Open Collections

Digital Himalaya Journals

Himal Southasian Volume 19, Number 2, September-October 2005 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2005-10

Item Metadata


JSON: dhimjournal-1.0364725.json
JSON-LD: dhimjournal-1.0364725-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): dhimjournal-1.0364725-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: dhimjournal-1.0364725-rdf.json
Turtle: dhimjournal-1.0364725-turtle.txt
N-Triples: dhimjournal-1.0364725-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: dhimjournal-1.0364725-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

■  1
r |
■ 1
Maadi Valley, Chitwan District Nepa    6 June 2005    Picture Kanak Mani Dixit
NEW DELHI        ;.»-
•— '
^-                   w PARO
'        a ^V                             *\
j      ;    \#I)HAKA\
\                              a
•"               POKHARA»—-^^\
0           /     \
\ /
'    /KOLKATA     \""v.
LUMBINI                                       I        \
SIMARA       N.
*                       •
Cosmic Air is Nepal's leading airline with an unmatched fleet of Fokker 100 Jets, SAAB-340and
Dornier aircraft. We connect metropolitan cities, remote mountainous areas of Nepal and also
operate to international sectors such as Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi, Dhaka and Yangon.
Pvt. Ltd.
Kathmandu Reservations: PO Son 3JB8, Kalimalidole, Airport Area, Kathmandu, Nepal. Reservations Hunting Line: 4468321. Fax: 977-1-4467558   International Reservations: 877-1- 447415S
4492009, 4492841. City Sales Office: 4215525, 4215771, 4215563. E-mail: Website: . Kathmandu Airport: (Dom.) 4474783. 4489938, (Int.) 4477617.
Biratnagar: 021-5301ZO (Airport), 021-524B9S, D21-527636 (Sales), Pokhara; 061-531601 (Airport), 061-532039, 061-526680 (Sales). Simara: 053-531474 (Sales), 051-521026 (Airport). Tlimllngtar: 029-
566201. Bharatpur: 056-524213. Shajrahawa: 071-527301 (Airport). 071-527300 (Sales). Jomsom; 069^140093. Nepalgunj: 081-523325 (Sales), 081-550925 (Airport). Delhi: 0091-11-51642975
51642977/51740351 f51740352/51740353/ 51740354, Airport: 25653910/25653903. Dhaka: OOB8-D2-B621557/558(55W5e0/561/562/563/564 Fax: 008B-02-8618730. Kolkata: Gainwell Travels Ph:
33-S1121344/5. Varanasi: 0542-91933918S559
S __^=g5£ 7:0:,
gj     mjZb£b&$£f3    SBifiS^   ^.
This map of Southasia may seem upside down to
some, but that is because we are programmed to
think of north as top of page. This rotation is an
attempt by the editors of Himal (the only Southasian
magazine) to reconceptualise 'regionalism' in a way
that the focus is on the people rather than the nation-
states. This requires nothing less than turning our
minds the right-side-up.
(download from
Seimnsiitaiy I
Shattering of trust - I
Shattering of trust - II
altpfft 22
Afghans go for Parliament
by Aunohita Mojumdar
Between despair and hope:
Interrogating 'terrorism'
by Dilip Simeon
The course of Naxalism
by Mario ranjan Mohanty
Wither the Naxal comrades?
by Tilak Dasgupta
Dreaming democracy in Maldives
by Waheed Hassan
Nepali vortex
by Kanak Mani Dixit
Righting wrongs in Ladhakh-Baltisthan
by Ismail Khan
Nathula: Trading in uncertainty
by AC Sinha
The Stilwell Road: Straight ahead
by Carin I Fischer
World and the Indian MNC
by Indrajit Lahiri
Impressions from the Devastation
by Dagmar Hellmann-
Tamil Nadu's second tsunami 97
by S Sumathi and V Sudarsen
Fixing difference 41
by Moyukh Chatterjee
Speeiai Reports
The geography of GEO 45
by Sonya Fatah
Get real with digital documentary
by Fareeha Zaman
Injury and the Bangladeshi child
by Prashant Jha
PiiatD feature
Return to Old Tibet
The monoculture globalisation of
by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
Neo-liberalism and dictatorship
by Assim Sajjad Akhtar
The absence Southasian Hibakusha
by Pranab Budhathoki
Guerrillas and terrorists
In the shadow of fear
by C K Lai
Field sociology in Palthan
byAtuI Mishra
Southasia mediafile
The persuasive India
The persuasive India
by A S Paneerselvan
Who dun it? All of them
by Ravi Nair and Rineeta Naik
Looking back in bewilderment
by C K Lai
The orientalisation of Islam
by Yoginder Sikand
Bills Btsgitfftti
The cup and me
by LS Aravinda
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
Sept-Oct 2005
Kanak Mani Dixit
Managing Editor
Rcshu Aryal
Assistant Editor
Pra.shant Jha
Books Editor
Hari Sharma
Editorial Assistance
Nayan Pokharel
Kabira Farajuli
Special 7'hsnks to
M ah tab Haider
Carey L Biron
Contributing  Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Jehan Perera
Mitu Varma
Afsan Chowdhury
Beena Sarwar
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Kiran Maharjan
Bhusan Shilpakar
Sambhu Guragain
Visha] Rana
Subhas Kumar
Hikmat Karki
Deepak Sangraula
Tanka Sitaula
Puspa Raj Sharma
Shahadev Koirala
Customer Care
Raj Bhai Dangol
Himal Southasian is pub] ished and
distributed by
The Southasia Trust,Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
c/o 4th floor, Sandiaykosh Build ing-A
Pulchowk, Lalitpur, Nepal
Tel: +977 I 5543333, 5324845
Fax: +977 1 5521013
editorial@hirri a 1 iri ag. com
d i strib ution@h
a d ve rti sing@hi m a 1 rin a g. com
www, himalm
ISSN 10129KO4
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image Setting: Scanpro, Pulchowk
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contribytors    to    th
s s u e
A C Sinha is former Dean School of Social Sciences, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, who has written extensively on
Sikkim, Bhutan and the Indian Northeast.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is a political activist based in Rawalpindi who also teaches colonial history and political economy at
the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
A S Pannerselvan is a journalist. He is presently the Executive Director of Panos South Asia.
Anil Athale is retired colonel with a doctorate on regional secunty, wtio has studied conflicts in the Indian Northeast, Kashmir,
Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Northern Ireland.
Atul Mishra studies International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Aunohita Mojumdar is a journalist who has been reporting for 16 years in the region, including Kashmir, Punjab, Nepal and
Afghanistan. She is presently freelancing from Kabul.
Carin I Fischer is an international consultant on issues of transportation and lourism, who has lately been working with the
state governments of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and the Nepali Times.
Dagrnar Hellmann-Rajanayagam is a student of history and comparative religion with special interest in nationalism, ethnic
minorities, internal conflicts, and violence in political discourse.
Dilip Simeon is a historian who is currently director of the Aman Trust (Delhi), which works to mitigate violent conflict.
Fareeha Zaman is a freelance writer and student of cinema.
Indrajit Lahiri is CEO of the Asian Paints Nepal.   ■
Jayanta Bandyopadhyay is an ecologist and engineer based in Kolkata withresearch interest in science and technology
L S Aravinda works with the Association for India's Development to create resources for learning, cultural and political
expression in local and tribal languages of India.
M Ismail Khan is a development consultant and analyst from Skardu, Baltistan, presently based in Islamabad.
Manoranjan Mohanty is retired as Professor of Political Science. University of Delhi, editor of several books including
People's Rights (1998) and Class, Caste, Gentfer(2004).
Moyukh Chatterjee is a student of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.
Pranav Budhathoki has just completed g raduate work in Peace and Conflict Studies from London Metropolitan University, UK.
Ravi Nair and Rineeta Naikare with the New Delhi-based South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC).
S Surnathi and V Sudarsen are scholars with the Department of Anthropology, University of Madras.
Sonya Fatah is a Karachi-based freelance journalist who covers Southasia.
Tilak Dasgupta is a freelance writer and columnist with special interest in analysing the various strands in the Indian Communist
Waheed Hassan, who has been with the United Nations in New York, is returning to join politics in his native Maldives this
Yoginder Sikand writes mainly on issues related to Muslims and Islam in Southasia, and edits the web magazine
Zafar Sobhan is an assistant editor of The Daily Star, Dhaka.
Subscriptions: send payment In local currency in favour of our subscription agent.
Bangladesh International Book Agencies Ltd. 94, New Eskaton Roati.Ramna Dhaka, 1000 Bangladesh
General Office Tel: +880-2-8359972 Email: junsid86ttt>
India Central News Agency (PI Ltd., 4E/15 Jhandewalan Ext, New Oeltii 110001. Tel: +91-11-51541111
Fax: +91-11-3626035 Email; or
Maldives Asrafee Book Shop, 1/44 Ctiandhanee Magu, P.O.Bsx. 2053, Male. Tel: +960-32-3424
Nepal Himalmedia PvL Ltd. GPO Boi; 7251, Kathmandu, Tel: +977-1-5543333-36
Pakistan City Press, 316 Madina City Mall, Abdullah Haroon Road, Saddar, Karachi 74400
PH. +92-21-5650623/5213916, email:
Subscribers who wish to pay through AMEX, VISA or MASTER CARD can fax details to:+ 977-1-5521013
ore-mail us at For AMEX cards please include contact phone numbers.
1 year
2 years
INR 290
INR 560
NPR 270
NPR 500
Rest of Southasia
USD 17
Hong Kong/
USD 11
USD 21
USD 20
USD 36
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Take no chance.
Fast, reliable FedEx Express shipping is your best bet.
Covering more than 215 countries, FedEx provides fast and reliable ripor-to-door, customs-cleared,'
express transportation solutions. Our integrated global network of 137,000 employees, S43
airerafts arid 43,000 vehicles, makes us the world's largest express transportation company.
You can be absolutely, positively assured that your shipment will arrive on time, always.
Kantipath, Kathmandu
G.P.O. Box 223,Nepal
Tel: 977 1 4269248
Fax: 977-14269249
He might be a thousand miles away
from you.
But the love he sends is just three
steps away.
With Western Union distance is never a hurdle
to receive your dear one's love. Just follow
these five easy steps to receive the money
he sends you.
Fill in a Western Union "To Send Money"
Give the agent the completed form along with
the money you wish to send, the transfer fee and
an identification document.
The Western Union agent will enter the money
transfer information in the computerized system.
You wil! receive a receipt with a 10 digits Money
Transfer Control Number (MTCN).
Call the receiver to teil him/her the amount of money sent
and the 10 digits Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN)
In Nepal, for more information;
HaHinei 4223530
Hotline: 4242735
Utf*?T 'Sit' f&ft&B
Hotilw: +OQ426
HoaJlne; 4248556
Reaimal IransacSun mil dMter Horn Bn» and regional working tours. In some Kwnlrtes. there Is bul only tha services oi receiving money not sending. In every transaction, apart from money transfer foes the payables
to Western union wl» also be included, "The rate of ihis payatjia to Western Union iffl be lass then the amount Weston Union racemes from each dollars. This amount difference is indudeo oy Western Union itsetr.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Editorial Note
Welcome to
Sept - Oct
The 'meaning of terror', the cover theme of this
issue, is directed against 'who would
pander to violence, against an attitude which
condones terrorist acts against innocents by rebels
just as it justifies murder of left radicals by the state
apparatus. The extremes are all there in two incidents
in the violent society that Nepal has become. When
an army platoon murdered 18 unarmed Maobaadi
activists and sympathisers at point blank range in
the highland village of Doramba, that sure was
terrorism, whether you add the qualifier 'state' before
it or not. When the Maobaadi placed an improvised
explosive device in a dry riverbed in Chitwan, and
pressed the switch as a public bus crammed to
capacity passed over it, murdering 38 passengers,
that was terrorism (see picture).
In between the two extremisms, and with states
always killing more than insurgents, lies the path of
ahimsa and satyagraha, nonviolence and peaceful resistance.
It needs to be said, unabashedly,
that social movements bring true
solace to the people who you
claim to be fighting for. They also
require more courage over a
longer period than the relatively
easy recourse to the gun, almost
no duping youngsters with false
romance. Dilip Simeon presents
forceful arguments in the cover essay against the
short-cut of violence.
Besides dealing with the issue of terror in some of
the other pieces as well, Himal has packaged
separate bundles of articles for readers in this Sept-
Oct 2005 issue. The inside pages of Indian national
newspapers - not the front pages - point to a surge
and spread of Naxalite activities in the
Subcontinental heartland, and it was important to
connect with the trend. Two articles, by a Delhi
University scholar and a Calcutta analyst, study the
merger of a Naxalite unit of the Jharkhand plateau
and one w7ith presence in Telangana into the
Communist Party of India (Maoist). Where w7ill the
Naxalites go? Can they achieve their political aims
with the present strategy? Will the Indian State and
states ever learn?
A series of articles concerns roads and routes
which were once open, before 1947 and 1962, and
need to be unbolted. Just as the Iranian Gas Pipeline
cover of our previous Jul-Aug issue looked to a brave
new world in the Southasian West, in this issue we
suggest that the Stilwell Road would brighten the
face of the Southasian East by promoting travel and
commerce. In the Southasian North, how about
letting the blood brothers and sisters of Baltistan and
Kargil visit each other by opening up that road by
pulling down that stone wall along the LoC? And
while we are at it, why not push the opening up of
Nathula in Sikkim all the way to Lhasa? Do we wait
till that Southasian city (Lhasa) is linked by rail to
the Chinese mainland in 2007 before we wake up
the need for soft borders? The pushy Col.
Younghusband had seen the feasibility of the Siliguri-
Lhasa corridor in 1904, and that was some dme ago.
Tire appalling treatment of two Kashmiris by the
state apparatus are dealt with separately, in a review
of a book by journalist Ifthekhar Gilani who was
unjustly jailed and tortured, and a profile and
interview of Delhi University lecturer S A R Geelani
who was falsely accused of being a terrorist. Against
the backdrop of these horrifying stories of repression
is the uplifting one of Dhaka
journalist-as-human is t, Matiur
Rahman, who reaches 1 million
plus readers every day with his
paper Prothom Ala. Yet another
article on Bangladesh documents
how the alarming findings of a
study on child injury is
influencing the discourse on
public health. And then there is
Waheed Rahman, who leaves a
high-rise United Nations job in New York to return
to the sea-level atoll of Maldives to be part of its
democratic future. Speaking of which, we provide a
unique window on the upcoming elections in
Afghanistan, with a report by Aunohita Mojumdar.
Over in Karachi, Sonya Fatah tells us all about GEO.
Two articles analyse the dissimilar responses of
Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (including the LTTE-rim
northeast) to the tsunami. Globalisation has brought
about immense changes in its wake - independent
articles analyse the manner in which it is shaping
social trends, examine the rise of the Indian
multinationals, as well as critique the
disproportionate and questionable role of
international financial institutions. Then we have
Hiroshima vs the Southasian Bomb to remind of the
horrors that the Indian and Pakistani politico-
military establishments are inviting on behalf of all
of us 1,4 billion. dAnd, to end it all, on the last page,
we present the cup.
In this issue, we have striven to bring you
Southasia in its depth and diversity, but we hope
not in its frivolity. If you enjoy these pages, tell others
about Himal. We need all the help we can get.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Shattering of trust -1
Ties between Kathmandu and New Delhi
have not been this low in a long, long time.
The intimate contact between people on the
two sides of the open border has not always been
reflected in the way the two governments and power
elites interact. Indeed, differences and misunderstandings have characterised the relationship in
the past, often instigated by the arrogance of the
regional superpower and an equal and opposite
feeling of incapacity among Kathmandu's politicians
and bureaucrats. This time around, however, the
misunderstanding is bordering on antagonism, and
a fundamental shift seems to be underway in the
The 1 February royal coup came as a bolt out of
the blue for the Indian establishment. Despite his
reported assurances to Indian diplomats, among
others, that he had no intention of assuming absolute
control, the monarch went ahead and did just that
with his takeover that fateful Tuesday morning. South
Block's 'twin pillar' policy on Nepal, of supporting
constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy,
suddenly seemed to be without basis. New Delhi's
seniormost diplomats let it be known that if a choice
was to be made between the people and the king,
India would go with the former. India had clearly
decided that its interest in a stable Nepal was better
served by backing a disorderly multiparty system
than a controversial monarchy. This, fortunately,
coincides with the popular will in Nepal.
Soon after 1 February, India took on the role of
'coordinating' the response of the US and UK towards
the Kathmandu regime. The three countries together
make up the main suppliers to the Royal Nepal Army
in its battle with the Maobaadi insurgents, and it
would have been nothing less than galling for the
royal regime to see the role given New Delhi.
Confronted by South Block's stance, the king has tried
to influence Indian policy by appealing to India's
erstwhile royals who still populate the upper
echelons of Indian politics, but it has not gone beyond
a little bit of an ear from Indian Foreign Minister K
Natwar Singh, himself of princely lineage. The king's
hopes of using the Hindutva lobby in his favour as a
'Hindu king' seems similarly not to have borne fruit.
In fact, and ironically, the best hope for King
Gyanendra comes from the Indian police and
intelligence agencies, who dislike the Maobaadi so
intensely that they would like the resumption of arms
supplies that were suspended after the coup. For now
The  Nepal-India  open   border at  Krishnanagar,
Kapilvastu district
however, India's Manmohan Singh continues to
listen to the foreign office on Nepal policy rather than
to his National Security Advisor.
Meanwhile, incidents and accidents continue to
mark the steadily deteriorating relationship. It did
not help Prime Minister Singh that in Jakarta on 23
April, King Gyanendra blurted before a television
camera what is said to have been a gentleman's
understanding on resumption of arms assistance in
return for promised democratisation. Back in
Kathmandu, bilateral ties saw a further dip when
the Nepali Foreign Ministry called the Indian
ambassador in for a reprimand. Kathmandu tried to
openly play the 'China card' to balance off India's
contrariness, but Beijing proved reluctant. Even while
the Indian aArmy chief J J Singh was trying to argue
for resuming arms supplies to its 'brother army' in
Nepal, the latter decided to alert the world to the
problems with its India-supplied Tnsas' combat
rifles. While there have been reports of the gun
malfunctioning in pitched battle, it appeared
inopportune ridiculing your largest supplier of arms
and ammunition.
While all this was going on, the Indian government
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 seemed to be re-conceptualising its own approach
towards the Maoists. Seeing the inability of the 13NA
to effectively take on the rebels even after seven
months of direct rule by the king as 'Supreme
Commander-in-Chief, as well as taking into account
the royal palace's continuing hostility towards the
mainstream political parties, New Delhi made as if
not to notice while Maobaadi leaders move about in
India and hold confabs with representatives of
Nepal's political parties. Even though the Maobaadi
continue to spout anti-India rhetoric on occasion,
New Delhi seems to harbour hopes that its sheer
willpower can force the rebels to sit for talks with
whoever is ready in Kathmandu when the time
Remembering the blockade
It is not that differences have not been a constant
between Nepal and India, and there have been several
low points in history before this. The last time a king
took over in Nepal, with Tribhuvan's son and
Gyanendra's father Mahendra dismissing the
elected government of B P Koirala in 1960, Prime
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told the Indian
Parliament that the royal step was a 'setback to
democracy'. The wily Mahendra king reacted by
seeking to construct a notion of Nepah nationalism
based on a good dose of anti-lndianism. Tn the
context of the Sino-India war of 1962, Mahendra
played his 'China card' and India came on line.
The Indo-Nepal relationship hit the bottom in
1989, when New Delhi acted the regional bully and
used Kathmandu's import of Chinese weaponry to
slap an economic blockade on Nepal. Such was the
international fallout of this action against a landlocked LUC that New Delhi has surely not
contemplated such adventures since. The difference
between then and now, perhaps, is that India's
Nepal's policy has coincided with the interests of
the Nepali people. From what we know, this policy-
hangs on a knife's edge with enough 'forces' in India
willing to forget about democracy in Nepal and
simply support the king, or support the king in order
to crush the Maobaadi. The first option would be
unprincipled and the second impractical. India must
stay the course.
