay on which South
Block should base its all-important Pakistan-policy.
More believable is the suggestion that the General is
in a vulnerable position politically: opposition is
mounting from a pro-democracy alliance; discontent
in certain provinces is apparent; and the border with
Afghanistan is in turmoil.
There is a strong sense in Pakistan - both within
the government and in the media - that India has not
responded adequately to the unprecedented flexibility
shown by Islamabad, especially on the Kashmir issue.
From giving up the demand for implementation of UN
resolutions on Kashmir, to implicitly accepting the
notion of soft borders, Islamabad has moved away
from its maximalist position and offered several
proposals to deal with the dispute. Moreover, despite
the non-resolution of the Kashmir issue - which was
earlier held up as a pre-condition for progress on talks
- Pakistan has engaged with India on several other
issues as outlined in the composite dialogue.
To give credit where it is due, India too has shown
some degree of accommodation. Prime Minister
Singh's formulation about making borders irrelevant,
and constituting institutional arrangements between
the two parts of Kashmir, are bold proposals and have
created the right atmosphere. But it is also true that
senior officials in New Delhi feel that all they need to
do is bide their time on Kashmir and the issue will lose
steam. The reluctance of the Indian state to engage
in substantial negotiations is taking its toll on the
peace process.
It is important that Pakistan show concrete results
in terms of curbing militant activities, but beyond that
India has a responsibility to look at the situation more
objectively than it has. New Delhi must take into
account the domestic sentiment in Pakistan (which
doubts Indian sincerity), and how that would limit
President Musharrafs flexibility. In a situation where
President Musharraf is receiving few concessions from
the Indian side - or is seen to be getting nothing at al!
- he cannot succeed in his attempt to corner the very
groups that Islamabad has nurtured for decades.
It is only when India engages in dialogue on concrete
issues, and implements policies that reflect a softening
of stance vis-a-vis Kashmir, that the general will have
the credibility to convince the Pakistani political class
of the utility of cracking down on militant outfits. And
when that happens, the Indian government will have
the space to carry on with the process, undaunted by
occasional, vena! terror attacks.
As we see it, rather than use the Bombay blasts -
and doubtless more blasts to come - to scuttle talks.
New Delhi should come forward with novel initiatives
that will strengthen the General's hand to crack down
on militant activities and camps in Pakistan. On this
matter, the two sides are on the same side. >.
'Sita Under the Full Moon'
Under the soft light of a full moon not seen, Sita of
Mithila, born ofthe earth, returns to the earth through
a deep furrow that opens up in the fields. She has
been consort to a moralistic king, trekked the
Subcontinent and crossed great rivers in exile, been
'abducted' and in the course of time 'rejected*. The
Sita handed down to us is a faithful spouse, chaste
and fertile. She might have been that, too, and the
symbolism has served the needs of the state
and patriarchy over millennia. This abstract work
proposes Sita as a woman with agency, supremely
confidently in her singlehood, alone but hardly forlorn
or forsaken. This 'Sita' tells the story of hundreds of
millions of women who carry out their own acts of
feminism large and small, every day, all the time,
all over the areas that the Sita of legend trekked so
long ago. Exposed, experienced, calculating, in the
villages, they take in their hands the power to shape
their lives.
This is part of a regular series of Himal's editorial commentary
on artwork by Venantius J Pinto. Mixed Media. Print size: 11.5
x 15 inches. 1998.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
Farakka's impending fiasco
Expensive rocks offer no protection
The controversial
Farakka Barrage in
West Bengal, which diverts
waters from the Ganga into
its tributary, the Bhagirathi,
is in danger of being
outflanked. A recent report
by West Bengal geologist
and activist Kalyan Rudra
on the "Shifting ofthe
Ganga and Land Erosion
in West Bengal" would
indicate that the entire
Farakka project has been a
fiasco, though no
government engineer or
administrator would
concede the point.
In the report, recently
presented at a seminar in
Calcutta, Rudra explores
the history, geology,
engineering, political
neglect and social injustice
behind the barrage.
Farakka was built not for
irrigation, as are most
barrages, but with the
intention of salvaging the
navigational status ofthe
Calcutta port, which had
been threatened since
early colonial times by
heavy sedimentation.
The flushing objective of
Farakka was never
achieved, even as it
managed to divert water,
much to the chagrin of
downstream Bangladesh.
With the Calcutta port
continuing to silt up, the
cargo handling has been
shifted to towns down the
Bay of Bengal coast -
Haldia, Kalpi and Sagar.
Back at Farakka, the
sediment trapped in the
barrage pond has caused
the water level to rise
alarmingly. The Ganga
annually carries about 700
million tonnes of sediment
at Farakka, the report
states, and a lot of it is
settling upstream from the
barrage. With its bed rising,
the river looks all set to
change its course, into
an older, long-
abandoned channel.
The changing ofthe
course of the Ganga and
its tributaries is, of course,
a natural phenomenon,
particularly so on rivers
that carry the largest silt
load in the world,
comparable only to the
Hwang Ho River in China.
is the accumulation of the
Himalayan silt on the
riverbed that periodically
changes rivers' courses. In
the case of Farakka,
however, the cause
is manmade.
And the outflanking of
the barrage by the Ganga
(Padma in Bangladesh)
would mean that a
massive project, which
promised so much to
Calcutta and brought such
heartburn to India-
Bangladesh relations,
would be for naught. This
would obviously mean
disaster for the
surrounding region, but
also that the river would
run free once more
into Bangladesh.
Scientist Rudra does not
appear to have an
immediate solution to what
seems to be the inevitable
endangerment of the
Farakka project. Bank
reinforcement, he writes, is
very costly, at the rate of
one lakh rupees per metre
of levee. Even though
constant strengthening of
the embankment does not
provide a long-term
solution, this is what the
state and central
governments continue to
do. Embankments and
revetments meant to deflect
the current may provide
temporary relief, says
Rudra, but in the long term
they aggravate the situation.
While seeming to write
off the future of Farakka as a
barrage, Rudra suggests
that the only long-term
solution in the place of such
huge capital investments
would be to focus on better
preparedness for floods,
and on scientific
resettlement strategies to
improve the lives ofthe
thousands who have
already been negatively
impacted by erosion and
floods. In sum, Rudra's plea
is that the population - as
well as the engineers and
politicians - learn to live
with the floods, rather than
fight nature with boulders
and cement.
Don't touch Moreh
The Indo-Myanmar Border Traders'
Union (IMBTU) recently urged the
Governor of Manipur, S S Sidhu, to halt
a plan by New Delhi that will divert Indo-
Burmese trade from Moreh, possibly to
Champhai in Mizoram or Pangsha in
Nagaland. The decision to change the
trading hub was taken in mid-May
during the second meeting of the India-
Burma Joint Trade Committee.
Commerce between the two
countries has actually decreased after
Moreh, in Manipur, was established as
the designated India-Burmese trading
centre in 1995. In the decade that the
Moreh crossing has been open, IMBTU
officials say only INR 2 billion worth of
goods has passed through this point.
Rather than move the trading post,
IMBTU is urging New Delhi to allow
third-country trading to take place at
Moreh, as well as to increase the
number and range of legally tradable
goods. The group also believes a
crossborder bus service would be
useful. Unless a foreign trade office is
established on the Indian side, says one
local, "it will only be one-way traffic".
Moreh has of late been a site of
stepped-up tension between locals and
the paramilitary 24 Assam Rifles, in mid-
July, accusations against the force of
harassment and arbitrary arrest caused
all trade to be halted for a week. There
are also renewed demands for the
transfer of a controversial Assam Rifles
post commander.
September 2006 ] Himal Southasian
Crossing the strait
As the conflict in
Sri Lanka has
escalated dramatically in
recent months, the refugee
exodus from the island to
Tamil Nadu, which first
began 23 years ago, has
picked up once again. By
mid-August, more than
6600 refugees had taken    j
shelter in camps across      ;
the state. This reverses the j
trend of the past few years, j
when almost 15,000 j
refugees had returned
home to a Sri Lanka that
had attained relative
peace. Since April,
almost 129,000 people
have been displaced
within Sri Lanka.
The ceasefire
agreement between the
Colombo government
and the Tamil Tigers now
exists only in name. To
avoid getting caught in
the crossfire, thousands
of Tamils from
Trincomalee and Mannar
Intimidated in Kerala
This summer Maldivians in Thiruvananlhapuram
(Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala, have feared
reprisals from roving gangs after two Indian nationals
suffered knife assaults in Male in mid-July. Reports
surfaced in May suggesting that Indian labourers in
the Maldives suffer regular abuse; this led to
Maldivian families in Kerala suffering attacks on their
houses and cars.
Although no injuries have been reported, the
attacks went on for a week in a part of town known to
be populated by Maldivians, causing police to begin
regular patrols in the area. The Maldives consulate in
Thiruvananlhapuram has prepared a leaflet to be
distributed to new immigrants, to better introduce
them to the area.
Local police investigated members of the Hindu
nationalist Shiv Sena, who have previously led public
demonstrations in response to reports of Indians
being discriminated against in the Maldives. Also
suspected of involvement are a group of hotel
owners, upset at Maldivian residents who were
drawing away business by taking in travelers from
their home country as paying guests. Although the
worst ofthe attacks have halted, Maldives expatriates
claim that they remain soft targets for criminal
elements in the city. A
districts have crossed the
choppy waters of the Palk
Strait. Arriving refugees
are first registered at the
Mantapam camp, 15 km
from Rameswaram, and
then given
accommodation at one of
the 103 camps
administered by the
Madras government.
The camps provide a
sorry picture, often lacking
basic water, sanitation
and medical facilities. At
Kattumannarkovi! in
Cuddalore District, the
refugees have been given
shelter in godowns, with
living spaces partitioned
by gunny-sacks. A judicial
order issued in 2003
prohibits children of
refugees admission in
Tamil Nadu's higher
education institutions.
The new state
government, headed by
M Karunanidhi, has
expressed commitment to
improve camp conditions.
For its part, the Colombo
government claims it has
set up its own relief
camps, and is seeking to
discourage the refugees
from going across
to India.
The friendly enemy
A recent poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan (and
commissioned by Delhi-based Outlook magazine
for its Independence Day issue) made for shocking
headlines, revealing that 53 percent of Pakistanis
consider India to be the 'enemy'. Only 19 percent would
dub it a 'friend'.
But that could be merely the programmed response
to a leading question, for the other responses to the
Gallup poll reveal a different picture altogether - one of
revival of trust and camaraderie. For example, 60
percent of Pakistanis feel that relations between the two
countries are better under Manmohan Singh of the
Congress than under the Bharatiya Janata Parly's Atal
Bihari Vajpayee. Almost 55 percent believe that
increased people-to-people contact, mostly provided by
the new crossborder bus and train links, have improved
the situation.
One major shift in comparison to a similar survey
taken in 2003 has been opinion on converting the Line
of Control into an international border. In 2003, only 29
percent said they would accept such a move; today that
number is 41 percent. Obviously, Pakistanis increasingly
believe that they can live with the 'enemy'.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 R s G i G r _;
For some time,
it has seemed as if
be as moribund as
its SAARC cousin.
In an effort to inject
some energy into
the effort, the
members met in
New Delhi in August, and
announced a stepped-up
timetable for establishing a
free trade agreement (FTA)
between the BIMSTEC
members - which at latest
count includes
Bangladesh, Bhutan,
Burma, India, Nepal, Sri
Lanka and Thailand.
The attending ministers
agreed that final
negotiations for the FTA
should be completed prior
to the next BIMSTEC
BIMSTEC began as an
acronym of countries of
the Bay of Bengal rimland
that got together to
integrate and energise the
economies of South and
Southeast Asia. As the
membership grew, it was
decided to keep the name
but redefine the acronym -
and so, today we have the
'Bay of Bengal Initiative
for Multi-Sectoral
Technical and
Economic Cooperation'.
summit, scheduled for early
next year. A joint statement
released after the New
Delhi meeting emphasised
the need to improve
transportation links
between the countries. A
centre will be created in
India to work as a focal
point for strengthening
cooperation in the energy
sector. Member states also
agreed to collaborate on
better emergency
preparedness in the case of
natural disasters.
While good
atmospherics were
emanating from BIMSTEC,
the South Asian Free Trade
Agreement (SAFTA) being
promoted by SAARC was
coming unstuck.
Southasian foreign
ministers who met in
Dhaka in early August left
unresolved the dispute
between India and Pakistan
that lies at the core of the
SAFTA deadlock. New
Delhi accuses Islamabad
of having failed to
implement key tariff
reductions for goods
imported by India, by
issuing a notice in
July limiting SAFTA
tariff concessions.
In response,
Islamabad's Foreign
Minister Khurshid Mahmud
Kasuri explained that while
Pakistani imports from
India have increased by
about 400 percent,
Pakistan has been unable
to find entry into India's
market, even,in areas
where Pakistan has a
competitive advantage.
The ministers decided to
refer the problem to a
forum of SAARC ministers
of commerce, where the
problem is expected to
remain as is where is.    £
The flag and Bachchan
Karachi authorities have ordered the removal of
billboards and posters depicting Bollywood star
.Amitabh Bachchan superimposed on the Pakistani
flag. The advertisements had been put up by a local
entertainment company seeking to promote its new
call-in quiz show,
"Aao Banain
Carorpati", which is
similar to the Hindi-
language "Kaun
Banega Crorepati"
hosted by
Bachchan. The
superstar is not
affiliated with the
new Pakistani
show, however,
which is scheduled
to begin airing on
14 August,
Independence Day.
City officials
were not
unexcited by the
crossborder juxtaposition. They noted that while they
did not consider Bachchan an enemy, "his picture
on our national flag was an objectionable act... this
place is reserved only for our own heroes." 7
IPI trouble
. :
Oil secretaries from India, Pakistan and Iran met in
New Delhi in early August to discuss pricing
formulae for the gas that may eventually flow through the
proposed USD 7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline.
Though the meeting had been slated for a final
agreement on pricing, in mid-July Tehran rejected New
Delhi's proposed price. Instead, Iranian officials
announced that the gas would be sold at international
rates, and that no concessions would be made for either
Pakistan or India. This would set the price at around USD
7.20 per BTU (British Thermal Unit), far above India's
offer of USD 4.25.
During the New Delhi meeting, Pakistan and India
both publicly opposed Iran's proposal - not only for the
cost itself, but also because Iran wants to link the price to
the international rate for crude oil, meaning that there
would be neither a price floor nor ceiling.
Iran's intransigence may actually have to do with two
matters quite unconnected to pricing. First, after
Manmohan Singh's publicly-shared scepticism of the IPI
project, Teheran may believe that the project is not going
anywhere. Second, the Iranian authorities have been
angered by India's willingness to go along with a West-
sponsored resolution in the International Atomic Energy
Agency on their nuclear power programme.
Despite their inability to come to an agreement, all
three sides reiterated the importance of the !PI project
itself. A last-ditch effort to break the impasse is now
underway, in which an international consultant will be
trilaterally appointed to study the pricing issue. That
report is due in mid-September, which may be the last
we hear about the 'magic pipeline' - at least until India's
mounting energy woes force a rethink. A
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Hudood stays
Pervez Musharraf has long assured activists that he
would act against the anti-women Hudood
Ordinance, which enforces punishments as dictated by
Sharia Law. He even issued an executive order, and the
Ministry of Justice stated its intention to remove all "legal
from the
But then,
in a
down in
late July,
government decided that while the controversial
Ordinance can be amended, its substance is acceptable
"in principle". In other words, amputation and stoning-to-
death will both remain officially sanctioned punishments
for certain offences.
Eyewitness and evidence requirements are to be
modified, however, A victim of rape, for instance, will no
longer be asked to produce four eyewitnesses in court.
While the government decided that hadd, or Koranic
punishments, will remain in effect for certain offences,
repentance will now have legal implications. A guilty
party who 'repents' will no longer be subjected to hadd
The Hudood law was imposed by Zia ul-Haq in 1979
as part of his efforts to Islamicise the administration of
Pakistan. It seems that his military successor in
President Musharraf, though of a mind with the activists,
is not willing to dare the conservative clergy. A>
A contentious breakthrough
Late July saw the first
hard news story in 16
years with regard to the
international community's
response to the ongoing
Bhutani refugee crisis.
Coinciding with a visit to
Nepal by a senior UNHCR
official, the Kathmandu
government finally agreed
to allow an initial batch of
"vulnerable" refugees to be
resettled in Western
countries, this time to
Canada and the US. This
group includes individuals
who have been threatened,
raped or trafficked, and for
whom it has been deemed
unsafe to remain in the
refugee camps in
southeast Nepal.
UNHCR has never
been allowed to arrange
for refugee resettlement to
Western countries
because the Kathmandu
government did not want
it. Although approval has
only been given for 16
individuals, it opens up
greater possibilities for the
future. Protests took place
in both Kathmandu and
the districts of Jhapa and
Morang in the weeks
following the
announcement of
UNHCR's resettlement
plan, however, leading local
officials to ban refugees
from demonstrating outside
of the refugee camps.
Resettlement critics
within the refugee
community have blasted
the plan, saying that moves
towards resettlement will
only give tacit approval to
Thimphu's depopulation
policy of the early 1990s,
while at the same time
putting in danger sections of
the Bhutani population still
living in Bhutan. They say
Western governments in
any case cannot be
expected to take in too
many individuals, the
Lhotshampa not being
as 'exotic' as some
other refugees.
Some human rights
defenders believe that the
interests ofthe refugees
must come first, above
considerations of
culpability of the Thimphu
regime and regional
geopolitics. "How long are
they to be allowed to
fester in the refugee
camps," asked one,
"when we all know that
there is next to no
possibility of a return to
Bhutan." They believe that
the preference shown by
interviewed refugees for
an unlikely return to
Bhutan rather than
resettlement in a Western
country is the result
of coercion and peer
pressure in the
refugee camps. A
Nathula's performance
Just a month after the highly publicised reopening
ofthe Nathula pass linking Tibet and Sikkim, a
Lhasa official has criticised the low level of trade at the
point, blaming "unilateral" restrictions put in place by
New Delhi.
With trade currently restricted to 15 Chinese and
29 Indian items, the Vice Chairman of the Tibet
Autonomous Region, Hao Peng, complained that
commerce through Tibet's Renqinggang market,
16 kilometres northeast of Nathula, is only USD
12,500 per week - "far less than we had expected".
The Chinese side has not imposed any restriction
on Nathula trade, except
for contraband items,
says Hao.
Part of the problem was
undoubtedly caused by
bureaucratic inertia on the
Indian side. While New
Delhi requires international
traders to possess what is
referred to as an Import-
Export Code (IEC), such a
number is available only to 	
those included under India's national income tax laws,
which do not cover Sikkimi residents.
After two weeks of impasse New Delhi finally
exempted regional traders from IEC requirements, but
capped the volume of trade they could engage in at
just INR 25,000 per individual per day - prompting
new complaints that the restriction continues to drag
down Nathula's performance.
Once the bureaucratic glitches are ironed out, there
is still the hope that Renqinggang will be boomtown.A
Himal Southasian | September 2006
'W "Tit'
Come one,come all
Beijing appears set to relax the longstanding restrictive
visa regime for foreign visitors to Tibet. While
foreigners are currently required to apply for a special
permit to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region, the new
plans could allow tourists into the sensitive area with
just a standard Chinese visa.
Beijing explains the move as part of its larger
emphasis on opening up and improving the economy
■■■ ■-.-■■■"-.i of Tibet. Observers, however, have
noted that this move, along with the
July re-opening of the Nathula pass
and the Golmud-Lhasa train line,
reveals Beijing's growing confidence
in its hold over Tibet. Currently, Lhasa
sees about 5000 tourists a day, most
of them Han Chinese.
There is stilt only one international
flight to Lhasa's spanking new
Gonggar airport, a seasonal one from
Kathmandu that flies past Mount Everest -
Chomolungma to the Tibetans. With the easing of
restrictions and likely rise of non-Han tourists, it is
expected that Lhasa will be linked by air to Bangkok and
Hong Kong, to begin with. Kathmandu's near-monopoly
Cola troubles, again
as an entry point would then be a thing of the past.
Frontier flare-up
What is incongruous about India-Bangladesh
border clashes is how little news they make, even
though it is the official security forces of two members of
SAARC having a go at each other. And it seems to
happen all the time.
But one of the most severe border clashes in years
took place in early August, and it had more than 20,000
people on both sides evacuating to makeshift refugee
camps. At least eight deaths were reported. Few agree
on who initiated the skirmish, but the fighting between
the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the
paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) started over the
matter of ownership of a large borderland rice paddy in
Sylhet, on the Assam border.
The firefight lasted all of 14 hours, with several
hundred mortars and thousands of bullets fired. Both
sides subsequently reinforced their troop levels. Days
later, at a "fruitful" meeting between the opposing
commanders - the second such 'flag meeting' in a little
over a month - the two sides agreed to pull back
their additional troops, abide by a 1974 border
agreement, and generally pretend that nothing amiss
had taken place.
When asked why the guns had spoken, and for so
long, one BSF representative noted it was "accidental
fire, whoever had done it first". Everyone seemed willing
to accept the explanation, and calm returned to the
India-Bangladesh frontier.
Eight dead. 20,000 displaced. Hundreds of mortars.
Thousands of bullets expended. Only on the India-
Bangladesh frontier would you still call this peace!      h>
What tele-guru
Ramdev started, the
Centre for Science and
Environment (CSE) seems
intent on taking to its
logical conclusion. While
Ramdev suggested that
the multinational colas
were good as toilet
cleaners, the Delhi-based
CSE (publisher also of
Down to Earth magazine)
reported that in at least 12
states, Coca-Cola and
PepsiCo soft drinks
contained traces of
pesticides up to 50
times higher than
acceptable levels.
CSE said this confirmed
the results of a similar
study conducted three
years ago, at which time
the Indian Parliament had
suggested that the
government pass
standards for the sodas in
question. This has not yet
taken place, nor has the
government had an official
response to the
new findings.
But in other corners,
reactions have been flying.
Several Indian states
passed complete or partial
bans on the production
and sale of soft drinks
marketed by the Coca-
Cola and PepsiCo
companies, which control
80 percent of the USD 80
billion Indian soft drink
market. The Bharatiya
Janata Party and the leftist
parties called for a national
ban, reviving memories of
1977 when, right after the
Emergency, the Janata Dal
government banned Coca-
Cola (and promoted a 'desi'
soda brand known as 77).
The Indian Supreme
-Court ordered Coca-Cola to
divulge its century-old
secret formula - long an
integral part ofthe myth
surrounding Coke.
Bollywood star Shahrukh
Khan, hired to promote
Pepsi's brand through
advertisements, has
expressed his pique by
noting simply that India is "a
filthy country" - apparently
for having gone after his
sponsors. Things were
evidently serious enough
for George W Bush over in
the White House to go to
bat for the conglomerates.
At its New York
headquarters, PepsiCo
suddenly promoted India-,
born and -educated Indra
Nooyi to be its CEO.
Oddly, the CSE findings
have yet to cause a stir in
India's neighbouring
countries, even though the
possibility of pesticide
residue would seem to be
as much of a probability
there as in India. At last
count, Pakistanis were
continuing to down the
colas at quite a clip, as
were Bangladeshis,
Nepalis and Sri Lankans.
For once, the worldwide
competitors PepsiCo and
Coca-Cola must be
comparing notes on how to
tackle the volatile Indian
market - and its nemesis,
the CSE! A
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
The Naga talks move along
Even though a final resolution looks remote, the Maga peace negotiations
have proceeded with hope - and the clear indication of outside help.
The Indian government and a frontline Naga rebel
group have now been engaged in peace talks for
nine years, continuing an attempt to end one of
Southasia's longest-running insurgencies. Since the
August 1997 ceasefire between New Delhi and the
National Socialist Council of Nagaland faction headed
by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (known
as the NSCN-IM), the two sides have held around 50
rounds of negotiations. During talks in a plethora of
European, South and Southeast Asian venues, the two
sides have discussed the insurgent group's key
demand of a separate Naga homeland. While New Delhi
has tried to work out a solution within the ambit of the
Indian Constitution, the NSCN-IM has pushed for the
unification of all Naga-inhabited areas in India's
Northeast into a single politico-administrative unit.
Every time the Indian negotiators and guerrilla
chieftains met, time would be spent on charges and
counter-charges of truce violation before the ceasefire
was finally extended. The extension
would invariably be for one additional
year - except for once, this past
January, when the NSCN-IM agreed to
only a six-month extension, seeming
to indicate looming roadblocks in the
peace process. Because of this history,
the initial news out of Bangkok on 30
July, that New Delhi and the NSCN-IM
had agreed to make the nine-year-old
ceasefire irrevocable and 'coterminous'
with the peace talks (meaning they
would end at the same time), caused a
stir among jaded observers. An Indian
newspaper reported from Bangkok that the two sides
had agreed on a "broad framework", whereby they would
jointly "analyse the Indian Constitution to decide which
parts of it will apply, not apply or apply with
modifications to the Nagas."
When the Bangkok talks ended the following day,
however, the truce had been extended, again, by just
another year. Nonetheless, Indian leaders were pleased
with the very notion of the ceasefire being made
coterminous with the peace talks having been
introduced. Oscar Fernandes, Manmohan Singh's chief
appointee on the negotiations, explained after the
meeting that, "Such a suggestion of the truce being
coterminous with the peace talks had come from the
Nagas themselves. They have now withdrawn that
offer, but a one-year extension is fine with us." Some
senior NSCN-IM leaders appeared to have convinced
General Secretary Muivah not to go for the long
ceasefire; but where the suggestion had originated in
the first place, and that it found favour with both Muivah
and New Delhi, was what was significant.
Kreddha connection
There is some speculation that the 'coterminous'
formulation, along with some other apparent
interventions in the past few years, has been the
handiwork of a third party that is mediating or acting
as a facilitator in the peace talks. It is thought that the
idea actually began with one Michael C van Walt van
Praag, the Dutch executive president of a Netherlands-
based NGO known as Kreddha.
Kreddha is also said to be behind the 'broad
framework' to define the relationship between the
Nagas and the Indian government. This framework
provides for demarcating subjects or 'competencies'
to be managed separately by the Indian government,
by either dispensation in Nagaland or
jointly by both. The NSCN-IM is
pushing for a separate Constitution,
while New Delhi wants to work out a
solution within the ambit of the existing
Indian Constitution. Kreddha's
involvement in the peace process
has led to speculations as to whether
the Indian government has relaxed
its stance against third-party
or    international    mediation    on
¥,Naga-populaledareas  domestic  issues.
But who is Praag, and what is
Kreddha? The latter describes itself as
committed to the "prevention and resolution of violent
conflicts between population groups and states". The
only Indian member on its council is Nirmala
Deshpande, a former member ofthe Rajya Sabha and
president of the Gandhian Harijan Sewak Sangh. Praag
himself is a former general secretary of the
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation
(UNPO), a global umbrella body of groups seeking self-
determination. It was during his tenure in the 1990s
that the UNPO passed a resolution condemning the
Indian and Burmese governments for their military
action against the NSCN-IM.
Kreddha's involvement in the Naga talks first came
to light in December 2005, when Kraibo Chawang, the
NSCN-IM's deputy information minister, told journalists
that his group and New Delhi had agreed on "third-
party mediation", and that Praag was going to be the
Himal Southasian I September 2006
 "pointsman". The NSCN-IM's official stance was
altered, however, when R H Raising, NSCN-IM's home
minister, was quick to explain: "Michael Praag has been
associated with the talks since 2001, but no decision
has been taken officially yet to have htm as a mediator.
But I must tell you that he is a well-wisher of the Nagas
and a good friend of both our group and the government
of India." Chawang had, perhaps, prematurely disclosed
what had been meant to remain a secret.
New Delhi denied that Praag had any role in the
peace talks, although it did take a full four days for
authorities to react to the media coverage. Oscar
Fernandes declared that "the question of appointing a
mediator does not arise", but he did not respond to the
claim by Chawang (and backed by Raising) that Praag
had been mediating unofficially since 2001.
Chawang has been quoted as saying that
Praag's "contribution towards salvaging the
peace process has been acknowledged by
both" the NSCN-IM and New Delhi.
What no one in the Indian establishment
is commenting on is the relatively open
admission by Kreddha about its role in the
negotiations- "Kreddha is quietly and
confidentially facilitating negotiations
between the leaders of a major armed
independence movement in a country in
Asia and the government of that country,"
the organisation noted on its website in
January 2006. "[Kreddha] has facilitated the first and
all subsequent meetings between the prime minister
of the country in question and his representatives and
the leaders of the self-determination movement." It is
clear which country in Asia and which self-
determination movement is being referred to.
No Naga unification
The circumstances and questions of capacity aside,
that Kreddha became involved in the negotiations at
all was due to the fact that New Delhi and the NSCN-
IM have been unable to agree on a framework for a
possible solution. Then-Prime Minister H D Deve
Gowda's unorthodox initiative in 1996, when he
handpicked opposition Congress leader Rajesh Pilot
to cajole the NSCN-IM leaders into agreeing to a truce,
is largely responsible for whatever progress the Naga
peace process has made to date.
It is possible that the process that Gowda and Pilot
set in place has now succeeded in convincing the
NSCN-IM to reframe its demand and look for an
arrangement that could bring the Naga areas in the
region under a common administrative mechanism.
This could also be why in recent years the NSCN-IM
has pushed for the integration of the Naga-inhabited
areas in India's Northeast into the state of Nagaland,
and to bring the entire stretch under a single
administrative unit. At that time, New Delhi would not
have known the extent to which the political forces in
Manipur, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh would go to
prevent parts of their respective states from being
merged with a greater Nagaland
It soon became clear, however, that altering the
existing boundaries of the northeastern states was
nearly impossible. The June 2001 uprising in Manipur
against the extension of the Naga ceasefire to that
state, for instance, ended with police killing 18
protestors. The Meiteis, Manipur's majority community,
concluded that extension of the Naga truce outside
the state of Nagaland could be the first step towards
loss of territory to Nagaland. On 6 August 2004, weeks
after suspected NSCN-IM rebels locked into a gun-
battle with police in Assam's southern Karbi Anglong
District, the state legislature adopted a resolution to
block Assam's borders from being redrawn as part of
a possible deal with the insurgents. The fighting
followed attempts to evict some Naga
families who had settled in Assam along
the Nagaland border, allegedly with the
backing of the NSCN-IM.
If the possibilities of either an independent
homeland or a unified Nagaland are out of
consideration, though, what can be a
possible solution? There are still a few
possibilities available. First, dual citizenship
ofthe kind suggested by some for Kashmiris
could be established for the Nagas, as well
as greater devolution of powers, although
this has been rejected in the past by
the NSCN-IM. Second, Nagaland's
administration could be brought under the External
Affairs Ministry, something that New Delhi proposed
long ago. Third, New Delhi could take a fresh look at
an option that Indira Gandhi is said to have agreed to
examine back in 1966 - a protectorate status for
Nagaland, although the Naga National Council rejected
the idea at that time. Finally, Swu, Muivah and other
NSCN-IM top guns could simply be installed as
government leaders to run the affairs of the Nagas in
accordance with the Indian Constitution. Before this
would happen, a deal would need to be struck that
would give the Nagas maximum autonomy, some sort
of economic independence, and provide for proper
rehabilitation of NSCN cadres - essentially the model
that New Delhi used to clinch the deal with the rebel
Mizo National Front in Mizoram in 1986.
But the question arises as to whether any deal with
the NSCN-IM is actually going to solve the Naga
problem. Is the NSCN-IM, after all, the sole
representative ofthe Nagas, reflective of Naga opinion
in its totality? The other NSCN faction, the Khaplang
group (NSCN-K), which entered into a truce with New
Delhi in April 2001, also considers itself a major player
in the Naga insurgency theatre. If the NSCN-K could
have been easily ignored, as some suggest, influential
groups like the Naga Hoho, the apex Naga tribal
council, would not have worked so relentlessly to unify
these two insurgent factions towards a permanent
solution. The road to lasting peace in Naga country
remains thorny, to say the least. The third-party
facilitator, if in existence, would know that best.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Divergent memories in
Anger is building in the Naga hills of Manipur regarding the
Meitei bias in the state's school curricula and textbooks.
'i--''V  V*
... ... - ■*■ 3
On 9 August 2006 the Education Minister of
Manipur, L Nandakumar, warned activists in
the state's hill districts, the government of
neighbouring Nagaland and the region's civil society
to refrain from interfering in Manipur's affairs. I le
declared that he had "abstracted assurances" from
Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh
,ind other Union ministers that they would not
interfere with an ongoing school-affiliation agitation
in Manipur.
One month prior to Nandakumar's warning,
students in the four Naga-majority hill districts of
Manipur - Chandel, Senapati, Ukhrul and
lamenglong - made a bonfire out of the textbooks
prescribed by the Board of Secondary Education,
Manipur (BSEM). They carried banners that read, 'We
want common education', 'Welcome Nagaland Board'
and 'Goodbye Manipur Board', and launched a
campaign to affiliate the private schools in their
districts with the Nagaland Board of School
Education (NBSE). The protest was seen by many in
the Imphal Valley as a move towards pressing for the
unification of a Naga homeland. As such, the
discussion has been diverted from the textbooks'
content and the students' grievances.
In a letter to the BSF,M, the All Naga Students
Association of Manipur (ANSAM) pointed out that
students in the hill districts of Manipur were being
denied their rights on several fronts. It alleged that the
Meitei Mayek language has been imposed on them by
being made a compulsory school subject, and that
Meitei culture and history - that of the Imphal Valley's
majority population - are glorified while the histories
of several other indigenous Manipuri communities
receive no mention in syllabi.
As for the textbooks themselves, the BSEM Social
Science reader for Class VIII dwells .heavily on the way
of life in the Imphal Valley. It acknowledges the hills
and their peoples only in descriptions of shifting
cultivation as a primitive method of farming,
narrations of the spread of Christianity, or topographic
charts that compare population, literacy levels and
landholding between the Imphal Valley and the hill
districts. At the end of chapters students are asked
questions that could be considered loaded, such as:
"Which district in Manipur has the highest literacy
rate?" and "Why do hill districts in Manipur have low
density of population?"
Imposing knowledge
The districts of the Manipur hills are some of lhe most
neglected in the entire Northeast region. After 59 years
of Independence, many of the villages here lack basic
amenities such as electricity, roads, health care,
functioning schools and safe drinking water. In
addition, heightened security, militarisation and
structural violence are part of everyday life. Questions
such as those mentioned in the textbook contribute to
a potentially dangerous conditioning of young minds.
One can only imagine how the disparities suggested
in that textbook plav out in the minds of young children
growing up in the Imphal Valley versus those in the
hills of Manipur.
The Class VIII textbook celebrates the Meitei
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 monarchy, which reigned oppressively from the Imphal
Valley. Delving into colonial archives and feudal
records to construct a version of Manipuri history such
as this one is not conducive to the creation of a sense of
shared heritage among the peoples of the valley and
the hills, especially when social and political processes
have left behind divergent memories and senses of
belonging. The imposition of this valley-centric
worldview has led to a distressing breakdown of
relations already marked by hostility. Facile debates as
to whether the Meitei Mayek language will be written
in Meitei or Roman script continue, even as the hill
people reject the idea of a shared future under valley-
based educational structures.
Though command of an additional language may be
any asset to a young individual, such an argument in
this case ignores uneven histories of cultural
assimilation. Several indigenous hill communities have
for generations learned both Meitei and 1 lindi in school,
while state agencies have ignored the importance of
existing indigenous languages.
The Indian Constitution contains provisions for the
rights of minority groups. Linguistic minorities have
the right to conserve their languages and scripts, to
administer their own educational institutions, and to
have their language recognised by the state in which
they reside. Such constitutional remedies are frequently
cited by minority groups in the Northeast, and would
seem to address the injustice that Manipuri hill people
feel when confronted with the BSEM textbooks. But
there is a stipulation in these provisions: the onus of
guarding these rights rests with the state governments.
The Maga 'problem'
Thus far, those agitating against the BSEM textbooks
have looked to neighbouring Nagaland and the central
government for redress. Even if the demand for
at filiation of hill schools is met, however, these academic
institutions will continue to function under the
injustices of the existing Indian educational structure.
lhe only way out of this web ot what can be called
'cultural imperialism' is to demand the transformation
of the educational system itself.
The struggle for the recognition of an alternative
Naga history is not new, but within India it has
continuously been viewed with suspicion. It was in 1963
that an area was carved out of the colonial province of
Assam to become the state of Nagaland; but
communities that feel tied together as Naga through
shared historical experience continue to inhabit parts
of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. In these
states, attempts to produce alternative Naga histories
have been dismissed in favour of 'acceptable' archival
material - mostly colonial - in which the Nagas appear
as perennial troublemakers, simpletons or j hit in
cultivators out to destroy the forests.
It is not that the Nagaland Board of School F.ducation
textbooks are any better: the way they treat Naga history
and culture is just as poor. The Class VIII Social Science
textbook developed by the Nagaland State Council of
Educational Research and training for the NBSE, lor
instance, devotes hardly any space to the .subject. Instead,
the first eight sections are devoted to India's role in the
modern world, the colonisation of the Subcontinent and
the anti-colonial struggles. The part of the textbook
devoted to Civics includes sections on subjects such as
National Goals and Democracy of India, The Society in
India, Economic Reconstruction, National Integration,
Defence of the Country, India and the World, and World
Problems - but nothing specific to the Northeast.
Only the History section of the reader manages to
include a chapter on Naga society, and even this is
extremely cursory, putting an overwhelming emphasis
on qualities such as 'simple, honest and hard-working'
when describing the Naga people's past. The
condescending and reductionist stereotype promoted
is once again that of the 'simpleton Naga'.
Modernisation is equated with the coming of locks and
keys - guards against the dishonesty that plagues Naga
society today. The perceived ills of modernisation are
blamed on the oppressed themselves. The present
generations of Nagas, it is said, are not sufficiently hardworking. In other places, the textbook proffers that they
are not in the same league as their 'simpleton' ancestors
because they "lie, steal and are lazy".
In reality, the state of decline evoked by such
prejudiced prose corresponds to the changes wrought
in Naga society by five decades of militarisation. The
public space has been brutalised by the systematic and
perpetual policing of civic structures bv the Indian state,
and what is left is a polity and civil society characterised
by violence. The role of the Indian government in this
"decline" receives no mention in the chapter in
question. Political questions are elided, and the text
dwells instead on what it sees as the ramifications of
the "ills" of the Naga people: AIDS, alcoholism and
drug addiction. Remarkably, after all of this, the writers
of the chapter still found it prudent to venture back to
the civic anti political questions of what might have
caused this "decay", and once again equate what they
see as a "moral ineptitude" of Naga society to the
dangers of modern life.
Despite being one of India's most researched peoples,
the Nagas are frequently represented as primitives,
savages and naked hills-dwellers. Nonetheless, this
group today espouses some of the most radical ideas in
postcolonial India, rallying as they do around
indigenous rights and the right to self-determination,
and resisting the hegemony of the Indian educational
system. The current education-based agitation in
Manipur is a part of this process of questioning.
How the New Delhi authorities address these
asymmetries will be important. If this most recent point
of contention is not taken seriously and addressed
quickly, there is everv possibility that it will join the
long list of agitations that surround the subject
of identity politics in India's Northeast. Their
importance forgotten, those issues are now used only
as convenient reasons not to deal with pressing
questions of justice.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
The 'Forward
Policy' and
Beijing hopes to penetrate the
Southasian market, while at the
same time use the opening to keep
quiet its restive outlying provinces.
China is everywhere in Southasia, both
physically as an agent of globalisation, and
conteptualty as a growth model. While the
focus has revolved around the possible conflict
dynamic between India and China, Beijing's
engagement with states and societies across the
region presents a far more complex reality. Multi-
layered, this linkage spans across border trade, joint
ventures and macro-level investment to strategic
alliances and political interaction.
It was not always this way. Beijing's engagement
with Southasia can be understood only in the larger
framework of the basic change in its approach to
economic growth and international politics. In the
last 50 years, China has transformed itself from an
astute proponent of ideological outreach and a
covert supporter of insurgency to a builder of modern
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 crossborder infrastructures and a wild market-
grabber. It has gotten rid of the Maoist jacket,
though Beijing is still reluctant to acknowledge its
acceptance of the capitalist robe.
As China projects itself as a country on the move,
it is trying hard to prove that democracy and
development have no correlation. Southasians
devour this ambiguity, as the Subcontinent itself is a
reservoir of scattered thinking, ambiguous planning
and policy measures of marginal utility. As China
showed meteoric rise in terms of growth, global
market influence and as an advocate of exclusive
'Asian values', a potentially powerful Southasia
realised the wider utility of its mammoth neighbour.
For its part, Beijing's interests in Southasia can
be linked to three abiding and powerful objectives,
which form its 'forward policy' in this region. These
include expansion of its military base and strategic
access; economic and commercial penetration into
the huge Southasian market and, through it, to West
Asia; and managing its own potential internal
Melting the ice
In the mid-1980s, China realised that national
security could be ensured through mulin zhengce,
better relations with neighbouring countries. For a
country with 'diverse international regions', the end
of the Cold War brought an opportunity to broaden its
foreign policy options. It faced the enigmatic
challenge of remaining "a regional power without a
regional policy". This is where Communist Party of
China leader Deng Xiaoping's advocacy of a
comprehensive zhoubian zhengce (periphery policy)
became both handy and far-reaching.
China started consciously designing a clear
regional policy based on wending zhoubian
(stabilising the periphery). Determinants like political
system-ideology linkages (buyi yishi xingtai he
sheshuizhidu lun qingsu) and superpower alliance
(yimei huaxian, yisu huaxian), which had been the
fundamental basis and hallmark of its foreign
relations, were increasingly abandoned.
These policies emanated partly from the
realisation that the reforms and growth - key to
halting and preventing domestic political turmoil -
needed a larger playing field. Deng Xiaoping was
convinced that if China was to emerge as an
economic powerhouse and a flag-bearer in the
emerging "new Asianism", it was critical to have a
favourable international environment. Southasia,
and more specifically India, has been central in this
rapprochement game. With Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, much of the ice
around the frigid and hibernating McMahon Line
melted. New Delhi and Beijing started rethinking and
renegotiating their respective positions.
New China has been trying to woo Southasia in
exactly the same manner that it has successfully
built relations with other neighbouring regions. The
model has three levels of engagement - the local,
national and regional.
Crossborder integration
China has shown remarkable acumen in
understanding the significance of local-level
economic interaction. Beijing's extensive use of
border trade as the main instrument of economic
integration is reflected by some startling figures -
half of the country's foreign trade of USD 1 trillion is
conducted through its 120 inland towns and ports.
The policy of encouraging local-level trade can be
seen in China's dealings with Southasia as well. On
the India-China border, the Lipulekh pass trade route
connects Dharchula-Pithoragrah in Uttaranchal with
Taklakot in the Purang County of the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR), while the Shipkila pass
connects Namgya-Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh
with Jiuba in Zada County in the TAR. Both of these
trade routes, which opened in 1992, are in difficult
and rugged terrains and are highly seasonal.
Though a significant section of policy echelons in-
India considers the recent reopening ofthe Nathula
route in Sikkim as a mere symbolic border-trade
venture, China, in the long-term, is looking at it as a
vital economic entry point into the 1.3 billion-strong
Indian market. In terms of feasibility, this is
arguably the shortest route (roughly 590 km
between Lhasa and Gangtok) to reach the ever-
bourgeoning middle class in the Indian mainland,
Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
The completion of the 1142 km railway from
Golmud city in Qinghai province to Lhasa, and the
refurbishing of overland access through the
Sichuan-Tibet Highway, are also important
developments. These could completely transform
the physical accessibility to and from mainland
China for Tibet, as well as the neighbouring
provinces and countries bordering Tibet, which is
where Southasia factors in. For India, the new
transport infrastructure of this nature can open
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 By 2003, Pakistan's balance of trade deficit with China had increased to USD 1.3
billion, Bangladesh's to USD 1.3 billion, Sri Lanka's to USD 484 million and Nepal's
to USD 166 million.
access to other business centres in China's
western, eastern and southeastern regions.
It would be incorrect to think that trade across
Nathula or other border points will be confined to
limited interactions among crossborder
communities. This was the assumption in the
border trade between Nepal and Tibet at Khasa, and
between India and Burma at Moreh in Manipur.
However, the actual volume, composition and
j,rection of trade in these routes have far
surpassed the local communities and local
products. Restrictions have only encouraged the
illegal and surreptitious aspects of trade, which has
flowed regardless.
Besides the older Kathmandu-Kodari highway
that passes through Khasa there are other
important transit trade posts, either operational or in
the offing, for overland trade between Nepal and
China. These points include Rasuwa, Mustang,
Olangchungola, Kimathanka, Lamabagar, Larke,
Mugu and Yarinaka. Though agreements allow for a
Free Trade Zone within 30 km of the Tatopani
customs office, the Nepal-China trade through the
Khasa route has acquired robust dimensions.
Nepal's exports to Tibet increased from almost
USD 2.4 million in 1991-92 to USD 7 million in
2000-01, and imports went from USD 16.2 million to
USD 153.9 million during the same period.
China has a history of using other countries as
bases for exporting its own goods. In the case of
Southeast Asia, it has utilised Singapore as a
centre from which to tap the markets of Thailand,
Malaysia, Indonesia and even Australia. Hong Kong
is also used in this manner, to export Chinese
goods to European and American markets. The
proposal to use Nepal as a transit point for India-
China trade is primarily raised in this context. The
fact that most of the Chinese goods that come to
Nepal find their ways into the Indian market only
confirms this conviction. China is seeking a
somewhat similar kind of access through the
Karakoram Highway in Pakistan.
Decentralised communism
The fact that the impetus for such local-level
initiatives is coming from a communist republic,
traditionally associated with complete
centralisation, is striking. China has departed from
the conventional understanding of Maoism not only
in its economic model but also in terms of political
management. It has granted a level of autonomy to
its provinces, allowing smaller units to engage with
counterparts across borders.
There have been several visits by government
officials and private-sector executives from Yunnan
Province to the eastern states of India. Their
agenda has been to establish trade and investment
linkages with the vast, untapped market of eastern
India. These delegates give the impression that
they have been given a 'free hand' by their federal
government to negotiate the larger process of the
Kunming Initiative, which has been actively
promoting the reopening ofthe Stilwell Road,
built by US forces during the Second World War
(See Himal Sept-Oct 2005, "The Stilwell Road:
Straight Ahead?").
This is certainly a successful sequel of the
decentralising strategy China followed since 1979.
The Party Central Committee had then allowed
Guangdong and Fujian provinces to adopt "special
policies and flexible measures", particularly with
regard to investment and trade in the Special
Economic Zones. The smgle-mindedness with
which they are pursuing this initiative is reflective of
Yunnan's involvement in other economic zones at
the provincial level, such as the Greater Mekong
Sub-region (GMS).
The Chinese decentralised approach stands in
stark contrast to the centralised mechanism
adopted by india. India has traditionally maintained
foreign trade and investment as an exclusive
domain of the Union government, wherein the
relevant constituent states are only  consulted'. An
initiative like Kunming fits well into India's "Look
East' policy and its participation in the Bay of
Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and
Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). However, these
China Southasia Trade Volume
(Million USD;
Countries/Region       1990      1995
2000      2003
The Maldives
Sri Lanka
Source: Direction of Trade Statistics Yearbook,
International Monetary Fund (IMF), April 2005
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 China can make a significant difference in either consolidating SAARC through
substantive cooperation-integration action, or eroding its functioning through
counteractive action against the traditionally established pivotal role of India.
cooperative mechanisms have not really kicked off
because the notion of 'local engagement', and using
trans-local actors, is something with which New
Delhi has not yet come to terms.
It is clear that China has allowed levels of
autonomy in trans-border contact, and is pushing for
more open trade across its borders, in order to bring
its own periphery provinces into the national
mainstream. This is particularly true of the western
region, which is comprised of nine provinces and
autonomous regions - Gansu, Guizhou, Ningxia.
Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Tibet, Xinjiang and
Yunnan, in addition to Chongqing Municipality. The
west covers two-thirds of the nation's territory, has
a population of nearly 23 percent of the national
total, and possesses abundant natural resources -
but lags significantly in growth. After eastern
China's 14,000 km-long coastline brought fortunes
to the country over the last two decades, it is now
western China, with 3500 km of land frontiers that, it
is hoped, will emerge the new economic frontier.
The accelerated growth and development in
these politically volatile provinces and regions could
do much to quell the political dissent that is always
just below the surface. The Chinese government
launched its 'develop-the-west' campaign in 2000.
A number of preferential policies were offered to the
western region, including capital input, investment
environment, internal and external opening up,
development of science and education, and human
resources. Crossborder trade received a fillip under
this policy.
Facts and figures
At a broader level, the economic interest of both
Southasia as a whole and China deeply coincide.
The Chinese side would gain tremendously both
through market access to the region, and by
importing specific commodities like
pharmaceuticals, software, cotton, rubber, iron ore,
bauxite, mica and even semi-finished engineering
and chemical goods. For their part, if Southasian
countries can gain access to even a miniscule
share of the huge Chinese market, it would bring
significant economic dividends.
The past decade has seen a spurt in the level of
integration in terms of trade, investment, tourism
and infrastructure projects. China's trade with
Southasia has recorded over a tenfold jump, from
USD 1.2 billion in 1990 to USD 12.1 billion in 2003
(see Table 1). Bangladesh and Pakistan
respectively recorded an eightfold and fourfold
increase in their trade with China during this period.
Even countries like Afghanistan and Bhutan are
now having handsome trade exchanges with this
country. The total volume of Sino-Indian trade
increased from a mere USD 3.4 million in 1970 to
USD 2.9 billion in 2000, and further to over USD 14
billion in 2005. The figure is expected to cross USD
20 billion by 2008.
Pakistan and China are presently negotiating a
free trade agreement. However, except for India,
which had a surplus of USD 907 million in 2003,
most of the other countries face a huge and
burgeoning deficit in their trade with China. By
2003, Pakistan's balance of trade deficit with China
had increased to USD 1.3 billion, Bangladesh's to
USD 1.3 billion. Sri Lanka's to USD 484 million and
Nepal's to USD 166 million.
The two-way investment links between India and
China are deepening as well. According to Beijing's
Ministry of Commerce, there were 101 Indian
investment projects in China by the end of 2003,
with the total contracted investments amounting to
USD 235 million. These are mostly in
pharmaceuticals, information technology,
agricultural items, automobile components,
software and the like. Some of the Indian
companies involved include Tata Exports
(Shanghai), Lupin Laboratories (Guangzhou), State
Bank of India (Shanghai), Aditya Birla Group, Dr
Reddy's Laboratories and IT software companies
such as Aptech, NUT, Tata Consultancy Services
and Infosys.
China ranks at just 24th in the list of countries in
approved by New Delhi in 2003 for cumulative
foreign direct investment (FDI). During the period
between January 1991 and August 2003, India
approved FDI of USD 231 million and a total of 97
Chinese proposals for foreign collaborations. These
were mainly in the telecom, metallurgical,
transportation, electrical equipment and financial
sectors. The first project between India's Mideast
Integrated Steel Limited and China Metallurgical
Import Export Corporation was commissioned in
Orissa in January 1993.
China has also made a conscious effort to build
linkages with the smaller countries of the region. In
2004, Bangladesh received a total foreign
investment of USD 660.8 million. China was ranked
13th in the list of countries in terms of cumulative
FDI, while India was slightly ahead at the 11th
position. In Nepal, China had the third-largest share
(9.2 percent) among the industrial joint ventures set
up between 1988-89 and 2002-03. This private
entrepreneurial participation is an interesting
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 development, for China's economic interaction with
Nepal was dominated by liberal economic
assistance in the past. Beijing helped in
several infrastructure projects, including the Sunkosi
hydroelectric project, and the Prithvi and
Kodari highways.
Pakistan has become an important hub for
Chinese investment. The Chinese firm
Meteorological Construction Corporation's
investment of USD 73 million in zinc and lead
exploration and a mineral-development project in
Balochistan is indicative of China's quest for raw
materials. Chinese bicycle-manufacturers rolled out
over 150,000 bikes from its units located in
Hyderabad, Lahore, Karachi and Gujrat in Pakistan.
Very recently, a Chinese company decided to invest
USD 300 million in Total Telecom, a local company,
which will make it a very large player in Pakistani
telecommunications, having an overwhelming stake
in a leading cellular operator.
However, the biggest Chinese investment in the
-egion is at the Gwadar deep-sea port on the
Balochistan coast, 460 km from Karachi. Located at
the mouth of the Persian Gulf and outside the Strait
of Hormuz, enjoying a high commercial and
strategic importance, Gwadar is likely to be
increasingly used for energy import. This is
accompanied by the construction of the coastal
highway to Karachi. Islamabad's recent decision to
invest in connecting Gwadar port by rail so as to
streamline cargo movement indicates the great
expectations it has for Gwadar. Its presence in
Gwadar provides China with easy access to the
Persian Gulf. Along with its access to the Bay of
Bengal through Burma, Gwadar has overhauled
China's maritime security and given it total access
from the mountains to the sea.
Deepening linkages
At the regional level, China's silent quest to enter
SAARC has been partially fulfilled, with it recently
having obtained observer status in the regional
forum. This is another route that China hopes to use
to effectively enter the Southasian market. China
has never been a part of the subcontinental past, its
political ethos or its cultural panorama, and may not
fit into Southasia's complex socio-economic
composition and political culture. Possibly to
camouflage this oddity, the US, EU, Japan and
Korea have also been given the same status in
S.AARC. However, it must be accepted that China is
in a different league. It can make a significant
difference in either consolidating SAARC through
substantive cooperation-integration action, or
eroding its functioning through counteractive action
against the traditionally established pivotal role
of India.
China's SAARC venture finds a striking parallel in
its status in the Association of South East Asian
Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, where it is
doggedly presenting its case for full membership.
The vital role it played in the Kuala Lumpur East
Asia Summit in 2005 only shows that it aspires to
thwart any attempt by other global entities to assert
their power in the region.
In fact, China's traditional goal of enhancing
national power remains intact in its Southasia
mission as well. What has changed is its use of
sophistication in diplomacy, diversity of means, and
deployment of newer instruments and a variety of
engagements. It is still anybody's guess as to
whether the change in China's attitude towards India
will be sustained on a protracted basis, especially in
terms of resolving core boundary disputes, but there
is no doubt that Beijing is giving it a serious try.
What is striking in all this is the seemingly
irreversible nature of the growing economic
engagement between China and Southasia. These
economic ties cannot be withdrawn with the flick of
a switch when tensions flare. China, which is
concerned about its credibility as a friendly
neighbour and responsible power, is expected to
further build upon the developing relationship with
India, rather than uproot it under the pretext of
national security.
There is little doubt that the relationship between
China and Southasia will play a key role in shaping
the structure of the international system in the days
to come. Deep linkages and Beijing's increasing
presence in the region indicate the immense
potential for cooperation. At the same time, geo-
economic ties are accompanied by a level of
political competition, especially in the Sino-Indian
context. It is imperative that a mutually beneficial
mechanism is created that overcomes the conflict
dynamic. The engagement between China and
Southasia must be navigated in a manner that
benefits all participants - China and the individual
countries of our region. A
Himal Southasian | September 2006
Pakistan and the 'alliance maze'
The emerging Beijing-Islamabad strategic alliance is part of a crosscutting web of
relationships along the northern coast of the Arabian Sea, whose complexity is
enhanced by Chinese inroads into the Pakistani economy.
Since 1950, when Pakistan recognised China,
ties between Islamabad and Beijing have
steadily grown and now involve multiple
strategic objectives. The economic ties between
the two have continued to expand, and China has
been one of most reliable and consistent exporters
of military hardware to Pakistan. The two have
cooperated in the nuclear field as well as in
missilery. In fact, one of the reasons cited by India
to justify its May 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran
was to offset the Sino-Pakistani strategic
In the shifting landscape of global strategic
alliances, the Pakistan-China relationship has
become even more pivotal as a counter to opposing
hubs of power, the most important being the
emerging Indo-US strategic
partnership. Both Islamabad and
Beijing have a stake in
curtailing the outreach of this
combination of power, and
China is today
engaged in
using its
with Pakistan to
enhance its influence in the Persian Gulf as well
as Central Asia.
Inland, the two countries have agreed to extend
the Karakoram Highway (KKH), to connect it with
the Central Asian republics. On the Balochistan
coast, China is engaged in building up the Gwadar
port, the overbearing strategic importance of which
has been ignored even as analysts focus on the
project's economic importance - the revenue as
well as income from maintaining the port and
supporting infrastructure. China has financed a
significant portion of Phase I of the Gwadar
construction and related road connections within
Pakistan. In return, Islamabad has allowed
sovereign guarantees to China regarding dispute
resolution as part of the Bilateral Investment Treaty
and the acceptance of Chinese naval presence.
The arrangement on Gwadar allows China to sit
atop one of the world's most important SLOCs, the
acronym used by strategic analysts for 'sea-lanes of
communication'.  Since the beginning of the war in
Iraq, the Indian Navy has had an arrangement with its
US counterpart to escort shipping through this SLOC
from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca, just
east of the South China Sea. Being at Gwadar means
China will only be 250 miles from the Strait of
Hormuz, a key channel for the flow of world oil
supplies and other commercial merchandise.
Moreover, Beijing will gain direct access to the
Persian Gulf. In the final
outcome, the KKH extension
and Gwadar port construction
allow China to diversify its oil-
import routes, as well as
make its presence felt in both
the Persian Gulf and Central
For Pakistan, this arrangement
works towards buffering the Indo-
US influence in the Persian Gulf
and Arabian Sea waters. With
India aspiring for a blue-water
navy, it is to Pakistan's
advantage to pull China into its
territory to forestall any possible
Indian misadventure, including a possible blockade.
Indeed, Pakistan plans to treat Gwadar as a
'sensitive defence area', and has made clear its
intention of using the Chinese navy as a 'forward
defence' against any maritime hostility.
The most direct impact of the Gwadar port will be
on the United States. With its existing and projected
interests in the Persian Gulf region, the US was
looking to establish outright supremacy through its
naval presence and the presence of amenable
governments. Moreover, its maritime cooperation with
India in the Arabian Sea was developed to achieve
exactly what Pakistan and China are attempting
through Gwadar - ie, to enhance their sphere of
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 influence to oversee the shipping activity and the
'great game' of oil flows from the Gulf.
It is clear that Washington DC is not happy with
the Gwadar arrangement, and internal Pentagon
memos point to the Chinese presence as a
worrisome factor. Some reports even indicate a US
hand in the troubles in Balochistan, linked to
Washington DCs opposition to both the port project
and proposed oil and gas pipelines from Iran.
Pakistan has indicated that it is prepared to be at
the centre of an energy grid that extends to China.
There are already significant moves by India and
the US acting in concert to help develop alternate
port facilities in the Gulf in order to divert traffic
from Gwadar.
Pakistani worries
An analysis of the complex structure of the alliances
between the various countries opens up a number of
possibilities for the future. While it is clear that
Pakistan and China intend to challenge the Indo-US
partnership in the region, economic and other forms
of cooperation between China and India are also
steadily growing. Trade ties between the two are
reaching record highs. Moreover, the two economies
are becoming increasingly complementary, and
prospects for a lasting economic relationship are
very bright. New Delhi and Beijing have also made
moves to promote military cooperation in the form of
joint exercises, some involving Russia as well. India
is also a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation, under which it is working with China on
counter-terrorism exercises.
To add to the cross-connections, Pakistan is
arguably the most active US ally in the 'war on
terror', and has received enormous military and
economic support from Washington DC since 9/11.
Islamabad enjoys the status of a major non-NATO
ally, and the Pakistani political enclave remains
highly susceptible to US pressure. There being little
prospect of the 'war on terror' coming to an end, the
US-Pakistan relationship is likely to remain intact for
the near term. At the same time, however, anti-US
sentiment among the Pakistani masses has grown,
as have suspicions in the US with regard to
Pakistan's behaviour as a dependable ally.