There is no saying how this huge trust deficit
between the Southasian giant and the currently7
unstable northern neighbour will be resolved. With
King Gyanendra's well-known proclivity to himself
'stay the course' even in the face of accelerating defeat,
it is likely that the Nepal-India relationship will have
to wait out the current power struggle within Nepal
between the autocratic monarchy and the forces for
total, untrammeled democracy. Following a
hopefully positive outcome, tire relationship can then
be expected to settle down, back to its slightly
unstable keel. A
India's Only
Adwertislng, Marketing
& Media Magazine
Invitation price
INR. 30 only
Grab your copy now!
For Subscription,
write to
An exehartg'^Jtf^rflLa PuhJitaTJo
Corporate OH: 1208-1210, 12th Floor, Koiiosh Building, K. G. Marg, Connaught Ploce, New Delhi-1, Ph: 011-2332184/87/88
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Sri Lanka
Shattering of trust - II
The assassination of Sri Lanka's Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the highest
ranking leader to have been killed since
President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, has
sparked off hectic political activity in the island
nation. Considered the single most serious blow to
the Ceasefire Agreement signed three years back
between the government and Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (l.TTF), the killing comes a month after
the two sides formalised an understanding on a joint
tsunami recovery mechanism. While the government
was quick to accuse the [.'ITU of being behind the
assassination, the Tamil rebels, for their part, denied
.mv involvement in the attack. However, their track
record of not claiming responsibility for killings they
have engineered coupled with their fierce opposition
to Kadirgamar, a Tamil who opposed their politics,
makes the denial less credible.
The incident is but one in a series of ceasefire
violations that have been taking place over some
time. Kadirgamar's assassination, however, had the
potential to snowball into an explosive issue taking
the country back to war. While the responsible
approach of mainstream political actors coupled
with the anti-war sentiment ot the majority has
managed to stave off the possibility of war for now,
the role of the international communitv in bringing
the l.TTF back to the table is crucial if the peace
process is to continue. The most important task at
hand is to resume dialogue between the conflicting
parties, ensure strict compliance with the ceasefire
agreement in its spirit and letter, and put an absolute
end to the use of violence.
Chessboard of violations
The high-profile assassination brought the ceasefire
agreement itself under the scanner. The agreement
has been followed more in breach rather than practice
for some time now. Tamil political opponents of the
I.TTL, journalists, military personnel and 1.111: cadre
are being killed virtually on a dailv basis. Recently,
a police superintendent, Charles VVijavwardena, was
abducted and hacked to death when he went
unarmed to talk to a crowd of people in Jaffna angry
at the accidental shooting of a barber by a soldier.
The l.TTF cadre is suspected to be behind the killing.
What   Kadirgamar's   killing   reveals   is   the
autonomy of the forces resorting to violence. Some
time back, Kausalyan, a leader of the I TIL, was
ambushed and slain in the east amidst several camps
of the Sri Lankan Army. In the northeast, international
observers, who have been living with the people in
significant numbers, especially after the tsunami, are
appalled at the degree of human rights violations
they witness on the part of the Tamil Tigers. These
abuses include killings of political party activists,
disappearances and child recruitment. Mothers arc
assaulted when they try to stop their children getting
forcibly recruited. Most of these violations are not
being reported because the people are afraid to speak
For some, the Kadirgamar killing was the final
move in this chessboard of ceasefire violations.
Analysts believed that the timing of the
assassination, when there was a strong possibility
of elections being held later this year, could only have
helped the stridently anti-l TTF outfits like the Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna (JVT') and weakened those who
advocate a negotiated solution. A diplomat
expressing puzzlement over the spate of killings said
that if the l.TTF. wished to gain international
legitimacy and were sincere about the peace process,
such actions were clearly counter-productive. The
intention, it seems, was to provoke a reluctant nation
back to war.
The ceasefire violations have created terror in the
minds of people, and weakened the peace process
immensely bv eroding the credibility of the
negotiating partners. The pre-requisite for any
political give and take is trust between the two sides.
In the midst of sudden, deliberate and hideous
killings, it is this trust that lies shattered.
A war averted
In six weeks, Sri Lanka moved from a resurgence of
optimism regarding the peace process when the
agreement on tsunami recovery was signed on 24
June this year to what seemed like an almost certain
collapse of the ceasefire. In the immediate wake of
the assassination, there was intense political
pressure on the government to either retaliate or stop
cooperating with the Tigers. But such a retaliatory
measure would have only served to strengthen forces
that seek escalation of the conflict. What was needed
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 in fact was a concerted effort by all parties involved to
create a sustainable environment for dialogue.
As the tension heightened, the Norwegian
facilitators of the peace process unexpectedly
announced that the I TTF. had agreed to President
Kumaratunga's request for talks to strengthen the
Ceasefire Agreement. Since they left the negotiating
table in April 2003, the LTTF has refused to negotiate
with the government until several of their conditions
were met, including a response to their proposal for
an Interim Self Governing Authority.
The credit for preventing a headlong plunge into
the abyss of war and the possible resumption of the
negotiations should go to Kumaratunga. Despite
weeping at the death of her close colleague, the man
she had considered elevating to be her prime minister,
she urged the international community to bring to the
negotiating table the very forces she believed had
assassinated him, and who had earlier attempted to
assassinate her too, blinding her in one eye. The
president had to contend with those nationalists who
angrily poured scorn on her for seeking once again to
appease the killers instead of taking punitive
action against them. The responsible conduct of
Kumaratunga's political rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, further helped consolidate this call for
negotiations, A lesser opposition leader would have
clearly seen this as an opportunity to undermine the
government by making false claims about how to
deal with LTTL. But the moral support that
Wickremesinghe's opposition has given to the
sensitive decisions of the president, be it the joint
tsunami recovery mechanism with the l.TTF or inviting
them back to the table, in the aftermath of
Kadirgamar's assassination, can be considered
nothing less than statesmanlike.
However, it is the people who, for refusing to get
swayed by jingoism and war hysteria, deserve credit
for averting a definite return to war. While shocked
and distressed at the assassination, they did not
convert to a mob demanding vengeance. Even the most
hardline nationalists who despise the LITE and the
idea of 'appeasing' them do not urge a return to war.
They may not quite know how to engage with the LTTF
but after 20 years of bloodshed, they do know that
war is not quite the way to engage them.
While the Norwegian facilitators did become more
active in seeking to bring the two sides together after
Kadirgamar's assassination, analysts believe that thev
have to be more assertive and even-handed in their
appearance. Kadirgamar himself was a critic of the
Norwegian facilitative effort. In one of his last public
pronouncements, he had proposed that the facilitators
should either plead their cause with greater conviction
or step aside and permit some other country or group
of countries to take their place. It appears that the
Norwegian team has taken his advice more seriously
only after his passing.
The l TTF. may have agreed on talks because they
are aware of the international disenchantment with
their track record of political killings, child
recruitment and repeated threats of war. The Tigers'
belief that they were no longer a pariah organisation
must have received a tremendous blow when the
British government banned the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organisation (TRC)), an arm of the
LTTF a fortnight ago. The I.'l IF would be concerned
that after the assassination of Kadirgamar, other
international actors and aid donors, too, will begin
to ostracise them. Whatever be the reason, the reentry of the l.TTF, particularly Dr Balasingham, is
an opportunity for a paradigm shift on the lines of
the breakthroughs that took place in the early
months after the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement.
While the announcement of talks between the two
sides was a welcome step, regrettably there has been
little movement on the path of negotiations after
the announcement was made. Killings in the
northeast continue on a daily basis and politicians
in the south have little reason to be confident about
their own security. There have been two additional
problems that have also emerged in the way of these
negotiations — one is the selection of a venue for
talks and the other, the announcement hy the
Supreme Court that presidential elections must be
held this year.
The decision of the Supreme Court that
presidential elections must be held this year, rather
than next vear, have also added doubts about the
sustainability of peace negotiations with a lame-
duck chief executive. Any decision taken now could
be irrelevant with the election of a new head of state.
However, the fact that successive governments have
not officially revoked agreements with regard to the
peace process entered to by earlier governments
should assure all sides that agreements of today
will be respected in the future.
The government and LTTL must start talking
immediately, if only because continuous ceasefire
violations have taken a heavy toll on the common
citizen. Strengthening the ceasefire agreement
would, at the outset, bring relief to ordinary people
and stop human rights abuses. The talks must get
the I. LIE to make a firm commitment that they would
not target politicians during elections this time
around and abide by the Ceasefire Agreement. A
free and fair election could set the tone for future
negotiations. Talks are also expected to bring about
a semblance of political stability, without
which there cannot be a political solution to the
protracted conflict. This stability is necessary for
governments to make reasoned accommodations
and convince people about the need for future
compromises. ;;
Sep-Oct 2005 |  Himal Southasian
India's Maoists, while faced with considerable weaknesses of
their own, have been able to continue the fight because of the
abject failures of the Indian state.
by | Manoranjan Mohanty
After an experiment with a ceasefire and
abrogated talks, the ban on the Communist
Party of India-Maoists was re-imposed by the
government of Andhra Pradesh on 17 August. This
followed the killing two days earlier of provincial
lawmaker C Narsi Reddy, a septuagenarian leader
of the ruling Congress party, and eight others in
Narayanpet in Mehboobnagar district. The attackers
arrived on motorcycles and showered bullets at a
public function, killing also the town's municipal
commissioner and the Reddy's son, among others.
Tbe ban was said to have had the concurrence of the
central government, even though its spokesman in
Delhi described tlie matter of law and order as a 'state
subject' under the Indian Constitution. Some might
have welcomed this reference to the Constitution,
however opportunistically it might have been used.
But the fact is that the Centre has been closely
coordinating anti-Naxalite operations throughout
the country, and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil
had assured all support to related measures taken
by the Andhra Chief Minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy.
The Hyderabad government's ban order under the
AP Public Security Act of 1992 listed seven mass
organisations of workers, peasants, youth, students
and writers associated with the Maoist party. They
include the Radical Youth League (RYL), the Radical
Students Union (RSU), the All India Revolutionary
Students Federation (AIRSF), the Rythu Coolie
Sangham (agricultural workers' organisation), the
Singareni Karmika Sangham (a powerful trade union
in the collieries), the Viplava Karmika Sangham
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 (another trade union), and the Revolutionary Writers
Association popularly known by its Telugu acronym
Virasam. More than the ban on the parent party, it is
the outlawing of the mass programmes of these
affiliate organisations which will have serious
repercussions on the ground. These groups have
widespread membership, with regular programmes
and publications.
The poet P Vara Vara Rao and writer G Kalyan
Rao, leaders of Virasam who together with legendary
poet-singer Gaddar were the Maoist party emissaries
to the peace negotiations, were arrested. They had
quit their charge in April 2005, expressing futility of
the role in view of the growing repression by the
state. Meanwhile, interestingly, the women's
organisation affiliated to the rebels was not banned.
Similarly, the Jana IMatya Mandali people's theatre
group led by Gaddar was not included in the list,
though the expectation is it might be entered
New phase of confrontation
The ban per se would not have been all that
significant because the CPI-Maoist, like its former
avatars, the People's War group (PWG) and the
Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), was already
functioning as an underground party. The leaders
of CPl-Maoists and the CPI-ML Janashakthi who had
come to Hyderabad for the peace talks in October
2004 had emerged from the forests and returned there
after ten days of open presence, including four days
of peace talks. The 15 August killing was exceptional,
but not altogether unprecedented. Every time the
police killed some important Maoist leader, the rebels
have declared their intention to take revenge.
However, the current ban represents the start of a
new phase in the confrontation between the Naxalite
movement and the Indian state. The outlawing came
after the chances of resumption of peace talks had
effectively disappeared, and the police had
intensified its operations to kill Maoist leaders and
cadre, and to capture or harass sympathisers. Ihe
Maoists, too, had resumed retaliatory action of
kidnappings and killings. Above all, the approaches
by the mediators in the Committee of Concerned
Citizens (CCC) received little response in recent
months. The civil society in Andhra Pradesh had
pinned great hope on the CCC's initiative to organise
a second round of talks so as to reverse the
intensifying climate of violence.
The re-imposition of the ban indicated the
determination of the Hyderabad government to
withstand civil society pressures and to resume its
armed operations to suppress the Naxalite
movement. This decision condemned by most of the
political parties including the allies of the Congress,
the TRS (Telengana Rajya Samithi ), Mazlis, the CIT
and the CPI-M. Only the Telugu Desham Party and
the BJP supported it, maintaining that it had been
mistaken on the part of the Congress government to
have let the ban lapse in July 2004 in the first place.
The new phase in the confrontation was also
incf icated by the Union Home Ministry's initiative to
coordinate the anti-Naxalite operations, A 30 July
2005 meeting of the chief ministers and the directors
generals of police from the nine Naxalite-impacted
states agreed to set up a task force to launch joint
operations. A policy of "zero tolerance" towards the
Maoists was announced. The Tamil Nadu
government had already banned the Maoist Party
on 12 July, and the Kamataka government had also
earlier launched joint operations with the Andhra
police. That action had led to the killing of many
PWG leaders as well as Saketh Ranjan, editor of the
RSU's journal.
Paradoxically, the resumption of the ban reflected
an admission of failure bv the Indian state to tackle
the challenge of the Naxalite movement over the past
38 years. The capacity of the movement to survive
and to spread having been made clear, the hope was
that the authorities may at long last look to address
the root causes of the rebellion. There had also been
the hope that the new Congress-led government at
the Centre and the new Congress government in
Andhra, which came to power after people rejected
Chandra Babu Naidu's repressive regime, would
adopt a political approach to the Maoists rather than
treat them merely as perpetrators of terrorist violence.
But apparently nothing had changed, and here was
the government, once again resorting to prohibition,
combing operations in villages and forests, and
encounter killings.
Nature of challenge
The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which
the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) adopted in
May 2004 when it came to power at the Centre
supported by the left parties had an important
perspective statement on the Naxalite challenge. The
relevant paragraph was listed under the section on
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, thus
emphasising that this movement was essentially
connected with the problems of the socially-
oppressed sections. It said: "The UPA is concerned with
the growth of extremist violence and other forms of
terrorist activity in different states. This is not merely a
law and order problem, but a deeper socio-economic issue
which will be addressed more meaningfully than lias been
the case so far. Fake encounters will not be permit ted."
This statement had raised hopes for a new
approach to be taken by the UPA, especially in
comparison to the earlier BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with L K
Advani as Home Minister, and Chandra Babu Naidu
as chief minister in Andhra. Indeed, the reference in
the CMP to the deeper socio-economic issues was on
Sep-Oct 2005 j Himal Southasian
 target, for the Maoist movement revolves around the
issues of agrarian transformation, especially the
problems of the landless and the small peasants.
It was the peasant resistance to landlords in
Naxalbari in West Bengal in May 1967 under the
land-to-the-tiller slogan that provided a name to the
Maoist phenomenon in Indian politics - Naxalism.
The movement underwent much churning in the
succeeding decades, organisationally and
politically, but the focus on agrarian revolution has
remained at the core. The very fact that land reform
as a state objective has disappeared from Indian
policy-making in the age of economic liberalisation
has kept the Naxalite agenda alive. The state's anti-
poverty programmes such as the NDA's Food-for-
Work or the UPA's recently established Employment
Guarantee Programme hardly meet the basic
demand for land rights in rural India, lhe rise of
backward castes to power in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh
and elsewhere, even though it may have
democratised certain aspects of the polity, has had
the paradoxical effect of freezing land relations.
The Naxalite movement is mostly active in the
tribal areas spreading from Bihar to Andhra
Pradesh and Maharastra, and also covering parts
of Jharkhand, Madhva Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,
Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Kamataka. This spread is
linked only to the inaccessible hilly terrain of these
regions, but a conscious decision by the Naxalites
to take up the issues affecting the tribal people, who
are among the most exploited in society. India's
development process has led to commercialisation
of forest resources, reducing the traditional access
to forest produce. Alienation of tribal land to non-
tribals has been a steady trend despite legal
strictures. Mining-based industries and the
construction of large dams have caused extensive
displacement of the tribals, besides destroying their
natural environment. A central Naxalite agenda is
for tribal self-determination, asserting the rights of
the tribals over local resources.
The government programmes of tribal
development have ended up creating a new elite in
the tribal areas even as increased poverty leads to
massive out-migration. The recent bill for
safeguarding land rights, introduced by the UPA,
has been a case of too little, too late. The extension of
the Panchayati Raj programme to tribal areas, giving
greater power to the tribal village assembly is a
modest measure in the right direction, but unless
structural measures are undertaken to restore rights
over land and forest, the Panchayati Raj structures
will continue to be manipulated by local elites.
The Andhra government's decision to have a
special tribal battalion of some 1,200 men, a 'Girijan
Greyhound" to fight the naxalites is indicative of
the approach guiding the present policy.
During   the   1980s,   the   Naxalites   linked
themselves with the nationality struggles in the
Indian Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir,
Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and
elsewhere. This strategic decision had a significant
impact on both, the agrarian movement as well as
the autonomy movements. Lach was a complex
struggle involving class and nationality, as well as
caste and gender. The decision therefore involved
making choices on supporting autonomy
movements led bv the bourgeoisie, such as in case
of Telugu Desham in [Kamataka], the Asom Gana
Parishad in Assam, the Akali Dal in Punjab and the
DMK in Tamil Nadu.
fhe formation of the smaller states of
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal was a
welcome step in terms of providing people with more
sav in their affairs, but the new states were created
keeping the overall power structure intact. As a
result, the nationality struggles in these areas
continue as integral parts of the agrarian and the
broader democratic struggle. Interestingly, the
government understood this linking of the Naxalites
with other movements only in terms of a network
among militants for training, supply of weapons
and coordination against state operations.
During the 1990s, Indian politics and economy
saw major upheavals linked to globalisation on the
one hand, and communal politics on the other. The
Gujarat riots of 2002 were symbolic of the magnitude
ot the latter trend. The processes of privatisation of
public enterprises and retrenchment of workers have
continued unabated in the recent years. While the
ruling parties, the BJP and the Congress, were fully
committed to the agenda of globalisation, the CI'l
and CPI-M tried to keep the critique alive on behalf
of workers, the lower middle classes and the rural
poor who suffered tremendously and largely silently
under the process of economic reforms. But the main
resistance to globalisation was put forth by the
Naxalites, which has considered the stress on anti-
imperialism paramount at a time of growing
collaboration between the government of India and
the US government.
Overall, therefore, the Naxalite challenge rests
upon the issues of agrarian transformation, tribal
people's rights, the nationality movement and
resisting imperialism and globalisation. All this
adds up to what thev characterise as the people's
democratic revolution to change the very character
of the Indian state. Because of the issues they pursue,
the iNaxalites have a social base which sustains
them despite a variety of repressive measures
pursued by the state. In fact, over the past decade
the movement has spread to new areas such as
southern districts of Orissa and West Bengal as well
as parts of Uttar Padesh and Rajasthan,
If the Naxalite movement is seen as a coming
together of many streams, then they can be said to
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 have a presence in all parts of the country. Of them
the two major streams are the CPI-ML (Liberation)
which participates in electoral politics and the CPI-
Maoist which pursues armed struggle. The former
has a strong base in Bihar and it has had seven to
ten Members in the Legislative Assembly. It has an
all-India organisation with state units and an active
trade union and a women's organisation. Its
powerful student vving, AISA has often won the
leadership at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New-
The CPLMaoist, which emerged with the merger
of the PWG and MCC in October 2004, had earlier
taken into its fold the Partv Unity of Bihar region.
Liberation condemns the PWG as left adventurists
pursuing squad actions which invite further state
repression. The Maoists dismiss the followers of the
Liberation line as revisionists taking the same path
as the CPI-M, which has held on to power in West
Bengal since 1977. These two formations are so
mutually antagonistic that they rarely come together
to fight any issue. Between them are placed a
number of other Naxalite groups such as Janashakti
which has worked together with the Maoist party
in the peace talks in Andhra, the CPI-ML (New
Democracy) which has been active in Jharkhand
and Assam and lately in Punjab and Orissa on tribal
and workers' issues, and the CPI-ML (Provisional
Committee) which is ostensibly trying to bring the
various groups together.
The-pre-organisational character of the .Naxalite
movement that was evident in the 1970s, the subject
of this writer's work Revolutionary Violence (1977),
remains to some extent. For this reason, the
movement as a whole remains mainly as an
ideological force in Indian politics, whose appeal
remains rooted in the concrete condition of the
people. Meanwhile, the two main formations have
emerged as organised parties, whose leaders are
subjected to attack by state agencies and they suffer
substantial losses. Overall, the question remains as
to why the spiral of violence and counter-violence
by the Naxalites and the state agencies never seem
to end in the heartland of India.
Violence and peace in democracy
The oft-repeated plea that there is no place for
violence in a democracy indicates a desirable norm
for seeking peaceful constitutional response to fulfil
a people's aspirations. But when the coercive power
of the state is used to defend the interest of the rich
and the powerful or to eliminate resistance to
injustice, the same can sound like a hollow claim.
Social violence has grown in India with landlords'
armies in Bihar, factional murders in Andhra's
Rayalseema, and upper caste atrocities on dalits all
over - to mention but a few examples.
Democracy is indeed meant for bringing about
peaceful change through people's representatives.
But the fact is that existing power centres in society
do not allow that to easily happen. Groups fighting
for democratic rights have been pointing this out for
over three decades now. The state response to tbe
Naxalite movement was to capture and kill activists
them bv staging 'false encounters'. Human rights
groups which go under the acronyms APCLC,
PUDK and PUCL, have investigated many such
incidents in Andhra, Bihar and elsewhere. They
have demanded that rule of law be applied to al!
such cases, and all persons suspected should be
tried according to law rather than be eliminated.
When the state itself violates the constitutional
obligations with impunity, then the violation of law
and civic norms becomes widespread.
When the talks between the Maoists and the
Hyderabad government took place in October 2004
following a three-year initiative and protracted
negotiations bv the CCC (led by S R Sankaran, a
respected former civil servant who had himself been
kidnapped by the PWG some years ago), two things
were clear. One was the acknowledgement bv the
state that the Naxalite movement was not just a law
and order problem, but had socio-economic roots
that could be discussed on the road to reducing
violence. Second, it was brought home to the Maoists
to recognise that the realm of the present Indian state
did provide some space for socio-economic change
despite its class character, and that if the space indeed
opened up, the need for resort to armed struggle may
be reviewed.
It was on the basis of this understanding that
there was a ceasefire in Andhra for more than six
months, when the common people were spared the
dual pressures of violence from the Naxalites as well
as the police. The historic talks that took place
between the rebels and the government proved that
dialogue was an essential element of democracy
through which each side was called upon to
recognise underlying truths. In these peace talks
Indian democratic opinion saw prospects of mutual
appreciation of each cither's positions in the spirit
of "truth and reconciliation". As in case of the Naga
peace talks, or those between the LTTL and tbe Sri
Lankan government, in this case too the hope was
to proceed with the dialogue with the hope of
suspending armed action bv the two sides. But there
were elements among the political circles and the
police, both locally and nationally, which
considered the policy too 'soft', which would only
strengthen the Naxalites. In other words, the UPA
government's statement as contained in the
Common Minimum Programme was not the only
perspective guiding state policy.
During the peace talks and press conferences, the
Maoists were confronted with manv issues raised
by democratic rights groups in the recent years.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Could the Maoists be said to be respecting the norms
of revolutionary violence when the common people
were subjected to killings and torture bv them, or
when public property was destroyed? How did they
explain individual annihilations bv their squads,
and did this reflect the Maoist norm of 'mass line'?
On the issue of armed struggle, the Naxalite
movement remains sharply divided. The CPI-
Maoists have a People's Guerilla Liberation Army
mostly armed with weapons seized from the police,
some of which are sophisticated weaponry such as
the AK-47 rifles. Their small formations confront the
police and paramilitary forces such as the Central
Reserve Police Force and Indo-Tibetan Border force,
taking advantage support of the villagers as well as
the jungle terrain. How effective their armed
resistance can be against the armed strength of the
Indian state remains the major question.
Did the Maoists also reflect upper caste attitude
and behaviour in their political practice? How far
are they concerned with the rights of dalits and other
backward classes? In the 1990s, after the upper castes
opposed reservation for backward classes, the
Maoists spearheaded the campaign for dalit and
other backward caste' rights in manv parts of India.
But the caste issue is still not fully integrated with
the class understanding of politics. Similarly,
feminists have pointed out the prevalence of
patriarchal values and behaviour in the Maoist
parties. Moreover, the rebel women's organisations
have not been on the forefront of the variety of
women's struggles in contemporary India. One can
legitimately raise the question whether the Naxalites
have dialectically integrated class, caste and gender
any better than the rest of the Indian communists,
whose record on this matter remains poor.
Human rights activists have also challenged
the Maoists, asking whether they practice democracy
and civil liberties within their movement, which
should after all be the embryo of their 'ideal society'.
Factionalism and splits have famously characterised
the Naxalite movement, which is why there are over
two dozen groups in existence at any given time.
And so the natural question, are the comrades guilty
of sectarian politics when they should be developing
a united front? There was a time the intolerance of
divergent opinion within the party was so stark that
it led to killings - a tendency that seems to have
subsided in recent years. The communist groups
seem to resort all too easily to the mechanical
understanding of revisionism and dogmatism. The
revolutionary tradition of inner-partv democracy -
the minority accepting the decision of the majority-
while the majority respects the point of view of the
minority - seems a fragile heritage.
The common people whose cause the Naxalites
claim to represent confront day-to-day livelihood
issues - of making a living out of agriculture and
forestry, of finding water for their fields, access to
affordable credit, market for their produce, and ways
and means to access education and health. Such
ground-level issues do not seem to figure
prominently in the Maoists' formulation of political
strategy. Many of these activities which concretely
help the poor are dismissed with terms such as
'reformism', 'welfare work' or even 'ngo action'. The
idea that cultural and educational work form an
integral part of revolutionary strategy, together with
political and military tasks, seems to have been
relegated to the background. In the recent years, the
Naxalite leadership has indeed tried to respond to
these issues, but not entirely satisfactorily.
The issue of revolutionary creativity - the ability
to assess the emerging national, local and global
environment and adjusting to the evolving while
pursuing one's ideological goals - thus remains a
challenge for the Naxalite movement in India. It is
important not only to learn from the Chinese and
Vietnamese revolutions, but also from the experience
of the Philippines, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and
Meanwhile, the Naxalite movement continues to
spread despite suffering losses in terms of fighters
as well as - from time to time - operational areas.
The do represent a powerful challenge to the
existing political economy in its phase of capitalist
globalisation. To cope with this challenge the
democratic forces of India must pressure all states
authorities which are confronting Naxalites to
return to political dialogue, and to stop treating the
rebellion as a law and order problem. In Andhra
Pradesh, the ground created by the peace talks of
2004 has now collapsed, and the state government
and Centre both now demand that the Vlaoists lay
down arms before resuming talks.
Indeed, the policy makers, be it in Delhi or
Hyderabad, are now guided by a unified
understanding of global terrorism. They are
excitedly formulating a strategy of counter-
terrorism US software, Israeli hardware and some
Indian brands added. Ihis strategy cannot see the
difference between tlie CPLMaoist operating in
Andhra and Bihar, from the CPN-Maoist currently
fighting the autocratic monarchy in Nepal. No
doubt, thev are revolutionary communists in
solidarity with one another, but they are fighting
different battles in their own countries. After all,
these are Maoists who believed the great helmsman
when he said that the people of each country must
formulate their own strategy derived from their
unique local conditions. Leaders of the Indian state
must try and comprehend the nature of the Maoist
challenge and address the socio-economic issues
at its heart, so that another spiral of intensified
violence in India can be avoided and prospects of
peace and democracy enhanced. ;-.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
Whither the Naxal comrades?
The Naxalites of India are engaged in an expansion spree but the
party is hardly audible beyond its core areas. It is not to be found in
the rural plains and cities.
by | Tilak Dasgupta
On 21 September 2004, addressing the chief
ministers of extremism-affected states in
Hyderabad, India's Home Minister Shivraj
Patil conceded that Left extremism led bv Naxalites
was expanding rapidly in the country. 125 districts
in 12 of India's 28 states were affected, he said, though
in varying degrees, and another 24 districts were
being 'targeted'. An Intelligence Bureau report placed
at that same meeting warned that a merger was in
the offing between the two largest Maoist groups,
People's War Group (CPI-ML) active in Andhra
Pradesh, and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC)
energetic in the Bihar-jharkhand
region, the union, said the Bureau,
would give a fillip to Naxalism
which had already shown signs of
revival in recent years.
As became clear later, the People's
War group and the MCC had merged
on the very same day that the chief
ministers were gathered in
Hyderabad to consider the collective
threat of left extremism to the Indian
state and establishment. A press
statement signed jointly by the
erstwhile general secretaries of the
two outfits read, "On September 21,
2004, amidst the thick forests in some
part of India, the formation of the
Communist Party of India (Maoist)
was declared at a public meeting
before an assembly of people's guerrilla fighters, party-
activists and activists of mass organisation." The
Indian revolution to overthrow the Indian state would
be carried out through protracted people's war, said
the statement, with "the armed struggle for seizure of
power remaining as its central and principal task".
The countryside would remain the centre of gravity
of the party's work, "while urban work will be
complementary to it."
The urgent task before the CPI-Maoist, said the
statement, was to develop the People's Liberation
Guerrilla Army (PLGA) under its command to a full-
fledged Peoples Liberation Army and to develop the
existing 'guerrilla zones' into base areas. The party
pledged to build movements related to various
issues confronting different sections of the Indian
people and to mobilise the masses against the
growing imperialist onslaught in India. Ihe new
partv- extended its support to the "struggle of the
nationalities for self-determination including their
right of secession" as well as to the Maoist struggle
in Nepal. It promised to isolate the more dangerous
Hindu fascist forces, while exposing all other
fii n d a men ta 1 i s t forces.
Whether by coincidence or design, the union
which led to the formation of the CPI-Maoist came
at a time when the Naxalites of
India have heen on an expansion
spree. According to one researcher,
their spread is at the rate of two
districts everv week. While this mav
be an exaggeration, there is no
denying that the Maoist influence
and striking power have increased
manifold in India over the last few
years. Both the Congress-led United
Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government as well as the main
opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party-
consider Naxalism as a major
internal security threat. While
Defence Minister I'ranab
Mukherjee rates left extremism as
the greatest menace, the leader of
the opposition in Parliament and
BJP President Lai Krishna Advani lists illegal
immigration, terrorism and Naxalism as the three
biggest dangers.
It is noteworthy, however, that while the United
States government includes the CPI-Maoist on its
"terror list", the major political parties of India
distinguish Maoism and terrorism. The Naxalites
are treated as a separate category because they do
enjoy popular backing in their core areas, they use
violence mostly against selected state targets, and
have a definite programme of political and socioeconomic transformation. Most importantly, thev
are not seen as indiscriminately targeting innocent
civilians in armed attacks and explosions.
Sep Oct 2005     Himal Southasian
 Naxalbari to Dandaharanya
Any discerning observer of the Indian communist
movement will note that the CPI-M strategic model
for revolution not only borrows heavily from the
Chinese revolutionary model but also basically
upholds and preserves the path advocated by the
old Naxalites of the Communist Party of India -
Marxist-LeniniaSt (CPI-ML), headed by late Charu
Majumdar. The labels 'Naxalite' and 'Maoist' are
interchangeable in the Indian context. The former
owes its origin to the fact that the first armed peasant
upsurge led by the Maoist faction of the Communist
party of India-Marxist began in the Naxalbari region
of West Bengal bordering the eastern Nepal
terai. The year was 1967, and it was subsequently,
in 1969, that the majority of the Maoist rebels formed
the CPI-ML.
The first attempt of that Maoist party to usher in
a^n armed revolution in India, however, was defeated
by the time the top CPI-ML ideologue and founder
general secretary Majumdar died while in custody
in July 1972. The defeat led to splits in the party and
many factions of various sizes bearing the same name
CPI-ML continue to survive to this day. There have
also been other groups, such as the MCC, which had
always remained distinct from CPI-ML. The 1970s
and 80s were witness to bitter polemics which
divided these groups, but at the same time there were
efforts to rebuild the Maoist movement as a whole.
Out of this churning, the Liberation group in Bihar
and the PWG in Andhra Pradesh emerged as the two
most important tendencies in the Naxalite movement.
The Liberation group, headed by Vinod Mishra,
eventually discarded the old CPI-ML model of armed
revolution and instead focused on building
democratic movements and fighting elections.
However, the PWG continued to march along the
Naxalbari path, which involved building liberated
areas and intensifying the armed struggle through
people's army organised in the countryside.
Even before its merger with MCC, both the Indian
media and the government recognised the PWG as
the Maoist group with the widest mass base and the
strongest military. With the MCC's support base in
Bihar and Jharkhand, the unified CPI-Maoist has
naturally evolved as a force to be reckoned with.
Compared to the Naxalite movement of yesteryears,
the present Maoist-led armed struggle operates at a
higher plane. Looking back, the struggle zones of
the 1960s and early 1970s were somewhat modest.
The armed actions were usually directed against
local bullies by squads armed with traditional
weapons. In most cases, the fighters were isolated
from the local people, which made it relatively easy
for the police to crush the activism.
In contrast, the present CPI-Maoist armed struggle
is not only spread over much larger areas but has
also managed to survive over two decades, braving
sustained counter-insurgency operations. Despite
some ups and downs, the insurgency has over the
last few years expanded into new areas of Orissa,
Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. The
strongest guerrilla zone, however, remains the
Dandakaranya forest region in central India that
covers eleven districts spread across the four states
of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh and
Madhya Pradesh. The PWG claims its influence in
the region extends to twelve million people, mostly
of tribal origin. The second-most important guerrilla
zone of the CPI-Maoist incorporates the hills and
forests of Jharkhand, extending north into
neighbouring Bihar. There are reasons to believe that
the Maoists are planning to build a corridor to link
their guerrilla zones with those of Nepal's Maobaadi.
To their credit, the constituents of the CPT (Maoist)
have managed to avert major splits during the last
two decades and in fact the majority of the Naxalite
groups and individuals who believe in the path of
armed struggle have now actually come under one
banner. The personality cult prevalent in the old
movement has been replaced by a low-key style of
collective leadership. In terms of military might too.
the old Naxalites were no match for the contemporary
Maoists. The tiny irregular squads armed with
primitive weapons have given way to much larger
PLGA formations equipped with sophisticated
firearms. The PWG or the MCC, even before their
merger, had gradually stepped up their scale of
guerrilla attacks to target well-fortified police stations
and camps as well as sizeable armed police patrols.
The PWG, for instance, in a daring guerrilla operation
in February 2004 overran the Koraput district
headquarters in Orissa and looted a huge quantity
of weaponry from the district armoury, police
stations and even the district jail. Experts consider
the Koraput action as a watershed in the growth of
the military capability of the Naxalites.
While the armed actions by the rebels make it easily
into the news and newscasts, what is less visible is
the economic and political work being carried out
deep within the guerrilla zones. The CPI-Maoist
claims that in large parts of Dandakaranya and
Jharkhand guerrilla zones, village-level people's
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 committees have sprung up as an embryonic form of
alternative political structure. In Dandakaranya in
particular, it is claimed that cooperatives, credit
societies, paddy banks, medical clinics, schools,
mutual aid teams and libraries are functioning under
the party's guidance. Also, the property of landlords
is being redistributed, usurious money-lending has
been banned, and village development committees
formed to undertake irrigation and local road-
building projects. Efforts are also on to diversify and
improve agricultural production, plant fruit trees, rear
fish and improved varieties of cattle. The party also
claims that it has mobilised lakhs of people in the
guerrilla zones in various mass organisations and
village defence groups, and that participation by
tribal women in these activities is notable.
The supply line
The gains achieved by the erstwhile PWG and MCC
and their successor organisation the CPI-Maoist is
clear for all to see, as are their successes in comparison
to the earlier Naxalite movement. Nevertheless, the
prevailing impression of the people outside the
guerrilla zones regarding the Maoists remains that
of an armed band indulging in surprise attacks on
the government forces rather than that of a political
entity. At one time, the Maoist mass-based
organisations used to hold huge rallies of the rural
poor in the towns of Andhra, Dandakaranya,
Jharkhand and Bihar. These public campaigns have
almost disappeared, except briefly in Andhra last
year, since the state governments began officially
banning or unofficially disrupting such
mobilisations. The party's efforts to gain a foothold
in the trade union movement or to build anti-
imperialist and anti-repression fronts on the national
plane have also come a cropper. In Andhra,.
repression from the state authorities has set back the
PWG's once vibrant agricultural labour struggle and ,
powerful student and cultural movements. In Bihar
and Jharkhand too, most of the Maoists' large rural
poor associations are unable to function openly. If
one were to look beyond the Maoist core areas to
India at large, however, it is clear that the Indian
working class and employees as well as the farmers
in the plains of rural India have mostly failed to
respond to the Maoist variety of politics.
It is indeed ironic that the Maoists have been
unable to mobilise at a time when industrial workers,
middle class employees and peasantry all over seek
the path of resistance to the ill effects of globalisation,
liberalisation and privatisation. Even though it seems
more widespread than the earlier Naxalite movement,
the Maoists of today seem to be in no position to
launch a powerful country-wide political struggle
on these issues. Neither have they been capable of
waging an effective campaign against the rapid
proliferation of Hindutva ideology in the country.
It is important to seek the causes of this failure of
mobilisation and inability to keep alive the open
mass organisations by defying the official ban. The
failure seems all the more perplexing because the
revival of the dNaxalite movement came about when
the new generation leadership rejected Majumdar's
policv of doing away with mass organisations and
did manage to set up massive agricultural poor
peasant associations in Andhra, Jharkhand and
Bihar. The student and youth associations formed
by them also served as breeding ground for tresh
cadres needed for renewing the revolutionary-
struggles. With these mass organizations run by the
Maoists having now become inactive, the supply line
of intellectually developed new cadres remains
virtually sealed.
The overall picture that emerges of the CPI-Maoist
is that of a comparatively strong military outfit
enjoying considerable popular support in its
strongholds in south, central and eastern India.
However, the party's political message is hardly
audible beyond these core areas, and the Indian state
has been fairly successful in preventing its entry into
the national political arena. The modern-day
Naxalites have facilitated the implementation of the
government's game plan by ignoring the need for
the step-by-step building of nationwide political
It is not that the Maoists are unaware of this
challenge. Last year, the PWG eagerly accepted the
offer for peace talks made by the Andhra Pradesh
state government, if only to secure an opportunity to
openly articulate its views and mobilise the people.
For the purpose, it agreed to hold back weapons as
long as the police did the same. The ceasefire
continued for some time, but the talks eventually
collapsed with the government insisting that the
' rebel cadres should not carry arms when they
Organise meetings in the villages. Looking back over
last year's ceasefire, the People's War was indeed
able to organise numerous village meetings and three
large rallies at Warangal, Hyderabad and Guntur in
July, September and October 2004. It was able to
demonstrate its popular support in its areas of
influence. It also held a number of press conferences
and raised the issues of land redistribution, tribal
rights on forest, equal property rights for women, the .
increasing debt burden on the farmers and
retrenchment of workers. These constituted some of
the specific demands the insurgents place-d before
the Andhra government.