To add to this 'alliance maze' is the possibility
that the counter to Gwadar may come from port
facilities in Iran. The US, given its overt opposition
to current Iranian policies and its attempt to generate
a global sanctions regime against Teheran, is likely
to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On
the one hand, it is adamant on increasing Iran's
international isolation; on the other, it is desperate to
undermine Gwadar and all that this port project
represents. There is a suggestion that the US
might use India to lead the initiative to revitalise
the Iranian facilities while turning a blind eye to
the development.
There are also issues to be confronted within the
Pakistan-China relationship. On a government-to-
government level, Sino-Pakistan interests are likely
to remain aligned for the foreseeable future.
However, there is escalating bottom-up pressure
being generated against Chinese trade interests
within Pakistan. Bilateral trade is on the rise,
amounting to USD 1 billion in the first quarter of
2006 alone, which is a manifold increase over the
same period in 2005. Unlike the Sino-Indian
relationship, however, the trade balance here
remains heavily in favour of China. The two
countries have also agreed on a free trade
agreement (FTA), for which negotiations and
implementation are proceeding concurrently. While
the FTA is likely to further increase the overall
trade volume, the balance will continue to benefit
China, a matter causing consternation in Pakistani
business circles.
There was already much resentment against the
influx of Chinese goods in the Pakistani market,
made possible through smuggling through the
Karakoram Highway. Recent surveys have
established that Chinese products worth between
USD 1-3 billion are pouring into the country
informally, and have replaced much of the informal
trade in Indian goods. Interviews with small
businesses suggest that the availability of smuggled
Chinese goods has led to the closure of a number of
cottage industries. The FTA, businessmen fear, will
Recent surveys have established that Chinese products worth between USD 1-3
billion are pouring into the country informally, and have replaced much of the
informal trade in Indian goods.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 cause further devastation of small and medium
enterprises in Pakistan. Thus, an increasing
contradiction is becoming evident between the overall
official vision of the Sino-Pakistani relationship and
the commercial interests within Pakistan. Thus far,
Islamabad had tried to maintain some balance by
protecting key industries, but the FTA has removed
that option. It is likely that the bottom-up pressure
from Pakistani business could impact state-level ties
with China.
Prioritising Pakistani stability
So what does the 'alliance maze' mean for the future?
The most likely scenario is as follows: on a bilateral
level, the Sino-Indian relationship will remain cordial in
the short- to medium-term. However, China will
continue to build stronger ties with Pakistan, and from
time to time it will signal to New Delhi and
Washington DC the importance it places on its
relationship with Islamabad, in all likelihood, Pakistan
and the US will continue to collaborate, albeit within
an increasingly disparate framework. Islamabad would
do well to draw its lines clearly, ensuring that US
pressure does not undermine the Sino-Pakistani
relationship. Meanwhile, India will enhance its
influence in West Asia, even though it is unlikely that
Iran would play on India's turf unless the US-Iran
tensions subside. The overarching alliance structure
will not conform to the bilateral arrangements. Amidst
these crosscutting relationships, it is safe to say
that over the next decade the strategic balance of
power in Southasia is likely to be defined by an Indo-
US versus Sino-Pakistani alliance.
Given this, Islamabad should expect significant
moves from the opposing camp to undermine its
arrangement with Beijing. Targeting Pakistan's
internal fault-lines would be one way of doing that.
Involvement in the Balochistan crisis could serve
this interest, and the lingering Waziristan conflict
could also be used to keep Pakistan unstable. Direct
harm to Chinese interests in Pakistan could also
affect the arrangement, for while Beijing let pass the
February killing of Chinese engineers in Hub, near
Karachi, frequent recurrence of such events could
jeopardise any lasting collaboration on strategic
For Pakistan, internal stability comes above all
else. For one, peace in Balochistan is essential for
the progress on the Gwadar front. At the same time,
Islamabad will have to ensure that indigenous anti-
state elements do not stall strategic collaboration
with China, nor allow the West to point fingers at
Pakistan for harbouring extremists. Finally, while the
pro-China developments are beneficial, a diversified
foreign policy still remains essential. Pakistan's role
in the Muslim world and efforts to present Islamabad
as a responsible nuclear power to allay Western
fears must be invigorated concurrently.
Hong Kong
Programme Officer- Bangladesh
(A two-year contract position on renewable basis based in Bangladesh)
Work with people against poverty! Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) is a member of Oxfam International (Ol) and an independent
development and relief agency based in Hong Kong. We are looking for talented, high calibre staff to join our anti-poverty work
S/He will be responsible for the strategic management and development of OHKj|s development programme and humanitarian
work in South Asia (in co-operation with the relevant Programme Officer/Senior Programme Officer), with a specific focus on
gender related issues. Besides Bangladesh, s/he is expected to support OHK partner organisations working in South Asian
countries on gender and development issues, promoting gender balance and to incorporating gender perspectives into partner-
mplemented programmes, projects and activities. S/He is also expected to design, plan, implement and monitor activities of
partner organisations to achieve improvement in the status of women and livelihood in the country and the region; strengthen the
capacity of partners in South Asian countries to asses the scope and need to gender equity as a cross-cutting theme in the regular
programme S/He is also expected to work with international and national institutions, NGOs and other stakeholders to strengthen
the programme related to gender, livelihood and development in disaster prone regions, promoting slronger linkages with
ongoing gender related advocacy and campaigns in South Asia.
The successful candidate MUST meet the following requirements:
• A post-graduate degree in Social Science/Development Studies/Rural Management/Social Work   Familiarity with gender
approaches/theories is essential
■ At least 5 years of experience in managing development programmes in Bangladesh or in other South Asian countries, with a
focus on gender and equity issues
• Experience working with international NGOs and support agencies
• Hands-on experience in appraisal, monitoring and evaluation of women-related programmes and projects
• Expertise in initiating new partnerships with local NGOs in Bangladesh and the South Asian region
• Strong training and facilitating skills, with familiarity with participatory tools and methods
• Able to travel extensively and work in remote areas
• Excellent verbal and written communication in English plus one of the local languages in the region
• A commitment to Oxfam|]s approach to development
This position will be based in Bangladesh without any expatriate package provided.
Closing date of applications: 10 September 2006. Please send your application letter, CV with current and expected salary and
date of availability to Human Resources Manager, Oxfam Hong Kong, 17/F. China Uniled Centre, 28 Marble Road, North Point,
Hong Kong or by email to (Applicants who are not invited for an interview within one month after the closing
date may consider their applications unsuccessful)
All information provided will only be used for recruitment-related purpose.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
China, Southasia and India
The relationship between Southasia and China has necessarily to be seen through the
prism of the relationship between India and China.
Advertisement for an insurance company
I here was a time, not so long ago, when King
Gyanendra was believed to have a 'China
card'. By advertising his regime's willingness
to cosy up to Beijing, it was argued, Nepal's other
foreign partners - and especially Sinophobic India -
would be scared into giving him an easy ride. Of
course, it did not work out like that. Indian diplomats
in fact like to boast of the "close dialogue" they
maintained with China through Nepal's crisis earlier
this year. The king played his China card but, as
Rhoderick Chalmers of the International Crisis Group
put it, "it turned out to be the two of clubs."
The episode is typical of the ambiguity and
misunderstanding with which China is perceived in
Southasia. Does emerging China represent a
commercial opportunity or an economic threat? Are
the smaller countries of the region to perceive
Beijing as an ally against the overweening ambitions
of the regional hegemon, or as New Delhi's 'strategic
partner'? There are three main reasons for the
uncertainty: that the relationship is in flux; that China
is a closed society and its policymaking is opaque;
and that it can be both opportunity and threat, friend
and enemy at different times, or even
The central thread in all this is the China-India
relationship, which is having an ever-bigger influence
on Beijing's bilateral ties with every other Southasian
country. Diplomatic relations between Delhi and
Beijing are better than at any time since the war in
1962. China's president, Hu Jintao, will travel to
India before the end of 2006. Whatever the other
stops on his itinerary, the visit will reinforce the
message that China has no higher priority in
Southasia than improving its relations with India.
Some Indians are rather carried away by this - they
propose that this might be the dawn of a new era of
partnership and cooperation, an 'India-China nexus'
that will change the world.
There are strong grounds for scepticism. First,
Indian suspicion about China run deep, and the
disagreement that caused the 1962 war still looms
large. Usually labelled a 'border dispute', it is not
some minor cartographic tiff. The size of the
Chinese-controlled territory India claims in Ladakh is
as large as Switzerland. China's claim to what is
now the state of Arunachal Pradesh covers an area
three times larger. Since 1988, working groups have
been discussing the dispute. Their main aim has not
been to reach agreement so much as to shelve the
issue, allowing relations to improve in other areas.
New impetus was injected, however, when Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in 2003.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 In each of the past tour years, China's total foreign trade has increased by an
amount greater that the total of India's foreign trade
Talks on the border were transferred to a much
higher level. A settlement, involving 'swapping'
claims and some minor face-saving border
adjustments, still seems remote, due to the political
difficulty of selling such a deal in India. New Delhi
diplomats pooh-pooh the notion that Hu's visit might
herald a breakthrough on the border dispute, but an
agreement is no longer inconceivable.
Blooming bonhomie
Chinese scholars say that their government's
renewed interest in India was provoked by America's
attempts to "use India to contain China". Kishore
Mahbubani, a senior Singaporean diplomat who now
heads the Lee Kwan Yew School for Public Policy,
has made a similar point rather differently: that
China is "buying political insurance now" from all
its neighbours. It knows America will be alarmed'
by its emergence as a great power and, far-
sightedly, wants them to shun any lurch into an
anti-China alliance.
China's 'all-weather' friendship with Pakistan has
always complicated relations with India, but Beijing
has long stopped voicing explicit support for
Islamabad's stance on Kashmir. It also shares
India's concerns about Pakistan as a base for the
export of violent jihad. Pervez Musharraf has
recounted the telling-off he received in Beijing over
the Pakistani-trained militants pitching up in China's
western, partly Muslim, region of Xinjiang.
Yet some Indian analysts still talk of China's
'strategic encirclement' of India - ie, its attempts to
make friends with all of India's neighbours, from Sri
Lanka to Burma. Indian diplomats complain that
China "does not want to accept us in the same
league", pointing to Beijing's reluctance in welcoming
India as a permanent member of the United Nations
Security Council. This is one reason why India sets
such store both by its nuclear arsenal, and by its
work-in-progress on civilian nuclear cooperation with
the United States.
When India became a declared nuclear power in
1998, Vajpayee wrote to President Bill Clinton, citing
as a reason for the move, "an overt nuclear weapons
state on our borders, a state which committed armed
aggression against India in 1962". China, which had
reacted calmly to India's bomb, was peeved at being
used as justification. At the time. Chinese officials
implied that they were ready if it was an arms race
India wanted. Such nuclear sabre-rattling has died
down in the new bonhomie that has flowered since.
As China's economy grows, however, it will
probably want an army commensurate with its
economic might. India may find it hard to believe
Chinese intentions are benign. India and China will
also find themselves in competition for natural
resources, especially energy, despite their
agreement to 'cooperate' in acquiring such
resources. They will also find themselves fighting
for market share, despite the much-hyped
'complementarity' of their economies.
Two-way merchandise trade between China and
India, expected to be more than USD 20 billion this
year, has increased tenfold since 1999. Just a few
years ago, many Indian businesses viewed China
as a competitive menace that was about to destroy
them through the use of an undervalued exchange
rate, free or subsidised real estate, and unlimited
access to credit. Today, it is more often seen as a
land of opportunity.
Nevertheless, there remains a huge imbalance in
the trading relationship. This is not so much in the
direction of trade - which, on India's figures, shows
a small Chinese surplus - as in its relative
importance. China is now India's second-most
important trading partner, and its biggest source of
imports - 7.3 percent of the total in 2005. India,
however, accounts for less than one percent of
China's overall trade. This is a symptom of the two
countries' relative weight in the world economy. In
each of the past four years, China's total foreign
trade has increased by an amount greater that the
total of India's foreign trade.
This imbalance is accompanied by continued
Indian nervousness - in official circles, at least -
about Beijing's long-term intentions. This is one
reason for scepticism about some of the rosier
claims for Sino-Indian economic cooperation. The
idea that somehow Indian software skills can team
up with Chinese hardware to produce a world-
beating 'Chindia' combination so far seems fanciful.
Indian software firms have no option but to
expand fast in China, because their multinational
clients demand it. But they know that, in the long
run, China is a big potential competitor.
Correspondingly, among some Chinese
policymakers, India's rise is being viewed with a
certain edginess. They have noticed that the
emergence of China as a lower-cost competitor was
a proximate cause of Southeast Asia's financial
crisis in 1997. Looking around for the source of
such a threat to China's present dominance, India
seems the obvious candidate. It is not, but it
probably needs to be - as China grows richer and
ages, and a young India grows up looking for work in
the global economy.
September 2006 I Himal Southasian
Tackling China, regionally
There was a time when the troubled Sino-Indian
relationship appeared to be the dominant
feature of China's presence in the
Subcontinent. The tussle between India and the
People's Republic went beyond bilateral affairs, to
shape the direction of China's engagement with the
rest of Southasia as well. Wary of Beijing's
intentions, New Delhi has always been watchful of
China's relationships with the smaller neighbours,
which further intensified mistrust between the two
Asian giants.
The noticeable improvement in the Sino-Indian
relationship today stands in sharp
contrast to India's dealings with its
regional neighbours, which tend to be
problem-prone and crisis-ridden. For the
first time since 1962, a state of affairs
currently prevails such that the India-
China bond generates greater optimism
than the Southasian relationships.
Indeed, Sino-Indian relations are on
the upswing in all spheres - political,
economic and cultural. The once-
intractable border now appears less
India cannot
hope to match
ascendancy if it
cannot take the
rest of
Southasia along
with it.
formidable as a barrier to improved relations, and the
two capitals have managed to overcome the
diplomatic difficulties that surfaced in the wake of
Pokhran II. Controversial issues ?emain, including
misgivings about China's strategic objectives,
especially with regard to its military ties with
Pakistan, and yet a framework and mechanism
for dealing with problems is in place and appears
to be working. There is now ongoing dialogue at
various levels.
But it is too early to describe the Sino-Indian
relationship as vibrant. Today, it can be
likened to an inverted pyramid: the
broadest level of interaction is at the top,
among a host of senior politicians,
officials and members of government-
sponsored delegations. The next level is
made up of a few members of academia,
media and think tanks, engaged in
formulating a broader framework for
collaboration and research. It is at the
people-to-people level that the
relationship is at its narrowest, with
interactions between India and China
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 By substantially reconfiguring its foreign policy and addressing the concerns of its
smaller neighbours, New Delhi can restrain or curb the tendency of the smaller states
to pull China deeper into the Subcontinent's own strategic equations.
virtually non-existent.
Tourist exchanges between the world's two most
populous nations are minimal. Chinese and Indians
know very little about each other, and popular
perceptions tend to be out of sync with evolved
realities. For example, the views of even better-
informed Indians on the People's Republic are
limited to its economic rise on the one hand and, on
the other, the belief that Beijing has designs on
Indian territory.
Building regionalism
To derive maximum benefit from the relationship
with China, India must study how Beijing itself has
crafted effective economic regionalism within its
East and Southeast Asian neighbourhood. Not only
would a strong cooperation model in Southasia build
up the regional economy for its own sake; this
would also make it easier for Southasia and India as
a whole to engage with China.
Southeast Asia provides an illuminating example
of how strong trade links can benefit all countries
involved. When China began opening up to the
outside world, the first response of its smaller
neighbours to the south and east was deep
suspicion. In less than two decades, however, there
has been a complete turnaround, with China
engaged in flourishing partnerships. Beijing has
effectively played the role of economic driver in the
region, and a China-ASEAN free trade area is on the
anvil, which would have an estimated GDP of about
USD three trillion.
There is obviously an element of long-term
calculation as Beijing sets about establishing a high
degree of interdependence with the other economies
of the Asian-Pacific region, but today there is
unambiguous acceptance of China's central role in
any regional economic formation. Almost half of
China's total trade today is intra-regional, and where
trade is not balanced the smaller neighbours have
been 'conceded' trade surpluses. Such policies
have given great impetus to regional economic
growth, such that investments are starting to be
made across borders.
In strong contrast to China, India has been unable
to emerge as the principal moulder of the economic
order of its own region. Besides the absence of
stronger trade linkages between the countries of
SAARC - and perhaps because of it - the region is
rife with inter-state differences, mainly between
India and each of the Southasian neighbours.
fhe China card
It was following the 1962 India-China border conflict,
when the latter laid the foundations of its enduring
entente with Pakistan, that Beijing came to be
seen by other Southasian states as a useful
countervailing power to big India. China was not
averse to capitalising on the leverages this
offered. Such a scenario is obviously not
productive in the long term, because ultimately
Southasian states have to devise ways of coping
with the challenges to their security and
development within a cooperative framework. For
its part, since the mid-1990s Beijing has overtly
adopted a more 'balanced' approach towards
Southasia, especially with regard to the India-
Pakistan scenario.
At the same time, there is no escaping that
China's presence in the Subcontinent is
impressive, the economic largesse distributed to
India's smaller neighbours significant, and its
cordial relations with all of them in sharp contrast
to the troubled nature of India's corresponding
relationships. In addition, there is the entire gamut
of issues arising from China's strategic objectives
vis-a-vis the Indian Ocean, which raise the stakes
of its relations with the littoral states. Geo-
strategically, it seems incumbent upon India to
play a major role within a cooperative, multilateral
structure in the formulation of a regional framework
of relationships.
Against this backdrop, dragging China into the
quagmire of a tension-ridden SAARC - such as
according it observer status in November 2005 - is
not the best way to sort out problems internal to
the Southasian region. India must set about putting
the Southasian house in order by improving its
relations within the region, and cooperative
security must be firmly established as the sine
qua non of further progress. By substantially
reconfiguring its foreign policy and addressing the
concerns of its smaller neighbours, New Delhi can
restrain or curb the tendency of the smaller states
to pull China deeper into the Subcontinent's own
strategic equations.
The China-Southasia matrix is at an
unprecedented juncture. China's political and
economic presence in the region is bound to
intensify. What is needed now is for that
interaction to increase at a people-to-people level.
If India and its neighbours want to gain from the
newfound amity between the two giants, they must
start working towards a more effective regional
framework between themselves in Southasia. The
engagement between an ascendant China and a
Southasia that acts regionally has the potential to
transform the lives of more than two billion people.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Cultural invasion by rail
hargyal is worried that his ancestral land has
(been dug up like a minefield, and that his
nomadic family is desperately searching for
temporary shelter for their yaks and sheep. Living in
Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan
government-in-exile, Dhargyal can neither go back to
his remote Tibetan home, nor can he stop worrying.
Like Dhargyal's family, there are hundreds of
Tibetan families who have lost their land to the
recently opened train track that runs from Golmud in
Qinghai to Lhasa. Even while Beijing trumpets the
railway - the highest in the world - as an engineering
feat and an economic boon in waiting, these families
are either yet to be paid for their confiscated land, or
are living in temporary shelters awaiting relocation.
A train line to the mainland would have
been helpful if the Tibetans had been in a
position to decide on it.
The construction of the new train track, which
runs between Tibet's extreme northeast and its
capital in the central-south, was finished in
September last year, almost a year ahead of
schedule. The first train pulled into the new station
in Lhasa in mid-July. All along the 1140 km track,
China Railway's Western Railway administration has
acquired huge tracts of land from Tibetan farmers
and nomads, cutting through the grasslands the
Tibetans call the Jangthang. Because the Tibetan
plateau is an active earthquake zone, the tracks
could not simply be laid on a narrow stretch of land.
Instead, huge mounds of earth with sloping sides
needed to be built up in order to support the
infrastructure, which meant the requirement of large
tracts of land on both sides of the line. All in all,
the breadth of land acquired for the line averages
100 metres.
In Yangpachen, around 90 km northwest of Lhasa
where Dhargyal's family lives, the engineers made a
mistake and had to re-route the railroad, thus
abandoning many kilometres of trenches. The
farmers complain that since the fragile soil
composition has been disturbed the land can no
longer be used for farming; the locals do not have
the resources to level this costly mistake.
Nomads in Nagchu, Damxung and Yangpachen
have also reported that along with the railroad have
come mass deaths of animals under the elevated
bridges. Although these bridges were built
specifically as underpasses for the animals, the
nomads say that the gaps between the pillars
supporting the bridges are too small. Sheep, yaks,
chiru (Tibetan antelope) and kyang (wild ass)
traditionally graze in huge herds in these lands. But
when these groups rush between the pillars,
stampedes occur that end up killing Scores of weak
and young animals. What were designed as safe
corridors have turned out to be death traps for
wildlife and domesticated livestock alike.
Flooding Xizang
The 1 July launch ofthe railway line has brought
with it the fear of many Tibetans in Tibet and
Tibetan exiles that it will trigger a flood of Han
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 What law and iron-fisted suppression could not destroy over the past five
decades is now about to fall prey to globalisation.
settlers from the Chinese mainland. There is an odd
association here with the traditional stories about
Genghis Khan, or the long-ago exploits of warlords
in eastern Tibet who came marauding. As a result
of the railway, Tibetans are talking not about such
conquering fighters but rather about the flow of
migrant workers from China, jobless college
graduates for whom the train is a direct deliverance
into a land of opportunity. Encouraging such
aspirations, Beijing advertises Tibet as Xizang,
meaning 'Western Treasure House'. In major
Chinese urban centres, railway tickets are being
sold for as little as USD 49, or USD 160 for luxury
class. (In London, travel agencies offer the luxury
rail trip into Tibet at a whopping USD 8000).
Major Tibetan cities like Lhasa, Golmud, Chamdo
and Shigatse are already flooded by Han Chinese
businesses and products. In 1997 Beijing attempted
to resettle 80,000 Han citizens into a remote area in
the northeastern Tibetan province of Amdo. At that
time, the activism of Western pro-Tibet campaigns
was able to get the World Bank to intervene, and
force the withdrawal of the scheme due to a lack of
funding. The railway will change the dynamic and
make Han settlement difficult to contain. One
Chinese development programme estimates that
about 200 million Han will be resettled into Tibet by
2015. Tibet's indigenous population is said to be 4-6
million, depending on where you define its
Already Tibetans are a minority in their own land
vis-a-vis settlers and tourists alike. As the new
'miracle' trains roll into the Lhasa station, Tibetans
in Tibet fear they will be submerged into
insignificance. The official Chinese tourism
department reported more than 1.2 million tourists
visited Tibet last year, out of which 92 percent were
Han. Conversely, in the 1980s almost the entirety
of the small tourist influx was foreigners.
Constructing a railway that would connect Lhasa
directly to Beijing was a dream of the Chinese
Communist Party since the time of Mao Zedong.
While discussing China's takeover of Tibet, Jung
Chang, the latest authority on Mao, writes that
when the Red Guard ran into difficulty penetrating
into Tibet in 1950 due to its dramatic topography,
Mao initiated a duplicitous strategy: promising
autonomy to the young Dalai Lama, while
simultaneously starting to build roads into Tibet.
Once a network of roads was built, Beijing was able
to send in the People's Liberation Army.
Railway lines that have been built into other
parts, such as Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and East
Turkistan (Xinjiang), have long shown the
inevitability of an influx of Han citizens. Today, 85
percent of the population in Manchuria is Han.
Mongolians hardly speak their own language
anymore. The restive East Turkistan, meanwhile,
remains under tight control of the People's
Liberation Army.
Development bullying
The railway is a part of China's Western
Development Programme, which is also intended to
reach further into the Himalayan belt, thereby being
able to facilitate direct trade between South and
East Asia. Beijing has plans to extend the railway
to southern Tibetan cities such as Shigatse,
Gyantse, Nyingchi and Yadong. Two more railway
networks from Chengdu and Yunnan in the Chinese
south are also planned to connect to the Lhasa
The new line from Golmud will function to
'homogenise' Tibet with the inevitable introduction
of Chinese-style modern development. Even as
such programmes are touted in Beijing for their
potential to boost Tibet's economy, by and large
Tibetans cannot participate in these schemes, as
most lack technical and scientific expertise. The
need to fill carpentry, plumbing, electrical or
engineering jobs creates an excuse to import and
employ additional Han settlers.
The railway may be symbolic of a new level of
incursion, but what is really invading Tibet today is
a consumerist culture, in the extreme forms of
karaoke bars, alcoholism, prostitution, drug
trafficking and widespread mining, besides an
overload of tourism. This is a new way of life -
driven by economic exercises and enforced by a
rampant culture of market economy - in direct
opposition to what may be considered basic
Tibetan values. But with a facade of liberalism and
development promising life's comforts, there is little
resistance to the new invasion. What the Cultural
Revolution could not destroy with communist
brutality and indoctrination, what law and iron-fisted
suppression could not destroy over the past five
decades, is now about to fall prey to globalisation
through the intermediary ofthe Chinese state and
its programmed as well as inadvertent Hanification.
If Beijing truly wants to develop Tibet, it needs to
listen to the needs of the Tibetans. Introducing and
imposing their own definition of 'development' is
nothing more than an act of bullying on the part of
the Chinese government. This is what one needs to
understand as the railway arrives in Lhasa and
spreads its tentacles deeper still into Tibet: in the
absence of the Tibetans' ability to decide what they
want and do not want, the train tracks are but tools
of cultural invasion.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Thin green line
The best perspective on a conflict always comes from well outside the situation. Here
is the story of an Indian journalist's time in Cyprus.
For the first four days of July this year, I was in
Larnaka, on the island of Cyprus, observing a
dialogue on interfaith issues between
representatives of Asian and European countries.
The group is called the Asia-Europe Meeting
(ASEM), to which none of the Southasian countries
belongs. I also participated in a journalists'
colloquium on media and interfaith issues hosted by
the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) to coincide with
the ASEM dialogue. In what can perhaps be seen as
a reflection on the state of interfaith relations today,
the ASEM dialogue collapsed, with the so-called
Larnaka Declaration failing to achieve consensus
among member states. Next year, the dialogue will
be held in China, but it is not clear what document
future participants will work from or build upon.
Even for an Indian, coming from a country rife
with interfaith conflict, watching the Larnaka summit
unfold and then fall apart was difficult. I was
disturbed by the inability of states to manage or
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 mediate the differences, prejudices and
disagreements between the communities of faith -
some of which are responsible for much of the
violence in our world today. The small group of
journalists brought to Cyprus by ASEF, an
organisation based in Singapore, had a rich and
productive conversation in a closed-door meeting on
the sidelines of the ASEM event. But the diplomats,
ministers and religious leaders participating in the
formal inter-governmental dialogue could not so
much as draft a two-page statement reflecting some
common ground on how to lessen conflict, promote
democracy and protect civil liberties in many
countries of Eurasia.
Cyprus itself is not exactly a model of Christian-
Muslim communal integration. Malaysia, this year's
co-host, has its own trouble dealing with the
mismatch between a booming economy and a still-
conservative society that treats women, non-
Muslims and immigrant populations unequally. Next
year's host, China, is a country that takes the
maximum economic advantage of globalisation, but
leaves much to be desired in terms of how it
manages internal divisions of religion, class,
language and ethnicity. A certain lack of strong
leadership on interfaith issues from any of these
countries was perhaps to be expected. But that they
would fail to steer the ASEM dialogue to any
conclusion at all came as something of a shock -
especially to the invitee journalists, who found a way
to argue without anger, and managed to hammer out
a statement of their own that reflected the concerns
of the group.
Clarity from without
Being on the deeply divided island of Cyprus, and
that too at an international summit on interfaith
issues, gave me occasion to reflect afresh on
communal conflict in India. Cyprus is fractured into
predominantly Greek and Turkish zones, with further
fine distinctions made between Greek Cypriots,
Turkish Cypriots, settlers from the Turkish mainland,
as well as a number of minority groups, including
Latins and Armenians. The Greek-Turkish divide is
projected backwards into Cyprus's history, which
included phases of Byzantine and Ottoman rule, and
forward into the fates of both Cyprus and Turkey as
members or aspirant members of the European
Union. Both past and future are contaminated by the
current conflict, and Cypriots are unable to speak
either of their history or of their emerging European
identity without bitterness and blame.
Turkish troops occupy northern Cyprus. The
Cypriot government retaliates against this
occupation of more than a third of the island by
threatening at every step to jeopardise Turkey's
entry into the EU with its veto power. Meanwhile,
Greek Cypriots clandestinely sell off their properties
in occupied Cyprus and want nothing to do with
either Turks or Turkish Cypriots. They reject the idea
of co-existence, preferring instead to have the two
communities be permanently segregated, referring to
the state structure they would prefer as a "bi-zonal
bi-communal federation". Though it was only in 1974
that the Turkish army arrived, no one seems to be
able to remember a time when Cypriots of different
faiths lived together rather than segregated, or when
many were bi-lingual in Turkish and Greek.
Moreover, the demonisation among Greek
Cypriots of all things Turkish - Ottoman rule, the
Turkish language, mainland Turkey, Turkish Cypriot
culture - is exacerbated by the general hostility,
post-9/11, against Islam and its adherents. Those
who practice Greek Orthodox Christianity now feel
an irreconcilable difference between themselves and
their Muslim countrymen, as well as with Muslim
neighbours in the region. They seem to have
forgotten that it was a rightwing junta in Athens that,
together with the CIA, tried to stage a coup against
the Cypriot government led by Archbishop Makarios
in 1974, going so far as to attempt his
assassination. The Turkish forces first arrived in
Northern Cyprus in order to overturn the pro-Western
puppet regime installed by the Greek junta. (It might
be pertinent to recall, at this point, that the very word
xenophobia is Greek.)