But the honeymoon between the Maoists and the
Andhra Pradesh authorities was shortlived and
armed confrontation between the police and the CPI-
Maoist has now resumed. On 16 August, the party
and its affiliated mass organisations were once again
banned bv the Congress government in the state after
one of the Congress legislators was assassinated a
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 day earlier. The CPI-Maoist is now back in its jungle
hideout and the chances of its resurfacing in the
near future are slim. Simultaneously, the open
activities of the Maoists have come almost to a close.
Looking ahead
Where will the CPI-Maoist go from here? From the
party literature and published interviews of the
erstwhile general secretaries of the CPLML, PWG
and MCC, it is evident that the leadership is
conscious "that the impact of revolutionary
struggles against imperialist intervention in the
country cannot much be seen". The party also
admits that given the way the "RSS gang" is
instigating communalism and provoking riots in
India today, "our response in giving an effective
answer to them has been far less than what the
situation requires". It also acknowledges that
revisionism (read parliamentary communist parties)
"has a countrywide domination over the trade
unions, a wide influence in the urban areas and
even amongst the peasantry in some parts of the
country". So, while there is at least an attempt to
recognise the challenges as they exist before the CPI-
Maoist, there seems to be a reluctance to seek the
reasons behind these shortcomings and their link
to the party's political-military line. Consequently,
the Maoists, while identifying their deficiencies
have not been able to make the required correction.
Looking deeper, it seems that the crucial Maoist
decision to shift their key force to remote forest
regions of central India in order to build their
'people's army' and establish red base areas have
left them with sparse strength to enlist popular
support in either the rural plains or the cities where
the larger population lives. That aside, the Maoist's
call for an armed revolution to gain land, democracy
and independence apparently has scant appeal
beyond the Maoist's core constituency of landless
labourers and poorest .sections of the peasants in
most backward areas. But then these concepts
remain sacrosanct for the Indian Maoists and any
talk of revising them is regarded as blasphemous.
Against such a backdrop, while they may have
responded to the call of the times by merging into
the CPI-Maoist, it appears improbable that India's
Naxalites will take a fresh look at their fundamental
line. Nor is it likely that they will agree to scale down
armed activity against the state in order to get a
chance of mobilising people in the plains and towns.
However, nothing short of this kind of popular
mobilisation is needed if the CPI-Maoist wishes to
emerge from its self-imposed exile as a national level
force capable of influencing the country's politics
and economics in a decisive manner. «
An Imprint of Kali for Women
Zubaan is an independent teminisi publishing house based in India with a stronij;
academic and general list, lt was set up by Urvashi Butalia as an imprint of the well
known feminist house Kali for Women. "Zubaan" means tongue, voice, language,
and speech in Hindustani. Zubaan is a non-protit publisher working in the areas ot
the humanities, social sciences, and fiction. Books celebrating difference, diversity
and equality are also published, especially for and about the children of India and
South Asia under our imprint Young Zubaan.
Young Zubaan
Dragon   Rider
Cornelia   Funke
A   Shadow   in   Eternity
Payal   Dhar
Ten   Timeless   Tales
Bittie   Withal
Younguncle   in   the   Himalayas
Vandana   Singh
Writing the Women's Movement:
A Reader
Mala   Khullar (Ed. )
Speech and Silence:
Gujarati Women
fiita Jfothari (Ed.)
Literary Journeys By
Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal
Realities: A Feminist Economic Reading of
Female Headship in Eastern Sri Lanka
Kanchana   N.    Ruwanpura
Zubaan: K-92, First Floor, Hauz Khas Enclave. New Delhi- 110016, India. Tel no; +91-11-26521008, 26864497
Email:,   Website:
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
in The Age of Terror'
f 9/11 triggered the US-led global 'war
on terror', 13/12 marked a significant
date in the political progression of the
Indian state. The attack on the
Parliament Building in New Delhi in
December 2001 was followed by a
diplomatic and military offensive by
the Indian government against what it
termed "Pakistan supported
terrorism". Domestically, the Delhi
Police nabbed four people suspected
to be involved in planning the attack.
Among those arrested was S A R
A Kashmiri lecturer at a Delhi
University college, Geelani was
accused of conspiring in the attack
on Parliament and was booked under
the draconian Prevention of Terrorism
Act (POTA). The case against him
hinged on what has now been proven
to be no evidence at all - a two-minute
phone conversation with his younger
brother in Kashmir a day after the
attack. The police claimed Geelani
told his brotherthat what had happened
in Delhi was necessary. Careful
transcription of the conversation by
leading activists later revealed that
there was no reference to the
Parliament attack in the conversation,
and words attributed to Geelani did
not exist in the recording. Geelani was
also charged with knowing two of the
other co-accused. With all three hailing
from the same district in Kashmir and
residing in the same area in Delhi, it
was not surprising that they knew each
other socially- something that Geelani
never denied.
Despite the weakness of the
government's case, Geelani was
awarded the death sentence by a special
POTA court a year later. A propaganda
and misinformation exercise was
conducted by the authorities, ably
assisted by sections of the media, to
defame Geelani. In response, lawyers,
activists, academics, writers, journalists
and students started a campaign to
support the beleaguered lecturer. The
All India Committee for the Defence of S
A R Geelani was headed by eminent
scholar Rajni Kothari and included
author Arundhati Roy, Geelani's lawyer
Nandita Haksar and other well-known
public figures.
The POTA court's judgement was
turned down by the Delhi High Court
(HC), which acquitted Geelani. But his
troubles were far from over. In February
this year, Geelani was shot outside his
lawyer's house and was lucky to
survive. He is convinced that it was the
Special Cell of Delhi Police,
responsible for his arrest, which tried
to get him killed. Meanwhile, the
government appealed to the Supreme
Court (SC), which on 4 August 2005,
upheld the acquittal of Geelani, But
in their judgement, the justices added,
oddly enough, the words that there
remained "a needle of suspicion"
against him. The Delhi Police has
now decided to file a review petition
in the SC against his acquittal, The
sordid, poignant and tragic tale of
Geelani continues,
S A R Geelani is, perhaps,
Southasia's most visible example of
the state labeling those who dissent
from the 'establishment' discourse as
terrorist. Prior to his recent
tribulations, Geelani had always been
outspoken about human rights
violations and the suppression of
popular aspirations by the Indian state
in Kashmir. This is what seems to
have made him vulnerable to action
by a police seeking short-cuts, and a
quick and definitive end to the
investigations on the Parliament
attack. The Geelani case also
provides a glimpse into the power of
the term 'terrorist' and the dangers
inherent in its use.
S A K Geelani spoke to Prashant Jha about being
branded a terrorist, his experience with the Indian
state, the politics of violence, the meaning of terror,
and the Kashmir quagmire.
About his personal and political background, and
whether his ethnic identity and views on Kashmir
made it easier to label him a 'terrorist'.
I am from Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir and
studied in Lucknow and Delhi. The campaign
against me definitely stemmed from who I am - a
Kashmiri Muslim teaching Arabic at Zakir Hussain
College, often wrongly assumed to be a Muslim
college. The fact that I had been consistently speaking
up against atrocities by Indian security forces in
Kashmir made me an even easier target. The
authorities, in the aftermath of the Parliament attack,
were looking for someone to pin the blame on. 1 fitted
in perfectly with the stereotype of the Islamic
Based on his experience, on how the state treats
those it deems terrorists and anti-nationals.
The manner in which 1 was arrested is revealing in
itself. 14 December 2001 was the last Friday of
Ramadan and 1 was on a public bus on my way to
offer pravers when some police officers in plain
clothes intercepted the bus. They asked me to come
with them and shoved me into a car parked outside.
1 was not given the reason for my arrest and was
slapped and abused. Despite repeated requests, they
did not let me pray. They took me to a private place
and asked me to sign a confession admitting guilt
for the Parliament attack. I refused and was tortured
brutally. 1 was stripped, beaten up and hanged
upside down for hours at a stretch. Tlie police then
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 picked up my family and threatened to rape my wife
and kill all of us, including my three-year-old son.
Later, in Tihar Jail, I was in solitary confinement in a
dark, dingy cell. Days would pass before I saw the
sun or was in contact with another human being.
Earlier this year, I was shot and had six bullets
pumped into me. 1 have no doubt it is the Delhi Police
that engineered the shooting and wanted me killed.
On what gave him the courage to carry on.
Apart from the fact that I am innocent and was framed,
I realised that the plot was to malign the Kashmir
movement. I decided to bear with the physical and
mental pain and keep fighting, because the crime
would have been attributed not only to me but also to
There would also be heightened suspicion against
Indian Muslims.
I did not want to give the state a chance to defame the
Kashmiri people and their movement, or target Indian
His reaction to the Supreme Court's   j
reference to a  'needle  of suspicion'
against him.
Both the Supreme Court and High Court
have said that there is no evidence against
me. The SC judgement in fact contradicts
itself. If there is no evidence, what is the
basis   for   the   so-called   suspicion?   1
considered it a politically motivated
reference to save those police officers who
had falsely implicated me. Justice is not
merely freeing tlie innocent but punishing the guilty.
The judgement lacks justice as it let free those who
had fabricated an utterly false case against me.
On whether there is a tendency to toe the
establishment's line when 'terrorism' is invoked.
Absolutely. An air of hyper-nationalism is created
when the term terror is used. I experienced silence
and complicity everywhere - in Delhi's Safdarjung
hospital where a doctor produced a medical
certificate stating that I was fine, without checking
me at all and despite clear marks of torture on my
body; in the lower court when the judge on the first
day of the proceedings told a co-accused, who was
weeping, that she should have thought of the
consequences when she hatched the conspiracy - in
effect delivering the judgement before a single
argument had been presented; in the media which
uncritically played up and reported false stories fed
to them by the police. If those reports were to be
believed, I had al-Qaeda links, had confessed to the
crime, and had bought a posh flat in South Delhi
immediately before the attack. Even after I was
acquitted by the High Court, I was called a terrorist
and my car was stoned in the Jawaharlal Nehru
University campus.
On the obliteration, post 9/11, of the distinction
between 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter'.
That distinction will always remain, regardless of
what the powerful states want. Terrorism is when
innocent people are targeted - either by the state or
private parties. But if a person takes up the gun in
self-defence or to achieve his rights when there has
been suppression, that is not terrorism. What is
important to understand is why people take up the
gun. In India, movements in Kashmir and the
Northeast are deemed to be terrorism but all that the
Kashmiris are asking for is the right to self-
determination, a promise made to them at fhe United
Nations. The struggle against colonial occupation,
as is the case in Kashmir, cannot be called terrorism.
To look at the duplicity of states, turn to Iraq. When
the US kills, they are liberators and when an Iraqi
resists, he is a terrorist.
On whether the politics of violence brings in its
own set of problems, including deaths of innocents,
and denial of negotiated solutions.
It is the violence of the state and its attempts
to suppress democratic voices that leads to
problems. Of course, violence should ideally
be aShunned. But one has to ask why people
adopt violent means. When a person takes
up the gun, he knows he has to fight against
a trained military. He also knows that the
act of picking the gun has probably reduced
his life span. The problem is that states pay
no heed to aspirations when peacefully
expressed. If you want people to .shun arms,
the state has to first shun its own violence
and pay attention to demands when democratically
On what needs to be done in Kashmir.
The aspirations of the people of Kashmir must be
taken into account. India and Pakistan have a stake
in the Kashmir issue because both sides occupy
portions of the land. But this land belongs to the
people of Kashmir. They are the principal party. The
Kashmir issue needs to be resolved respecting the
sentiments of the Kashmiri people. The money both
countries are wasting on defence and in places like
Siachen is precious and should be diverted for
On the root cause of political violence in India.
It is the complete decay of democratic institutions in
this country, from top to bottom, which is leading to
violence. At a distance, Indian democracy may look
rosy and wonderful but if you come in close contact
with institutions and structures in India, it is a
disaster. The state is unwilling to consider even
democratic demands for land reform and fair wrages.
The weakening of democratic institutions and the
shrinking of democratic space is what has led to
people taking up arms. k
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
Afghans go for
If si though them is fear of
electoral violence, even though
parties ire disallowed, even thoigtt
ihis 1$ an election organised to lit an
international timetable, there is
hspe that the general elections of IS
September will give Afghans the
politics of representation and
deliver them from the gun.
by | Aunohita Mojumdar
On 18 September, more than 12 million people are
expected to participate in Afghanistan's first
experiment in parliamentary' democracy', when they
vote for the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of Parliament)
and 34 provincial councils. The term 'experiment' is
appropriate, as the complete decimation of structures
of a modern nation state during the 25 years of
unrelenting war makes the holding of elections
challenging, difficult as well as novel. The polling
process will also be an exercise in bringing together
innumerable variables that have been changing the
face of Afghanistan in the past four years.
Tlie elections are being held under the framework
of the Bonn Agreement, signed in the wake of the US
military victory in Afghanistan in 2001. The Bonn
process had laid down a timetable for the recovery
and reconstruction of the country. The roadmap
included convening of an emergency, loya jirga (grand
council) for establishment of the transitional
government, holding a constitutional loya jirga to
adopt a new constitution, to be followed by elections
for a fully representational government. Scheduled
for June 2004, the elections were to be held for the
office of president, seats in the Wolesi Jirga, the
provincial councils, and the district councils finally
leading to the establishment of the Meshrano Jirga
or upper house through indirect election and
nominations. Howrever, given the enormity of the task
and the fragile security situation, only the
Presidential elections were held in October 2004, and
polls for other institutions postponed for later.
While the announcement of the present round of
elections has been welcomed by the international
community, many political leaders as well as aware
citizens point to the lack of adequate preparation
and controversial electoral procedures. This has
made some cautious and others cynical about the
'experiment' of elections coming up in a few days'
A society in transition
Afghanistan is in a period of transition, with
remarkable change underway in society. For some
Afghan women, the transformation has been
enormous. Many are back in the workforce while
quite a few are contesting elections, fighting for their
rights, and working for the development of their
society. Yet, the majority still faces the same
restrictions and constraints of old. Over three million
children are back in school and over three million
refugees have returned to the country. Urban centers
see new businesses and enterprises coming up every
day and the country now has an independent and
growing media. At the same time, there are people
with destroyed homes facing relentless poverty.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 drought and floods. Clear signs of Afghanistan's
bitter history arc visible everywhere. War widows
beg on the streets; children without limbs drag
themselves from car to car; young girls are sold to
pay off debts incurred in a drug run; poppy growers,
with their fields destroyed, have no means of
employment; old men pull carts, piled high with
lumber; young fighters, their guns taken away, are
now at a loss never having known any other way of
life. There is also rage and hatred, against other ethnic
groups, against the foreign aid worker who earns
more in a day than most will sec in a month.
The socio-economic indicators present a dismal
picture. The country ranks 173rd on the Human
Development Index, far below neighbouring
countries - Pakistan (142), Tajikistan (116),
Uzbekistan (107), Iran (101) and Turkmenistan (86).
The literacy rate is 28.7 percent and nearly one out of
two Afghans will not survive to the age of 40. The
infant mortality rate is 115 (per thousand) and that
of children under five years, 172. The maternal
mortality ratio per 100,000 live births is 1,600.
Yet, talk to ordinary Afghans and their spirit is
indomitable. Unlike the victim syndrome in many
post-conflict areas, Afghans blame themselves for
their own fate, hoping that time will give them a
chance to make a better life and country. It is these
citizens who will exercise their right to franchise in
less than a month wishing for a peaceful, democratic
state at long last.
The security dilemma
For the international communitv charged with
conducting the polls, the elections are a major step in
rhe road to transfer of power and giving rights back
to the people. However, there are critics who believe
the process should have been delayed until the
country was better prepared for it. They are
.ipprehensive that the elections may end up
legitimising the illegal centers of power that exist all
over the provinces and enshrining the bad precedents,
such as the absence of voter lists and adequate means
of vetting candidates. But the biggest worry is the
lack of a relatively secure atmosphere needed for free
and fair polling. As an independent observer of the
electoral process observes, "It is important to do it
right the first time around." Cutting corners and
making compromises harm the credibility of
elections, and it will be difficult to change the norm,
he says. Skeptics argue that the rush to complete the
polls is merely to arrive at a benchmark international
powers have set for themselves, rather than based on
an assessment of the needs arising from the changing
situation on the ground.
Nearly four years after the fall of the Taliban, the
installation of the transitional government of Hamid
Karzai and the deployment of international presence
in the country (troops, UN agencies and innumerable
ngos), the institutions of the Afghan state are yet to
take firm root. Rebuilding a country, especially one
where violence continues to dominate, has been an
arduous process. Unfortunately, the emphasis placed
bv the international community on numbers and
deadlines has often been to the detriment of actual
capacity-building and greater community
participation. This gives the state apparatus an
inordinate power despite its obvious weakness.
An example is the ongoing fight against militancy.
The international military intervention, in the wake
of 9/11, was led by the US Coalition forces in 2001
and the US remains in charge of the command and
control of a multinational force operating against the
"enemies of Afghanistan". However this
ambiguously defined target has resulted in neglect
of the equally important tasks of peacekeeping in
secured areas, of ensuring protection against existing
warlords who were equally brutal even if not
identified as 'Taliban', and of ensuring security that
would provide the space for implementing laws and
ensuring justice. As a result, even previously secure
areas have faced a security vacuum which was taken
advantage by a regrouped Taliban and other armed
groups and criminal elements. While the figures are
contested, the country has seen as many as 1000
deaths in the last six months alone. Even though the
Coalition Forces and the International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) publicly claim that the
security situation has improved, this is doubtful.
More independent international observers have
noted that the violence now is the worst thev have
seen since 2001.
Col Jim Yonts, spokesman of the Coalition Forces
Command, says, "Security has improved as a result
of cooperation and coordination between the Afghan
security forces, Coalition forces, local leadership and
the Afghan people." Maintaining that 60 percent of
the weapons' cache and explosive discoveries are
now taking place through Afghans, Yonts adds the
Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army
forces have increased in number and capacity. There
is no significant terrorist presence or threat in areas
where ISAF is operating, claims its spokesperson
Major Andv Elmes.
Others are not as sanguine as the two American
men. Spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance
Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), Adrian
Edwards, says the security situation this year has
been a matter of concern. The UN Security Council
has expressed concern over the increased attacks by
the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other groups. Secretary
General Kofi Annan's special representative on
Afghanistan told the Council recently that extremists
were targeting pro-government and international
forces, raising concerns for the forthcoming elections.
Even the new American ambassador to Afghanistan,
who arrived here from a posting in Iraq, expressed
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 the international community's concerns on security
at his maiden press conference in August. Ronald
Neumann was quoted as saying "there is certainly
more violence and there are violent elements trying
to come back." The ambassador also said, "I think
this is a situation that will probably be difficult for
some time. But there is a strong international presence
and there is a strong American presence, which is
quite adequate to deal with the violence."
Survival in this country remains a tenuous
negotiation for citizens, especially outside the urban
areas. Though the UN mandated process of DDR
(disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of
the standing armies of the provincial leaders) is
nearly complete, there are questions about its
efficacy. After a quarter century of war, there is no
real way to measure the amount of weapons in
Afghanistan and this means that officials have to
rely on the declarations made by the commanders.
Meanwhile, the process of disarming 'illegal' armed
groups has just begun. At the time of nominations
for the elections, the candidature of 255 candidates
was challenged on the grounds that they still
possessed arms. They were threatened with
disqualification unless they turned in a specified
amount of weapons. At the time of the final
announcement however, only 17 were barred.
According to the Brussels-based International Crisis
Group (ICG), "many who were provisionally
excluded were let back on the candidate list with
'undertakings' of future compliance".
The commanders of the disarmed groups have not
been marginalized either. An example is Abdul
Rasheed Dostum, the strongman of the ,North.
Dostum was appointed chief of staff to the
commander of the armed forces, i.e. President Hamid
Karzai, earlier this year. Though his duties in that
position remain unclear, the appointment came as a
betrayal to many people who had believed in
President Karzai's promise to weed out warlords.
Dostum, by all accounts, ran one of the most brutal
regimes in the northern areas.
A June 2005 report on verification of political
rights, carried out jointly by the Afghan Independent
Human Rights Commission and the UNAMA, says
"the widespread fears, feelings of mistrust and acts
of self-censorship", that the team found, were based
on past patterns of behavior rather than current
threats or violations. Nonetheless, these attitudes
"could, however, have a significant impact in the
coming months as the electoral competition
Responding to comments that elections ought to
have been postponeddue to the fragile security
situation, Adrian Edwards of UNAMA says that the
debate between whether there should be rule of law
first or elections first could go on and it would never
have been possible to have a perfect election. He
argues that that this is as right a time as any other to
hold elections to take people out of an environment
of conflict.
Voting without voter lists
A report on the parliamentary polls prepared by a
leading think tank, the Afghan Research and
Evaluation Unit (AREU), states that the new
Parliament will be "one important means for the
people to have an active voice in government".
However, it cautions that while the elections are a
golden opportunity, "they also pose a serious threat
to the prospects for democracy if they fail". A deeply
flawed elections would betray the trust of the voting
public, says the report. The AREU also points out
that the parliamentary/provincial elections are far
more susceptible to fraud, vote buying and
intimidation than the presidential polls held in 2004.
In these elections, AREU says, the margin of victory
may be quite small, and a few votes stolen here and
there may dramatically alter the delegation that each
province sends to Parliament.
There are enough reasons why that is a real
danger. Apart from direct intimidation and violence,
the hurry to hold elections has also led to the
adoption of short cuts which would not stand
scrutiny elsewhere. For example, there has not been
enough time to either carry out a census or register
voters according to their area of residence. There are
therefore no voter lists which polling staff could use
to cross-check the eligibility of voters lining up to
vote. This is the reason why the Joint Electoral
Management Board (JEMB) says it is printing 40
million ballots, nearly double the estimated number
of voters. The JEMB is the independent electoral
authority comprising of nine Afghan election
commissioners appointed by President Hamid
Karzai and four international electoral experts
designated by UNAMA. At an estimated electorate
of 12 million voting twice (for provincial and
presidential elections) the ballots needed should
have been a little over 24 million. However since no
one knows how many people will choose to turn up
at which polling station, there have to be enough
ballots in each one just in case.
The bulwark against fraud is supposed to be the
'indelible' ink which will be used to mark the fingers
of the voters, a method in use (and misuse) all over
Southasia. This assumes that security in each and
everv polling station cannot be breached and that
there will be no stuffing of ballot boxes, a guarantee
that is difficult to ensure even in the more developed
democracies of the region.
The lack of census data, the ICG points out, has
also meant that there is no accurate estimate in the
allocation of seats to each province. Therefore, the
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 numbers that have been arrived at remain highly
disputed. The electoral laws formulated for the
parliamentary polls are also controversial. Though
a large number of parties as well as sections of the
international community counseled for the
proportional representation system, the government
proceeded with adopting the single non transferable
vote (SNTV) system. Though this might seem like a
more simple system to adopt, given the nascent nature
of Afghanistan's democracy, it is actually far more
complicated since each constituency is a multi-seat
constituency. The system does not bode well for
political parties either. Any party seeking to secure
votes for its multiple candidates from that
constituency will have to calculate exactly how many
voters it should encourage to vote for each candidate,
a difficult science in the best possible circumstances
and impossibility here.
The parties
The reason for the adoption of such an awkward
system is said to be the antipathy of President Hamid
Karzai towards political parties. Nearly four years
into power, Karzai himself has neither joined nor
launched a political party. While supporters of the
president like to claim that he is trying to remain
.'.hove the fray, critics allege Karzai wants to keep the
political parties weakened since he himself has no
political base of his own. Under the current system,
political parties have no right to use a common
symbol for their party candidates thus preventing
them from effectively building up a cross-country
support base.
One person who certainly thinks the electoral
system has been designed to Karzai's advantage is
the 'leader of the opposition' Younis Qanooni. Leader
of the newly formed New Afghanistan party
(Afghanistan e Nawin) and a former member of the
Hezb e Jamiat Islami Afghanistan, Qanooni was a
cabinet minister in the interim and transitional
governments. He feels that "the government
implemented the SNTV system forcibly because it
does not have a base". A leader of the former Northern
.Alliance who challenged Karzai in the presidential
elections, Qanooni says the JEMB is not independent
and that the current system provides ample
opportunities for fraud and cheating during the
On the other hand, Qanooni fully supports holding
the elections, claiming that it is the only mechanism
against a government that "is the biggest threat to
the country today." Stressing the importance of
Parliament, he says the upcoming legislation must
seek to introduce fundamental reforms for the benefit
of people. "Policies will need to be updated, the
Constitution changed, the cabinet reconstituted and
foreign aid will have to become more transparent.
The balance of power will have to shift from the
presidency to the parliament."
It is this relationship between the presidency and
the legislature that has been a matter of concern in
some quarters. Under the Constitution, both houses
of parliament will have the authority to pass, amend
and review all laws. If the president disagrees he
can ask them to reconsider, but the final binding
authority rests with the Wolesi Jirga or lower house.
The Wolesi Jirga can also approve or reject
government proposals to obtain or grant loans, make
decisions on the annual budget and state funded
development programmes, set up commissions to
investigate actions of the government and approve
or reject individuals appointed by the president to
government positions.
In the absence of a cohesive system of political
parties, usually the source of organized support and
opposition to the government, the search for a
balance of power vis-a-vis the Afghan presidency
is likely to be fairlv chaotic. In the absence of a
political party from which he can derive his
authority, Karzai will have to not just persuade every
political grouping in Parliament, but also every
individual member to see things his way. This would
considerably erode the authority of the government
and may force him to compromise on key political
issues against his better judgement.
A key issue on which Qanooni disagrees with
the Karzai government is what he says are tbe latter's
efforts to bring Taliban leaders into the fold. This,
he believes, is leading to increasing instability and
insecurity in the country. "How can we bring the
ideology of the Taliban and the government
together? Tlie Taliban believe the country is under
occupation, they believe the current government is
un Islamic, they don't believe in women's rights,
education. How can they be in government?"
Qanooni claims that the only reason for the
overtures to the Taliban was Karzai's attempt to
marginalise the former mujahideen leaders, who he
sees as competition.
Though Qanooni does not mention the Northern
Alliance, claiming his constituency cuts across all
ethnic communities and power groups, it is clear
that in the last two years, Karzai has effectively
marginalised most of the leaders of the Northern
Alliance, even while making overtures to other
warlords and some of the more radical mujahideen
leaders. The Panjshiris, who take their name from
their military stronghold, the Panjshir valley in the
Shomali belt north of Kabul, were the major anti-
Taliban force at the time of the US operations against
the Taliban. Though this strength allowed them to
occupy key ministries in the immediate aftermath
of the US invasion, most of them were later removed,
leaving   only   the   well-known   public   face   of
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Afghanistan, the suave Foreign Minister Abdullah
The head of the Republican Party of aAfghanistan,
Sebgatullah Sanjar, also emphasises the importance
of holding the upcoming elections. He says, "The
main challenge to Afghan politics today is the
absence of political organizations." Sanjar, who
supported Karzai in the presidential elections last
year, carries the advantage of being a relatively
unknown figure. Unlike most factional leaders, he
has no apparent history of being directly involved
in violence. Sanjar argues that even with all its flaws,
Parliament will still provide the only public forum
for political debate and to build an alternative
leadership. He too believes that the proportional
representational electoral system would have been
more beneficial even while acknowledging that in
several parts of the country his party candidates are
unable to openly acknowledge their affiliation, so
great is the mistrust of people towards political
parties of all shades.
Also in the fray are a number of other political
parties, most of them registered recently under a new
law on parties, winch are led by former leaders, both
communist and their arch enemy the mujahideen.
Abu Sayyaf, one of the radical Islamist leaders, who
at one point was in the government of Burhanuddin
Rabbani, heads the Ittehad e Islami. Afghan Millad,
a Pashtun-dominated party considered close to
Karzai is also contesting the elections. Former
communist leader and defence minister Shahnawaz
Tanai heads the Movement of Peace party.
Gulbuddin Hekmatayar's Hizb e Islami saw a split
recently, and a faction headed by Humayun Aria
has been recognized as a registered political party.
The electoral campaign, such as it is, is nothing
like the frenzied political activity that defines
parliamentary politics in Southasia. Travelling and
holding meetings remains a difficult task in the
absence of security. The JEMB, in an attempt to
provide somewhat of a level playing field, has
provided all candidates with the opportunity to
broadcast and telecast their messages on electronic
media free of charge. Parliamentary candidates are
allowed either 10 minutes time on radio or 5 minutes
on TV and provincial council candidates are
allowed 4 minutes on radio or 2 minutes on TV.
They are also allowed to buy a total of four pages of
space in a newspaper or magazine. Though
candidates are allowed to hold meetings with the
prior permission of the local police, large-scale
political rallies are considered too dangerous. While
in urban areas, most candidates either campaign
through small meetings or loudspeaker fitted
vehicles, the preferred methods of canvassing in the
villages are by holding meetings with community
leaders, addressing the communities at prayer
meetings or hosting meals.
ftd:ft!'   'ft !ft|. ,'d
George wants the elections badly
An independent woman candidate from Paktia
province, Sharifa Zurmati Wardak initially received
death threats while campaigning and drew back.
However after some community leaders pledged their
support, she once again picked up the courage to go
out into her electoral district. During her last visit to
the constituency however, she was advised to flee
the border area where she wras staying as she had
become a well-known face through her posters. That
which in any other country' during elections would
have been an advantage, had turned into a source of
threat for Sharifa.
For Sharifa as for most other candidates contesting
in this nascent parliamentary process, the issues on
the stump are very basic: bringing peace to the
country and working for development. While she
and candidates like Sanjar play up the need for new
leaders who are not tainted by bloody wars, older
political leaders like Qanooni are campaigning on
the slogan that the government has failed to deliver
either peace or development. The situation here does
not allow for more complex political platforms or
detailed manifestos.
However, the cynicism that greets elections in the
rest of Southasia is already visible among some here.
Jawed, an educated urban voter has scant interest in
the polls, believing it is far too early for legitimate
candidates to come to the fray. "Right now there is
no one worth voting for. Why are there holding
elections? It will restore the same greedyr warlords
and reinforce their grip on power," JawTed asks.
But it is Safia, a housewife and mother, who is
able to see through the clutter of history and identify
the issue at the heart of the matter. Thinking back
over all the yrears she has spent in Kabul, trying to
make sure her children survived the war to live in an
Afghanistan that had a present and future, she says
that for her, it isn't so much an issue of who wins or
loses or who comes to powrer. It is about something
else. "Democracy," says Safia, "wre should start
getting used to it, shouldn't we?" J
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
^^^^ •     ^^taaaallaaaaa^ ^^^
,„   ™   r>   g g
*£3   cd
at—) +->
eg    su
O < >   2^
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
Dreaming democracy in
'1    oo    °f     Ii   ■■ . J
A manifesto for the future as the atoll prepares for its first elections.
by | Waheed Hassan
Maldives can be a democratic state with Islam as its
spiritual foundation, a state which promotes the
moral and creative development of the people. It can
be an example to all Islamic states which aspire to
create open societies. It can emerge as a modern state
which safeguards fhe individual rights of its people
and promotes their aspirations for higher levels
achievement. Maldives can be that modern liberal
state, riding the crest of technological progress,
engaging with its neighbours in the frontline of social
and economic development, and an
example to the rest of the world with
its dynamism and youthful energy.
We need to build a society with
living conditions that are comfortable
and healthy for everyone, where
children are educated well and fully
protected, where people respect each
other and enjoy community living,
where the elderly receive proper care
and respect, and where the spiritual
needs of individuals and communities
are fully met. We must have the
confidence to let cultural and creative
possibilities flourish.
Power -when unchecked can easily
become abusive. The fundamental
freedoms and human rights of the
people have been denied for too long.
We must restore the dignity of the
person, and create a new social order based on
individual freedom and mutual respect. This will
result in a culture of re.spect for diversity as well as
for individual differences while safeguarding the
sovereignty of fhe state. None have the right to impose
their version of the truth on others. To be human is to
be free to think and to express thought. The very
reason a government exists is to safeguard the rights
of its people, including their right to participate in
governance. While democratic governments are led
by the majority, the process of governance cannot do
without parties in political parties and civil society
at large. As we embark on a new course of multiparty
democracy in the Maldives, it is important to
underscore the role of the opposition, which must
function as an effective check on the ruling party.
Indeed, the opposition must become the conscience
of the people and articulate ways of improving the
status of the population, in arenas as diverse as
health, education, environment, commerce and the
provision of justice.
The Maldivian economy should be the main arena
for expressing people's creativity and
productivity. Individual enterprise will
become the engine of future prosperity',
with the state ensuring that the overall
economic policies are conducive to
growth. Economic growth must come
with equity, and all Maldivians must
have access to basic services for health,
education, housing and protection. For
the future, we must seek out
possibilities for our people to live in
Maldives and work in the global
economy. Meanwhile, tourism and
fisheries will continue as the backbone
of the economy for the foreseeable
future, and they should not be
disrupted e\Ten as we explore new
opportunities in the global
marketplace. As the two largest
industries, they must be developed to
enhance employment and people's income. We must
find ways to reinvest the returns from these sectors
within Maldives itself.
The education policy should be an instrument for
economic growth and national development. We
must revamp our education system to help develop
a highly educated citizenry capable of leading and
managing growth and development in an
increasingly global environment. We must attract the
small but highly educated Maldivian diaspora to
return, and invest their talent and resources in their
homeland. The country must be made a safe place
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 for our men and women, and all forms of
discrimination related to gender, origin or education
should be eliminated. Indeed, it is time that we
learned to treat our women with respect. Similarly,
those with Western education and others trained in
the Islamic tradition must see value in each other's
"Health for all" means availability of preventive
and curative care in every community of the atoll. A
healthy environment that minimises respiratory and
viral infections is necessary to reduce morbidity.
Childhood mortality is low in Maldives but physical
and mental growth is hampered due to poor
nutrition. Basic hospital care is a right of every citizen,
despite the relative isolation of some islands. Young
people must be supported to safeguard their mental
and physical health, and there must be nationwide
:ampaigns against substance use, drug trafficking.
There must be rehabilitation for drug users.
Most Maldivian communities do not have access
to clean drinking water and sanitation, and public-
policy must fulfill this lack, as well as that of
electricity. While it is true that availability of public
utilities is linked to population concentration, we
must be conscious of ecological sustainability when
we go about establishing population centers. Indeed,
the development model of Male - with associated
devastation of groundwater, vegetation and
shoreline - should not be the only one available to
the rest of the islands. The sea level rise projected in
the coming years will adversely affect our islands,
and so natural defences such as healthy reefs and
-horeline vegetation must be preserved even while
we seek technological reinforcements and counter-
measures are adopted.
The administration of justice in Maldives has been
extremely politicised. During the last 20, years there
have been several calls for the separation of judiciary
from the executive branch of the government. Some
have used Islam as an excuse to prevent such reform,
forgetting that the very essence of Islam is justice and
freedom. The head of state in a modem Islamic state
should not be the administrator of justice; instead he
should be the guarantor of an independent and
capable judicial system. We must strengthen the
capacities and independence of our judges, affiliated
staff, at the same time strengthening the legal
profession even as we improve the legal and
constitutional provisions that govern us all.
There is an unaeceptably high degree of
criminality in the country, much of it linked to the
drug culture. Male and Addu Atoll in particular have
become increasingly unsafe places to live because of
rising criminality. Community policing,
neighborhood-watch and closer relationship
between the communities and the police can
substantially reduce the crime rate. There is no doubt
that the police are well equipptxi, but they have to be
trained to use more people-friendly ways of dealing
with problems. The police of the Maldives must
channel its energv towards reducing criminality and
protecting the public rather than protecting the ruling
As we embark on a new chapter of constitutional
and political change, the people will inevitably have
to play a more active role, and everyone has
something to learn. We must grow out of our
propensity for the blame game. A minimum level of
trust and good faith is necessary for the government
and the opposition to function effectively. Like it or
not, our fates are interlinked with the future of peace
in Maldives. In the end, much will depend on how
the newly active political parties can work with each
other. It is my hope that those in government and
those in opposition can find common ground to work
together, based on mutual respect and goodwill. Let
us pray that we will have the wisdom and the
courage to be mutually compassionate, to be able to
put the people's interest ahead of personal interests.
There has been too much injustice and too much hurt
till now, and we must understand that a collision
course will benefit no one. Only a path of healing,
reconciliation and selflessness can lead to peace and
Conference on
mm 2006, lailwa-iifin
Himal is hosting a Roundtable Conference on Southasian
Publishing in Kathmandu tn April 2006. The two and a half-
day event will be attended by senior Southasian English
language publishers, educators, social scientists, policy
makers, journalists and representatives of international and
regional organisations with an interest in what Southasians
The event is being organised with the understanding that
Southasia's reading culture and publishing industry have
not expanded in consonance with the dramatic rise in
English language literacy in the region nor with the rapid
consumerisation of the market. The conference will take
place over two and a half days and will discuss themes as
diverse as the changing priorities of large publishing houses,
the paradox of expanding markets and declining print runs,
Southasian markets for Southasian writing in English, country
profiles of publishers and publics, the cross-border availability
of titles, and the organisational economics of large and small
For more information, write to:
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 I Analysis
by | Kanak Mani Dixit
Kahin aphnai bhumarima
Aphai pan/au ki...
"Have you got pulled into a vortex of your own
making?" asks the opening lines of a song by the
music maestro Amber Gurung. The words fit the
present-day context of Nepal perfectly, where a king
very new to the throne, with the arrogance that is the
hallmark of the impenetrable, is engaged in the
relentless pursuit of dismantling his dynasty. But
does he even know it?
The citizens at large did not want it this way.
In professionally conducted public opinion
surveys, they had stated their preference for a
constitutional monarchy. But the stock of the Shah
dynasty took a beating when King Gyanendra started
appointing prime ministers by himself in October
2002. The public's regard for the king plummeted
when on \ February, in a
military-backed coup, he
ripped apart the 1990
Constitution and became
'chairman' of the government,
a position it does not sanction.
The king had in essence
become prime minister, but
you would not know it - he
maintains the bearing of an '
aloof monarch even as the
economy slumps, public
services break down, and
development grinds to a halt.
Faith in tantric practice,
animal sacrifice, a willingness
to    have    army    brigadier
generals tie his shoelaces in public for provide Scotch
on their knees), all point to a royal attitude that is
pre-feudal and beyond the reach of logic. Extremely
engaging in conversation, but unwilling to take the
sage advice of those who have spent a lifetime in
statecraft in comparison to his own four years, King
Gyanendra has exasperated personages as diverse
as kev ambassadors in Kathmandu, the UN Human
Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, former US
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and the
Special Envoy of UN Secretary General, Lakhdar
Brahimi. Not to mention Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh.
King Gyanendra's  regime  has  become an
international pariah, though the country as a whole
will hopefully survive that fate. His global isolation
is so complete that he has had to cancel his
scheduled departure this week for New York to
attend the UN General Assembly and World
Summit. The reason: the unwillingness of world
leaders to give the king the time of day, let alone
appointments and photo-ops. The isolation within
the country is also nearly complete, with even
businessmen   who   sang
hosannahs   to  the   roval
takeover    preparing    to
abandon the sinking royal
yacht. There is no trust in
this   regime   among   the
beleaguered Nepali public,
and little hope that it will
deliver the desperate peace.