Conflict has a way of making sense when it
involves one's own community, nation or other
groups with which one identifies. It is only the
quarrels of others that illuminate the pathology and
pointlessness of conflict per se, as I discovered in
Cyprus. The unending recriminations of Cypriots
against one another, combined with the inability of
either side to see things from the other's
perspective, seemed completely irrational and
Though it was only in 1974 that the Turkish army arrived, no one seems to be able
to remember a time when Cypriots of different faiths lived together rather than
segregated, or when many were bilingual in Turkish and Greek.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 counter-productive. But Indians, Pakistanis and
Kashmiris - to name three of the many parties
deadlocked in conflict on the Subcontinent for the
past six decades - are just as absurd in the way
they go about relating to one another and addressing
(or, rather, failing to address) the issues that divide
and agitate them.
It is obvious to an outsider that Greek Cypriots
should embrace their Turkish compatriots; that
Turkey should withdraw its armed forces from
Cyprus; that Turkey and Cyprus should both enter
the EU on amicable terms with one another, and
abandon their mutual hostility in favour of larger
European goals that exceed their conflicted bilateral
relationship: that Greece should restrain itself from
meddling in the affairs of Cyprus by tugging at the
loyalties of Greek Cypriots; that the US should play a
constructive role in promoting peace on the island,
which stands at the gateway to the entire war-torn
West Asia; that the UK, which retains sovereign
bases on what ought to be Cypriot territory, should
play a palliative rather than obstructive or indifferent
role, and so on. Perfectly obvious.
Alas, the United Nations, especially under Kofi
Annan, has hit a wall with every proposal to bring this
internecine conflict to a sustainable resolution. But
before we bemoan this fact, it would be good to
remember that the UN is at least allowed to have a
role in Cyprus. In Southasia we have not allowed the
UN to intercede on Kashmir at all in the recent past,
not even with plans that we might then accept or
reject through elections, referenda or negotiations.
Ever since the armed insurgency against India began
in Kashmir around 1990, positions have simply
hardened on each side. Even the militarisation of the
entire Kashmir region and the escalation of the IndoPak stand-off to include nuclear preparedness
have not been reason enough for any side to
concede ground.
Turning from Cyprus to Southasia. Some 70,000
people have died in this war of, for, in, about
Kashmir. Nearly 10.000 have gone missing. India can
afford to keep losing soldiers, civilians and money -
and indefinitely so, we're told. 'Afford' to? India may
have the GDP and the defence budget to afford so
much death, but which family can afford to forfeit the
lives of its men, the sources of its livelihood, the
honour of its women, the future of its children? Who
can afford to be at war for 16, or 59 years? The
Indian state can, perhaps; the Indian Army can,
perhaps; but the people of India cannot, the people of
Kashmir cannot, and neither can the people of
Pakistan. The people cannot afford the sheer and
prolonged suffering that is the Kashmir conflict. To
an outsider, surely - a Cypriot, say, or a Turk - this
would be crystal clear.
Bi-eommunai development
In Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus, I saw
churches and mosques that have changed places
and come to occupy one another's space, depending
on what side of the dividing Green Line they happen
to be on. There are Arabic inscriptions under Gothic
arches, the domes and vaulted ceilings are all mixed
up, steeples and minarets confused. All of this
makes for interesting architectural dissonance, but it
struck me that some degree of violence hides in the
very structure of these places of worship that testify
to the triumph of one faith at the cost of the other. In
India our anxiety is about the outright demolition of
temples, mosques, gurudwaras, churches. But the
kind of hostile takeover seen in Cyprus presents
another form of erasure that is equally violent, or
so I felt.
The Greek Cypriots belong to the Greek Orthodox
Church. The Turkish Cypriots and settlers from the
mainland are mostly Sunni Muslim, but rather
secular in comparison to Sunnis elsewhere in West
Asia. These two communities inhabit Nicosia
together, but this perfectly circular city is divided
into northern and southern halves. To take over the
shrine of another faith, to surrender the holy space
of one's own faith - these are not acts of
acceptance or accommodation. When religions enter
into conflict with one another through the
vicissitudes of history, they seem to acquire an
intransigence that is not in itself a feature of any
faith as it is conceived or practiced. The paradox
is that religions preach tolerance but often
breed intolerance.
From the Ledra Museum Observatory in south
Nicosia you can look across to the northern side;
from the Ledra Palace Hotel checkpoint on the
Green Line you can actually walk from south to north
Nicosia. For the southern side you need a visa from
the Republic of Cyprus; for the northern side, a
separate visa is issued in the name of the Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus, the TRNC, an entity
that lacks international recognition but continues
nonetheless to exist, even flourish. Only Turkey
recognises the TRNC, On a mountainside just north
of Nicosia, the Turks have painted two enormous
flags, one Turkish and one of the TRNC, both red
and white, which are visible from just about
anywhere in the city. Whatever the political merits of
the Turkish presence in Northern Cyprus, this is a
symbolic gesture that is plainly offensive.
The purpose of these observations is not to
berate Cyprus - far from it. After all, Cyprus did host
the ASEM Interfaith Dialogue this year, and if this
event ended without consensus, the responsibility
lies equally with participating countries, sponsors
and future hosts. In fact, on its own soil Cyprus is
undertaking a massive project of heritage restoration
called Bi-Communal Development, with monies from
the EU, UN, USAID and others. The project appears
to be working well in both the south and the north,
and many buildings of historical importance have
already been restored under a scheme that benefits
Christians and Muslims alike. My purpose, rather,
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 To take over the shrine of another faith, ti
faith - these are not acts of acceptance o
has been to think critically about India, to allow
myself to be prodded to do so by the sights and
sounds of Cyprus.
Naturally as I traversed the fractured city of
Nicosia with its mosques-turned-churches and
churches-turned-mosques, going back and forth
across the Green Line, I thought about the razing of
the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya back in 1992, and the
catastrophic effect that one act of destruction had
on the psyche of India as a whole - polarising
Hindus and Muslims as never before, except
perhaps during Partition. The sanctity of religious
spaces and the integrity of political orders are both
fragile, and this fragility must be acknowledged and
respected. Communities and countries cannot mess
with either sacred spaces or territorial borders
without paying a terrible price, it seems, whether
these be their own or those of others.
Like india, Cyprus too brings a great deal of its
repressed hostility and hatred - in Cyprus's case,
self-hate - to the politics of nomenclature. In Cyprus
proper, place names have been Helienised with a
vengeance; in Northern Cyprus, Turkish versions of
place names are revived or invented. To a foreigner
this is bewildering - every town and city, apparently,
surrender the holy space of one's own
has a series of historical names dating from different
periods and, in addition, three contemporary names:
one Greek, one Turkish and one Anglicised. When
the clash of identities becomes this cacophonous,
all identity is lost, and one comes away from a place
like Cyprus feeling that its signatures are confusion
and prejudice, not two ancient and glorious cultures
in a delicate and beautiful balance. Is this how
visitors to India feel, especially if they happen to be
present in the midst of one or another communal
clash', riot, curfew or attack? Can one not then
begin to understand the severe criticism of Indian
civilisation, the sentiments of chastisement and
disgust, expressed by a traveler with some insider
status, like V S Naipaul or Pankaj Mishra?
Israel's recent aggression in Lebanon saw
refugees pour into Cyprus in great numbers. As this
small island gave temporary shelter to others in the
neighbourhood who were fleeing the consequences
of interfaith conflict, it might have paused to
consider the fineness of the line it walks every day -
between a tense and reluctant coexistence of
cultures, and outright civil war. We in Southasia
might do well to consider, likewise, where it is we
draw the line.
a'Vfghanistan National
Development Strategy
The Afghan Compact signed between the Government ol Afghanistan and its
international development partners in London at the end o' January this year provided
,1 unique model of development partnership through which aid to Afghanistan will be
linked and targeted towards the attainment ol a number of benchmarks in the post-
Bonn era The National Development Strategy -Afghanistan's PRSP, will co ordinate
the development, consultation and implementation of sector strategies, oriented towards
the achievement of these compact benchmarks and MDGs over the period 2006-2010
Transitioning from interim to full A NDS now requires the formulation of fully costed
multi-year sector strategies lor inclusion within the 1386 National Budget wlKh
commences 21 March 2007 National and provincial level consultations will follow,
leading to Ihe adoption of Ihe final ANDS by lhe spring of 2008
To advance this agenda, the Government of Afghanistan now requires the following
lull-time posts for the effective co-ordi nation ofthe ANDS
• Strategic Advisorto President's Chief Economic Advisor
• Special Assistant to the President's Chief Economic Advisor
• Senior Advisorto the ANDS Director
• Senior Sector Strategy Advisor
■ Senior Public Finance and Expenditure Management Advisor
■ Senior Human Resources Management/Capacity Development Advisor
■ Advisor for Communications
• Advisor for Cons ullati ve Group mech anisms
• Advisor for National and Provincial Consultations
■ Research and Data Management Advisor
Counter Narcotics Trust Fund (UNDP)
The Afghanistan Counter-Narcotics Trust Fund (£54m 2006) is an ambitious venture
managed by UNDP on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan In seeking to bring
enhanced support to the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and leadership to Ihe
implementation Dlans ofthe National Drug Control Strategy to achieve the objective
of a sustainable reduction in poppy production in Afghanistan, the following senior
position is currently available:
• Counter Narcotics Trust Fund Manager (UNDP)
Further information and details on how to apply can be found at:
Community Mobilisation Manager
Maldives Recovery programme
Competitive Salary plus excellent benefits, 24 months
Location: The Maldives, between Male' and Southern Atolls
As part of its response to the tsunami disaster, British Red Cross
Society (BRCS) is looking for a Community Mobilisation Manager for
the Maldives, the role will provide strategic, technical & practical
inputs to the implementation and monitoring ofthe BRCS recovery
programme to reach the expected outcomes for the target population
and to ensure a smooth exit strategy for BRCS. Responsibilities also
include ensuring that the community-based approach underpinning the
programme remains a priority focus, ensuring that affected women
and men have a say in decision-making and monitoring of the
A graduate in a relevant subject, you will be experienced in community
development and mobilisation including participatory methodologies
and participatory monitoring of programme implementation. Experience
in livelihoods and recovery programmes, preferably in the tsunami
affected region, is also required. It is also desirable that you have
implemented cash based responses.
This is an accompanied position.
For information on this and other British Red Cross positions please
visit our website and apply online
The British Red Cross is committed to implementing the People In Aid
Code of Good Practice and is an equal opportunities employer.
September 2006 [ Himal Southasian
Paradox of the
Southasian welfare state
Southasian governments as a whole are already espousing a forward-looking state
policy on welfare. The challenge now is to transform policy into action, while
addressing the peculiar regional prohlem of social exclusion.
A common image of Southasia today is that of
an eminently dynamic region - 'driving' the
world economy via its high growth rates, its
innovations and even, in a relatively new
Dhenomenon, its outward foreign investment. India in
particular features on the covers of magazines and
scholarly research publications alike, leading with a
3DP growth rate of 8-9 percent, pulling in resources
-om around the world, an electronic outsourcing
-aven ofthe developed economies. In the Maldives,
.vhich has succeeded in placing itself as a premier
tourist destination, GPD per capita has reached USD
2500. Bangladesh is holding ground in its export
:; om of the past decade, despite the phase-out of
the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, which it
had used creatively to enter global textile
production chains.
Politically, too, Southasia can be seen as a
vibrant region, in terms of its visions. The
Southasian countries are strong supporters of the
Millennium Declaration adopted in the United Nations
General Assembly in 2000. The Millennium
Development Goals - in which 191 state members
of the UN have committed to achieving specific and
time-bound results in education, health, HIV/Aids,
gender equality and, most significantly, to improve
the situation of women and children - now feature in
the development plans of regional governments and
are consistently used as a normative and policy
point of reference by Southasian politicians.
A place at the tabl
in Uttar Pradesh
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 The Indian Supreme Court decision to guarantee a midday meal to all schoolchildren
in the country has been interpreted as a right to food for children - and is possibly
unique in the world.
The Southasia Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) has a Social Charter
committed to a people-centred framework for social
development. Southasian governments have
forward-looking constitutions. All are committed to
free primary education as a public good, and the
majority - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri
Lanka - feature a commitment to free primary health
services. Bangladesh, Jndia, Nepal and Sri Lanka
provide public early childhood development support
services. In India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,
governments offer free school meals, and the Indian
Supreme Court decision to guarantee a midday meal
to all schoolchildren in the country has been
interpreted as a right to food for children - and is
possibly unique in the world. Pakistan's Constitution
commits to provide food, clothing, housing,
education and medical relief for citizens in need.
These and other social policy elements suggest that
Southasia is engaged in developing its own model of
a 'welfare state'.
Central government revenue    ■
as % of GDP (2004)
The Maldives
India SSSSa
Sri Lanka UsS
15      20
30      35        40
The Maldives
Sri Lanka
Central government expenditure
as % of GDP (2004)
•   ' ■'ri sssspsssss^i
Afghanistan SSSSkW^SsS'
15      20     25     30      35      40       45   50
The hybrid Southasian welfare state
Much has been written and argued about welfare
states, starting with the seminal work of Gosta
Esping-Andersen (The Three Worlds of Welfare
Capitalism, Princeton, 1990). He and others have
defined taxonomies of the role of government,
looking into European, American and Southeast
Asian types. Building on that early work, one can
unfold a 'cultural geography' of the role of the state
and social policy. Styles differ, depending on a
country's historically-shaped definitions of public
goods, institutional and cultural history, and political
programmes regarding the 'appropriate' role and size
of government in the overall economy.
The European model of the welfare state is
characterised by a broad range of publicly-provided
goods - including all levels of education, some
elements of health services, as well as economic
infrastructure (free highways in some parts of
Europe are a prime example) - combined with
progressive taxation. The roots of this model lie in
the agony and inequality of early industrialisation,
which helped invent social democracy, added to the
post-feudal, statist approach to industrialisation and
notions of social justice embedded in Christianity
and Judaism.
The neo-liberal, US-American approach on the
other hand is characterised by a preference for the
private provision of social goods accompanied by
low taxation and high levels of voluntary
philanthropy. This model is rooted in American
history, where religious and economic refugees who
had escaped authoritarian feudal regimes in Europe
to arrive in early colonial America felt reticent about
a strong state. It was their worries about a state that
would again be imposing on citizens' lives, the
economy and social organisation that created a
preference for self-reliance and group support, and
took focus away from state involvement or
responsibility. It is this notlcn of the role of
government, and the penchant for a 'small state',
that shaped the World Bank's Washington
Consensus of the 1980s, as well as its subsequent
adaptations around the developing world.
When compared to the European and American
models, the Southeast Asian model has been cast
as a third variant, because of the strong role of
government in guiding enterprises on the path to
industrialisation and globalisation, coupled with the
regulation of social services through compulsory
insurance and pension schemes, and a politically
strong state. Individuals and families are seen-to
take large responsibilities for social development,
both in terms of work ethic and the high value placed
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 on education, reinforcing the impact of public
services offered by government. Philosophically,
this Southeast Asian variant is often described
as 'Confucian'.
It is interesting to compare these - very simplified
- European, American and Southeast Asian models
with that found in Southasia, and to explore whether
the role of government in the Subcontinent might
offer a fourth type. A first pointer to this possibility is
the extensive array of public goods that Southasian
states provide, such as the commitment to free
Dasic social services. A second pointer comes from
selected fiscal indicators. Six countries in Southasia
are devoting more than 30 percent of government
expenditure to health and education - certainly
suggesting a welfare state approach (see Table 3).
Moreover, in four countries - Bhutan, the Maldives,
ndia and Sri Lanka - the share of government
r*penditure in GDP runs between 20-45 percent, and
the share of government revenue to GDP lies
netween 15-35 percent (see Tables 1 and 2).
Sources of this welfare-state 'culture' in Southasia
are multilayered. Postcolonial states like India and
Sri Lanka were steeped in a notion of rights,
entitlements and social justice, drawing on the
ndependence movement, as well as influences in
Soviet socialism and British Fabianism - both
ntroduced by elites trained in Oxford and Cambridge.
Sri Lanka was actually one of the earliest welfare
'-'2tes, introducing universal education and primary
nealth care services in the 1940s, ft has also been
argued that Buddhism and Islam, with their principles
of altruism and social responsibility - such as the
zakat system, by which a certain percentage of an
ndividual's earnings are given to the poor - have
zontributed to shaping Southasian welfarism. These
•'actors suggest something of a hybrid welfare-state
-nodel: there is a strong commitment on the part of
government to social policy, but in contrast to the
'ax-reliant European model and in tune with the lower
evels of GDP, a larger share of the funding for social
goods comes from loans and grants.
Undermined by social exclusion
The Southasian welfare state, then, could be
expected to contribute to excellent outcomes in
social policies that would positively and directly
mpact human development. Anyone who knows
Southasia will, however, immediately interject: the
Southasian welfare-state model, hybrid or not, has
had a disappointing performance in terms of
mplementation, as any social indicators will show
(see box). Is this due to slipshod delivery, or to
systematic corruption and misappropriation of the
welfare-state budgets? Is it due to internal and
external policy pressure to downsize the state, and
privatise and commercialise social services? What is
the root cause of this 'Asian paradox' - good
macroeconomic performance coupled with political
will and commitment to mass welfare, coexisting
Soutaasia - a Suhcontinent of children
More than a half-billion children - 584 million, to be
precise - live in Southasia, the largest child and youth
population in any region. Southasia's young make up
one quarter ofthe world's children. Almost every second
person here is under 18. with the exception of Sri Lanka
and India, where they make up 30 and 40 percent ofthe
population respectively.
The youthfulness of the Subcontinent's population
is a gift, but it is also a daunting responsibility. And
indeed, most of the region's countries are unlikely to
meet the targets they have set for themselves to
substantially improve the situation of children by 2015.
Poverty and deprivation affects as many as 330 million
children here. Child malnutrition stunts the growth of
every second child. 67 out of 1000 children die before
they turn one; another 92 out of 1000 succumb before
they turn five. Maternal mortality levels are at the highest
level in global comparison, with 560 in every 100,000
births resulting in the mother's death. In education,
primary school enrolment is at 74 percent. ,As a result
of decades of poor or unavailable schooling, in India
only half of adult women can read; in Nepal, one-in-
three; in Afghanistan, one-in-five.
The dire situation of Southasia's children - the most
vulnerable group in any society, but even more palpably
at risk in situations of gender discrimination and social
exclusion - is perhaps the strongest normative
underpinning for a genuinely transformative social policy.
Credit is due to the governments in Southasia, who
have recognised this in their many decisions on
education, health, school meals. If the aspirations can
be translated into unfettered action, this would serve to
drastically and effectively change the situation of a half-
billion children in Southasia - building on and building
up a Southasian model ofthe welfare state, and altering
the lives of millions of families.
with abject poverty, income disparity and under-
performance in terms of health and education? This
paradox can only be understood when one looks at
the pervasive phenomenon of social exclusion.
Southasia remains a region struggling with
manifold layers of social exclusion, defined as
systematic or de facto processes of denial of
access to entitlements, based on caste, clan, tribe,
ethnicity, language and religion, factors that are
often bundled with location.* Exclusion is
experienced at all levels of society, at the
community, inter- and intra-personal levels; it is also
"See for example the works of Janet Gardener and Ramya
Subrahmanran   Tackling Social Exclusion n Health and Education in
Asia", DFID. Delhi. 2006; Emma Hooper and Agha Imran Hamid, "Scoping
Study on Social Exclusion in Pakistan" Islamabad, 2003; Lynn Bennett
"Unequal Citizens: Gender, Caste and Ethnic Exclusion in Nepal". World
Bank/DFID Kathmandu. 2006: Annie Namala, "Children and Caste-based
Discrimination: Policy Concerns". UNICEF ROSA, Kathmandu. 2006.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 deeply entrenched - as some say, for the past three
millennia. In Southasia, gender disparities and income
poverty cut across all the exclusionary factors and
deepen social exclusion. In most of Southasia's
social indicators on health and education, there are
wide differences between boys and girls, and between
the dominant population and those who are
marginalised. One telling statistic: the life expectancy
of a member of the Dalit caste in Nepal is a full 20
years less than the national average, 40 instead of
60 years.
How does social exclusion work? In health or
education, professionals treat children differently
depending on their social background. In some
schools, Dalit children are made to sit separately or
stand at the back of the classroom; they tend to be
verbally abused, beaten or ridiculed with impunity
more frequently than other children. Teachers miss
school as they do not find it worth their effort to make
their way to excluded communities. Some doctors are
reluctant to touch low-caste patients, whom they
consider to be polluting. Cooperatives refuse to buy
milk from cows owned by Dalits. Village water points
are segregated, and Dalit women cannot collect water
at the 'upper-caste' end of the village. Ethnic or tribal
groups living in concentrated regions are provided
only sporadic services. Some exclusion is also
internalised. 'Low-caste' women are taught by their
mothers not to wear colourful clothes, nor to expect
elaborate wedding ceremonies, as this would not be
'proper'. Dalit children do not enter the homes of
Brahmans, and Dalit youth are hesitant to apply for
employment in non-traditional occupations.
These exclusionary practices are not limited to
caste societies. In other parts of Southasia, systems
such as the biraderi. or old traditions in tribal
communities, have similar effects. The paternal-side
matriarchs in a household will often not allow their
daughters-in-law to seek medical attention while
pregnant or in childbirth - they did not have that
luxury themselves, and it would take household
resources from other purposes. All of these
factors amplify gender-based exclusion and
discrimination; they are doubly strong in their
Public expenditure on health, education and
defense as % of total public expenditure
r ■
I 1
ft'.';. M'litary
■ EducaliO
i      vmi     ^ffl      1           !           3^
\. %
'%,, %,. •%
*%,7"*    -;%
*>     %
impact on children of excluded communities, as well
as for girl children, who experience discrimination
not just extraneously in 'society' but also within their
own family and immediate community, and who thus
experience social exclusion in a compounded,
oppressing manner.
Social exclusion undermines the Southasian
welfare state' and its many social policy measures,
and it does so on many levels. Addressing social
exclusion therefore requires bold, as well as
extensive, policy measures. It requires sufficient
public resources to ensure the effectiveness of
policies designed to enable social inclusion. It
requires ensuring a connection between
implementation of policies and legislation, and the
fundraising and delivery capacity of central and
state- or district-level bodies. It necessitates
empowering the socially excluded directly or through
civil society organisations, who could genuinely
voice their interest. Finally, it requires measures to
counter the visible and invisible processes through
which elites weaken government decisions to
address social exclusion - which in principle is
banned in all of Southasia's constitutions - for
example, by obstructing delivery or obscuring
information on entitlements.
A cail for transformative social poiicy
How then can social exclusion be addressed?
Southasia itself is a laboratory of possible answers,
offering a host of promising elements. They include
political instruments such as reservations, quotas
and other forms of political affirmative action. The
recently reinstated House of Representatives in
Nepal adopted several landmark decisions, one of
which is a declaration of intent to reserve 33 percent
of all government posts for women. In India,
reservations for the ' scheduled tribes and castes'
are part of the 1948 Constitution, and have seen
periodic and heavily contested amendments
throughout the course of India's history. The most
recent decision to extend reservations for Other
Backward Classes to central educational
institutions, leading to a level of controversy, is a
reminder of the commitments of the Indian state.
An interesting example comes from Bangladesh,
where a large-scale government initiative was
introduced to overcome persistent gender disparities
in schools: every girl in secondary school is entitled
to a government stipend designed to enable her to
complete secondary education. Objectives include
ensuring that the gap in girls' educations be closed,
and delaying marriage. The scholarship is paid
directly to the girl student, and continues as long as
she passes her exams, attends at least 80 percent
of school days, and does not become pregnant.
Over time, this enlarged cadre of trained young
women can become the women doctors and
teachers needed to help the next generation of
children go to school, in a country where girls are
September 2006 | Himal Souf-js.
 meant to be taught by women teachers. This
special measure has helped Bangladesh reach
gender parity in education. On a smaller scale,
with a similar intent of overcoming social exclusion,
Nepal has a stipend for Dalit children to cover
the transaction costs of schooling, and serve as
an incentive.
There is similar potential in India's National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act, adopted in 2005.
Every rural household is entitled to 100 days of paid
work per year - as a measure conceived to tackle
rural poverty and distress migration. The work
offered is basic labour on public works schemes,
and would be attractive as a source of income to
only the poorest of the poor. But it is an attempt to
transform rural communities who are systematically
excluded from learning and health by virtue of their
extreme economic poverty. Its additional objective
is to improve the accessibility and productivity
levels of villages that would have positive
externalities and virtuous multiplier effects, as more
households in villages could buy basic provisions.
One welcome micro-initiative in Uttar Pradesh
deserves mention too, as a special effort in the
transformative sense, and would require policy
decisions if it were scaled up to cover the entire
country. One district in UP introduced low, blue-
coloured tables in the hitherto furniture-less
classrooms. The primary objective was to give
children a writing surface and improve their posture
and attentiveness. What it seems to be doing in
effect, however, is to begin to change the entire
dynamics in the classroom. Children feel
acknowledged and respected, they literally have a
place at the table, and this table is multi-caste;
during classroom hours at least, there is a level of
social equality. School is becoming enjoyable - for
children and hence also for teachers.
Transformative social policy also needs to
encompass fiscal budget principles. In India, the
government monitors its expenditures for child-
friendliness, combing through all budget lines to
compile data on expenditure that relates to children.
In Nepal, the '20/20 initiative', first introduced at the
World Social Summit in Copenhagen, informs an
effort by the Planning Commission to ensure that
20 percent of government expenditure is devoted to
basic social services.
On the revenue side, India, Nepal and Pakistan
have introduced special taxes - a cess - for
education; in Sri Lanka, a cess finances the
National Plan of Action for Children.   India's cess,
added to the value-added tax, is devoted to
education, and has within one year quadrupled the
amount of budget available at the national level for
education. Other ideas are to introduce dedicated
taxes to fund primary health services.
All this is not sufficient, however. Universalism
and social inclusion cannot happen without
participation. Questions of 'voice' and
empowerment need to become integral. First,
participation is a right. Second, if users co-design
social services, the related interventions are far
more likely to truly meet needs and expectations.
Third, users need to be able to assess and evaluate
services, and ideally to have alternative choices.
From a welfare state discussion, then, this would
suggest several decisive factors for policy choices:
consultations to generate inclusive, equitable and
transformative policies, and interventions geared to
overcoming social exclusion and ensuring every
citizen's access to high-quality social services. This
could conceivably entail forms of participation built
into the processes, notably regarding 'delivery'.
Here too, one can discern an emerging model in
Southasia. Without explicit reference to Gandhian
notions of village democracy, several Southasian
countries have introduced into social policymaking a
considerable degree of decentralisation, transferring
budget resources and decision-making authority to
district levels. The intended outcome is better
service delivery; since users determine priorities
there is higher transparency, and local authorities
and service-providers - teachers, health
professionals - are directly accountable to their
fellow residents (and voters) in each community.
Decentralisation could be seen as more than just
a form of delivery, but rather as a school of policy on
its own. Obviously, this can only function to the
extent that socially excluded groups and individuals
- women, members of the so-called low castes,
tribals, young people - are enabled and empowered
to speak and decide. Thus, decentralisation
mechanisms need to be aware of and sensitive to
processes of exclusionary participation, where
consultations and participation are only token,
because the disenfranchised do not have the
means, the time or the confidence to shape
decisions. Again, measures introduced by
governments - such as quotas for women in
community decision-making groups - can provide
support, normatively and practically, to gradually
ensure genuine inclusion. This is where special
measures come in, and can over time have an
empowering impact.
One might then posit that a Southasian model of
the welfare state is emerging - hybrid in the way it
funds social services, but potentially transformative
in nature. It is a combination of the European
model's principle to provide social goods universally,
combined with three new strands. It is guided by an
explicitly rights-based approach that transcends the
top-down tendency observed in conventional welfare
states by integrating genuine participation into
decision making. It reinforces the principle of
universal coverage with special efforts to address
social exclusion, so that the disadvantaged can
access quality services. It incorporates moves to
change attitudes and behaviours. This model could
give new meaning to the notion of Asian drivers.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 I N I O N
Dalit intellectualising and
the Other Backward Classes   i
Even as the Indian middle-class anger against reservations for Other Backward        j
Classes subsides, one voice remains consistent. Is Chandrabhan Prasad opposed to
OBC reservations because they do not 'deserve' it, or because he wants to prevent
Dalits and OBCs from coming together?
In April and May of this year, the
Indian government announced the
reservation of 27 percent of the
seats in educational institutions run by
the central government for Other
Backward Classes (OBC), also known
as the middle castes. This was an
extension of what had already been
taking place in institutions run by state
governments, as well as in government
employment at all levels. A group of
New Delhi medical students, aided by
corporates and the media,
demonstrated for several days against
the decision. The agitation - which consisted of a
hunger strike, some marches and the offering of
copious soundbites on live TV - was sustained on
the basis of vague memories of similar protests that
took place in 1991. During that year the
implementation of reservations had first been
sought, as originally recommended in 1980 by the B
P Mandal Commission on Backward Classes.
The Pioneer newspaper's consulting editor,
Chandrabhan Prasad, has often written in his path-
breaking Dalit Diary column about how the Indian
media ignores the issue of caste, and how rare it is
for other publications to give him space to express
the Dalit agenda. Ironically, during the agitation
earlier this year, Prasad was all over the media - on
TV, on the Times of ind/ds edit page - opposing
the move.
Prasad's contention was not
only that the OBCs do not deserve
reservations, but also that Dalits
would be hurt by the legislation.
"The anti-Mandal lobby gained in
legitimacy simply because Mandal
went the wrong way," he wrote. "It
is in that sense that Mandal hurts
even Dalits." But this only raises
the question, in what sense
exactly? Dalits already have
reservations at all levels, and New
Delhi has now been lobbied
and convinced to extend
reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes to the
private sector.
Prasad has always held that we are "in the era of
Dalits vs Shudras", Shudras being OBCs and
collectively referred to as the Bahujan. Although
both have traditionally been oppressed. Dalits are
considered as holding a place lower in the social and
religious hierarchy. It is only recently that he has
conceded that the large category of OBCs has within
it a number of castes that are as economically and
socially deprived as Dalits. His argument is that only
these Most Backward Castes (MBCs) deserve
reservation, not the "upper OBCs" who own land, and
who need a "social revolution" rather than
reservations. This contention - supported by neither
facts and figures nor greater research, which has
otherwise been Prasad's hallmark - has of late
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 turned vicious, with such statements as:
The upper OBCs have become a ruling
social block, but without having produced
a cultural elite ... [they] have become an
embarrassment for the country and a
problem for DalitsrTribals and the most
backward castes."
Prasad has pointed out that the only
Dalit member of the Mandal Commission,
L R Naik, wrote a dissent in the
Commission's report, saying that OBCs
consist of two social blocks - the
landowning and the artisan castes - and that the
latter is more backward and deserves separate
recognition, lest the former corners the reservation
benefits. Unlike Prasad, however, Naik did not
outright oppose reservation for the 'upper' OBCs. In
-eferring to Naik and his note of dissent, Prasad
gnores the rest ofthe Mandal report, which takes
three broad criteria - social, educational and
economic - and examines each in great detail. (The
entire list of criteria is available at
html/guideline, htm.)
An important indicator of backwardness for the list
is the representation of members of a caste in
government employment and elected offices. In
other words, be it the upper or lower OBCs, a caste
s on the list only if it is not adequately 'represented',
f a caste is not represented in, say, educational
nstitutions, despite being perceived as 'powerful',
that is clearly an indicator that caste has in some
way been a hindrance to that community's attempts
to be part of the mainstream.
The entire logic of reservations is based on lack
of representation. To take just one example, a
survey by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies showed that just
four percent of Delhi's journalists are
OBCs. Neither does Prasad's subsequent
assertion that OBCs "have a fair share in
the media, cinema and urban assets as
well" stand scrutiny. His assertion that ten
of India's states are ruled by Shudra chief
ministers is correct, but that is only
because of demography. If political vote
banks add up, and OBCs become
Mayawati      politically powerful, does that necessarily
imply that entire castes have been
uplifted? Does Mayawati, by becoming the Chief
Minister of Uttar Pradesh (she is all set to occupy
the seat again in assembly elections scheduled for
February 2007), obviate the need for Dalits to be
brought into the mainstream via reservations and
other means?
'Lords of the countryside'
One of the tasks of the National Commission of
Backward Classes - which oversees OBC
reservations at the central level - is to review, every
decade, whether any caste is over- or under-
represented. Furthermore, a 1993 Supreme Court of
India judgment introduced a 'creamy layer' clause,
whereby families that are prosperous are not eligible
for reservations even if they belong to a reserved-
category caste. Chandrabhan Prasad's argument
against 'powerful', 'landowning' OBCs is, incidentally,
the same as the Indian middle-class/upper-caste
argument against reservations for Dalits - that a
'creamy layer' takes away the benefits.
The creation of an MBC list as separate from
OBCs will undoubtedly fine-tune the logic of
representation in implementation, as has been
An Indian caste primer
OBC: Other Backward Classes. This group of
traditionally marginalised castes is recognised in the
Indian Constitution as comprising "socially and
educationally backward classes".
SC: Scheduled Castes. Gandhi called them
Harijans but Ambedkar coined the term Dalit, meaning
'the broken and the oppressed'. SCs were traditionally
relegated outside the Hindu-defined social structure.
Although recognised by the government in 1937,
specific mention was finally made in the Indian
Constitution after Independence. Today, this group
makes up roughly 16.5 percent of the Indian
ST: Scheduled Tribes. Also known as Adivasis and
Girijans, STs make up hundreds of indigenous tribes,
each of which has been officially recognised by the
Centre and their respective state governments. Today
this group makes up roughly 8 percent of the Indian
Shudra: Also known as Bahujan, the Shudras are the
lowest ranked of the four Varnas of the Hindu caste
system, and were historically labourers - often forced -
for the other three Varnas. They have been classified as
Other Backward Classes.
Dwija: Meaning 'one who is born twice', Dwijas are
the three top Varnas in the Hindu social structure - the
Kshatriya, Vaishya and Brahmin castes.
Mandal: In 1979, an official decision was made to
convene a second commission on 'backward classes'.
Chaired by retired judge B P Mandal, the commission
submitted a groundbreaking report in December 1980.
Finding that India's OBC population was around 52
percent of the country's total, the commission
recommended that proportionate reservations be
instituted in all public-sector institutions, national banks,
universities and colleges, as well as private-sector
institutions that have received public money. When the
Supreme Court said that the total number of reserved
seats in an institution should not exceed 50 percent, OBC
reservations were fixed at 27 percent.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 Prasad's argument against 'powerful', 'landowning' OBCs is, incidentally, the same
as the Indian middle-class/upper-caste argument against reservations for Dalits -
that a 'creamy layer' takes away the benefits.
happening in some states. Even as this article is
being written, the Supreme Court has said that
clubbing together MBCs and OBCs is a violation
of Article 14 of India's Constitution, which
discusses state and central services. There is a
similar problem within the Scheduled Caste (SC)
quotas, with some SC communities being over
represented. This is why the Andhra Pradesh state
government, for one, has split the 15 percent
reservation for SCs into four groups - six percent
each for Malas and Madigas (the largest of AP's
Dalit castes), and one percent each for the Rellis
and Adi Andhras.
Social scientists Yogendra Yadav and Satish
Deshpande, in their well-known alternative to the
Mandal recommendations, have also stressed
splitting the 27 percent reservation into two parts,
for upper and lower OBCs. Chandrabhan Prasad,
however, says that the upper OBCs do not
deserve reservation at all. His insistent opposition
on this count is perhaps not surprising. Dalits and
Shudras al! over India have been in conflict with
each other, sometimes violently so.
Along with Prasad, intellectuals who opposed
the move to reserve seats for OBCs included
social scientists Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Andre
Beteille. Mehta said that the OBCs were not an
exploited community, and that the "script of
oppression" they were reading was one simply
borrowed from Dalits, who are the worst victims of
OBC violence. It is important to keep in mind that
exploitation, violence and oppression are not key
factors in reservation - there is the law for that.
Reservation is about representation: the idea of
reservation is to build an India where ali castes
and communities are represented in all its walks of
life. The idea is to end occupational stratification;
empowerment becomes an obvious corollary.
As far as the politics of relative oppression'
goes, Dalits may be outcastes but Shudras are
the fourth of the chaturvama order, mythology
having it that they were bom of Brahma's feet
Their occupation is that of labourers; the traditional
texts of Manu declared that any Shudra caught
listening to the Vedas would have molten lead
poured into his ears. That, then, is the history of
the Shudras: sidelined from education and
learning, and forced into manual labour. What is so
wrong with lowering the bar a bit to give the
brightest a chance in the best of India's
educational institutions?
The "lords of the countryside" that Prasad talks
about are actually a handful of castes amongst
thousands. There is an obvious need for fresh
population statistics about the various Other
Backward Classes to determine who is 'cornering
the benefits' of reservations. Despite boasting the
world's largest census exercise, India does not
have such statistics. This is due to the fact that a
handful of sociologists managed to convince New
Delhi authorities that counting OBC numbers in the
2001 census would only further caste identity, and
thus the prevalence of caste. The last time OBCs
were counted was in 1951, but for some reason the
statistics were not made public. Beteille has made
a similar argument against OBC reservations, as if
the process could divide an already divided society.
But even if these objections are taken into
consideration, it is inimical for the Government
of India to base its reservations policy on
population without knowing that population's
actual composition.
Dalit v Shudra
Many Dalit intellectuals or activists are unhappy
about what they see as attempts to prevent Dalit-
Bahujan unity. They have long tried to bring about
an electoral alliance between Dalits, OBCs and
Muslims, but have met with only limited success for
several reasons, not the least of which are the very
real differences between these groups. Fault-lines
exist not only between Dalits and Shudras but
within Dalits themselves, and there are
contradictions within the 'backward' communities
as well.
The support for unity comes from many quarters.
This summer, the voices in favour of OBC
reservations include the likes of longtime activists
Udit Raj and Kancha Ilaiah - the former a Dalit, the
latter a Shudra. Ilaiah has pointed out that there are
cultural similarities between Dalits and Bahujans
that need to be harnessed to bring them together. In
a 2001 interview with journalist S Anand,
Chandrabhan Prasad's response to this is
bewildering: "I think there are more Brahmans
who eat beef and pork than Shudras. I also
think Shudras tend to have an increased intensity
of religiosity than Brahmans. I think Shudras
practice untouchability more vigorously than
Brahmans today."
These sentiments have also turned personal   On
Ilaiah himself, Prasad has noted:
Kancha Ilaiah is a Shudra scholar. He targets Dalits'
sentiments. Tells them that Brahmans are the creators
of the Chatur-Vama Order, that they developed the
notion of untouchability. And therefore, they must be
destroyed ... But, he never says that it is not the
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 ilaiah talks of recovering pride in Dalit-Bahujan traditions of productive labour, as
opposed to Brahmanical traditions of rote learning.
Brahman, it is the Brahmanical Order which has to be
destroyed. He never says that upper Shudras are
turning more Brahmanical than Brahmans themselves.
He never tells what is the performance of Shudra
governments in the South and elsewhere.
Ilaiah talks about the "Dalitisation" of Indian
culture, an idea that seems far more radical than
Prasad's magic potion of globalisation. Chandrabhan
has claimed that Ilaiah is "drafting an intellectual trap
:o Shudraise the nation's culture. Dalits and Shudras
differ culturally as much as Dalits and Brahmans do
... Dalits have a distinct culture. But we should not
glorify it. Neither do we want Brahman/Shudra
culture. We want European culture, which is the
best." On the other hand, Ilaiah talks of recovering
pride in Dalit-Bahujan traditions of productive labour,
as opposed to Brahmanical traditions of rote learning.
This seems no less than a clash of civilisations -
many civilisations - without a moderate, middle-of-
the-road answer. But look at the issue this way: if
Ilaiah's is a path of rapprochement and building
alliances, and Prasad's is one of seeing OBCs as the
Dalit's foremost enemy, how would the ramifications
of these approaches differ? A doctrine of peace and
ntegration would certainly be preferable to a
prescription of permanent conflict.
An editorial in the Hyderabad-based paper Dalit
Voice said that the Brahmanical hatred demonstrated
in the anti-quota protests in April and May would help
Dalit-Bahujan consolidation. Vidya Bhushan Rawat,
an activist and follower of B R Ambedkar, wrote in
CounterCurrents. "Dalit opportunists dance to the
tune of their Brahmanical masters when they
condemn reservation for the backward communities."
This is a view also taken by many others. And this
is exactly why Prasad opposes reservations for
OBCs: they have the potential to bring together Dalits
and Shudras. This writer's contention is not so much
that Dalits and OBCs should join hands - they
inevitably will if they have to - or that the Daiit-OBC
conflict is not a reality. Rather, it is that Mandal-
recommended reservations for OBCs stand in good
light irrespective of the kind of politics that
Chandrabhan Prasad is subjecting them to. On the
other hand, all who oppose reservations have been
using Prasad's statements to bolster their
arguments. Does Prasad realise that the middle-
class opponents of reservations are no friends of
Dalits or Dalit quotas either?
For Prasad, the question is not whether Dalit-
Shudra unity is possible, but that, "even if it takes
place somewhere, should be stopped ... [Shudras]
will point to the social monster called Brahmans. rob
Dalits' support, come to power, and then turn to
Dalits to oppress them." It is impossible to tell to
what extent this is justified, but could such fears be
the real reason behind Prasad's opposition to
reservations for OBCs?
Prasad's response to the Dalit association with
Brahmans is again bewildering: "Since Dalits and
Brahmans are both social minorities, both have a
common enemy in Shudras. Thus, for their own
different reasons ... Dalits and Brahmans have no
option but to come together politically in the near
future." If Brahmins and Dalits can come together,
why must OBCs be made into common enemies
of both?
Prasad's chief problem with the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP), founded in Uttar Pradesh by the Dalit
Sikh politician Kanshi Ram, is also that it should
long ago have "dropped Bahujanwad, and must
have spoken of a Dalit movement. After Mayawati
was attacked by the Shudras, the BSP should have
realised that Shudras are the Dalits' prime
opponents in rural India." The greatest trouble with
Prasad's views on OBCs is that Dalit electoral
politics cannot move beyond its immediate base
without alliances. Its stagnation would make it
impotent. If Mayawati is wooing all castes for next
February's elections in Uttar Pradesh, then surely
the process must make political sense for the
BSP? Prasad once wrote, "If any political
movement of Dalits has to succeed, it must allow
itself to be guided by Dalit Diary. Or else, chest-
beating can go on." Fortunately or unfortunately,
that is not true.
Mayawati today, for instance, delivers little more
than pride to her voters, but that pride matters
greatiy to those at the receiving end of caste
oppression. To move beyond that, however, she
needs credible competition from another Daiit force.
Such dynamism in caste politics would be absent if
Dalit politicians closed the door to anyone wanting
to join the Dalit alliance. Indeed, if both Shudra and
Dwija, the twice-born, were not to join the BSP
alliance, there would be little caste churning.
Not that Dalit communities are particularly united
amongst themselves. For instance, Chamars are
more enthusiastic en masse voters of the BSP than
other Dalit communities in UP, some of whom have
some attraction towards the Congress and the BJP.
But Chandrabhan Prasad gives little mind to such
details. He considers globalisation, rather than
political power, as the force into which Dalits should
dive as though it were the flowing Ganga - and
which would perforce leave behind a 'national
embarrassment' called the "OBC elite".
Himal Southasian | September 2006
It took a tragedy to shake some people up to try and integrate traditional faith
healing and modern clinical practices to help the mentally ill. But this is
too little too late.
Srivelayuthapalayampudur - the name of the
village has more syllables than even someone
with conversational ease in Tamil can manage.
It lies in the shadow of the Palani hills in Tamil
Nadu. At first glance it is no different from the
myriad other villages that dot the landscape of
rural India.
It is a fine mid-morning in January, a week before
the pongal harvest. A schoolboy whips a discarded
bicycle tire down an alley in the enduring
amusement of the hinterland. At the community well,
young girls, their hair oiled and braided, skin
seasoned with turmeric paste, dexterously balance
heavy head-loads of water. A woman flattens
spherical cakes of dung onto the walls of her home
to dry in the scorching sun. A scared rooster
scampers out of the way of an oxcart, returning with
its modest harvest. Except for the dish antennae
protruding out of a few roofs, this could be the
timeless India of the imagination.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 To a large extent, it may still be that India - not
the modernising country, the nuclear power, which
boasts the world's largest pool of scientific
talent. There are no scouts here looking for call-
centre operatives or software code-writers. The
only outsiders in Srivelayuthapalayampudur are
those who arrive unannounced, asking simply for
"the shrine".
The shrine is unlike the typical temples of
southern India with their giant gopurams and
intricately sculpted arches. Instead the
Muthuswami shrine is built without embellishment,
enclosing a simple courtyard over a grave. There
is a single-storey structure with idols of local
deities, and a complete absence of the major gods
of the Hindu pantheon. This is the final resting
place of a man who used to live in this village. His
name was Muthuswami.
In the sweltering heat of a South Indian
afternoon, the priest has gone home for his
obligatory siesta. He will only return for the
evening puja. The temple is open and unguarded,
and the only people about are a half-dozen young
men, all wrapped in veshtis - a single piece of
homespun cotton, loosely knotted at the waist.
Each of them is shackled. There is a metal ring
that wraps their feet, and a chain leads to cuffs on
both hands. While their movement is impeded, the
men are allowed to roam about the small campus.
Despite this semblance of freedom, they can be
pulled in at the whim of their minders.
Inside the courtyard, those minders, a
small group of women, are cooking a
simple lunch. As the pots blacken with
soot, neem twigs stir the rice and curry,
and the rising fumes dye the air with both
colour and aroma of spice.
Singing Ravi
One ofthe young teenagers, Ravichandran,
is keenly interested in the sudden presence
of this writer, but unwilling to respond to
overtures. His grandmother, Kanakambal,
is nearby. "We will be here for as long as
it takes, around four weeks or so," she
says. "My grandson is the future hope of
the family. I know that Muthuswami will
cure him."
Kanakambal is keen to demonstrate that
there is nothing wrong with her grandson.
She asks Ravi to speak in English, but he
is not interested. Instead, he wants to sing,
which is what he proceeds to do. With an
excellent school record, a few months back
Ravi's family had enrolled him with much
fanfare in a college near their village. Then,
however, something changed.
'The boy was alright," Kanakambal
explains. "He had just started college, but
came unhinged when he was badly ragged
there. Now he is unable to do anything. We have to
be here till the priests tell us it is all right to go - this
is our last refuge."
For the rural adolescent, going off to college had
meant leaving the comfort of his village home and
the embracing insurance of his extended family.
Instead, he was suddenly living in a hostel full of city
slickers. Within three days, the warden had called
Ravi's relatives, asking them to take him back. The
young man had barely been stopped from jumping
off the roof of the college building.
The family took him to what they call the Big
Hospital, where, like many such places in India,
resources were overstretched. In addition to a
shortage of doctors, medicine and beds, the
overworked staff had been inured by too many years
of working under pressure to be of any real help. It
took just one glimpse of the psychiatry ward, and
Ravi's father whisked his son and family back home.
Instead, they came to the temple of Muthuswami.
Here, Ravi spends most of his time singing.
Unlike at other Hindu temples, the curing process at
Muthuswami's happens with neither Brahminical
rituals nor the chanting of prayers. In fact, priestly
intervention is minimal. The patients take part in a
morning puja, and spend the rest of the day helping
out with routine duties. No patients are charged for
the temple's services, although most leave a
donation when they depart. Over the last six
decades, hundreds of mentally ill people have come
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 to seek cures at the Muthuswami shrine. For
centuries, people in similar situations have been
visiting temples, Sufi dargahs and churches across
Southasia, looking for peace and an answer to
their troubles.
Friday night seance
Some years back, the Muthuswami shrine also
attracted another group of seekers - a team of
Indian psychiatrists. They spent six months
researching the clinical efficacy of the healing
process, and published their findings in the British
Medical Journal'in 2002.
Professor Ramanathan Raguram first heard about
the village in the spring of 2001. At that time, he was
working in Bangalore at the National Institute of
Mental Health and Neurosciences, the country's
premier research institute on mental illness.
Raguram and his team found that the stories of the
'cure' available in Srivelayuthapalayampudur began
about 60 years ago, around the time that
Muthuswami died. For most of his life, Muthuswami
had been considered a ne'er-do-well, who spent
most of his time idling about the village. A few years
before he died, however, a belief grew that his mere
touch could cure people, particularly those who
behaved 'funny'. After Muthuswami died, the stories
about his 'gift' grew.
'There is power in this place", one of the long-term
residents told the visiting doctors. "A great man is
buried here and, though he is dead, his healing
presence is felt all the time. Otherwise how do you
explain that with so many mentally ill patients, the
place is so calm and peaceful?"
According to the local folklore, Muthuswami's
spirit eventually entered the body of his son,
Palaniswami. Although Palaniswami himself says he
cannot recall what happened that day, Ramani, the
owner of the village's only teashop, was an
eyewitness, and provides free beedis and biscuits to
anyone who will listen to the story. According to
Ramani, on that day the teenage Palaniswami first
went into convulsions, and then blacked out. When
he came to, he began speaking in his father's voice,
recalling details from the past that Palaniswami
himself would not have known.
The 'spirit' said that it would visit every Friday.
And so, the villagers built a small memorial, a
samadhi, over Muthuswami's grave, which over the
years has become the temple. At nine in the evening
every Friday, 55-year-old Palaniswami arrives at his
father's temple and squats on the floor. The large
courtyard fills up with people. There is no music, no
cacophony. Suddenly and without warning,
Palaniswami goes into convulsions and collapses.
When he comes to, there is silence. According to
those who have gathered, this is no longer
Palaniswami but Muthuswami himself, come again to
visit his kinsmen and solve their problems. Subjects
then appear to be 'chosen' by the spirit at random; a
chosen medium suddenly goes into convulsions, and
the gathered people are then able to ask the spirit
personal questions.
Temple respite
For millennia, Southasia has evolved a wide variety
of approaches to mental healthcare. It is this wide
mix that Raguram believes is the real strength of the
Subcontinent's healing traditions. Having such a
breadth of options, he says, allows the individual to
negotiate illness with minimal influence by mental
health professionals. "While we have always known
that mentally ill people do seek traditional and non-
formal modes of treatment," he says, "the
'establishment' has been prone to consider them
irrational and unhelpful - not worthy of being
bestowed with scientific scrutiny."
Raguram and his colleagues set out to address
that oversight. For a period of six months, the team
surveyed patients at the Muthuswami temple,
identifying many with severe psychiatric illnesses,
from depression to schizophrenia. They delved
deeply into the backgrounds of both the patients' and
those who cared for them, particularly focusing on
individual experiences of the healing process. They
attended the seances, followed patients back to their
villages, and watched for any progress in those who
stayed at the temple for longer periods of time. They
also used a clinical psychiatric rating scale to test
for any improvement. On average, the team found
that the patients improved by around 20 percent - a
figure comparable to patients given the latest
medication in Western healthcare settings, and one
that surprised the entire team.
Raguram believes that it is the experience of
residing in the temple for a period of time, rather than
the therapy offered by the healer, that brings relief.
"What they actually got for certain was tender loving
care, in an environment in tune with their own cultural
beliefs," he says. In the report published by the
British Medical Journal, he argues that the
Muthuswami temple in fact provides the refuge
suggested by the term 'asylum', but in its most
positive sense. "Instead of the long, often lifetime's
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 stay in hospital, which became characteristic of
asylum treatment, here a stay of only five weeks
could bring notable improvement, indicating the
value of a brief sojourn in a supportive environment."
Selvam, a 22-year-old tailor from Dharmavaram,
300 km away, could not agree more. "I first came
here four or five years ago, and stayed for five
weeks. I used to be afraid of everything. I went home
when I got better, but the attacks returned and so I
have come again. I like the atmosphere here - I don't
feel that scared anymore."
The healing traditions at shrines like Muthuswami
should not be dismissed as quaint anachronisms.
Rather, says Raguram, they should be seen as
cultural anchors, constituting a vital community
resource for the mentally ill. He is concerned that
discomfort about one's own cultural moorings,
coupled with a lack of interest in exploring our
traditional influences, has significantly hampered the
psychiatric profession in Southasia.
But Raguram is quick to insist that these temples
are not magical remedies. "I must
emphasise that it was not our intention to
demonstrate the effectiveness of temple
healing practices, but to draw attention
to the need for empirical validation of
these practices."
People, especially rural and low-
income patients, are often brought here or
arrive because of a loss of faith in the
established system. The stigma attached
to mental hospitals is also an important
barrier. The mother of another patient at
Muthuswami's says, "Nobody should
know that our daughter is unwell. If we take her to a
doctor, everyone will come to know. People will
avoid us, stop visiting our home. They will also think
less of us. That's why we brought her here. This is
just like visiting a temple."
As such, these temple-based centres have
remained the preferred ports of call for a vast
segment of the public. Without any official
recognition, however, this remains a completely
unregulated sector, a fact that in the past has led to
both manipulation and even catastrophe.
Erwadi inferno
A few hundred kilometres to the south, where the
narrowing tip of peninsular India tapers into the Indian
Ocean, foam-flecked waves relentlessly lash the
rocks that skirt the postcard-like serenity of the Sufi
dargah in Erwadi. In the azure light of dawn, to the
sound of the conch being blown for morning rituals,
several hundred devotees throng to pay homage in a
uniquely syncretic style of worship. In this shrine
dedicated to a Muslim saint, the faithful use flowers,
oil lamps and holy water in their prayers - a fluid
adaptation of local symbols of worship, which
explains the enduring popularity of Sufism in
Southasia. This is the grave of Ebrahim Shah
Valiyullah, a 12th century Moroccan mystic. For 800
years, devotees have believed that the blessings of
the saint, the heat on the sands, the holy water and
the oil from the lamps can cure mental illness.
Wherever a shrine attracts large numbers, such as
the Erwadi dargah, exploitation of the gullible is
bound to happen. The langar, or community kitchen,
provides free food for several hundred people every
day. Add to this the innate charity of visiting pilgrims,
and together there is an irresistible assurance of free
food and a good potential income. Years back,
enterprising individuals had set up around 15 illegal
mental homes, charging fees to families and
promising to send back their relatives when they
recovered, or to simply take them off their hands for
good. In fact, the patients were forced to beg at the
shrine and eat for free at the communal kitchen. At
night, some were shackled in shelters without even
the most basic of facilities.
Early one morning in August 2001, a spark at one
of these illegal operations spread into a massive
inferno, quickly engulfing the brittle thatch
structure. By the time it was put out, 28
patients, all of whom had been in chains,
had been charred to death, and 47 more
grievously burnt. This was an even to
make headlines throughout the region.
Today, in the teeming bazaar outside
the dargah, the usual suspects remain.
Shamans and charlatans sell their own
brands of taveez, or blessed talismans,
which visitors queue up to buy. But ask
around for directions to the illegal mental
homes, and eager volunteers will hasten
to tell you that those days are gone. The police now
come and check every week to make sure that the
mental homes remain closed.
Indeed, convulsed into action by the horror of the
Erwadi tragedy, the older and more famous faith-
healing centres across Tamil Nadu are now
stringently policed. According to officials, all of the
inhumane shackles are off. But the Muthuswami
temple falls outside the radar. Here, the inmates are
constrained - although, unlike at Erwadi, they are not
made immobile. Nonetheless, the manacling at
Muthuswami is a deeply disturbing sight.
"It is a discomforting experience, an affront to
personal freedom," Raguram agrees. 'Was there
some metaphorical significance? Crucially, it is
family that puts on these chains - not a legal
authority, as happens elsewhere in the world. Also,
here the chaining is not an act of abandonment like in
Erwadi. The family stays with the patient throughout,
and cares for them. There are no easy answers, but
places like Muthuswami are well worth exploring
before enforcing a change, legally or otherwise."
Past to future
The Erwadi tragedy galvanised a sleeping mental
healthcare establishment. The government of India's
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 The healing traditions at shrines like Muthuswami should not he dismissed as quaint
district-level mental health programme swung into
action - raiding illegal mental homes, closed them
down and issuing warnings to faith-healing temples
that chained their inmates. The response to official
offers to transfer patients to state hospitals, however,
was very weak. Many patients refused to move until
they received 'divine' commands. If patients were
forcibly ejected from one shrine, many would simply
to go another.
As early as 1999, the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC) in India indicted the severe
state of the country's mental health sector. "The
living conditions in many of these settings are
deplorable, and violate an individual's right to be
treated humanely and live a life of dignity," an NHRC
report stated. "Despite all advances in treatment, the
mentally ill in these hospitals are forced to live a
life of incarceration."
There is a yawning gap between the formal and
traditional systems of mental healthcare, even
though the needs of patients are constantly
expanding. For the sakes of the patients and their
families, a way must be found to bring these two
approaches together.
In Gunasheelam, on the banks of the Kaveri River
near Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu, is another famous healing
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centre. This is the Sri Prasanna Venkatachalapaty
temple, a place full of ritual, and managed by
traditional and taciturn Ayyangar Brahmins, For many
years the temple has followed a routine of holy
baths, Vedic ritual, flogging and fetters as the cure
for its mentally ill patients. But after Erwadi and the
resulting ban, a group of psychiatrists from the town
managed to convince the trustees that they could
work together.
Pichumani Ayyangar, scion of a long line of
hereditary priests at the temple and now its chief
trustee, has been known in the past to be scornful of
scientific enquiry into the temples healing
processes. "This is a matter between God and
devotee. What role does a doctor have to play9" he
once demanded. But he has mellowed in recent
years. Perhaps it was due to the Erwadi tragedy and
government fiat, or some other cause, but the
traditional cure in Gunasheelam is now tempered with
the caution of a modern clinician.
The clinical intervention was the brainchild of a
local psychiatrist, Dr G Gopalakrishnan, director of
the Tiruchi-based Sowmanasya Hospital and Institute
of Psychiatry. He approached the temple authorities
in the aftermath of the Erwadi tragedy. "We explained
to them that we wouldn't interfere with the ritual
process," he explains. "They could continue with that
as long as they also took the medicine we
prescribed. They were quite amenable to that, and
the patients are cooperative too."
The floggings have stopped, and the patients have
been built a clean, well-lit hostel. There are fulltime
social workers and regular clinical visits. Every
patient's progress is monitored and they are
administered recommended medicine, even as they
follow the rest of the ritual therapy. Although the
project is only two years old, the doctors believe that
the non-hospital atmosphere is conducive to curing
the patients. Traditional and modern healing
practices are allowed to complement one another in
Gunasheelam, in an approach that could be an
important pointer to the future care of the mentally ill
all over.
Mental healthcare in the Subcontinent is in crisis
due to the huge population and significant gaps tn the
system. Community initiatives, however, are often
planned without adequate understanding of what is
offered by existing institutions and established
practices. Today's growing interest in complementary
medicine should be seen less as a rejection of
modern methods than as an embracing of the most
basic of healing traditions: the importance of peace,
time and tender care.
For the health of both systems, neither modern
medicine nor traditional healing should be allowed to
exist in a vacuum, blithely ignorant of the benefits of
the other.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 The Narmada parikrama
Of all the paths to salvation, pilgrimage may
well be the most democratic but it was never
meant to be the easiest. In modern times,
air-conditioned buses traverse the four dhams, and
Central Reserve Police Force personnel patrol the
road to Amamath. But away from the political
cauldron of Kashmir and the ersatz Hinduism of the
Indo-Gangetic plains, an older tradition survives
along the banks ofthe Narmada.
The river flows through the heart of peninsular
India, in a landscape that was in place aeons before
the Himalaya began their upsurge, long before the
Ganga had even been conceived. Fed by the rain, it
begins amidst steep hills, densely forested by sal, a
landscape intensely familiar to the poet Kalidasa,
who wrote: Reva's streams spread dishevelled at
Vindhya's rocky foothills, like ashen streaks on an
elephant's flank.
Of the river's 14 other names, Reva, 'the leaping
one', is the best known. But for most of its route,
the watercourse is just Narmada, the giver of
delight. To its banks - where the south meets the
north, and the tribal, the non-tribal -the Hindu
philosopher Sankara journeyed to attain the
realisation of advaita, or non-duality. A sadhu once
told this writer, in an etymology that is certainly
mistaken but still worth recording, that the name
derives from /Varand Mada - man and woman.