Meanwhile, the regime has
painted itself into a corner
so      tight      that      King
Gyanendra could not even
bring himself to issue a
cautious welcome to the
unilateral ceasefire
announced        by        the
Maobaadi on 3 September. That would have been
the way of a democratic leader.
Royal honorific
For someone who has dismissed prime ministers
for being 'asakshyam' (incapable), over seven months
Kin<i Gyanendra showed that he neither knows
O a
how to  lead  a  nation  nor run a  government
Sep-Oct 2005 j Himal Southasian
 administration. The political leaders, public targets
of royal scorn, now shine in comparison. The ship
of state today is adrift and the rudder shaft broken,
but the incumbent on the Serpent Throne seems
willing to man the helm just the same. Nepal is today
a skeletal frame of the already emaciated form that
the king grabbed seven months ago. If anything
more was required to weaken the state after the
Maobaadi were done with it, then King Gyanendra
has managed it.
Speaking of statecraft, the king's choice of
colleagues in his cabinet (including an ex-convict)
is so ludicrous it does not even deserve reference.
The recent appointment of a royalist opportunist to
the post of chief secretary of government over the
head of capable claimants splatters no one but the
chairman himself, Meanwhile, the gentleman the
palace is grooming to be commander-in-chief of the
army is given to writing right-wing polemic in
Kathmandu's English dailies under the nom-de-
plume Ajay P Nath'. The writings of Mr. 'Nath'
fairly efrip with loathing for the political parties and
human rights activists, among others, and have the
thoughtful among the army officers reeling in silent
despair as to what the future holds for their force.
How far the royal stock has fallen among the
public in just a few months can be observed in the
Nepali language mass media's abandonment of the
roval honorific and associated verbs and nouns.
Cartoons in the dailies and magazines lampoon the
ving, even as stand-up comedians ridicule him in
public as they would a politician. When the king,
on a barn-storming trip across western Nepal,
ordered that all regional headquarters of
government offices be moved to a particular place
within so many days, civil servants willing to be
quoted by name challenged the royal command. In
the end it is one man who has brought the Nepali
monarchy to such a pass, for wanting more power
than the constitutional provisions and propriety
allowed. As a result, he is about to lose it all.
This writer made the point some years ago that,
contrary to the claim of erstwhile Panchayat era
propaganda and assorted royalists, "Nepal is robust
enough a country to carry on without a king."
Kingship was not necessary as the much-
ballyhooed 'glue' for a diverse nation. On the other
hand, it would have been "monumental folly" to
get rid of an institution that provided Nepali citizens
with historical continuity like in no other Southasian
country, which could serve the public in the cultural,
development and tourism arena. That was written
at a time when there was still the hope that the
kingship would evolve constitutionally, in letter and
in spirit. But the incumbent king has showed himself
temperamentally unwilling to be constitutional,
ceremonial or rubber stamp, which is what he would
have to be if citizens were to allow him to hold the
And therein lies the rub. The king has made a
blunder and vet he carries on. The political parties
have been late in rising to the occasion to save the
hallowed middle ground, unable to come to the
rescue of democracy seven long months after the
royal takeover. As a result, the political ground has
shifted, and the discourse is now neatly divided
into three strands and three terms. Prajatantra is the
handed-down term for democracy, which King
Gyanendra prefers because he can define it to his
purpose, l.oktantra is the word for democracy
rapidly gaining currency, meaning a true people's
democracy with or without a king. And lastly,
ganatantra, a republic in which kingship is banished
forever. Ganatantra is all the rage in the Kathmandu
streets today, and the pathway is said to be through
a constituent assembly. This is also the demand of
the Maobaadi, except they say so with gun in hand.
This is the rock and a hard place between which
the people of Nepal find themselves today. The
king's personality indicates that he would be a
meddlesome canker even if shorn of all power in
his position. On the other hand, the Maobaadi
giving the siren call from the jungle are battle-
hardened believers in armed revolution, which the
people are not. An earthshaking people's movement
required to force King Gyanendra to backtrack and
for the political parties to take the initiative in
reviving the third parliament and in building
rapproachment with the rebels has not happened.
The initiative has therefore gone to the Maobaadi,
who announced their unilateral ceasefire on 3
September. A skeptical but hopeful people await
evidence that the rebel leadership has come to its
senses. "Do not trust them, but do test them," seems
to be the public's attitude. With King Gyanendra
haughtily looking the other way, there should be
no surprise that the political parties are talking to
the Maobaadi, Whether this tentative encounter
will make good will depend very much on whether
the rebels can convince the parties through action
on the ground that they are now, at long last, for
peace and open politics. If they can manage that,
this king will be on the outside, looking in.
While we wait, the surface is calm in Kathmandu.
The countryside is in shambles and the state
superstructure is rotten within. King Gyanendra's
scofflaw monarchy, crown and all, pushes the
country towards the abyss of anarchy. He got it
wrong, and now the initiative is largely gone from
his hands. Meanwhile, the tallest spire of the
Narayanhiti Royal Palace in downtown
Kathmandu suddenly sports a powerful strobe
light - or beacon perhaps - that goes blip-blip im
the darkness.
Himal Southasian    Sep-Oct 2005
 Cover Story
Between despair ani hope: iHIBi luyaDnO
by | Dilip Simeon
"The practice of violence, like all action, changes the
world, but the most probable change is a more violent
world." - Hannah Arendt
The words 'terror' (meaning intense fear and
dread), and 'terrorism' (the systematic employment
of violence and intimidation to coerce a government
or community into acceding to specific political
demands) are steeped in controversy. From the time
of the French Revolution, 'terrorism' has been used
to describe a range of violent political activism,
including certain forms of Russian populism; Italian,
Serbian and Irish nationalism; anarchism; and the
actions of the Ku Klux Klan. Nit^adays, 'terror' is
what the 'civilised world', led by the United States,
is combating. It is identified with Islamist fundamentalism, the Taliban, suicide bombers, Palestinian
resistance and Maoist revolutionaries. Even though
terrorism is quite clearly a form of political violence,
mainstream journalism today does not associate it with
aerial bombardment (although Hitler's use of the
Luftwaffe against the Spanish town of Guernica in
1936 was considered an act of terror), armed actions
by the American and Israeli defence and special forces
against their real oigperceived enemies, kidnapping,
collective punishijp^te)jiand encounter killings by the
apparatus of varipis SoiUhasian states.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 hi India, 'terrorism' is also not generally used to
describe the activities of the Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS,
the Ranvir Sena or the Shiv Sena, even though some
of their activities wTould qualify them as terrorists
within the dictionary meaning of the word. Yes, the
usage of 'terror' is heavily politicised.
Stark examples of these differentiated standards
of judgement confront us when we consider the
boundaries that religion shares with the world of
terror. Contemporary common sense does not
associate Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or
Hinduism with terror and terrorism. However,
Sinhalese Buddhist monks have been known to
participate in anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka. The
Zionist Stern Gang and lrgun indulged in 'communal
killings' of Palestinian villagers to enforce the
evacuation of territory. Irish nationalists and loyalists
alike (Catholics and Protestants) used terror for
decades as an integral part of their politics. And it is
the Hindu Tamil Tigers who began
the latest use of suicide bombers -
Rajiv Gandhi was killed by one in
1991. Let us not fool ourselves. Every
major religious tradition has
produced theological justifications
for murder and mass killing in the
name of sacred causes. And it is clea r
that terror is and has been employed
by states and anti-state activists
Historically, national liberation
movements and democratic
movements have often taken for
granted that violent means would be
necessary for the attainment of their
ends. The French Revolution of 1789 was the first
major instance of the marriage of terror with modem
democracy. "There is nothing which so much
resembles virtue as a great crime", said Robespierre's
comrade, St Just, one of the architects of the Reign of
Terror in 1794, Mid-nineteenth century Italian
nationalism was an inspiration for military style
patriotism in the early twentieth century, such as the
Serbian, Irish and Indian. Russian populism, which
later emerged as the Left Socialist Revolutionary
tendency, used terrorist methods in varying degrees,
as did Anarchists and Bolsheviks. Trotsky wrote a
lengthy pamphlet. Terrorism and Communism,
justifying such acts as hostage-taking as a means of
ensuring good behaviour by 'class enemies'.
Terrorism is the quintessentially ambivalent
political deed, the place where good and evil are
mixed to the point where its proponents need to
invoke God, or a secular metaphysic such as History
or Revolutionary Destiny, as justification.
Apparently transcendental dogma can transform
great crimes into virtuous deeds. In a situation where
terror has become normalised (virtually the entire
span of the past century), it is to be expected that
rational debate aimed at understanding political
crises become next to impossible. For example, in the
post-9/11 world, anyone putting forward a
historical analysis of the emergence of Islamist
fundamentalism against a background of Western
imperialist policies in West Asia, Arabia, Palestine,
Iran and Afghanistan, would draw suspicion in
establishment circles as an apologist for terrorists -
even if he or she vehemently denies such sentiments.
Someone who adduces the reparations imposed
upon Germany in 1918 as a factor contributing to
the rise of Nazism is not necessarily a sympathiser
of Hitler. In considering the history of Zionism, we
would have to remember that Christian anti-Semitism
provided fertile ground for Nazi ideology and the
genocide of European Jews, which in turn fuelled
the demand for a Jewish homeland. Such an analysis
would not imply an approval of Israeli expansionism
and oppression of Palestinians.
It is the historian's job to suggest
explanations of major events by
weighing context with cause,
structure popular moods and
ideological developments. In today's
world, however, history is rapidly
being replaced by propaganda.
Speaking about terrorism in 1998, the
late Eqbal Ahmad described the
official approach to it as one that
eschews causation and avoids
definition, because such concepts
involve "analysis, comprehension
and adherence to some norms of
consistency". He cited a query about
the causes of Palestinian terrorism, addressed by the
Yugoslavian foreign minister to US Secretary of State
George Shultz, twenty years ago. Shultz "went a bit
red in the face. He pounded the table and told the
visiting foreign minister, there is no connection with
any cause. Period." (The New York Times, 18 December
1985). Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee told the United
Nations General Assemblyr that all talk of 'root
causes' served only to justify terrorism. However, his
RSS soulmates routinely talk of 'root causes' when
they need to defend the demolition of the Babri
Mosque in 1992. Terrorism has a 'root cause' when
we identify with it, but becomes a monstrous violation
of human rights when we don't. Such ethical
contortions are as common in the ranks of left-wing
intellectuals as they are among religious
fundamentalists and the ultra-right.
The decline of conversation
The dynamic nature of social reality implies the need
for constant theoretical reflection. Without this, the
radical imagination loses itself in the dominant
discourses of capitalism, nationalism and identity.
Badshah Khan
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 This is what is happening today, even within the so-
called extreme left. Unfortunately this trend is
buttressed by the habit of denigrating critical thought
to a level inferior to so-called 'activism'. A further
complication is that nationalist ideology and
capitalist media have perverted the concept of truth.
In the first case, God or Truth (sometimes named
History) is always with Us. In the second case, truth
is substituted by credibility. This is demonstrated by
the phenomenon of advertising. The truth-content of
a message is of no importance, what matters is
whether it is credible or incredible. This is why the
concept of 'image' dominates modern political
vocabulary, despite the obvious distinction between
image' and 'reality'. The war of images goes on in
:he political realm as well, and affects the question
- terror. As they say, one man's terrorist is another's
■-eedom fighter. We owe it to ourselves and the
.aiming generations to pierce the imagery and arrive
at a well-considered understanding of terror and
-   "■'■ :?.\ violence.
The dogmatism surrounding political theorv in
India has reduced radical politics to a moribund
condition. The Leninist concept of "the outside" and
the Stalinist convention that "the party is always
right" imply an authoritarian notion of truth. The
comrades' habit of claiming possession of Absolute
Truth (Party Line = Param Satya) is similar to the
religious belief in divine revelation (ilhaam). Such
approaches to knowledge are shared bv
organisations as far apart as the Vatican (with its
notion of papal infallibility), the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh, the Taliban (and its variants),
and various Leninist groups and parties. This
attitude is an important causative factor for the
fractious nature of Southasian leftism. An absolutist
mentality finds ambivalence intolerable. Faced with
historical complexity, it finds refuge in black and
white ideas about the social universe. The resulting
theoretical vacuum has left questions such as the
value of democracy and the nature of violence to be
treated as 'tactical' matters rather than as aspects of
social relations. The political ideologies dominant
in our time attach a pragmatic or positive value to
violence and to the Nation. The word 'foreign' is too
easily used as a term of abuse. Many radical political
currents treat democracy as something to be used
rather than preserved. Where it is yet to be achieved,
its protagonists preach but do not practice
democracy within the movement - they believe
authoritarian methods can achieve democratic goals.
Such issues need to be addressed. Unfortunately,
it has become a habit among radical activists and
intellectuals to attribute base motives to those who
criticise established doctrine. Polemic is what passes
for debate and discussion in the Indian socialist
tradition, (polemos in Greek means strife). Our mode
of debate is often coloured by personal remarks,
sarcasm and pointless rhetoric. Indeed, there will be
moments when nasty verbal contests become
unavoidable, but the replacement of all political
conversation bv polemic is symptomatic of an
authoritarian attitude to ideas. Polemic reinforces
factionalism, causes useless distraction and is a
waste of time. It also signifies mental laziness. Instead
of a careful and rigorous consideration and/or
refutation of critical ideas, we prefer to dismiss them
with contempt. Firm adherence to dogma may be
psychological]v comfortable, but it can only ensure
political marginalisation.
The word 'terror' is used to distinguish between
forms of violence. In commonplace conversation, it
conveys the meaning of something other than war,
mass resistance, police action, and so on. Closer
attention will reveal that political terror is a
manifestation of militarism in the domain of civil
society - whether expressed by left or right-wing
terrorists. Actually the very norms by which we
define Left and Right need re-definition. Right-wing
neo-liberals often talk of the need for far-reaching
economic and political reform, whereas leftists seem
to be taking a conservative position. Multinational
corporations advocate a capitalist version of
internationalism, whereas leftists appear to have
become nationalists, paying lip-service to
international working-class solidarity. Rightists
fabricate history one wav, leftists do it another way.
Nobody can say whether the terms 'left' and 'right'
carry any definitional meaning for ethnic identity
movements - support for or opposition to Lankan
Tamil, Kurdish, Baloch, Kashmiri, Naga or Tibetan
self-determination depends upon political
convenience or pure whim rather than consistent
principle. When it comes to positions regarding war,
militarism, nuclearism, violence, patriarchy,
democratic freedoms, human rights or ecological
degradation, it is difficult to discern a systematic
difference between left and right. The Communist
Party of China has become (effectively) the Capitalist
Party of China. It supported Yahya Khan in 1971,
and even launched a war against Vietnam in 1979.
As Orwell once said, there is no enormity that wc
condemn in the conduct of our enemies that we
would not commit ourselves. Is there a way out of
this labyrinth? There is, but only if we embark once
more upon fearless critique,
Left-wing terrorists, including certain left-
nationalists and communists, display a self-
conscious attempt to convert social democratic
protest and struggle into a form of warfare ('social
democracy' is used here in its broadest and pristine
meaning, as the original name of the socialist
movement). The capitulation of Europe's major social
democratic parties to war hysteria and patriotism in
August 1914 was arguably the greatest political
disaster in the history of international socialism. It
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 is a complex and tragic tale, but the nature of
twentieth century communism was unalterably-
coloured by warfare and the warrior cult. In fact, the
century gone by has been the bloodiest period in the
life of humanity. One result has been the appearance
of Bonapartism, the domination of the communist
movement by men of military stature - warlords like
Stalin and Mao. Another was the erosion of any
respect for human life - mass slaughter came to be
accepted as the natural price to pay for 'victory'.
This mixture of socialism, nationalism and
militarism has produced many political hybrids.
Subhas Chandra Bose was one of them. In India
today, it is not a good idea to criticise Subhas, a
popular icon for many leftists, even though he allied
himself with Hitler's imperial war aims and
bemoaned the defeat of the Axis. Although it takes
off from a conservative standpoint, fascism, too, is
one of these hybrids - and religion-based
communalism is Southasia's brand of fascism. In
summary definition, communal politics are projects
for the militarisation of civil society. The ultra-left
programme of 'people's war' feeds upon the same
mentality. The utilitarian morality expressed by the
phrase "the end justifies the means" has cast its effect
on Left and Right alike. Quite apart from the matter
of political ethics, it is remarkable that the Maoist
world-view finds 'people's war' as relevant in India
as it does in Nepal, despite the obvious differences
in the constitutions of the two countries.
Among some comrades, it would appear that
strategies are decided upon first, and doctrinal
justifications invented later. It is also significant that,
on the whole, the ultra-left and the ultra-right avoid
confrontation with one another. Thus, in its
declaration of October 2004, the newly formed
Communist Party of India (Maoist) stated that armed
struggle would "remain the highest and main form
of struggle and the army the main form of
organisation of this revolution". The main purpose
of mass organisations would be "to serve the war".
The declaration makes a passing reference to "Hindu
fascist forces", but makes it clear that it would keep
"the edge of the people's struggles directed against
the new Congress rulers in Delhi along with the CPI/
CPM and their imperialist chieftains". On 15 August,
the CPI-Maoist (allegedly) carried out an armed
action in Andhra Pradesh, gunning down an MLA,
his son, driver, some local Congress activists and a
municipal employee. The ideology that can cast such
ordinary people for the role of "class enemies",
deserving extra-judicial execution, reflects a
mentality closer to fascism rather than socialism.
These 'revolutionaries' have not even publicly
challenged the mass murderers responsible for
pogroms in India during 1984 (Delhi) and 2002
(Gujarat), let alone call them to account. Yet they
constantly direct scornful polemic at all kinds of
moderate democratic politics. Apparently radical
rhetoric establishes one's commitment to the public
good; and proposing violent solutions provides proof
of one's admirable character.
A callous disregard for human life is apparent
among 'revolutionary' groups in Southasia. In
August 2004, 13 people were killed (including nine
children) and 20 injured due to a bomb planted by
the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) at an
Independence Day function in upper Assam. In June
2005, 40 or more bus passengers, mostly peasants
and working people, were killed in an ambush set
off by Maoists in the Chitwan district of Nepal. The
ULFA call themselves dMarxists, as do the Nepali
comrades. Marxist revolutionaries perceive
themselves as guardians of human rights, democracy
and justice. We need to ask them - what is the ground
for your claim to represent the poor? Who gave you
the authority to be judge and executioner and kill
people without even the pretence of a consensual
procedure to decide guilt and award punishment?
Why do you complain about extra-judicial killings
bv the state when you have no qualms about carrying
out such killings yourselves? Is there any human
rights body that the victims of your cruelty (or your
bloody 'mistakes') could approach for justice? Why
do you talk about the "murder of democracy" (this is
how the Indian Maoist party described the ban
imposed upon it after their 'action' on August 15)
when you have no respect for the lives of children
and poor people, let alone for democratic values and
With honourable exceptions, human rights
activists remain silent or defensive about atrocities
committed by proponents of revolution and self-
determination. This strengthens the impression
among the general public that 'preferred' victims
qualify as human beings, but if they happen to belong
to the wrong caste or religion or profession, or simply
be in the wrong place at the wrong time, their lives
are dispensable. Sensitive observers the world over
have rightly protested the atrocious principle of
'collateral damage' invoked by the Pentagon when
its soldiers and pilots kill people thev say were not
targeted. It is equally infuriating when successive
US presidents talk about 'American lives' as if Arabs
and Kwandans and Vietnamese belonged to an
insect species. But is it not apparent that
revolutionaries of various kinds function with their
own version of 'collateral damage'? And what of
situations where civilians are deliberately targeted?
World War II abolished the distinction between
combatants and civilians. We, who dreamt of a better
life for humanity, have descended to the point where
the deliberate slaughter of bystanders and bus
passengers bv 'our' side barely causes us to raise an
eyebrow. Even to point to this selective and self-
righteous morality causes intense irritation among
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 the ranks of the politically correct. For socialists to
'normalise' the commission of mass murder, is
nothing short of an ethical-political catastrophe. And
it lends a poignantly different meaning to Marx's
warning that the choice before humanity is either
socialism or barbarism.