The Hindu pilgrimage culminates in the parikrama
(circumambulation) of the holy spot, whether it is a
temple shrine, a sacred mountain or a lake. But
tradition has granted only this one river such a
status. Every other pilgrimage leads to the
parikrama; here, each step is the parikrama.
The circumambulation may commence anywhere
along the banks of the Narmada. Like any temple
circumambulation, the pilgrim must keep the sacred
shrine - here, the river - to his right while walking. A
pilgrim never breaks the journey, stopping only for
the four months of the monsoon. Barefoot,
depending for food and shelter on the hospitality of
those who dwell by the river, the pilgrim will go over
to the other bank only at the river's source at
Amarkantak, in Madhya Pradesh, or where the river
meets the Arabian Sea at Bharuch, in Gujarat. By
the time the journey ends, at the same place where
it began, a pilgrim will have walked 2700 km.
Navigating the sagar
Today, a vast majority of pilgrims have cut short
the time necessary for this journey, taking buses
where possible. Nonetheless, a few persist in the
old ways. Less than one km from Amarkantak,
where the Narmada is but a trickle, Chhote Lai
Thakur says that he and his companions have been
on the parikrama for 10 months. His son should
now be two years old, he notes, but he has not
spoken to his family since he began.
He has been shaped by the journey. He sports a
long flowing beard, untouched since the day he set
out, a slender frame stripped of spare flesh, and a
calmness of manner that belies his 27 years. But
he is surprised by a question. "No, no one stopped
me. When Narmada mai calls, who would do so? If
you want to write, you should write about the
Shuipan jhadi." referring to the 'wielder of the
trident', Shiva, and the surrounding forest.
This is territory of the Bhil tribe, on the border of
Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat - the most feared
stretch of the entire parikrama. Some parts of the
tale Chhote Lai relates about his journey with six
fellow travelers could be from that of any medieval
pilgrim. "On the very first day that we entered the
Shuipan jhadi," he says, "the Bhils took away
everything we had. We had already donned the
sadhu's garb, knowing what awaited us. We told
them that whatever we had, they were free to take.
And it was true that once we crossed Shuipan jhadi,
more was given to us than they took away."
He continues: "For eleven nights we walked
naked through the wilderness, with fire our only
solace in the cold. It may have been a jhadi once,
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 but now it is desiccated - nothing grows there. The
poverty of the people was there for us to see. Yet
each day, between the six of us the Bhils would give
us one roti. Mai ki kripa thi, through the blessings of
the river, we did not feel hungry."
Chhote Lai says that, in this way, he and his
group reached the edge of the sagar, the term that
every pilgrim now uses for the immense reservoir
created by the massive Sardar Sarovar Dam. "It is
not possible to walk along the banks," he recalls.
"It took us four hours in a motorboat to cross
the sagar."
In just a few moments, several centuries have
been spanned. In narrative after narrative, pilgrims
speak of the canals that have sprung up as a result
of the dam. A pilgrim is not supposed to ford the
waters of the Narmada. On the other hand, pilgrims
have already come to believe that the filled-in
waters of a tributary - or a canal - are not really the
river's waters.
The dam, and others like it, have created a new
set of displaced peoples - not willing ones such as
the pilgrims, but those known simply as PAPs, or
Project-Affected Persons. Over the years many,
including this writer, have reported stories of
displacement and death: the exodus of Harsud, a
town sentenced to drown; the mock city of vast tin
sheds near Barwani, constructed by farmers who
believed that compensation would be awarded in
proportion to the size of their dwellings; the 40
pilgrims who were swept away under a full moon,
because auspicious occasions when people come
to the riverbank are not the concern of the engineers
who schedule the dams' discharges.
"China", the engineers invariably respond when
asked, "now that is a country. That is how
development should take place. They can move
entire cities, displace millions. But here, even if we
touch a town, people like you come around asking
us questions."
It was impossible not to think of such things while
standing with Chhote Lai by this tiny stream, the
dispeller of duality, wondering about questions that
had divided a nation. Meanwhile, the pilgrim's
companions had proceeded to bathe in a small tank
by the river's edge. My thoughts, his words, were
rudely interrupted by someone from a nearby
ashram. "Everyone bathes in the stream," he
yelled, "turn saale gandu especial ho, stop dirtying
the tank!"
A day later, I went to meet the mahant who runs
that ashram. He sat cross-legged on a sofa, his
arms folded over an enormous potbelly, watching the
day's cricket being summed up on the Hindi news
channel Aaj Tak. At the end of the programme, after
chiding his disciples for the over-enthusiasm they
had displayed during the game, he turned to me.
He had come here, he said, as a pilgrim on the
parikrama. He had taken up residence at this very
place. By her grace, he recalled, as he meditated in
the shade of a tree that still stands on the ashram's
compound, disciples began to seek him, contributing
their land and wealth to the service of the Mai. First
he had set up this ashram. Next came the school
and hostel for tribal children. Now, the hospital that
stands at the edge of town.
The man who had taken me to meet the mahant
worked with the local municipality. He had sat
silently through the audience and, as we emerged
outside the ashram, he asked me to follow him. At
the edge of the ashram he turned to follow an open
sewer as it flowed past the hostel. We followed it to
the banks of the river where, separated from the
flowing water by a thin mud embankment, the
effluvia ofthe sadhus bubbled in a cesspool, ready
to overflow into the river. Unknown to the pilgrims,
barely a few hundred metres from its very source,
the river was as much shit as it was sacred.
My companion, as was his wont, gave me an
explanation that was born ofthe same tradition that
enabled the pilgrimage. A sadhu, he began,
accompanied by two of his disciples, reached a town
late at night. The townspeople greeted the group in
the prescribed manner, providing them with the best
they could offer. As he left the town in the morning
he blessed them by saying "ujjodd' (be uprooted),
much to the shock of his disciples.
The next night they reached another town, where
they were greeted by. taunts. Children hurled stones
at them; they slept in the open and went hungry.
Leaving town in the morning, he turned and blessed
the denizens, "baso" (settle and prosper). The
astonished disciples could no longer keep silent, and
asked him to explain his unusual behaviour. The
sadhu smiled and said, "If those who know
right conduct are uprooted,
they will travel the world taking
jabaipur along with them the manners
we so require. The others,
who do not know how to
rrar,antak behave, let them stay
in one place and suffer
each other."
It is an answer I have little
faith in, but then I have no
answers of my own.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
- Synthase pS&^s ar^pt onfy ;presen£fpur rpts- :^rrcultural
MM ^jrQll^ater -;Jfey am also wjthinourpeoplev^ can baj
lliese ch^felfs/but what is out tlrere is already out there.      ^
A public uproar erupted in early August after a
Delhi-based NGO found that Coca-Cola and
PepsiCo soft drinks manufactured in India bore
significant levels of pesticide. Following up on a similar
report released in 2003, the Centre for Science and
Environment alleged that these products, gathered from
12 Indian states, contained pesticide levels up to 50
times higher than what is allowed by official limits.
Amidst the noise, it was forgotten that the deeper
problem is with the water that the local bottlers use to
make their colas. Therein lies the real - and alarming -
story: the release and persistence of synthetic
pesticides, which contaminate water, food and the entire
As such, reports of pesticide residues in soft drinks
should not be particularly surprising. Indeed, Rachel
Carson's 1962 SilentSpringwamed ofthe looming crisis
that would result due to the widespread use of
'chlorinated' pesticides. Nonetheless, after decades of
alarm bells, the rampant use of these chemicals
continues. Worldwide, about one million people die
or face chronic illnesses every year due to
pesticide poisoning.
Synthetic pesticides began to be used in India in
1948, when DDT (Dichloro diphenyl trichloro ethane)
was imported for malaria control and HCH (Hexa chloro
cyclo hexane) for locust control. These two now account
for two-thirds of the total consumption of pesticides in
the country. DDT and HCH became so popular that
India began to produce them as early as 1952.
By 1958, the country's pesticide production capacity
had reached 5000 metric tonnes. In that same year the
first incident of pesticide poisoning took place, claiming
the lives of over 100 people in Kerala who had
consumed contaminated wheat flour. Since the advent
of India's Green Revolution, the annual use of pesticides
has increased dramatically - from 154 metric tonnes
in 1954 to 88,000 metric tonnes in 2001. Though the
Indian government did ban the use of DDT for
agricultural use in 1989, up to 10,000 metric tonnes
can still be used annually for health-related purposes,
including spraying for disease-carrying insects.
Pesticide industries still foresee high growth potential
in India, as the use of pesticides in agriculture is
relatively low - just 0.54 kg per hectare, compared to
3.7 kg/ha in the US and 2.7 kg/ha in Europe. There are
currently 179 pesticides registered for use in India; 30
others have been banned, while seven are restricted,
including DDT. Within the space of 58 years,
these chemicals have become omnipresent -
from underground aquifers to the breast milk of
Indian mothers.
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 While studying the groundwater aquifer in the Gangetic plain in UP's Unnao District,
organochlorine concentrations were found as high as 2976.2 ppb in dug wells.
The poisoned Ganga
Although the inadvertent consumption of pesticides
has decreased in India in recent years, forthcoming
generations will nonetheless be forced to continue
dealing with the effects of these non-biodegradable
toxins. 'Organochlorines' are a group of commonly
used pesticides that are extremely stable, and thus
readily accumulate in water, soil and, ultimately, the
food chain.
In soil, DDT's 'half-life' - the time it takes for half of
the material to degrade - is about 15 years. In the
human body, its half-life is about four years. In addition,
these compounds can travel long distances through
air and water; traces of pesticides have even been
found in penguins in Antarctica. For these reasons,
organochlorines are often considered the most
damaging group of chemicals. They are known to cause
dysfunction of the reproductive system, respiratory
disease, immune suppression and cancer.
The Ganga plains are particularly prone to pesticide
pollution, as the region harbours a dense human
population coupled with 47 million hectares of
agricultural land. Between 1993 and 2003, use of
technical-grade pesticides in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
was around 75,000 and 11,000 metric tonnes
respectively. According to a 1995 study, the
concentration of DDT in the Ganga averaged around
13 parts per billion (ppb), but also spiked up to 143
ppb. This dramatically exceeds the limit of 1 ppb
proposed by the World Health Organisation for
drinking water.
The accumulative potential of these pollutants can
be readily seen in the waterway's fish population. R K
Sinha, a researcher at Patna University who has
monitored pollution levels in the Ganga for the last two
decades, has found DDT levels as high as 3700 ppb
in fish upriverat Haridwar. Interestingly, pesticides are
not used extensively upstream from Haridwar. During
1995-97, Anupma Kumari, also of Patna University,
recorded DDT amounts in the Ganga of less than 1.7
ppb, but from 13.6 to almost 1666 ppb in Ganga fish.
In addition, Kumari found high levels (53.6 ppb) of
Endosulfan, another common pesticide that is
significantly more toxic to mammals than is DDT.
Asurvey by the Bombay-based International Institute
of Population Sciences found that 84 percent of
households in Patna District and about 25 percent of
those in Benaras use pesticides. According to the
Malaria Control Office in Patna, more than 2190 metric
tonnes of DDT was sprayed in Bihar between 1995-98
in an attempt to control the spread of kalazar (black
fever) - one of the deadliest diseases in the state,
transmitted through a type of sand fly. Bihar is also
malaria-prone, and DDT spraying is the only practice
used to control its vector.
"In India organochlorine pesticides were used
extensively due to their low cost and broad spectrum
of toxicity," explains K P Singh, ofthe Lucknow-based
Industrial Toxicological Research Centre. While
studying the groundwater aquifer in the Gangetic plain
in UP's Unnao District, Singh recently found
organochlorine concentrations as high as 2976.2 ppb
in dug wells. He also found traces of a related
pesticide known as Aldrin, formerly used on potatoes,
at much higher levels than in other parts of India.
Other studies have made similar findings in places
along the Ganga, where the shallowness and high
permeability of alluvial aquifers make them highly
vulnerable to contamination.
Chemical weapons
When a group of scientists in Kanpur studied pesticide
residue in samples of food from in and around the
city, they found that Endosulfan and DDT exposures
were within the acceptable range of daily intake. Other
pesticides levels, however, were very high. In an
average vegetarian diet, the daily intake of HCH
exceeded allowable levels by 110 percent. For non-
vegetarians, that number climbed to 118 percent.
Exposure to Aldrin, meanwhile, exceeded acceptable
amounts by 442 percent for vegetarians and 1500 for
In Lucknow, DDT and HCH residue was detected
in 100 percent of the samples taken of human blood
and fat tissue. In Haridwar, researchers found average
HCH and DDT levels around 21 ppb in blood samples
taken from male lay people. In agricultural workers
who had been involved in spraying pesticides, those
amounts were around three times higher than for the
general population. In rural areas near Agra, 95 percent
of breast milk samples were found contaminated with
DDT, with HCH also present in significant amounts.
Chemical pesticides are now ubiquitous in the Indian
environment. Even if all types were banned
immediately, pesticides that have been released into
the environment would remain active for decades to
come. Immediate steps to further regulate pesticide
use, as well as the forceful implementation of safe
food and drinking water standards, are crucial. Every
citizen needs to be able to determine the quantity of
pesticides being ingested; making mandatory the
disclosure of pesticide levels in various products may
seem excessive to some, but it is a necessary step.
The time has also come to turn away from modern
'chemical weapons', and deal with pests by use of
traditional methods. Bio-pesticides and other biological
controls are the only way to give coming generations
a safe world in which to live. In the meantime, we
have to wait for the life cycles of the pesticides
already released to run their course.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
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The price of power
Even as Washington lawmakers give their blessing to the historic - and illegal -
Indo-US nuclear deal, few involved are addressing the most crucial issue:
does India need nuclear power at ail?
It has been just over one year since President
George   W   Bush   and   Prime   Minister
Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement
opening up the possibility of a resumption of full
US and international nuclear aid to India. Such
international support had been key to India's
original development of its nuclear infrastructure
and capabilities, and was essentially blocked
after the country's 1974 nuclear weapons test
New Delhi's subsequent refusal to give up
its nuclear weapons and sign the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or otherwise
open its nuclear facilities to international
inspection has kept it largely outside the
system of regulated transfer, trade and
monitoring   of   nuclear   technology
developed over the last three decades.
Both New Delhi and Washington are
lobbying   hard   for  the   necessary
legislative approval of the deal from the
US Congress, and for the blessing of
the 45 countries who are members of
the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which
controls almost all international trade
in these technologies. The deal
has already passed through two
Congressional commitees, as
well as a vote by the full House
of Representatives. With a
final vote in the US Senate
slated for September, in mid-
August Prime Minister Singh
went on the offensive against
strident domestic criticism,
emphasising that whatever
restrictions the new US policy 2
will have for Indian nuclear- |
weapons testing, "there is no «
question of India being bound by a law passed
by a foreign legislature."
The 2005 agreement requires the US to
amend its own laws and policies on
nuclear technology transfer, as well as
to work for changes in international
controls on the supply of nuclear fuel and
technology so as to allow "full civil nuclear
energy cooperation and trade with India". In
exchange, New Delhi would identify and
separate its civilian nuclear facilities and
programmes from its nuclear weapons
complex, and would volunteer the former
for International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) inspection and safeguarding. Yet,
as they consider the deal and ways to
transform its broad framework into legal
reality, the political elites in each country
have ignored some crucial issues.
Policy analysts in the US have fiercely
debated the wisdom of the Indo-US deal,
but the discussion has been rather narrow.
Confined to proliferation-policy experts and
a few interested members of Congress,
the discussion has largely focused on
the lack of details in the deal, the order
of the various steps to be taken by
the respective governments, and the
potential consequences for US non-
proliferation   policy.   The   larger
policy context of a long-standing
effort  to  co-opt  India   as   a   US
client, and thereby sustain and
strengthen US power (especially with
regard    to    China),    has    gone
unchallenged. There is also little
recognition of how the agreement
could allow India to expand its
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 nuclear arsenal.
In India, the deal has incited a wider debate on
questions of national security, sovereignty,
development and democracy. But there has been little
attention paid to whether India needs nuclear weapons
at all, the costly failures of the Indian nuclear energy
enterprise, and the possible harm that a continued
expansion of the nuclear complex could mean to the
ndian people.
Recruiting india
The nuclear deal has to be seen in the context of over
a half-century of efforts to incorporate India into the
,5 strategy in Asia. After the 1949 Chinese revolution,
the US quickly came to believe that newly independent
ndia was the only potential regional power that could
compete with China for dominance in Asia. Despite
repeated American efforts to use economic and military
aid to promote this policy, however, Jawaharlal Nehru
refused to have his country play this role. Nehru was
adamant that a free India not be a pawn for the world's
great powers, warning that this kind of alliance-building
was bad for international relations and could lead
to war.
Still, US hostility towards communist China led to
some extraordinary ideas about nuclear cooperation.
in the wake of China's first nuclear weapons test in
1964, senior officials in the US State Department and
Pentagon considered the possibilities of "providing
nuclear weapons under US custody" to India and
preparing Indian forces to use them. At the same time,
the US Atomic Energy Commission was considering
helping India with "peaceful nuclear explosions", which,
according to non-proliferation expert George Perkovich,
would have involved the use of US nuclear devices
under US control being exploded in India. These plans
were abandoned amidst growing fears of the
consequences of proliferation for US military and
diplomatic power, and Washington DC turned instead
to preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons.
The end of the Cold War prompted a rethinking of
strategic possibilities. A now infamous 1992 draft
strategic plan prepared for then-Secretary of Defence
Dick Cheney declared: "Our first objective is to prevent
the re-emergence of a new rival. This is a dominant
consideration underlying the new regional defence
strategy ... We must maintain the mechanisms for
deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a
larger regional or global role." In other words, the
geopolitical order was to be frozen as it was at that
point, with the United States assured of maintaining
its relative superiority around the world.
The first dramatic change in Indo-US relations came
during the March 2000 visit by President Bill Clinton to
India, less than two years after India's 1998 nuclear
tests. At the time, the governing coalition was
dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose
position is strongly anti-communist, aggressively pro-
nuclear weapons, and opposed to the more traditional
strategy of nonalignment. The joint statement issued
during the Clinton visit declared: "India and the United
States will be partners in peace, with a common interest
in and complementary responsibility for ensuring
regional and international security. We will engage in
regular consultations on and work together for strategic
stability in Asia and beyond."
For the United States, the search for this "strategic
stability in Asia" is all about China. In 2000,
Condoleezza Rice, now US Secretary of State, argued
that China's rise posed an important challenge for the
US, and that "China's success in controlling the
balance of power depends in large part on America's
reaction to the challenge ... India is an element in
China's calculation, and it should be in America's, too.
India is not a great power yet, but it has the potential
to emerge as one." The first result of the policy was
the "Next Steps in Strategic Partnership" initiative.
Signed in January 2004. this agreement announced
that the US would help India with its civilian space
programmes, high-technology trade, missiie-defence
efforts, and civilian nuclear activities. The focus on
these elements, named the 'trinity issues' in Indo-US
diplomatic circles, is a reflection of the power wielded
by the nuclear, military and space establishments in
Indian policymaking.
The nuclear deal is but one of the building blocks
promised in this larger arrangement. The "goal is to
help India become a major world power in the 21st
century," noted one US official. "We understand fully
the implications, including military implications, of that
statement." Ashley Tellis, an adviser to the State
Department on the US-India nuclear deal, has further
explained that: "If the United States is serious about
advancing its geopolitical objectives in Asia, it would
almost by definition help New Delhi develop its strategic
capabilities such that India's nuclear weaponry and
associated delivery systems could deter against the
growing and utterly more capable nuclear forces Beijing
is likely to possess by 2025."
Recruiting India may help to reduce the immediate
costs to the US of exercising its military, political and
economic power to limit the growth of China as a
possible rival. More generally, after the demise of the
Soviet Union, the US sees Asia as central to global
politics, and desires strong regional clients there. The
search for allies and friends became all the more
important as the US found itself being criticised for its
invasion and occupation of Iraq. On each of these
counts, India is seen as a major prize, and support for
its military build-up and its nuclear complex is the price
The larger policy context of a longstanding effort to co-opt India as a US client, and
thereby sustain and strengthen US power (especially with regard to China), has gone
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 "India is an element in China's calculation,
and it should be in America's, too. India is
not a great power yet, but it has the
potential to emerge as one."
that the Bush administration seems willing to pay.
This goal, it seems, is to be pursued regardless of
whether it will spur a spiral of distrust, political tension,
or dangerous and costly military preparedness between
the US and China, between China and India, and
between India and Pakistan. Journalist and nuclear
issues expert Mark Hibbs reported in late 2005 that
Beijing wants any exemptions made for international
nuclear cooperation and trade to be made available to
others as well - ie, its ally, Pakistan. For its part,
Islamabad has demanded from Washington DC (and
been refused) the same deal as is being offered to
New Delhi. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has observed
that "nuclear non-proliferation and strategic stability in
South Asia will be possible when the US fulfils the
needs of both Pakistan and India for civil nuclear
technology on an equal basis." Aziz warned, "A
selective and discriminatory approach will have
serious implications for the security environment in
South Asia."
General Jahangir Karamat, a former Pakistan Army
chief who served as ambassador to the US from 2004-
2006, has argued that, "The balance of power in South
Asia should not become so tilted in India's favour, as
a result ofthe US relationship with India, that Pakistan
has to start taking extraordinary measures to ensure a
capability for deterrence and defence." Pushing through
with this logic and this process will amount to a tragic
distortion of values and priorities in both India and
Pakistan, which together contain about one-in-three
people on the planet, the majority of them very poor.
An errant debate
Even while the nuclear deal has incited a limited policy
debate in the United States, it has elicited three broad
positions among the political players in India. First,
there are the nuclear hawks, who oppose the deal.
They see the nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
programmes as a more-or-less integrated complex.
They view the deal, particularly the proposed separation
of civilian and nuclear facilities, as imposing constraints
on the creation of a large nuclear arsenal - an element
that they believe is essential for India to be a
'great power.
The clearest expression of the hawkish position view
has come from former Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee and others in the BJP. Vajpayee has argued
that, "Separating the civilian from the military would
be very difficult, if not impossible. It will also deny us
any flexibility in determining the size of our nuclear
deterrent." The "flexibility" Vajpayee desires is the ability
to use what would usually be classified as civilian
facilities to increase the pace at which the nuclear
weapons programme could grow, as well as its
eventual size.
The second position is that of Manmohan Singh
and many other Congress party leaders. They see the
deal as offering recognition of India as a nuclear-
weapons state, pointing out that the July 2005 joint
statement says that India will have "the same benefits
and advantages as other leading countries with
advanced nuclear technology, such as the United
States". More practically, they see it as a way to sustain
and expand the nuclear energy programme, while not
restricting the building of what they describe as a
"minimum" nuclear weapons arsenal. While the term
minimum is used to suggest that India is being
restrained in its nuclear ambitions, the arsenal
envisioned is by no means minimal.
A week after the nuclear deal was signed, Prime
Minister Singh explained to the Indian Parliament that
the agreement offers a way whereby "our indigenous
nuclear power programme, based on domestic
resources and national technological capabilities, would
continue to grow," with the expected international supply
of nuclear fuel, technology and reactors serving to
"enhance nuclear power production rapidly". At the same
time, he emphasised that "there is nothing in the joint
statement that amounts to limiting or inhibiting our
strategic nuclear weapons programme,"
A third position, and an effective source of
opposition to the deal, comes from India's Left parties.
Although these parties have traditionally supported the
nuclear energy programme, they opposed the 1998
Pokhran-ll weapons test, and have pressed for India
to play a larger role in global disarmament efforts, and
to do more to reduce the nuclear dangers in the region.
Their greatest concern is that the deal ties India too
closely to US policies. Prabodh Panda, a Communist
Party of India MP, said in Parliament that the agreement
with Washington served to reduce India to a "junior
partner of the US in fulfilling its global ambitions". As
the first sign of India surrendering its traditional role in
representing the Third World and the non-aligned, the
politicians opposed to the deal cite New Delhi's vote
for a US-led resolution against Iran at the September
2005 IAEA Board of Governors meeting, something
that key US officials had made clear was a precondition for the nuclear deal.
Each of these three positions, which have by and
large dominated the debate so far, are flawed. They
share a belief in the success of India's nuclear energy
programme and the need to continue and expand this
effort. The politicians of all hues fail to recognise that
the very demand for lifting international restrictions on
nuclear cooperation is a testament to the failures of
India's Department of Atomic Energy.
The second problem is the belief shared by the
hawks and the government that nuclear weapons are
a source of security. This position ignores the essential
moral and legal questions of what it means to have
and be prepared to use nuclear weapons. The only
difference between these two camps is on the character
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 and number of the nuclear weapons to which they
aspire, and on how many people in how many cities
they are prepared to threaten to kill. The leftwing parties
are more ambiguous: they support disarmament, but
have not called for India to unilaterally give up its nuclear
weapons arsenal and ambitions. Some of them even
feel that Indian nuclear weapons may be needed to
hedge against a more belligerent US exercise of power
and influence.
Standing outside the political parties is a broad
network of Indian social movements, which have
become an increasingly important element in the
country's political life. The most prominent of these is
the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM),
an umbrella group of several hundred organisations
and campaigns that support the rights of the poor,
women, minorities, farmers and workers. According to
an October 2005 statement, the NAPM has come out
against the deal for three main reasons: they see it as
having been concluded without any public debate: as
strengthening an unaccountable, dangerous and costly
Indian nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programme;
and as undermining important non-proliferation and
disarmament goals.
Broken energy promises
For India, a primary motivation for the deal has been
the history of failure of its Department of Atomic Energy
(DAE) to produce large quantities of nuclear electricity.
In 1962, Homi Bhabha, the founder of India's nuclear
programme, predicted that by 1987 nuclear energy
would constitute up to 25,000 megawatts (MW) of the
country's electricity-generation. His successor as head
of the DAE, Vikram Sarabhai, predicted that by 2000
there would be 43,500 MW of nuclear power. Neither
of these predictions came true.
In fact, despite more than 50 years of generous
funding by the state, nuclear power currently amounts
to only 3310 MW - barely three percent of India's
installed electricity capacity. Nevertheless, the DAE
is now promising 40,000 MW by 2030 and 275,000
MW by 2052. Indian nuclear capacity is expected to
rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years,
largely because of two 1000 MW reactors purchased
from the Soviet Union in a 1988 deal, which are now
being built by Russia. Even if more such agreements
were made in the future, however, it is by no means
clear that India's nuclear establishment will be able to
keep its promises.
The Department has also failed to ensure sufficient
supplies of uranium to fuel its nuclear reactors. As
one Indian official explained in the immediate aftermath
of the 2005 signing: "The truth is we were desperate.
We have nuclear fuel to last only till the end of 2006. If
this agreement had not come through, we might as
well have closed down our nuclear reactors and, by
extension, our nuclear programme." Because its
nuclear reactors are not safeguarded, India has been
kept from importing uranium by the 45-member
Nuclear   Suppliers   Group,   the   countries   that
manage international nuclear trade with a view to
preventing proliferation.
Even at just 75 percent efficiency, India's
domestically fuelled reactors require nearly 400 tons
of uranium every year; the plutonium production
reactors, which are earmarked for nuclear weapons
purposes, consume another 30-35 tons annually. The
writers of this essay estimate that current uranium
production within India is less than 300 tons per year
- well short of requirements - and that the current
uranium stockpiles will be exhausted by 2007. The
DAE's desperate efforts to open new uranium mines
in the country have met with stiff resistance, primarily
because of the detrimental health impacts of uranium
mining and milling that have been recorded in the
communities around existing mines.
Despite fifty years of determined government
support and funding, the dismal state of India's nuclear
energy complex offers proof of one of the basic
assumptions underlying the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The NPT implicitly recognised that developing
countries would need a great deal of help to
successfully establish large nuclear energy
programmes. As such, it calls for a trade-off: providing
non-nuclear-weapon states access to international
cooperation on nuclear energy, in return for a
demonstrated commitment not to develop nuclear
weapons. In both refusing to sign the NPT and in
developing nuclear weapons, India had sacrificed the
benefits of this international support since 1974. Now,
through the nuclear deal, the United States has
promised India all the help it needs for its civilian
nuclear programme - all without being forced to
sign the treaty, nor accepting any limit on its
nuclear arsenal.
Most importantly, the July 2005 agreement
promises to allow India access to the international
uranium market. If the deal goes through, New Delhi
will be able to purchase the uranium it needs to fuel
the reactors it chooses to put under IAEA safeguards.
This will free up its domestic uranium for its nuclear
weapons programme and other military uses, and
would allow a significant and rapid expansion in the
country's nuclear arsenal. Currently, India is believed
to have a stockpile of perhaps 40-50 nuclear weapons,
with material stocks for as many more. In addition,
according to an article published in the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists in fall of 2005. plans are reportedly
in place that would involve an expansion of India's
arsenal to 300-400 weapons within a decade.
Realising these plans will require the production of
much larger quantities of fissile material (that which
powers the nuclear explosion), and at a much faster
in both refusing to sign the NPT and in
developing nuclear weapons, India had
sacrificed the benefits of international
support since 1974.
Himal Southasian 1 September 2006
 It is difficult to see the
ri rt a {   ;}o   n ri
ivihina o1
proliferation regime, as
; it aband;
3os the ;
technology must be im.
m the NP
i's term
!i"ii   fPiPT t):
in"', non
pace than India has achieved so far. The production of
such materials specifically for nuclear weapons is not
constrained by the US deal, which would also open
several possibilities for India to vastly increase its
production, including by utilising its newly unallocated
domestic uranium. There is also the possibility, as
hinted at by some hawkish critics, that India's nuclear
power reactors may become part of the weapons
complex, leading to as much as an eightfold increase
in the existing rate of plutonium production for explicitly
weapons-related purposes.