Autumn of the Patriarchs
a^fter the overthrow of the doctrine of tlie Divine Right
of Kings and the rise of democratic politics, the
process of governing became impossible without
some degree of popular legitimation. That is why
even empires and dictators talk of freedom and the
will of the peoples. But these developments,
associated with modern capitalism, cannot occlude
the fact that the state is the institutionalised crystal
of centuries of warfare. At its core are the armies that
(in 19th century Europe), countered universal adult
suffrage with universal male conscription; and the
ideals of equality, reason and compassion with
hierarchy, faith and the glory of war. We may judge
for ourselves which set of values conquered the 20th
century. The Great War of 1914-18 ended with the
overthrow of four medieval autocracies. But
alongside the establishment of Weimar democracy,
the defeated German army of 1918 set in motion a
political process that culminated in the conquest of
the state by Nazism. It is the greatest historical irony
that it was democracy that enabled ex-corporal Hitler
to become Reich Chancellor, and that his actions led
not only to the overthrow of democracyr but to the
complete destruction of the German Army. Fifty-five
million people paid the ultimate price. Hitler's regime
was the historical acme of state terrorism - those who
use these words frequently ought to study it - and
the most glaring feature of the political mobilisation
that preceded it was the binary dynamic of fear and
Contrary to their self-understanding, the political
paramilitaries and revolutionary warriors of all kinds
are the loyal opposition of capitalist modernity. They
share its fascination and structural use of revenge,
martyrdom, heroism and patriarchal codes of
honour, that invariably imply mysogyny. Hence they
are the last refuge of patriarchy. Each of their 'heroic'
actions strengthen the state, as each side counters
war with more war, terror with counter-terror,
revolutionary militarism with statist militarism. The
link between state violence and the violence of left-
right radicalism has become seamless - each feeds
upon the other. This process is unfolding before our
eyes. With 9/11 and, indeed, with every act of
murderous resistance, hard won democratic rights
are further eroded, and the state gathers legitimacy
to impose draconian laws. With the growth of a
universal climate of fear, the bonds between
governments and the ordinary^ public are
strengthened, rather than dissipated. This takes
place, not on the basis of class interests, but on
account of the dreadful fear of tlie murder of innocent
people. What happens then is an unending spiral of
violence, driven by the lust for revenge and very
difficult to control. As Hannah Arendt said, all this
bloodshed wrill indeed change the world, probablyr
for the worse.
It is impossible to achieve democracy by
authoritarian means. A new dispensation may be
realised, by such methods, but it will carry with it
the whiff of tyranny. Those who survive such a
revolution will be a brutalised and damaged people.
Undoubtedly the Nepali establishment, an outdated
remnant of arrangements made between Nepali
feudal potentates and the British during the heyday
of imperialism, has managed to survive by
maintaining the sheer poverty and educational
backwardness of the population. Their decision to
impose customs duty on educational books is only
the latest example of their investment in ignorance.
The government has also been assisted by cynical
neighbours. The monarchy is not a 'pillar of stability',
as its Indian well-wishers like to portray it, but the
reverse. The Nepali state's brutal aversion to
democratic governance perpetuates instability. But
the sad state of affairs has been worsened by the
ruthless and destructive policies of the
revolutionaries (including the recruitment of children
and disruption of education); and the bankruptcy of
the moderate democratic opposition, who found it
impossible, especially during the troubled decade of
the 1990s, to construct a responsible united front.
Constant factional fighting and egotism are also
symptoms of authoritarianism.
The politics and practice of revolutionary^ terror
are detrimental to socialist ideals. They represent and
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 reproduce desperation, cynicism, organisational
autocracy and doctrinal dogma. As such, they
generate fear and paranoia in the ranks of the
revolutionary cadre themselves, as well as among
the very people they seek to liberate. Most persons
drawn towards terrorist politics are undoubtedly
sincere in their vision and aspiration for a humane
socio-economic order. But how easy it is to commit
atrocities for the sake of kindness! To interpret our
primeval lust for revenge as a source of
'modernisation', and 'progress'! Nearly 30 y^ears
ago, in 1976, this -writer had the privilege of
participating in a conversation (along with some
close friends), with tlie gTeat Marxist historian and
peace activist E P Thompson. It was the year of the
Emergencyr imposed by Indira Gandhi, a
development that had forced us to think seriously
about the value of democratic rights. He made the
acute observation that the use of the prefix
'bourgeois' before 'democracy' was the most self-
defeating practice of communists the world over.
Democracy, said Thompson, was a hard-won
institutional gain of the international labour
movement and in the Indian case, of the struggle for
Independence. Rather than dismiss it as 'bourgeois',
we ought to work for its preservation and extension
This article includes material extracted from the writer's earlier
publications including a lecture in Patna delivered in 2000, entitled
The End of History or the Beginning of Transformation?; the
seminar paper, The Brains of the Living: A Discussion on Political
Violence (Patna, April 2003); and the articles The Enemy System
(Hindustan Times, December 6, 2002); The Threads of Conscience
(Biblw, March-April 2002); and Out of the Shadow
(Communalism Combat, February 2003).
into social life - that was what was meant by social
Many of us in India have realised the truth of this
approach as wTe have traversed the difficult and
painful quarter-century from the 1980's till today -
a period that has seen the rampage of communalism
and the politics of mass murder. It is significant that
the Indian Left took a very long time to recognise the
fascist nature of communalism. Even today, the
relative weakness of our democracy is reflected in
the fact that no party dares place a resolution in
Parliament condoling the death of thousands of
victims of communal violence. Nonetheless, despite
its terrible flaws, certain democratic norms,
institutions and practices remain alive in the Indian
polity. Groups that support the politics of secession
or armed revolution still manage to openly
propagate their ideas. Would it be possible, say, for
a Tibetan version of the Hurriyat Conference to
function in China, before or after Mao's death? Or
for Baloch or Sindhi secessionists to advocate
separation from Pakistan, and conduct meetings
with a visiting Indian dignitary? How much
democratic freedom of expression and organisation
could political opponents expect under a People's
War regime?
An urgent political issue confronts those of us
who identify with the civil liberties movement of
the 1970's. The revolutionary movement of that time
aimed at the violent overthrow of the constitutional
polity, and the Indian ruling elite took refuge behind
the rule of law. A quarter of a century later,
significant sections of the radical left and its well-
wishers became staunch defenders of the democratic
rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution,
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 while the Indian establishment repeatedly showed
its discomfort with constitutional proprieties. In fact,
the most massive violations of law (witness the
carnages of 1984 and 2002), have been practiced by
establishment parties and politicians. This should
make leftists think about their attitude to democracy
- is it merely a tactic, or do democratic norms and
institutions deserve a deeper philosophical
The left could begin to rejuvenate itself if it gave up
its revelatory approach to truth, its dogmatic
approach to knowledge, its metaphysical attitude to
politics, and its addiction to the warrior cult-
society's oldest and most powerful preserve of
authoritarianism. The comrades should examine their
conscience and consider the social consequences of
children being denied an education and made
accustomed to bloodshed and cruelty, and of armed
groups and individuals functioning with the same
kind of impunity that the army and police display. A
mature course of action would be to agitate non-
viol entry for a programme of political and social
democracy and demilitarisation, and engage in
constructive work to better the lot of tlie people. This
would gain them wider credibility and respect than
they will ever get via armed struggle. It will also gain
them the gratitude of people whose lives are too full
of violence and uncertainty. A close friend took a
photograph of a slogan on the wall of a building in
the village of Ghandruk in central Nepal after an
armed clash between the army and the Maoists:
"Maobaadi + Shahi Sena suniyojit daman banda gara."
Addressing both the the Maoists and 'royal army',
the graffiti asks them to desist from bloodshed and
'deliberate suppression'. Whatever the support base
of the Nepali comrades, there are also those who are
tired and fearful of the bloodletting. Whatever the
romance of extremism may once have been, freedom
from fear has become a major political aspiration.
Terror is no longer a means to an end - it has become
an end in itself, autonomous of social and political
control. It is no longer merely a symptom but the
disease par excellence of capitalist modernity.
Socialists should remember that respect for life and
liberation from fear must be the foremost ideal and
goal of socialism. Or else they will make themselves
instruments of the system they claim to be combating.
The recruitment of women cadre and soldiers by
paramilitaries is hailed by some comrades as a symbol
of female 'empowerment'. Actually, this should be
characterised as yet another manifestation of the
oppression of women by entrenched patriarchy.
Would it not seem ridiculous to view child-soldiers
as liberated children? Warfare empowers neither men
nor women, it imprisons all of humanity in an
endless spiral. Since 1914, we have never had peace
- more than 200 million people were violently done
to death in the 20th century - and it is clear that
'modem civilisation' is structurally dependent upon
war. That it is now recruiting women and children
in the name of 'empowerment' is a travesty. The
struggle for the complete equality of the sexes
continues to be opposed bitterly by patriarchal
structures and politicians. (The fate of India's
Women's Reservation Bill is proof of this fact).
Subjugation by fear is a common experience for
women from all classes across the globe. Feminism
is hence (implicitly) a struggle against militarism and
The abolition of state terror and its twin brother
requires the collaboration of all groups and
movements working to end the grip of caste
oppression, patriarchy, racism and the exploitation
of labour. Wide-ranging campaigns are necessary
against all forms of oppressive institutions, including
militarist ones, in order to defang the enemy-
producing killing-machine that the 'West' has
become. But ambivalence about brutality as a means
of resistance must cease. Millions of Europeans and
Americans are opposed to war. The imperial system
can only be encouraged to implode, as did the USSR.
It cannot be destroyed by military means without
exacting a merciless price that no revolutionary could
wish on the common people. Terrorist attacks will
only increase fear and feed conservative ideologies,
which is tlie aim of the rulers.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Is it possible to combine a radical programme with
non-violence? Indeed it is. Undermining the British
Empire was the most radical programme in Southasia
in the first half of the last century. In a time that
identifies Pathans with religious fundamentalism,
we may yet learn something from the work of Khan
Abdul Gaffar Khan of the North West Frontier
Province, aka Badshah Khan and the Frontier
Gandhi, and the Khudai Khidmatgar {'servants of
god') movement of the 1930's, whose commitment to
non-violence was based on Pukhtunwali culture and
Islam. The Khudai Kliidmatgar's alliance with the
national movement as a whole, its popular
constructive projects and openness to non-Pathans
and non-Muslims alarmed the colonial rulers, who
subsidised the clergy to denounce its members
(popularly known as the Red Shirts), as Bolsheviks
and enemies of Islam, Confronting massacres, torture
and repression, the Khudai Khidmatgar emerged as
one of the staunchest Gandhian movements in the
history of Southasian nationalism.
The Frontier Gandhi instructed his followers:
"abstain from violence and do not defame your
nation, because the world will say how could such a
barbarous nation observe patience". Even as the
'civilising' Englishmen behaved like mad dogs, the
'volatile' Pathans were teaching their rulers a lesson
Environment & Wildlife Film Festival
Vatavaran 200$ invites
Environment and Wildlife films from Asian Film makers
For subtrtlsstortAiefegatt? forms ccyiracr
Centre for Media Studies.
Research House. Saket Community Centre, New Delhi TiO 01?. IrEdia
• PH: 9M1-24993597. 2<&Z22tA, 28864020 1 FAX; 91-11-25963282
email: vatdavar^ri^ ; y,'W/
in restraint. A Turkish scholar who visited the
Frontier in the 1930s suggested that the Pathans
had developed a new interpretation of force. In her
words, "non-violence is the only form of force which
can have a lasting effect on the life of society... And
this, coming from strong and fearless men, is worthy
of study". Badshah Khan was the last of those
Gandhian stalwarts who could walk across four
international boundaries in post-1947 Southasia
and be treated by tlie citizens of each country as one
of their own. His life work exemplified the
compassionate spirit that stayed alive during the
bleakest period of the twentieth century, proof that
the self-assertion of the oppressed need not always
be strident and narrow-minded. That he was an
Indian national leader even after he became a
Pakistani citizen ought to give chauvinists of all
colours some food for thought. Not for nothing was
it written of him, that "people brought him food and
sat him down in the shade of trees".
Let us also spare a thought for Chander Singh
Garhwali, a platoon commander in the Garhwal
Rifles, Hindu soldiers facing a Muslim crowd in
Peshawar in 1930. He was court-martialled for
refusing to order firing on his fellow-countrymen.
Somewhere, somehow, Chander Singh and his
troops too had been affected by the spirit of ahimsa.
Decades before, so had the ordinary Russian
soldiers who refused to shoot women
demonstrators on International Women's Day in St
Petersburg in 1917, thus heralding the overthrow of
Tsarism and the advent of the Russian Revolution.
Would it not be truly radical for the revolutionaries
to prevail over the soldiers and policemen via their
conscience rather than through fear? Did not Gandhi
speak profoundly when he said that what is
obtained by fear can be retained only as long as the
fear lasts? The radicalism of satyagraha consists in
this, that it (potentially) abolishes the distinction
between method and goal. 'Overcoming' ceases to
be a military concept and social democracy
transcends its hysterical tension over ends and
Today, when Southasia is engulfed in civil strife
and civil war, it is time to consider again whether
the pursuit of truth and non-violent resistance are
not the only radical social procedures left for the
survival of the biosphere. The movement must be
the germ of its goal. Social-democracy's associative
principles and active ethos must prefigure those of
the society it wishes to create. Ahimsa is not a tactic
but the ethos of respect for life. That which claims to
be new must stand on its own feet.
Speak the truth
Stop the killing
Sep-Oct 2Q05 | Himal Southasian
Fixing difference
Bow, in the end, all Asians in one British school end up as 'Waheed'.
by | Moyukh Chatterjee
All memories are like infatuations, placed in the past but
remembered in the future. I too remember, in order to
try to understand the present, the summer of 1994 in
Birmingham. I was in sixth grade at George Dixon Juniors
and Infants, a neighbourhood government school, a five-
minute hike from 45 Ridgeway Road, which was home.
Not keen to lead a solitary student life, my father had
brought his family over to live with him while he
completed his M Phil at Birmingham University. For that
one year, I tasted Britain's magic potion of
multiculturalism, the ideology of fixing difference - the
same potion that is now under severe scrutiny. The
London bombings and the questions they raise create
the opportunity for Britons to ask themselves the question
- "How does it feel to not be British in Britain?"
My school was a microcosm of the street on which I
lived, a multitude of colours packed into a single class:
hefty Sikh boys with anglicised Punjabi names like Gurdy;
the rude rich white boy Sam; the athletic and irreverent
black boys like Dwain, twice my height but impressed
with my high scores in English; and a tomboyish Indian
p,irl who played the violin and stood first in class. Yet
there was only one Paki - not even a stable word but a
sound, a phoneme so deeply coded it can't be inscribed.
To understand the slangish twang and the racist sneer
with which it's spat out, one must hear it.
It was the short boy with a perpetual cold, Waheed,
who represented what I dreaded most in my new school
- the position of being the eternal outsider. I never
understood what made him a Paki - his relative poverty
I shared, his grades weren't the lowest in class, he wasn't
the shortest in class, and even his vocabulary was
respectably rich in the choicest abuses. It was most
peculiar that even though half my class was Asian, the
Indians seemed most racist. The changes brought about
in me by this so-called 'multicultural atmosphere'
horrified me. As I was absorbed into the rhythm of my
school (after getting beaten up a few times and learning
the crucial expletives in circulation then) 1 picked up the
street accent and a mean streak that seemed to be the
natural instinct in all my classmates.
But this cycle of violence and racism did not end with
my tentative absorption into the class etbic. The
tremulous compromise I brokered with my own sense
of identity, which had transformed from 'difference' to
'mimicry', was unsettled with the arrival of another Indian
student who represented to me all that I had left behind
and unlearnt in the past year. The viciousness with which
we attacked her - the Asians leading from the front -
reveals to me, the inability of my teachers to impart to
us immigrant youngsters an understanding of the
historical production of the diversity of British identities.
Our location in this universe of fish-n-chips and the
Sunday paper would not reconcile with the 'bloody-
Pakis' we all were. And when we targeted any of us, we
hated our own selves. We were all Waheed.
The post-7/7 discourse on immigrants and their
relative failure to integrate with British mainstream
culture must recognise the importance of schools in
giving immigrants from culturally diverse backgrounds
a 'context' - a polyphonic multicultural story of
nationhood and inclusive nationalism - that goes beyond
surface markers of integration into the mainstream and
creates a sense of belonging. The future of identity in
multicultural contexts like Britain's needn't be restricted
to broad political decisions on models of integration or
initiating legislation against hate speech only, because
it is the smaller everyday aspects of racism that are the
most difficult to root out. We must ask ourselves: what
is the experience of being Pakistani in Bradford or
Birmingham? The second and third generation
immigrants are probably already asking themselves this
question. The more important issue, however, is whether
the debate will feed on the current Islamophobia and
restrict itself to Pakistanis or whether it will transcend
the sensational and the immediate to ask fundamental
questions about the relationship between immigrants
and native 'Britons' in specific contexts.
I have deliberately omitted from this discussion the
role of externa] factors such as foreign policy, and
avoided a critique of religious conservatism and
interpretation within immigrant population to let my
memories of Birmingham decide.the course of my
argument. However, it cannot be stressed enough that
the ramifications of the current debate and the terms of
its discourse - whether conducted as veiled xenophobia
or within an enlightened mode that emphasises the
pleasures of multiculturalism - will surely touch the
lives of all immigrants, regardless of geography
and ethnicity. In this regard, the debate has the power
to shape the experience of multiculturalism for everyone
in Britain. So instead of bemoaning the failure
of multiculturalism in making British citizens out of
non-British communities, maybe there was never enough
of it in circulation in the schools, on the streets
and in the playground - because it exiled its own
children, like Waheed. For what reasons, 1 have yet
to find out. •
Himal Southasian 1 Sep Oct 2005
o says
by | Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
The process of globalisation that has been
sweeping the world during the last two decades
has many facets, both obvious and otherwise.
Professional politicians and the mainstream media
have projected this process as an 'inevitable' step
forward in human history, and one without
alternative. A deeper look at the goings-on will,
however, make it clear that what is being sold as
'globalisation' in countries like India is in fact a very
truncated version of the advancements and changes
that are possible elsewhere in the -world. Whether
willingly or hesitantly, many in Southasia accept all
the social and cultural trends that the market and
media dump on us as part of this inevitable' step
'forward'. As the assumption has spread that this
form of globalisation offers humanity its only choice
to shape its future, a monoculture has swelled across
the developing world, with active support from the
market system. As an extension of the colonial and
feudal mindsets of the Indian middle and upper-
middle classes, this monoculture is accepted and
glorified as a package deal of development and
This 'modernisation' is identified with quick
middle-level prosperity - made possible by economic
liberalisation - through opportunities such as
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). It includes
accepting new urban consumption patterns, such as
the idea that eating junk food is proof of modern living.
A stroll through India's versions of Silicon Valley,
Bangalore's Brigade Road or Hyderabad's Banjara
Hills, will bring one close to the new consumption
trends of this BPO-based culture. Interestingly, in
essence this new monoculture is not that different from
the trends of the last several centuries. After all, the
new chrome-and-glass style continues to cater to the
age-old sari-gold-cosmetics fetish of the middle-class
woman. Meanwhile, thanks to the power of
advertising, men get engrossed in their technological
fetish for the newly marketed models of foreign
vehicles. The Southasian male's interest in these
automobiles veryr much resembles the interests of
zamindars under the East India Company - more than
200 years ago - in the latest gizmo from Europe. The
affluence of the zamindars, too, was based on BPOs.
The East India Company headquarters in London
outsourced the tax collecting responsibilities in parts
of India to the zamindars; the history of colonisation
in Southasia would also expose many other such
outsourcing processes.