Neither does the Indo-US agreement constrain India
in its use of the weapons-useable materials produced
so far. A major source of such material is the plutonium
in the spent fuel of the un-safeguarded Indian power
reactors. If this spent fuel is not put under safeguards
as part ofthe deal, India would have enough plutonium
from this source alone for an arsenal of approximately
1100 weapons - larger than that of all the nuclear-
weapon states except the US and Russia.
India's DAE says it plans to use this plutonium as
fuel in a series of new 'fast-breeder' reactors to make
electricity. These reactors are designed to actually
produce more plutonium than they consume, and so
in time be self-sustaining in fuel. But the plutonium
they produce is different from what they use as fuel -
it is ideal for nuclear weapons. The first fast-breeder
reactor is supposed to be ready around 2010. If it works
as planned - and fast-breeders often do not - it will
dramatically increase the production of weapons-grade
plutonium in India.
Why nuclear electricity?
Both Indian and US supporters of the deal claim that
the growth of nuclear energy generation capacity in
India is a practical and even necessary way to maintain
the country's current rate of economic growth. The
evidence suggests otherwise.
According to the estimates of these writers and
many others, the cost of producing nuclear electricity
in India is higher than that of the non-nuclear
alternatives. In addition, in studying the safety of
nuclear reactors and other hazardous technologies,
many experts have come to the conclusion that serious
accidents are simply inevitable - the character of such
complex systems makes accidents a 'normal' part of
their operation. Given its high population density, a
large nuclear reactor accident in India could cause
tremendous damage.
There remains the problem that no country has
resolved: the disposal of large amounts of waste that
will remain radioactive for many tens of thousands of
years. Thus, India would be better off giving up this
costly and dangerous technology, and finding ways to
meet the needs of its people that do not threaten their
future or their environment.
There are alternatives. For instance, it has been
estimated that Indian industry could cut down as much
as 20-30 percent of its total energy consumption, and
that nearly 30,000 MW (more than the total planned
nuclear capacity by 2020), could be saved through
energy-conservation programmes. This would be
significantly cheaper than building new generating
capacity, especially additional nuclear capacity. Wind
energy has already outstripped nuclear power, though
it was started relatively late and has received much
less funding support.
The real challenge facing India, however, is the
growing divide between the energy-intensive pattern
of development of its cities - with increasing demands
for electricity and petroleum - and the continuing
dependence on fuelwood and animal-dung energy by
the majority who live in its villages, with negative
implications for their health, productivity and general
development. Nuclear energy, as a large, centralised
and costly source of electricity, will do little to meet
the basic energy needs of rural India: connecting these
areas to a central power grid is expensive, involves
high transmission losses, and is ultimately financially
unsustainable. Instead, by working with the rural poor
it could be possible at last to develop and provide the
small-scale, local, sustainable and affordable energy
systems that they need.
If approved by the US Congress, Indian Parliament
and Nuclear Suppliers Group, the US-India nuclear deal
will prove both costly and dangerous. It will feed a
cascade of mistrust, insecurity and instability, diverting
resources to a fateful military competition that will
envelop China, India. Pakistan and the United States.
More broadly, it is difficult to see the deal as anything
other than a fundamental rejection of the non-
proliferation regime, as it abandons the assumption
that access to nuclear fuel and technology must be
under the NPT's terms. In so doing, it undermines the
aspirations of the vast majority of countries seeking
global and regional nuclear disarmament.
The agreement, if implemented, will create the
potential for the rapid build-up of a much larger Indian
nuclear arsenal, will likely offer little real benefit to the
country's poor, and will bail out a failing Indian nuclear
energy programme that has had little regard either for
the economics or the environmental and health
consequences of its activities. It is not often that so
much harm could be done to so many by so few.
This article is a revised version of an essay
published in Arms Control Today, January/February
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
C K Lai
We the people,
you the populace
(.jot to recognise
Who is the rea! builder?
Who is the true martyr''
Who is the right leader.'
Who in an authentic poet?
Which is the genuine song9
- Shrawan Mukarung in Utkhanan
There are certain questions that 'mass'
media never raise. What exactly is
the definition of 'people' in the
expression, "We, the people"? What
constitutes 'public'? What makes for the
'populace'? What differentiates citizenry
from consumers? Who decides on these
definitions, for these everyday terms create
conditions for fierce political contestations?
The dynamism, stagnation, decay or
destruction of a society depends, among
other things, on definitions agreed upon
by opinion leaders. Mythrnakers are
important, but no less crucial are the role
of makers of meaning, for they are the ones
who set the terms of public discourse.
In Shrawan Mukarung's Nepal, till
recently it was sacrilegious to question the
royal version of history that put the
institution of monarchy over and above
everything else, lhe poet got around
official strictures against dissent by
retrieving Bishe Nagarchi, a legendry Dalit
who is believed to have counselled the
King Prithvi Narayan Shah about
appropriate ways of financing costly
military campaigns.
After years of struggle, the country of
Bishe's - or perhaps his king's - dream
was built bv the beginning of 1775, the year
Prithvi Narayan died. The victorious
chieftain from the tiny principality of
Gorkha took on the title Btutti Mttluirnj -
Great King - of Nepal. He bequeathed his
kingdom to his descendents and bought
the permanent loyalty of family priests and
devoted courtiers by bestowing upon them
generous land grants in the territories of
vanquished rulers. That was the way of the
conquerors of the 18th century.
What makes the legend of Bishe poignant
in retrospect is the manner in which his
children would be dealt with by successive
Shah kings and their all-powerful Rana
retainers. Dalits would remain lowest of
the low in the Hindu pecking order - their
existence excluded from the present, their
memory erased out of the past.
Shrawan's ode to Bishe Nagarchi
captures the continuous agony of two
centuries in its simplest form: the
protagonist's rebellion expresses itself in
feigned insanity. When King Gyanendra
used the name of his ancestors
to usurp state power through a
phased coup between October
2002 and February 2005, this
unassuming poet resurrected
the forgotten Dalit counsellor of
Prithvi Naravan to pierce the
pomposity of the Grand
Pretender. Shrawan's poems, as
well as the songs of the
troubadour Raamesh, were
the anthems of awakening
during the months of struggle
that culminated in the
April Uprising. They helped
to dislodge Gyanendra
the autocrat from of his
flimsy perch.
As Nepal moves ahead
haltingly on the road to
democracy, poets and singers
have gone out of the media spotlight.
Political party activists and rebel leaders
now monopolise the centre-stage, even as
breathless journalists speculate about
impending breakthroughs or looming
disasters on an hourly basis. Most
journalists, however, lack the patience to
search for meaning. They are quite happy
to let events speak for themselves; show,
don't tell, lhe problem arises because
events never speak for themselves; someone
is always there to interpret them. The
society that lacks committed creators of
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 Prithvi Narayan Shah's
statue in downtown
Kathmandu under
wraps, having been
vandalised after the
April People's
Journalism is too important a
discipline to be left in the hands
of journatistaS.
meaning risks falling into the hands of wily
manipulators of the market or the state.
Mepa! and Gaya
Mythmakers must turn themselves into the
makers of meaning, but the trend in
Southasia generally and in India
particularly is in the opposite direction. I he
youthful exuberance and occasional lapses
of the .Nepali press, free for all of 15 vears,
mav be forgiven. But what of the
waywardness of the century-old free media
of India, whose ongoing degeneration is
the real story of our times?
In a moving foreword to Kashmiri
journalist Iftikhar Gilani's Mi/ Days in
Prison, Siddharth Varadrajan describes the
way the New Delhi press became a willing
accomplice of the Indian establishment in
the subversion of rule of law. Indeed,
anyone who had witnessed the trial by
media of the hapless scribe in June 2002
and has read the victim's experiences will
find it hard to believe anything that the
New Delhi media says these days on
matters of import.
There is a dumbing down in progress in
India's press, radio and television, which
hardly does justice to the masses, the
public, the populace. The benumbing fare
dished out by India's television channels
seems premised on the belief that the people
deserve no better. The saddest part is that
what is happening in India today is a
glimpse of what will happen elsewhere in
Southasia the day after tomorrow.
For the sheer audacity of some of the
India news channels, one can refer to a
staged confrontation between security
forces and the Maobaadi rebels in Nepal's
border district of Nawalparasi. A TV
reporter bribed some soldiers and villagers
into enacting the script, and the cameras
rolled as the 'attack' was carried out. One
terrified soldier believed it to be a real
confrontation and fired, injuring a hapless
villager. The journalist-producer used his
connections and got the victim treated and
compensated, and no one was the wiser.
Manoj Mishra, of Gaya in Bihar, was not
as lucky. He was killed on 15 August,
India's Independence Day, to feed
television's need for a visual story. Police
allege that some TV reporters provided
Manoj with diesel-soaked towels and a
matchbox with which to immolate himself,
assuring him that they would douse the
flames as soon as they got the footage they
required. But when the flames leapt up, no
one came forward to help, and Manoj
Mishra succumbed to the burns - an
extreme representation of the ethics and
interests of the commercial media.
Missed message
When politics just reigns and the market
rules with its velvet hand, profits set the
social agenda. It would be naive to expect
a conscience-keeper's role from a media
forced to fend for itself in the marketplace.
Circumstances have made journalists
handmaidens of the self-declared 'we, the
people', who want to be revered, reassured
and regaled at the cost of the suffering
populace. I he commercial press cannot be
the interpreter that once kept the two in
dialogue. In the media bazaar, journalists
have become suppliers of services like
entrepreneurs in any other industry. They
have very little time, talent or inclination
for deep reflection.
It has been quite a while since Indian
censors stopped sending soldiers to the
newsroom - something that happened
recently in Nepal and is routine in some of
the other countries of Southasia. lhe
evolution of market mechanisms has made
that unnecessary in a country where the
size of a relatively affluent middle class is
believed to be bigger than the population
of Europe. Like in all consumer capitals of
the world, all that a really powerful person
needs to do is make a phone call to the chief
executive of the media house presumed
guilty of transgression. The rest is usually
taken care of. Most media-persons know
the sanctity of the line too well to
contemplate crossing it.
There is only one way to get around this
enormous challenge of commercialising
media: bring the mythmakers back into the
public domain, journalism is too important
a discipline to be left in the hands of
journalists. This is something that
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and
Jawaharlal Nehru knew quite well. But the
presence of politicians alone will not be
enough to change the tone and tenure of a
scandal-obsessed press. Writers,
songsters, thinkers and public intellectuals
must also be brought back to the
mainstream media. In their questions we
shall find the answers of the most pressing
problems of the day. *
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Taming of the Indian shrew
Feminist outrage and the demand for women's rights seem to have been
shelved as we enter the Era of Gender Mainstreaming.
Vibrant, forceful,
dynamic, strident. Many
more terms can be
used to depict the Indian
women's movement, but these
will suffice to describe some of
the great transformative events
of the second half of the 20th
century - a period of
exhilarating social upheaval.
Although 'women's issues' are
being picked up and debated
everywhere, we find the voices
of the movement somewhat       31
muted today. There has \ :
definitely been a dumbing down
of the cause. To what do we owe this? Has the
mainstreaming of gender blunted the edge of the
women's liberation movement? Can the movement
be reclaimed?
In the 1970s, organisations of the New Left and
mass-based organisations mobilised around issues
of social injustice. Tribal landless labourers led
movements against the exploitative practices of
non-tribal local landowners, land alienation and
extortion by moneylenders. Women were at the
forefront of these struggles, and began to take
direct action on issues that affected them
specifically as women - liquor, for instance, and
the physical violence and indebtedness associated
with alcoholism.
Similarly, the Anti-Price Rise Movement in
Maharashtra following the drought of the early 1970s
brought women together under the banner of the
United Women's Anti-Price Rise Front. This militant
campaign saw thousands of housewives taking to
the streets in protest, marching with thalis and rolling
pins, challenging government dormancy and
demanding action against black-marketeers.
All over the country, women participated actively
in movements for social transformation. The
Garhwal hills were home to the Chipko movement,
initiated by rural women to prevent destruction of
forests by contractors and government officials
acting in collusion. Moving beyond the immediate
objective of saving trees, Chipko came to symbolise
women's relationships with the environment and their
crucial role in maintaining ecological balance.
Although gender oppression and the need to
organise around it had long been
recognised, it was only in the Sate 1970s,
in the ferment following Indira Gandhi's
Emergency of 1975-77, that
independent activists firmly put
women's liberation on the agenda.
What became known as autonomous
women's groups (AWGs) emerged in
several cities of India in the early
1980s, so called because they
.«* were not affiliated with political
v*   parties and remained independent
of the government. These feminist
groups were loosely structured and
functioned as collectives, incorporating
newer and more democratic forms of
leadership. Groups that sought to rid
society of domination and hierarchy, it was thought,
must also have evolved organisation that reflected
egalitarian principles.
The Forum against Oppression of Women in
Bombay, Stree Sangharsh and Saheli in Delhi, Stree
Shakti Sanghatana in Hyderabad and Vimochana in
Bangalore were some of the groups that emerged
around this time. The slogan of the day, 'Personal
is political', articulated the attempt to link oppression
in individual women's lives with patriarchal
structures in society. The idea was to fight these
structures collectively.
Small groups, big noises
Removing the veil on violence against women was
one of the most significant achievements of the
feminist movement. In the 1970s, these activists
broke the silence around wife-battering, domestic
violence, marital rape, child incest and violence
against lesbian women. For the first time, the dark
side of the family was exposed, and the demand was
made for intervention on matters hitherto regarded as
'private'. The autonomous women's movement also
articulated women's rage against state repression,
which found its most cruel manifestation in custodial
rape. Activists also raised their voices against rape
and murder by security forces - especially in the
Northeast and Kashmir. The vulnerability of women
during communal and caste conflict was a matter of
huge concern, as was the targeting of women in the
name of a community's  honour'.
The same period saw vehement protest against
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 the subjection of women to contraceptive trials in the
name of controlling overpopulation, and the demand
was made for safer, non-invasive methods of
contraception for both men and women. The AWGs
fought laws of each religion that discriminated
against women. Because this issue was left pending
by the authorities, India still lacks a civil code based
on the equality principle, and women remain at the
mercy of iniquitous religious laws under the control of
increasingly fundamentalist community leaders.
The lack of women's control over sexuality,
reproduction and production was highlighted by
groups that fought for the recognition of women's
labour - both in paid employment and unpaid
domestic work. The fundamental dispossession and
marginalisation of women in the economic sphere
was a major arena of struggle against patriarchy -
reflected in interpersonal male-female relationships,
the family, the community, and in actions of the
state and international actors. Women clamoured for
radical transformation, but the governments, the
lending institutions and development agencies
responded with sops.
The success of the movement in gaining women
visibility and making their voices heard had a flip
side that activists were ill-equipped to handle.
Institutionalised funding, which lapped up 'women's
issues' with a vengeance, led to a rapid
depoliticisation, as the spontaneous anti-
authoritarian campaigns of the women's movement
became replaced by gender sensitisation, training
and 'empowerment' of women. Even as women's
groups realised that no amount of sensitisation and
empowerment would change the basic material
conditions of women unless patriarchal structures
were transformed, the need to earn livelihoods - and
the even more insidious need to be seen as making
a difference in women's lives - led many an NGO to
get swept up in the tide of  'empowerment' programs.
Micro-credit, macro-hype
Over the last decade, micro-credit has been
promoted as a panacea to multiple ills: poverty,
disease, illiteracy and women's subordinate status.
NGOs in every corner have abandoned other welfare
activities and enthusiastically climbed onto the
bandwagon, setting up a plethora of self-help groups
(SHGs). Go to any village in India and what you will
find - besides dry wells, leaky hand pumps and
skinny cattle - is the ubiquitous SHG.
But the time has come to raise disquieting issues.
The 'happy' face of micro-credit is that women
become a conduit for bringing credit to the family;
the 'sad' face is that women are left eternally
burdened, struggling to make this small loan viable
and to ensure repayment. Women are often only able
to ensure repayment by cutting down on their own
consumption or seeking wage labour. Micro-credit
does not generate employment - only self-
employment, and that too on an unviable scale.
There are innumerable examples of subcontracting on
exploitative terms, with scant respect for labour laws.
Ironically, in most micro-finance schemes, the
women's own money is locked up even as they are
forced to take out loans against their own savings at
a higher interest. NGOs have become collecting
agents for banks trying to increase their penetration
of credit, which only creates more dependence. Back-
to-back lending ensures that women are constantly in
debt. It may be no coincidence that Andhra Pradesh,
often quoted as a 'success story' of micro-credit, is
also the Indian state with the highest number of
suicides due to debt.
Agricultural and other subsidies are being taken
away as a right, and credit given as a burden.
Moreover, the cash orientation of micro-credit is
premised on an analysis of exploitative usury
arrangements, rather than an analysis of the
breakdown of food security or the mutuality of village
systems. We find that women often approached the
moneylender for food security, market access or
crisis expenditure, and that these needs are now
being met by SHGs without addressing such
fundamental questions as: Why is there food
insecurity? Why do producers not have market
access? Why do only girls' families have to spend
on dowry?
That micro-credit will empower women and enable
poverty alleviation is a myth propagated by
international agencies to draw people into a market
economy based on cash or credit. Promoters of
micro-credit are steadily building markets in smaller
towns and rural areas, a 'penetration' they lacked
previously. In cahoots with international lending
agencies, the state finds this a 'win-win' scheme that
allows it to give up its responsibilities for the citizens'
development and welfare. For at the core of the
micro-credit approach lies the assumption that people
are responsible to lift themselves out of poverty.
There is a blindness to the structures of economy
and society that conspire to keep people poor.
Micro-lending, after all, cannot change macro
structures. To some extent, it can create space for
rural women by providing them with more mobility and
exposure, but this happens within a restricted
framework and a pre-set agenda. Micro-credit does
not transform, it shackles. Instead of mere 'access' -
to credit - we need to speak about entitlement for
women in the realms of land rights, purchase and
control of assets. These are questions that only
genuine movements for social change can address,
but which are drowned amidst the cacophony of the
development market.
Shaping women's 'choices'
The women's movement is placed in a peculiar
position: it wants to spread the good word, but is
unhappy with the way in which the word gets
distorted. Co-option by market forces is another
inevitable, though harder to resist, aspect of
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 mainstreaming. Thus we have 8 March, International
Women's Day, stripped of its political content and
sponsored by Ponds or Whirlpool. Celebrated is a
woman's choice' between this body lotion and the
next, one dishwasher over the other.
The question of women's 'choice' - often cited as
a justification of sex selection and hazardous
injectable contraceptives - is mired in a multitude of
layers within which women in a patriarchal society
make choices. When these conflicting interests are
mediated through rights discourses and legislative
interventions, the issue of choice loses some of
its nuance.
While it would be misplaced to entirely deny
agency to women who undergo sex determination
tests, use hazardous hormonal contraceptives or put
themselves through risky cosmetic surgery, it would
be equally wrong to think of 'choice' in a vacuum.
Much as the images and subliminal messages in
advertising and marketing techniques drive consumer
'choices', social context, prejudice and norms shape
the 'choices' women make.
Patriarchy leaves little room for autonomous
decision-making by women. Women are constantly
under pressure - both visible and invisible - to make
decisions that do not threaten the prevailing social
norm. Deviating from social norms brings with it a
range of strictures - from social disapproval,
ostracism and psychological torture to outright
violence. Women with only female children, for
instance, are often subjected to taunting and social
boycotting, and are under threat of being deserted,
divorced, battered and even murdered. Little wonder
that women 'choose' to ensure that they have sons,
or try to fit a specific notion of 'beauty'.
Mainstreamed movements
The past three decades have witnessed an
increasing flow of resources from donor agencies and
the United Nations system into gender issues. The
eagerness with which 'gender' as a category has
been picked up has inevitably contributed to the
blunting of the early militancy of the women's
liberation movement. With the UN system,
governments, the market and rightwing
fundamentalists wholeheartedly embracing the
concept of gender equity, women's rights inevitably
take a back seat. With more and more NGOs
espousing the cause of 'gender', we find that civil
society is expanding, only to leave us with a smaller
political space. To talk of gender - a postmodern
notion that attempts to go beyond the stark 'hierarchy
of oppression' that 'patriarchy' denotes - is all
very well, but whatever happened to the
women's liberation movement? What happened to
political feminism?
Through the medium of the development industry,
the state and the market (in the guise of gender
mainstreaming) have appropriated the jargon, slogans
and symbols of the women's movement. One
example is the de-politicised notion of 'reproductive
rights'. Women's groups have asserted that the
debate on women's reproductive rights must account
for the fact that reproduction is only one aspect of
women's physiology and life, and cannot be viewed in
isolation. They have argued that the understanding of
patriarchy must encompass complex realities,
because we live in societies where political,
economic, cultural and social factors come together
to influence women's health and determine
understandings of fertility, sexuality and reproduction.
Donor assistance has had a deep, adverse impact
on the women's health movement in the developing
world. For women's groups trying to resist coercive
population-control programs (that erroneously locate
'overpopulation' as the cause of inequity in resource
distribution), donor assistance from international
agencies with large financial interests in the
pharmaceutical industry has dangerously skewed
the agenda.
Donor agencies have been steadily working their
way towards the manufacturing of consent on the
theory of overpopulation, with scant attention to over-
consumption in the industrialised world. To cite one
example, preceding direct intervention in population-
related activities, the US-based Ford Foundation has,
since 1952. spent millions of dollars on biomedical
and demographic research. They have funded the
Population Reference Bureau, Population Council
fellowships, the United Nations Demographic
Centres, universities including the London School of
Economics and the Johns Hopkins Institute, and
scores of Population Research Centres in India and
other parts of Southasia. The products of these
efforts are well moulded in the ideology voiced by the
donor agencies.
In today's climate of donor-driven NGOs, it is
imperative to differentiate between NGOs and social
movements. While institutionalised NGOs with
vertical funding can effectively deliver services and
even raise issues of concern, they cannot spark
genuinely transformative social movements. And it is
up to the movements to cut through the confusion
created in countless workshops, consultations,
seminars and summits on 'gender mainstreaming'.
Unless we ask the right questions, however
uncomfortable they might be, we will not get
any answers.
If the state, donor agencies and the market are
today entering and taking over a space carved out by
the women's movement, this challenge must be met
head-on, with clarity and courage. These questions
are perhaps going to be debated at the Seventh
National Conference of Women's Movements in
Calcutta in September. The criticality, radical
resistance and anger against injustice need to be
voiced more loudly and more clearly. The vociferous
and questioning women's movement needs to be
reclaimed from the stakeholders meetings and
genteel discussions of gender mainstreaming. >
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 Technical Advisor
Salary: 85,000 p month + allowances
Full time based in Orissa, India
Interact Worldwide is a UK-based INGO working to reduce poverty through advancing sexual
and reproductive health and rights and addressing HIV/AIDS in resource poor settings
We require an experienced technical support professional based in India to provide an
integrated package of advisory, training and capacity building technical assistance to our
local partner, the National Youth and Social Development Research Institute (NYSASDR1),
based in Orissa, India. This post requires good all round skills and especially high
competency in Public Private Partnerships in Health, SRH&R. M&E and advocacy. This will
be a two year contract in the first instance
Details  and  application  pack  (no  CVs)  download  at   e-mail
applications and enquiries to Divya Bajpai on:
Closing date: 8 September 2006
A   Sameeksha   Trust   Publication
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& Bangladesh
Other countries
90         125
175        240
50        75
120      170
WBtttMatoai^ assorrtiat.
.wards bank coltectem charges
«ij^:#8GQ1,India.    .
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
The Indian government and big newspaper houses
have long resisted foreign investment in media. But
the Western media conglomerate camel already has
its nose in the Bharatiya tent, and before long it will
be inside up to its elbows! The latest inroad is by The
Independent newspaper of    ^p>
London, which has a tie-    CIClQ5 \3l|vl VU1
up with the publishers of   **'   V*    V"    '.
Dainik Jagran to bring in a  Dainik Ja9ran
'facsimile copy' - meaning without any local
content or advertising - to the Indian market starting
in September. The Independent News and Media Pic
owns a 20 percent stake in the company, and D] the
rest. This sideways foray into English publishing by
jagran is somewhat different horn Dainik Bhaskar,
however, which decided to invest heavily in
bringing out the DNA daily in Bombay.
Rather late, wouldn't you
think? Better late than
never, wouldn't you
think? Whatever, in the
middle of August, on
India's 60th
Independence Day, the
Doordarshan launched an Urdu TV channel -
initially to have a daily transmission of seven hours,
but to be extended to around-the-clock. Manmohan
Singh, inaugurating the channel, asked why it had
taken so long (since Independence) to get the Urdu
channel going. "Der aaye, durust aaye," he said,
translated as, "It is late, but it is good." Ihat remains
to be seen, Mr Prime Minister! (Looked to see if
'Doordarshan' logo in Urdu was available, but
apparently not).
Bangladeshi media analysts have long been
exasperated by the way in which the Western and
Indian media treat their country as the next staging
ground of Osama's al-Qaeda. The latest cause for
offence came from The Washington Post, whose 2
August piece by Selig S Harrison, "A New Hub for
Terrorism", was lambasted by Mostafa Kamal
Majumder in Tlie Nea> Nation as an article tainted
with "vicious subjectivity". Wrote Majumder:
"Newspapers publishing one-sided information
and views are called leaflets in Bangladesh and
carry little significance ... Selig S Harrison's
oversimplification of politics really does not apply to
website Tamilweek: "The picture of the [Sri Lankan]
press is as gloomy as the political scene. But my
point is that the political gloom is worsened by
newspapers." Chettria Patrakar would wager that
there would be no one to disagree with that
assessment in the rest of the Southasia.
The Asian College of Journalism is the Madras-
based school that is setting new standards in
journalism education in Southasia. Siriyavan Anand
is a Madras-based journalist and activist-publisher
who is excited that four Dalit students - three men
and a woman - have been admitted to the ACJ with
full scholarships. The students are D Karthikeyan, G
Priya Darshini, Chittibabu Padavala and Nageswar
Rao. Writes Anand: "Significantly, there was no
relaxation of criteria for the admission of these
students. They wrote the entrance and attended the
interview like all other students. The only
concession is that the course fee (ranging from INR
1.25 to INR 2 lakhs) was waived totally for these
students." Siriyavan reports that the AC] hopes to
institutionalise the fellowship from next year. Good
for you, AC]! Website:
Quotable quote from Sri Lanka, in an article on the
Sri Lankan media by K Sivathambv as carried by the
Naeem M oh aim en, a
writer alternating
between Dhaka and
New York, has a
great blog
(, where hei
recently placed some
interesting write-ups
he had trolled in
relation to India's Independence Day, on 15 August.
Try this selection by Mohaiemen, from The Telegraph
of Calcutta: "Lvery morning, Shamshad Hussain
goes to his rooftop, just opposite Red Fort, to enjoy a
cup of tea after the azaan, his ears catching strains of
prayers from the nearby Jama Masjid. Today, he
carried two cups - the second was for the sniper on
the rooftop. T doubt anyone would know better the
meaning of celebrating Independence Day in these
times of terror,' he says, gazing at the freshly painted
red and white domes of Red Fort, from where the
prime minister will address the nation tomorrow."
When 68-year-old politician and publisher
Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah of the Tamil-language
daily Naniatliu T.elanadtt was shot on the night of 20
August, the Reporters Without Borders organisation
condemned the killing, saying: "The journalists and
employees of Tamil news media continue to be
eliminated at a horrific pace. The press is again the
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 victim of Sri Lanka's dirty war, and the government
is partly to blame for this hellish cycle of violence."
Sivamaharajah was a member of a pro-LTTE party,
and it is thought that he was killed by pro-
government Tamil paramilitaries.
Here is the list that Chettria Patrakar has culled, on
the latest authority, of the Indian channels (they may
be overseas-owned) banned in Bangladesh by
government order of 24 July: ESPN, Star Sports, TEN
Sports, Set Max, Zee Classic, Zee Action, Zee Trendz,
Zee Premier, VH1, Zoom, HBO, Star One and Disney.
And here, again on latest authority, are the channels
blocked by Pakistan: AXN, National Geographic,
Reality, Set Max, Sony, Sahara One, Bade Balle, ETC,
Channel One, Now, MM, MM2, M NET, Series,
Action, Super Sports (1-6), Fashion TV International,
Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee Music, Zee Sports, Zee
News, Zee Smile, STAR Utsav, STAR Care, STAR
Gold, B4U Movies, B4U Music and E-Entertainment.
So if you are an addict of any of these channels,
you might think twice about traveling to Bangladesh
or Pakistan.
When luminaries die in
Southasian countries that are
outside the interest threshold
of tire all-important New Delhi
,   print and television media,
j   they might as well have not
I   died at all, for lack of any
■   coverage of the passing.
I   Indeed, with the all-pervasive
Indian media acting as arbiter
of what is to be disseminated, when acclaimed poet
Shamsur Rahman died in Dhaka on 17 August, few
of us outside Bangladesh were any the wiser. Said
one article, "Rahman was considered by many to be
Bangladesh's greatest contemporary poet, with 60
poetry books to his name. His campaign for political
and social justice made him an iconic figure among
liberals, but he was criticised by conservative
religious factions."
Sindh promulgates access to information ordinance,
even while big India shudders at the thought of
doing the same. We need not believe everything they
say they will do, but Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad
on 9 August did promulgate the Sindh Freedom of
Information Ordinance, "to ensure transparency and
openness in the functioning of government
departments". Quite appropriate tliat this happens
in Sindh, on the other side of the border from
Rajasthan state, which is where the momentum on
right to information was generated - among the more
effective and sustained examples of grassroots
activism Southasia has seen.
hi India, however, at the time of writing, the
landmark Right to Information Act passed by
Parliament a year ago may end up amended and
watered down to such an extent that it would be
nearly meaningless. There appears to be an attempt
by bureaucrats to disallow the public the right to see
the notes jotted down by civil servants outlining the
rationale for a particular decision. Activists close to
the issue say that access to these notes is crucial.
Looks like you win some (ill Pakistan) and lose some
(in India), though we still have to see whether the
Sindh government is good to its word.
In the aftermath of the Bombay blasts on 11 July, the
Indian media was quick to toe the intelligence line.
While India Today's cover was titled 'Tackling
Pakistan' - and listed striking across the LOC and
attacking Pakistan among them - even the liberal
weekly Outlook succumbed to the temptation. Its
cover read 'Can we make Pakistan Pay?'. Tliere was
no analysis of
Pakistan's internal
dynamics, or how the
Indian intelligence
agencies were seeking
to hide their
incompetence by using
the Pakistan-bashing
agenda, or the
discontent among Indian Muslims in the face of
growing Hindu intolerance. Instead we witnessed
how editorial slant was irresponsibly camouflaged
as reportage, and 'Pakistan' was blamed. Outlook did
try to make up by sending a reporter to do an in-
depth cover on Pakistani polity and society for its
following issue. But it is in the immediate aftermath
of a tragedy that the media needs to be most
responsible. Alas, New Delhi's free media failed its
people yet again.
- Chettria Patrakar
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
Rediscovering architect
Louis I Kahn, along with
his greatest work,
^ the Dhaka Parliament
People visiting Dhaka from
other cities of Southasia will
often have wondered at the
fascinating one-of-a-kind
modernist edifice that is the
Bangladesh Sangsad Bhawan,
where Parliament sits. On a recent
visit, I arrived with my camera
and made a parikrama
(circumambulation) like one does
around a temple, and soaked in
the magnificence of this
architectural wonder.
The Sangsad Bhawan was
built by Louis I Kahn, one of the
greatest architects of the 20th
century. Kahn was born in Estonia
in 1901 to a Jewish family that
migrated to the US in the early part
of the last century. The young
man paid for his architecture
studies by playing the piano to
accompany silent films in cinema
halls. The dexterous pianist's
hands were eventually designing
groundbreaking buildings, which
changed the direction of American
architecture. But the best of Kahn's
buildings were to be found not in
the US but elsewhere. One of his
more unusual creations is the
Indian Institute of Management
building in Ahmedabad. And
unarguably his greatest work is tlie
Parliament complex in Dhaka.
The building was
conceptualised long before
Bangladesh was born. It was a
martial law regime of Pakistan tliat
decided in 1959 to build the second
seat of the National Parliament.
Kahn made preliminary designs for
the Pakistani authorities, and was
formally commissioned in 1962.
Construction began in 1964, was
interrupted by the 1971 War of
Independence, and finally
completed according to the original
plans in 1982. By then Kahn was
already gone - he died in 1974.
Much of Kahn's work reflects a
deeply intuitive understanding that
he associated with the East. In a
postcard addressed to his young
son from on board a PIA flight,
Kahn wrote that for the West,
architecture is about frames,
whereas for the East. it is an
expression of joy.
Louis Kahn has been described
as a 'mystic' architect. His buildings
express the mysteries of light and
shadow. Corroborating sculptor
Himal Southasian | September 2006
 Isamu Noguchi's description of
Kahn as "a philosopher amongst
architects", Pune-born architect B
V Doshi places Kahn's work in the
context of Indian metaphysics. He
notes that the concepts of shunya
(zero), void and silence were
important to Kahn's thinking, and
how attracted he was to the
mysteries of light.
In Dhaka, one elderly man
remembers Louis Khan as having
not just given the country a
building, but an identity. The
Bangladeshi architect Shamsul
Waris, acknowledging the
importance of Kahn's work to a
new-born country's sense of
selfhood, says: "This is the world's
poorest country. He did not know
how so much money would be
arranged or how this building
would be completed, but he made
the impossible possible. At the age
of 70 he would come alone all the
way from the US. He came like
Moses to us, and gave us a sense
of our freedom."
Reading his works, it is clear that
Kahn was not merely an architect;
he was a thinker atid teacher of
great depth. At times, he reflects a
profound influence of the Indian
contemplative and philosophical
traditions - noting, for instance, that
a building in itself is not
architecture, it is only a ritual
offering, naivedya. Being human,
says Kahn, means to express
oneself: expression is the motive
behind living; art is the most
powerful medium of expression,
and science is only its servant. It is
unlikely that one will attain perfect
expression in one's chosen genre,
but one must nonetheless
ceaselessly try.
Who decides what the most
perfect expression is? I do not know.
But as I stood in front of the Sangsad
Bhawan, I was awestruck and
silenced. Lying amidst a 215 acre
complex, surrounded by an
artificial lake and as if floating in it,
the building that Kahn built uses
no brick, only cement. The building
brings to my mind Chandigarh's
Assembly House of Punjab and
Haryana, built by Kahn-admirer Le
Corbusier, But here in the Dhaka
structure I find more symbolism, a
building alive both visually and
Both of the buildings Kahn built
in Ahmedabad and Dhaka are
replete with circular and curved
Windows,; symbolising the twTo
sources of light - the sun and moon.
The play of light and shadow in
both buildings, but especially in the
Sangsad Bhawan is exquisite. In the
building's main hall, where 350
representatives of the Bangladeshi
people sit, the domed roof is a sieve
of light. The windows, skylights
and balconies of tlie building make
it, almost literally, a lighthouse.
What better expression is there, even
if only symbolic, of a democracy?&
-    -
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
object of desire
The falcons- are poised to
circle over Southasian
skies. In a USD 5 billion deal
that the US Congress has cleared,
Pakistan can acquire up to 36 new
Block 50/52 F-16 Fighting Falcons
- the most advanced fighter aircraft
flown by US forces - as well as 26
refurbished ones.
Here is "Pleasure Pillars", a
miniature watercolor by Pakistan-
bom, New York-based artist Shazia
Sikander. She has appropriated the
fighter-bomber as a decorative
motif in her modernist miniatures.
An ominous black aircraft swoops
over a ram-headed modem woman,
a bi-hearted hybrid of the hapless,
beheaded Venus de Milo and her
more curvaceous Eastern
counterpart (an Ajanta Dancing
Girl?). A fairy-falcon, rendered in an
ethereal light green, is spraying gold
onto the blue-and-yellow striped
horn of the hybrid East-West
Woman. At her feet, a leafy plant
presents a full-blown 9-petaied
flower, each petal a fighter-bomber.
With its cropped delta wings and
long wing-body strakes, the design
of the F-16 has a definite aesthetic
appeal. Shazia uses fine line
drawings ofthe fighter craft in "Web",
a composition that encourages
reflection on the post-9/11
geopolitics of West Asia. Two F-16s
are drawn into a spider's web that
threatens a paradisiacal land of
suckling fawns, flowering vines and
flying birds. Creatures are entangled
in the spider's net. A lion has his
teeth and claws on the neck of a
deer. A spotted leopard is on the
prowl. Four oil derricks and an
imperial crown suggest the political
context of this work.
In terms of combat history, F-16s
have been most effectively used in
conflicts in West Asia. After the US
Air Force, which has more than 2500
of the aircraft, the Israeli Air Force
Himal Southasian | September 2006
■•^SbS r TV "• 1.™"
(IAF) has the largest F-16 fleet at
382. In 1981, eight F-16s
participated in a raid that destroyed
Osiraq, an Iraqi nuclear reactor near
Baghdad. The next year, IAF F-16s
numerous  encounters,  ending
victorious each time.
During the 1991 Gulf War, 250
F-16s made 13,500 sorties,
accounting for 40 percent of all
engaged    Syrian    aircraft    on    American bombing raids. In 1998,
F-16s were an integral part of the
Operation Desert Fox bombing
campaign. They were used again in
the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom
invasion. This year, on 7 June, two
Fighting Falcons carried out the air
strike that killed Abu Musab al-
Zarqawi, the leader of 'al-Qaeda in
Iraq'. As the workhorse ofthe Israeli
defence forces, F-16s played a key
military role in Israeli attacks on
Lebanon in July-August this year.
While Shazia Sikander is
exploiting the symbolic content of
fighter jets, including F-16s, and their
elegance of design in her complex
storytelling compositions, the
growing mythology of power,
conquest and glory associated with
F-16s also informs the imagination
of uncelebrated artisans decorating
trucks and buses in Pakistan. They
too have appropriated the F-16 as
an ornamental motif.
Traveling recently from Karachi
to Hyderabad, this writer
was confronted by a colourful
representation of an F-16 poised for
takeoff, on the central panel of the
back of a truck. The grand fighter-
bomber did look somewhat a
grasshopper, with dangly rear legs
tottering on toy wheels. But the artist
had left no opportunity for mistaking
the identity of his subject, declaring
in bold English: F-16 I LOVE YOU.
Clearly the F-16 fires both hearts
and minds. It is a versatile, tactical
jet fighter that can execute 9 g turns.
Much simpler and lighter than
its predecessors, the F-16 has.
advanced aerodynamics and
avionics, including the first use of
'fly-by-wire' technology. The jet can
fly great distances without
having to refuel. A dog-fighter
par excellence, the F-16's
destructiveness has earned it the
nickname 'Viper'.
In Karachi, billboards advertise
an F-16 brand of dolphin-nosed,
fighter-shaped ice cream. At this
very moment, perhaps, little boys
are succumbing to the appeal
of vanilla, chocolate, mango,
strawberry, orange-flavoured F-16s.
From modern miniatures to truck art
to ice cream advertisements, F-16s
have transgressed and penetrated
new and unexpected territories.   £
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
UP badland ballad
BY Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Apsara is an old Bombay
cinema that has recently
been converted into a
multiplex. Garage-sized lifts bring us
up to the fourth floor for Vishal
Bhardwaj's new film Omkara, even
as parts of the building are being
stripped down and reinvented to
make the glossy metallic surfaces
of the new Indian bazaar. Outside
the rain-drenched windows are the
surrounding buildings, some of
them close to a hundred years old,
filled with the families of migrants
who have built this city. Down below,
on the narrow street, are lines of
waiting taxis, their black-and-yellow
roofs glistening in the monsoon
showers. Many of the drivers have
come to Bombay from rural Uttar
Pradesh, seeking a better life.
Omkara transports the audience
back to the heartland of western
UP, where other young men wait
restlessly for life to give them a
chance. Some, tired of waiting,
have been drawn into a life of crime.
After all, in this unforgiving
landscape, a gunshot fired from a
barren hillside can prevent a
wedding from taking place; the man
who fired the shot can return calmly
to a small-town hostel to play a
game of marbles; and when a posse
arrives to seek him out, just one call
on the cellphone can end the matter.
Intertwining a Shakespearean plot
with the stuff of spaghetti westerns,
Omkara tells a powerfully Indian
story. The rough, edgy dialogue rips
through everyday niceties; the
slow, sensuous poetry of the
camera takes us through ancient
landscapes; the narrative fades,
dissolves and surges forward again,
like a grand musical composition;
the riveting performances make us
forget that we are watching the stars
of Bombay's commercial cinema.
The most memorable moment
takes place in a hilltop temple where
the local leader, Bhaisaab
(Naseeruddin Shah), sits with his
Baahubali (chief aide) Omkara and
two lieutenants, Langda and Kesu.
They are all moving up in life. At
the end of the puja comes the ritual
of Omkara (Ajay Devgan) anointing
the next Baahubali. Will it be the
local man Langda (Saif Ali Khan),
or the college-educated Kesu
'Firangi'(Viveik Oberoi)? Apart from
its importance as a crucial plot turn,
the medieval atmosphere of the
scene suggests a kind of religious
sanctity to lawlessness, and
celebrates the rite of succession
with drums, gunshots and frenzied
dancing. Even while one man's
forehead is anointed with vermilion
paste, we are immediately shown
the other, alone in his room,
smashing the mirror and anointing
his own forehead with blood. More
blood, we know, will be spilled in
the course of this story.
Love and violence
Bhardwaj adapts Shakespeare's
Othello - from little details like
character names, to unforgettable
lines such as the parting taunt about
a woman's loyalty, with which the
father of Omkara's lover, Dolly,
leaves Omkara. The Moor becomes
the half-caste; the Duke's officers,
a gang of outlaws; the handkerchief,
an ornate kamar-bandh. Bhardwaj's
film begins with a non-wedding,
continues with plans being made for
another wedding, and ends with
another non-wedding. Between
the two events unfolds a tale
of violent passion in the Uttar
Pradesh badlands.
Nothing is black-and-white in
Omkara. Langda, like Othello'5
lago, fills Omkara's mind with
doubt, but it is Dolly's father's taunt
that echoes in Omkara's mind, and
it is Omkara who eventually
commits the murder. Othello's
Desdemona becomes Omkara's
Dolly - an English name for an
Indian rose. Dolly (Kareena Kapoor)
is also literally treated as a doll -
the gudiya'm the song that Omkara
sings to wake her up; the mishri ki
pudiya (packet of sugar), a Sita-
figure accused of infidelity; but also
a doll-woman alone in a doll's house,
wilfully blind to the life her husband
leads. In one song, a sweet, aching,
elegiac lyric to the first flush of love,
the camera follows Omkara and
Dolly around the house - up and
down the stairs, and out of the
house in one continuous, sensuous
sequence. In the final moments of
the song, Dolly picks up the rifle and
runs out to point it playfully at
Omkara before they collapse,
laughing, into the hay. We recall that
the happiness of this home is built
on a foundation of violence.
Ajay. Dfev^an
and Naseerudin Sijah    ..
Finally, a word about the music.
Bhardwaj, who began in cinema as
a composer, weaves the score
seamlessly into the narrative. The
music ebbs and flows endlessly
around the characters like the river
in the background. A slow
instrumental theme takes us
through the opening credits. The
first song courses along with Dolly's
narration of her love for Omkara.
Now the song, now Dolly's spoken
narration, takes the audience
through the progression of their
love. The title song, "Omkara", is
almost the opposite of the first - a
rough chant, almost menacing- but
no less powerful as background for
this explosion of violence in the
Indian heartland. ^
Himal Southasian | September 2006
The heroines of dignified struggle
When, as part of her
research, the feminist
academic June Fernandez-
Kelly got a job as a worker in a
maquiladora (a factory in Mexico
producing goods for US
multinationals), she discovered
how arduous the 'unskilled' job of
sewing pockets onto garments
actually was. Demanding perfect
coordination of hands, eyes and
legs, the task required great
nimbleness - a trait associated with
women, who are drawn in ever-larger
numbers into this kind of low-wage
production in the global economy.
Fernandez-Kelly was expected to
sew almost 400 pockets every hour,
about 3000 every day, all for around
USD 5 a day.
The excerpt of Fernandez-Kelly's
work in The Women, Gender and
Development Reader (WGDR) is
insightful and richly detailed, as is
much of the rest of the book. Both
of the books under review were
originally published in London, and
have now been republished in
Southasia by Zubaan. Included in
WGDR are texts by such well-known
Southasian social scientists and
activists as Gita Sen, Bina Agarwal
and Chandra Mohanty, as well as
a host of additional, formative
feminist essays.
Over recent decades, the
academic world of gender and
development studies has moved
The Women, Gender and Development
edited by Nalini Visvanathan, Lynn
Duggan, Laurie Nisonoff and Nan
New Delhi:
through several paradigms and
models. The newest, it now
appears, is the WCD (Women,
Culture and Development) model.
The frivolity of acronyms apart, this
book demonstrates that, regardless
of this paradigm shift, the earlier
models are far from obsolete. For
example, Danish economist Ester
Boserup's sterling contributions to
the field during the 1970s still stand
out. We continue to draw upon her
demonstration of the strong and
positive role that African women
had historically played, even
under patriarchal conditions, as
agricultural subsistence producers.
Or, her expose of the ways in
which European colonial law
and economics marginalised
such women.
There are also, however, distinct
tensions in the field of gender and
development. An influential group in
this field works for international
development agencies funded by
wealthy countries of the North,
where they also live. The work of
such practitioners is limited by the
murkiness of the politics of
international aid, and the self-
serving and exploitative interests of
such countries. Equally, academics
and activists based in the
developing countries find that the
women who are their subject are
constantly squeezed from three
directions: between conservative or
fundamentalist interests; a state
receding from welfarism; and the
increasingly volatile nature of global
markets, which now seek to mould
women into docile subjects of the
'flexible', service-driven, 'feminised'
new global economy. In the new
From the work of feminist economists we have learned that, even today, official
statistics do not have an appropriate set of standards for measuring women's work.
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 Women workers are greatly in demand due to several stereotypes: their perceived
conversational and 'courteous' skills, willingness to work flexible hours, and tendency
to steer clear of aggressive unionisation.
marketplace of emerging service
sectors, such as call-centres,
women workers are greatly in
demand due to several
stereotypes: their perceived
conversational and 'courteous'
skills, willingness to work flexible
hours, and tendency to steer clear
of aggressive unionisation.
A complex narrative often
emerges from women's
encounters with these multiple
forces, one that cannot be
accounted for in terms of straight
gains and losses. Fernandez-
Kelly, for example, documents
how her colleagues in the
maqui/adoravjere able to bond and
exercise personal agency, for
instance, in camaraderie
amongst themselves, even when
unionisation was taboo. The
annals of the Self-Employed
Women's Association (SEWA),
formed to organise women in the
informal sector in Gujarat, or those
of women in Uttaranchal's
environmental Chipko movement,
belong to another order of agency
altogether, and emerge as icons
of women's activism in the field
of development.
Particularly compelling in
WGDR\s a feminist reassessment
of gender in the family and the
household - of women's work.
Past academic research has
demonstrated that the family and
household must be seen as sites
of what can be described as
'cooperative conflict' - of
negotiations and bargaining over
resources. On the other hand,
there is the dangerously
wrongheaded view emphasised by
mainstream economics - of the
male head of the family as an
altruist, who fairly speaks for the
whole family and justly distributes
familial resources. From the work
of feminist economists we have
learned that, even today, official
statistics   do    not   have   an
CuUure and Deyeioprw)?;
Feminist Futures: Re-imagining women,
culture and development
edited by Kum-Kum Bhavnani,
John Foran and Priya Kurian
New Delhi:
appropriate set of standards for
measuring women's work.
Structure of feelings   .
Feminist Futures is a refreshing
book. At the intersection of studies
of culture, feminism and critical
development, it adapts a notion of
culture that the Welsh Marxist
Raymond Williams described as a
"structure of feelings" - which, say
the editors, "is meant to denote [a]
blend of pattern and agency". There
is in this model a simultaneous
emphasis on ideology, and on
human experience, feeling and
agency. This emphasis on
women's ability to take control of
themselves is particularly important
in the context of other schools of
epistemology, such as certain
brands of post-modernism, that
completely write-out women's
abilities to think and feel.
The book experiments with
several genres. "Maria's Stories",
for instance, are moving
autobiographical narratives told by
the Salvadorean activist Maria
Ofelia Navarrete. Later, US
sociology professor John Foran
blends politics and aesthetics to
meditate on the centrality of desire,
love and dreams - of the how's and
might's in revolutionary social
change. In a short, spare article,
Raka Ray invokes the ways in which
Lakshmi, a 40-year-old female
domestic worker in Calcutta,
conceptualises a just society and
developed culture. Other articles
look at the popularity of the ancient
Indian design philosophy of
Vastushastra, the contradictions in
recent Indian reproductive and child-
health policy, and how 'cyber-
connectivity' is giving birth to ways
to further gender justice. An
important component of Feminist
Futures is also its conscious
visualisation of issues of sexuality,
including homosexuality, in the field
of gender and development.
Reading these books together,
one does not get a sense that earlier
writings in the field have been
superseded by later ones. Each of
these fresh additions is welcome,
but what stands out is the
excellence of practitioners over the
past three decades, who helped to
bring younger scholars into what
has become the enviably strong
position of the gender and
development terrain today. The best
articles in these volumes testify to
the importance of hard empirical
observation, and of seeing political
economy and culture as both
complementary and indispensable
in the study of gender and
development. The heroines of
academic works such as these are
extraordinary women, who see
dignified struggle as a quiet, non-
grandiose, yet essential component
of everyday life. A
Himal Southasian | September 2006
Dispelling dangerous notions
Perhaps for the firs! time, a book in Hindi seeks to present the Kashmir
question as a Kashmiri would have presented it.
At the peak of a recent standoff, a senior
Congress leader in New Delhi candidly
admitted that the government cannot go too
far with the People's Democratic Party
(PDP), its local partner that is
currently running the government in
Jammu & Kashmir. His point was that
the Congress could hardly go along
with PDP demands such as self-rule
and increased powers to the Srinagar
government, nor openly highlight the
human rights abuses by the security
forces in Kashmir. This was because,
said the Congress leader, the vast
number of voters in India could not be
ignored. After all, there are only six
seats in the national Parliament from
Jammu & Kashmir, and "we cannot
sacrifice 500 seats in the rest of India
for the sake of just six seats".
In June, when the India-Pakistan
peace process was yet to be derailed
by the Bombay blasts, it is said that
Manmohan Singh himself had raised
the issue of this popular attitude
towards Kashmir during one of the regular Friday
meetings of the Congress party's core governing
group. He is said to have complained that Congress
stalwarts had not worked hard enough to build public
opinion in support of the peace process and the
solutions he had envisaged.
Over the years, bald-faced lies have been told
about Jammu & Kashmir, but the Indian public
shows little concern over the misinformation and
manipulation. While public outrage over the rigging of
polls in Haryana in 1989 could force Chief Minister
Om Prakash Chautala to resign, the same public
took the massive rigging of the 1987
assembly polls in Kashmir as a
necessity born of 'national interest'.
J&K has always been treated
differently by New Delhi - not by the
gifting of political concessions but by
the throttling of democratic voices and
the restricting of political space of
Kashmiris in the name of national
security. The legacy of those brave
politicians and citizens who faced the
Kashmir: Virasat aur
Siyasat (Kashmir: Legacy
and Politics)
by Urmilesh
New Delhi:
Since the onset of the
insurgency 17 years
ago, over 800 books
on Kashmir have hit
the bookstands
nationally and
1975 Emergency head-on has been soured by the
maintenance of what is nothing less than a criminal
silence on the happenings in Kashmir.
Journalists and writers too have been
complicit in the dissemination of
misinformation about Kashmir. Since
the onset of the insurgency 17 years
ago, over 800 books on the state have
hit the bookstands nationally and
internationally. Though well researched,
most of these have been written in
English, thus severely limiting their
reach within India.
While this reviewer has come across
books related to Kashmir in Hindi, most
offer no more analysis than to wonder
what Kashmiris are fighting for. Many
spew Hindutva arguments and call for
the abrogation of the special status
accorded J & K by the Indian
Constitution. Some even suggest the
nundation of Kashmir by Hindus
from the Indian heartland so as to
reduce the Muslim population to a
minority. Even the most liberal of Hindi
commentators tend to link Kashmiri unrest to global
slamic extremism.
Making a break?
Journalist Urmilesh has long been an iconoclast,
probably the only Hindi-language media person to
have reported on the Kargil War from Kargil, Drass
and Batalik while the fighting was at its bloodiest. In
Kashmir: Virasat aur Siyasat (Kashmir: Legacy and
Politics), he accomplishes something just as
important: he takes seriously the Kashmir issue by
taking seriously the aspirations of the Kashmiri
people. In writing this book in Hindi,
he has perhaps for the first time
presented to the North Indian public
the Kashmir issue in its reality.
The book traces both the history of
the unrest in J & K and the Kashmiri
demand for autonomy, with special
emphasis on pre- and post-Partition
events and the slow but steady
alienation of large sections of the
state's citizenry. Urmilesh reminds
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
 readers that J&K acceded to the Indian Union under
conditions different from those of other states. J&K
had a 780 km border with what was to be Pakistan,
towards which all of its rivers and trade routes
flowed. At the time of Independence, it shared a
frontier of a mere 81 km with India. Perhaps more
significantly, the majority of J & K's population was
Muslim. Still, the state decided to join India, hoping
that its interests would be better protected by secular
India than by its Muslim neighbour.
After laying out this background,
Urmilesh describes a long list of betrayals
and acts of deceit, duplicity and perfidy.
Jawaharlal Nehru had known, he writes,
that Kashmir had come to India not
because of Raja Hari Singh's accession but
because of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah's
support. New Delhi's Kashmir policy had
thus acted to support the Sheikh until 1953,
iwhen the very person responsible for J &
K's membership in the Union was
dismissed and arrested. Urmilesh reveals a
long record of rigged elections, starting with that of
1952. He also mentions the erosion ofthe Indian
Constitution's Article 370, which not only granted J &
K special status but also, until the 1960s, the right to
have a separate head of state. Urmilesh also
describes the role played by Indira Gandhi's
dismissal ofthe Farooq Abdullah government in 1984
in paving the way to militancy.
J & K is perhaps the only state where candidates
filing for an elected post must take an oath of
allegiance to India's integrity and Constitution. In
other states, only representatives who have been
elected take that oath, and that too only when the
position is one in the Assembly or Parliament. The J
& K chief minister may dare separatists to join the
electoral fray if they want to show their strength, but
in his heart he knows that - as in Pakistan-
Administered Kashmir, where candidates
also have to take an oath of loyalty to
Pakistan - candidates who refuse to take
such an oath will either be rejected or not
allowed to contest under a regime hostile
to them. Urmilesh suggests that truly fair
elections would help Kashmiri separatists
to join the mainstream.
One hopes that efforts such as this
book by Urmilesh - a thorough and critical
account of the Kashmiri struggle, written
in Hindi - will at long last help dispel
dangerous misunderstandings about J&K and
Kashmiris. Such works will help readers in the North
Indian heartland to comprehend the Kashmir
question in its social and historical context. The
achievement of such an understanding will go a long
way in helping politicians and activists to find an
amicable settlement to the Kashmir issue. £
The Sasia Story
The Sasia Story recounts Madanjeet Singh's lifelong search for economics' '
It is the story of a young man's activism and fervour, as well as the trauma ne suirers in
partition and tlie gruesome fratricidal conflict between.India and Pakistan. Madanjeet Singh is a UNESCO
Goodwill Ambassador. In 2CO0, he set up the South Asia Foundation (SAF] to benefit disadvantaged and
; f marginalized communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri
First published by UNESCO in English. French and Spanish in cooperation with the
European Commission and South Asia Foundation, The Sasia Story is translated into
24 Southasian languages and published in English by Penguin (India).
HINDI <skyad@vsn).net>; KANNADA <> .
ORIYA <>; PUNJABI (Gurumukhi)
<unistar>; PUNJABI (Urdu Script) < >
SINHALESE <>; TAMIL <kumbh@sltnet.ik>
TELUGU <>; URDU <afzaal@sang-e-mee] com>
Himal Southasian | September 2006
On the way up
Haying it right!
The citizens of the erstwhile Indian state of Assam
have decided to challenge the rest of us by starting a
campaign whereby our tongues will be twisted
beyond company specifications, but it looks like we
will remain where we started and not be
pronouncing anything correctly. Not for your average
Assamese gentleman/gentlelady will the conversion
be as simple as from a Bombay to a MumLiai, a
Madras to a Chennai, or a Calcutta to a Kolkata. No,
first they will tell you that Assam is no longer Assam,
it is to be 'Asom'. Fair enough. .And 'Assamese' will
be replaced by Asommiya (it used to be Assamiya, but
let that be).
Now, Messrs Borbora, Bordoloi and Bezbaruah tell
us that it is not so much the spelling as the
pronunciation that they are after. Spell it any way
you like, as long as you pronounce it properly, is the
refrain. And how do you pronounce Asom?
Something like Akhliom, in which you replace fhe
middle consonant with a deep-throated aspirated
attempt to reach into the lungs and exhale bits and
pieces of diaphragm tissue. As long as you can say
Akhliom in the process, the Akhhomiya do not really
care how you spell it.
We're all Akhhomiya now
On a recent trip to Akhhom, I walked the
Brahmaputra banks desperately seeking Sanjay. No
one had heard of him. Okay, then, Sanjoy. No one
had heard of Sanjoy either. Then it dawned on me.
"Babuji, could you please point me in the direction of
Mr Xonzoi?" 1 found my man, who then explained to
me the fine nationalistic distinctions that separate
Assam, Asom and Akkhom. I did ask him, or I think 1
did, why he was not called 'Khonkhoi'. But I forgot to
ask Xonzoi why Asom was Akhhom and not Axom.
Akhhom is the crucible of eastern Southasian
civilisation, and it is today leading the way to
cultural revival, starring with correct pronunciation.
This is laudable, and tlie rest of Southasia -
including the Indian Union government, all PSUs, all
the security forces and all NGOs - please take note
and make the required adjustment to your tongues.
One of the problems of Southasian integration that
the SAARC organisation should take seriously is the
matter of pronunciation. Tike the Eminent Persons
Group on Poverty Reduction, which has achieved
such success in raising people's awareness about the
status of their penury, might we suggest an Eminent
Person's Group on Accents, Enunciation and the
Rendition of Long Surnames?
Take the name Sembakuttiaratchi, a Lankan
surname that carries with it a hallowed tradition of
public-spirited service to fellow man, nay
humankind. But should we not be fearful of a
breakdown of hard-earned Southasian camaraderie
if we cannot correctly pronounce the name of a fellow
Southasian citizen? In the Lankan case the problem
is of sheer distance between where a name starts and
where it ends. This is a typically south-Southasian
proclivity also continued north of the Palk Straight.
As we know, the British colonials departed when
they learnt that the freedom fighters were about to
bring Trivandrum back to Thiruvananthapuram. As
you will notice, Thiruvananthapuram stands tall
today while the Brits have gone.
I want to get back to Akkhom, or Axom, however.
At least in the case of Mr Sembakuttiaratchi down in
Colombo, the rendition may be long but there is no
subterfuge in the pronunciation. A diligent Balochi
or Ladakhi who does his or her homework can break
the name down to its component parts and have a
fairly good go at semba-kutti-a-ratchi and he would
not be far off. One can make a speech from the
SAARC rostrum without making a mistake on that
one, as with Katunayake, Bandaranayake or
But fast-forward to the Indian Northeast, where
our friends Xonzoi, Xonzib, Xiva and Xaraxwati are
patiently waiting for this columnist to be done with
his drivel. Before I am bonked on the head by these
proud Axxommiya friends, let me have the last word:
"Southasian camaraderie will not be supported by
having sounds to which no script, Roman, Nagari or
indigenous, can do justice. This is definitely a matter
to be referred to the Eminent Person's Group on
Accents, Enunciation and the Rendition of Long
Surnames. Be xeeing you! Ouch!" £ .
September 2006 | Himal Southasian
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