The prosperity of the few that BPO-based
development allows is a mixed blessing at best, for it
comes at a cost to both the individual and the society
at large. At the individual level, it is long hours of
hard work that provide upwardlyr-mobile youths with
a salary far larger than the prevailing rates outside
the BPO system. At the social level, the monoculture
of globalisation transforms middle-class young adults
into an insulated minority of consumers whose
movements get conditioned by the media and market.
These young men and women are largely cutoff from
the 'other India', which is not sustained by Business
Process Outsourcing and where the functional law of
the land may not be the same as what is written in the
law books. While this is a contemporary process of
immense significance, social studyr and analysis of it
have unfortunately remained neglected, both in
Southasia and the larger developing world.
Entertainment supermarket
Probably by design, many significant aspects of the
industrialised world are missing from how the mass-
market media represents the new global culture to the
developing world. Indeed, one must remember Rajni
Kothari's caveat in Growing Amnesia that
"liberalisation should not be confused with liberty or
liberation". In the West, the basic values that shape
civil society are found in the governance at sub-
national and local levels. The judicial system does
retain a great deal of independence and is not
generally perceived by the common people to be linked
to political interests and governmental processes. The
citizens are deeply sensitive about the sanctity of
democratic governance and freedom of expression. In
a majority of cases, corruption gets both detected and
punished. The emerging monoculture of globalisation
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 in Southasia marches to the dictates of material
consumption; these spirits of creative enquiry,
empathy for representational politics, and
fearlessness against corruption are conspicuous by
their absence. These values too should have
transferred, had the process of globalisation been
truly empowering. Instead, the world of celluloid and
media have taken over almost the entire space for the
growth of mass culture.
When one comes right down to it, globalisation as
it is being peddled in our region seems to be fixated
on the production, marketing and consumption of a
variety of entertainment related products. Now, in
the supermarket of electronic entertainment, there is
something on offer around-the-clock: sports,
cartoons, looks into your future from astro-palmists,
wrestling by Occidental hunks, provocative fashion
show's by Western European 'beauties', and much,
much more. Even when one wants to idle away some
time by flicking on the television, the entertainment
supermarket will not leave you alone. It always has
something to sell, and the choice is deliriously wide.
At a far end of this variety is content supposedly
meant for adult entertainment - either implicit or
explicit porn products. In the era of globalisation, the
global entertainment market has found an enormous
potential in pornography; bared flesh remains the
syti£,\c mos\ hictstive sectot o<i ^tavie'i tommt^ttv
■Meanwhile, our media is busily projecting the
consumption of porn products as an essential
indicator of a developed culture. As culture
commentator Nikhat Kazmi writes in The Times of
India, it is "easy to understand why India is having a
porn revolution now. It is just catching up with the
world in its obsession with all things triple X. New
porn videos, new porn MtvIS clips and new porn
Internet films of Indian celebs should not be a cause
for alarm. Because even as India is doing it now, the
rest of the world has been there, done that years ago."
Thanks to such open support from the media, the
market share of porn products has grown by leaps
and bounds over the past few years. With the
evaporation of the stigma on being a consumer of
sleaze, the production and sale of this group of
products is growing exponentially. Technology has
helped tremendously by increasing access to such
products. Thanks to MMS, it is now available even
on the screen of one's mobile phone. The more open
segments of the media, like newspapers, are then used
to publish below-the-radar announcements for porn
products - by reporting sensational 'news items' on
the 'involvement' of well-known actors (or their look-
alikes) in the making of porn films and products. We
are then expected to accept trends allowing open
media references to porn products as another
'inevitable' aspect of globalisation.
Until recently, the porn industry which used the
most modern means of media had largely been based
in the industrialised countries. Says one report, "In
the US, porn is a legalised industry where the
backstrect sex shops and dirty old men in macs have
been replaced by hi-tech studios which churn out
almost 11,000 titles every year." In tune with this
rapidly spreading monoculture of globalisation in
India, the organisational framework for the
production, marketing and consumption of a variety
of porn products has changed. Today, we have gone
from small scale production to the present stage of
high-technology-based manufacture aimed at the
global market.
It is said that the size of the online porn industry is
at least USD 57 billion. As reported in The Times of
India, 12 percent of all websites are pornographic in
nature. The largest number of India's Internet porn
consumers is 12-17 years old - which makes sense,
for one can begin to access such material as soon as
one knows how to operate a computer mouse.
According to gender, 20 per cent of men and 13 per
cent of women who use a computer at work arc said
to be viewing pornography on the Net.
inevitability of it all
The attraction of Indian males (and doubtless some
females) towards voyeuristic escapades is
established whenever a hard-core porn film featuring
<. Mt-xWaW vfomm rawwd Lc\ty \who ^erobks tM
Indian cine star Mallika Sherawat) makes waves
through MMS in India. There is always a dramatic
increase in the service load when a particular MMS
clip involving celebrity look-alikes are placed on the
Net. While of course Western-sourced pornography-
has always been available in Southasia, it is the
volume of trade and the broader class spectrum
catered to today that is remarkable.
The porn industry is more or less a product of the
overall industrial economy, and modern information
technology has provided cheap and effective avenues
for its marketing and distribution. Whether we like it
or not, the size of the porn economy in India is
growing and we are becoming increasingly supine
in front of the porno society, even tin}1 tots are not
immune from the solicitations. There arc versions of
computer games where players can enter into
alleyways to pick up girls and have 'interactive' sex
with them by tapping at the keyboard.
The way things are going, India is bound not just
to remain a consumer of Western-produced
pornography - it is also well on its way to being a
major producer. Before long, porn products from India
will be competing in the international market for a
greater market share. With all the prurience attached
to glamour on the screen, the lure of money will attract
youth - even those who are not celebrity lookalikes -
to aspire to porn stardom. In a country (and region)
where trafficking in women continues to take place
on a massive scale, the next step is to use video and
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 technology to widen one's pornographic reach and
market. In the globalised economy, such trends will
get sanctified as 'business is business'. As with all
the cultural invasions of the past half-century - as
can be seen by the docility with which we have
accepted the arrival of hard porn on our computer
screens via the Internet - this evolution and
localisation of pornography will also be accepted as
Society's dangerous acceptance of whatever the
market dumps on it as being simply 'part of the
modernisation process' reflects our own deplorable
cultural standards. The cultures of human societies
have never evolved along such 'inevitable' predetermined paths in the past; the power of the media
today, however, does create the situation for such
'inevitability'. Though the history of pornography in
Southasia is not recorded, it surely was not widely
prevalent - and let us not confuse pornography with
the Kamasutra. In centuries of our literary history, there
is no reference to pornographic writing having been
available to the larger public.
The decline in the understanding of relationships
in the modern era has gradually degraded the role of
sex'. Over time, the vital natural urge has been denied
its due importance in open discourse, which has left
the young adult Indian of today lacking a mature
understanding of sexuality as an essential ingredient
of human life. In most educated and middle-class
families of India, the ceremony of marriage is taken as
a 'certificate' for having sex with one's married
partner. In these arranged nuptials - which happen
by the millions every month - the relationship of love
is ignored and allowed to grow only as the conjugal
life progresses, if at all. The importance of
relationships is thus marginalised, and sex is
accepted as being exclusively dependent on marriage.
It is this restrictive and secretive social approach to
sex that makes good customers of young people for
pornography - and which could in the wrong
circumstances lead to heinous forms of depravity.
This is seen in criminal distortions such as rape, whose
dramatically rising incidence throughout the country-
can be linked to circumstances in which on-screen
lasciviousness is coupled with repression in real life
- circumstances that have become an all too regular
A mature openness
Which brings us face-to-face with the challenge of
what to do! The cultural lethargy with which
Southasia as a whole has welcomed globalisation is
ironic, given the confident heritage to which we are
heirs. We need to make room for our own innovative
contributions to the shaping of globalisation - and
we need to be able to make it acceptable to others.
Indeed, many observers are feeling that whether it is
in Europe or japan or China or the Arab countries, in
black Africa or the Latin world, or in our own region
of Southasia, the gifts of the 'inevitable' globalisation
- as sold with the help of mass media's growing grip
on the public mind - are becoming unsustainable. In
spite of the awesome reach oi modern
communications technology, a decline of this process
is already visible. In the face of that deterioration,
however, the fear is that worried media conglomerates
will trigger off even more aggressive marketing of
entertainment - including porn products - as cultural
At a time when no-holds-barred pornography is
already available to the public across the class
spectrum, it is time for us to stop this headlong rush
into the market of sex and to make a controlled
descent. In its most unprocessed form, you can see
pornography's classless reach in the discreetly
curtained Internet cubicles in small towns all over
Southasia, where young men get a taste ot the raw
porn of their choice. We have not even begun to
recognise the chasm that such individuals are forced
to bridge in their young lives, and this is repeated
tens of millions of times across the Subcontinent
every day.
Some could say that the easy availability of
pornographv through the videotape, television
screen and computer is like a splash of cold water,
forcing society- to emerge from its lethargy and
confront our sexuality. This could be the experience
that forces us to revert to a mature openness with
regard to sexuality, romance and relationships,
which have been trivialized bv centuries of what maybe called 'Southasian middle-class morality'. Indeed,
this is a distinct possibility: human societies are
forward-looking by instinct and culture does not
evoke through a technological process. Just as the
BPO-sponsored affluence of the mechanised life is
increasingly failing to satisfy the creative urge of the
young people, society as a whole will seek a response
to the arrival of explicit pornographv in our midst.
This rapid spread of pornographv through new
media is not something of which we need necessarily
to be afraid. Continuation of our own cultural
lethargy, which makes this expansion so easy, is
what should be seen as the real problem. Advice to
the young to be 'good boys' and 'good girls' will not
provide the solution. The race for the collective
human imagination between the market-based media
and creativity-based cultural transformation is
becoming more and more intense everyday. This is
due primarily to the fact that social and economic
advancement cannot be separated from cultural
leadership and creativity. When we staTrt to look
around with self-confidence, the emptiness of the
emerging monoculture of globalisation in the
developing world - being filled by cricket today and
porn products tomorrow - can indeed be replaced
by a new social culture of a globalised world. ;-.
Sep-Oct 2005 |  Himal Southasian
 Special Reports
A Karachi-based
channel which
uplinks from
Dubai has taken
the Pakistani
market by
storm. Swen the
sense and
neif market:?
by / Sonya Fatah
The geography of GIO
Early morning on 30 January 2005, long before
dawn but after the daily newspapers had gone
to press, the building that houses the Jang
Group of Newspapers in Karachi was attacked by
30 armed gunmen on motorbikes. The building's
gatekeepers were beaten up and the first two floors
were ransacked. Eyewitnesses later reported that a
police van stationed at the street corner was filled
with armed policemen who did not stir. Later that
morning, a religious group claimed responsibility
for the act and explained its motive.
The previous evening, the Pakistani channel GEO
TV had aired a discussion on the ultra-sensitive topic
of incest on its Agony Aunt programme, Uljhan
Suljhan. Considering the subject, the channel had
moved the programme out of primetime and its host,
Hina Khwaja Biyat, had brought in a 'technical' panel
comprised of a doctor, a psychologist, a medical
researcher and a sociologist. A victim's letter was
read on the air. In it, she wrote that her brother had
sexually abused her for six years. Thrice, she had
tried to commit suicide but failed. What should she
do? The panelists pitched in with their advice, and
as tbe program came to a close, the doctor identified
a mutual dependency situation. The incest, the doctor
feared,   would   continue.   To   prevent   further
complications in a sensitive situation, she strongly
recommended the use of contraception. In one sweep,
the programme had dared to discuss two taboos -
incest and contraception - on a popular television
channel, in a society where social issues tend to be
dictated and defined by hard-line, self-proclaimed
theologians. Or, they are simply not discussed. By
2:30 am, GEO's offices had been stormed.
When GEO began its transmission in August 2002
as an Urdu television channel, it was not the first
independent broadcast to challenge the monopoly
of the government's Pakistan Television (PTV). Indus
Vision and ARY Digital were both launched in 2001,
after General Pervez Musharraf's government
declared it open season for private channels. By now,
more than 13 independent channels have flooded
the market - all of them reaching the Pakistani
viewership through cable and satellite networks and
accessing less than half of the population that state
television reaches. 39 more licenses are soon to be
issued, several of them for regional language
channels. Moreover, Indian broadcasts are back on
cable after having been banned shortly after the Kargil
war, providing serious competition to GEO's
generally average entertainment programs.
Meanwhile, draconian press laws continue to
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 GEO's logo
Arabic scri
Met live'
infringe upon media's freedom, impacting the
credibility of television news. The rising tide of
fundamentalism in the country and the growing
political role of Islamists mean even greater media
And yet, amidst the competition and adversity,
GEO's ratings have never stopped in their skyward
climb, reflecting the channel's popularity both at
home and among the North American and UK
immigrant communities. What's the buzz about?
GEO's mission and vision aside, several factors
have influenced its success. The channel started
broadcasting when fast-moving local events were
shifting the public's interest away from
foreign television stations. The private
Indian channels, which had been the
Pakistani public's choice of
entertainment, had been banned, even
though recorded copies of popular
shows like Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu
Thi were readily available in music
stores. (Even today, Indian news
channels like NDTV and
Doordharshan are not aired in
Pakistan.) It was around this time that
Pakistani advertisers began to look at
television as a viable medium. For its
part, GEO played smart by seeking to
reach the mass market by being a
decidedly Urdu channel; its star offering was a
smartly produced news-on-the-hour format that
provided local, national and international news
quickly and relatively uncensored. It did not take
long for cable and satellite viewers to migrate from
the staid state-owned PTV to GEO.
Even with its success, GEO's spread remains
stifled byr access issues. Only 35 percent of Pakistan
is covered by cable and satellite, and the independent
television channels are not allowed terrestrial (land-
based) broadcasting. According to a Gallup Media
report, the 'penetration' of the private channels in
cities is estimated at 28 million, or 72 percent of the
urban television audience. Outside of the cities,
satellite television's reach is barely 27 percent,
essentially allowing for a rural PTV monopoly.
"Because GEO, INDUS, AAJ and others can only
access about 30 percent of the population, they do
not have the same target audience as PTV," says
Adnan Rehmat, director of Internews, a non-profit
outfit that supports open media. But GEO does not
seem particularly concerned at the moment,
concentrating instead on building its base and
credibility while hoping for the day -when the larger
market will beckon. It is focused for now on the
purchasing power of its urban audience, hoping to
cash in on the countryside another day. In the
meantime, GEO's executives know that they have
built an unrivalled reputation for delivering the latest
news with smart presentation before anyone else. "I
think the government misjudged the power of the
cable revolution," says one GEO executive. "Satellite
is not a revolution, but cable is."
Any random sampling will showr that GEO's
strength lies in its news more than anything else. "I
watch GEO everyday. Whenever anything happens,
their reporters are on the scene right awTay," says
Narayan Lai, 40, a driver by profession in Karachi.
Rehmat, the media analyst, agrees: "There is no
comparison between GEO and its competitors. A
large part of GEO is news- and information-based,
and they have an edge because they get news faster
using the great infrastructure of Jang
and The News". GEO benefits from
being housed in the same office block
as these popular English and Urdu
sister dailies. The fang is the most
widely read newspaper in Pakistan.
GEO's current 24-hour broadcast is
a mixture of news, entertainment and
infotainment.   Uljhan  Suljhan,  the
program     that     offended     some
conservatives in the country, is part of
the infotainment segment. Even while
the news programmes give the channel
s stylised       its doud and crec|jbility, GEO says the
pt reading       ....... , ,        ,. J. -. J
in Urdu infotainment broadcasts are its mam
income generators. GEO's success is
evident from its revenue charts, where the takings
have gone from a mere PKR 20 million by the final
quarter of 2002 to PKR 936 million in 2004. By
comparison, ARY Digital's 2004 earnings were PKR
456 million, and Indus Television's were PKR 115
Thinking in Urdu
The Jang Group is a media empire spanning three
generations started by Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman (fondly
known as MKR) with the Urdu daily Jang in Delhi in
the early 1940s. At GEO's helm sits Mir Ibrahim
Rahman, the grandson of the magnate. Mir was busy
as a Goldman Sachs investment banker in New York
before he returned to Karachi in 2001 to assist in the
planning and launching of GEO. While the dream of
a television channel was born during his
grandfather's time, it was Mir's father, Shakil-ur-
Rahman, who pursued it relentlessly with the
Pakistani government. Mir swears that there is
minimal linkage between GEO and the Group's
publications, but even he admits in New York tech-
speak that there is "a kind of perception synergy".
Jang's offices are housed in a dull, unimpressive
grey building on the city's financial thoroughfare,
Chundrigar Road. The entrance is on a side road
crammed with motorbikes, double-parked cars, and
street vendors. Two slim elevators make their ways
slowly up and down the building. But GEO TV's
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 GEO in India?
:;-:; "■■"'■«**'Z"o T
Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman of GEO has said that his
vision for his channel is not restricted to Pakistan,
and that "Southasia is GEO's canvas". The
tantalising goal, of course, is to reach the vast Indian
viewership and take a bite out of that humongous
advertising pie. There should not be
insurmountable hurdles for an independent
Pakistani channel to beam down on India, just as
the reverse is the case. Tn the past, one major problem
with reaching an Indian audience has been that
Pakistani channels have been limited to the
government's PTV. Additionally, cable operators
in India have been reluctant to present Pakistani
channels on their menus - a legacy of the heightened
tensions of the recent past, including the Kargil War
of 1999. However, if Pakistani television developed
good entertainment programmes, such as ones
based on the muclvappreciated docudramas of the
past; the development of a cross-border market
would be a certainty. For one thing, the Urdu
language would carry across the India as well.
In fact, GEO has made some such gestures by
bringing Indian celebrities onto its sets in Dubai.
Says Adnan Rehmat of Internews, "GEO has
funded serials that have Indian actors in them, and
they've shown Indian movie and music shows as
well." Indian stars are regularly interviewed on the
talk show Take Owe, hosted by Falchr-e-Alam, the
actor, singer and now television anchor. Saif Ali
Khan, Manisha Koriala and Nana Patekar are some
of the Bombay celebrities that have also made
appearances. While these Indian stars are presented
due to their strong following in Pakistan, the day
may not be far off when GEO or another Pakistani
channel makes the breakthrough into India itself
with good entertainment.
"We haven't entered the Indian market yet," says
Aslam, who admits that India is in the cards. "We're
waiting for the right time." Indeed, the channel is
yet to launch officially in India, though those with
dish antennae can already access the network's
programming from anywhere under its satellite
footprint. Some Pakistani media-watchers believe
that GEO could give the Indian satellite channels a
run for their money if it spruced up its
entertainment programming.
two-floor head offices which are reached by two slim
elevators are posh. State-of-the-art equipment is
everywhere, with latest computer programmes. But
the office layout is super-egalitarian: gone are the
lavish offices that were guaranteed to senior execs -
Mir and Aslam's offices are compact, surrounded by
clear glass walls. Access is easy.
Launching the television operation wasn't easy,
due to the original decision to start big. GEO had to
raise the financial capital for equipment, technology,
personnel and training - and they went all the way.
Mir hints that the capital came from a mix of
resources - "personal, family and third-party". Then,
three years ago they brought in BBC specialists to
train a pool of 200 soon-to-be reporters, producers
and technical staff; the programme lasted four
Imran Aslam
months and cost USD 1.5 million. "I personally
interviewed 6,000 people," laughs Imran Aslam,
GEO's president, who has played a key role in
devising the channel's programming strategy. "It was
the largest manhunt and womanhunt in the country.
We were looking for real balance. At the end of the
training, we had a picnic for the graduates out by the
beach. We'd hired buses from Avari Towers," recalls
Aslam, referring to a fancy Karachi hotel near the
city's elite neighborhoods of Defense and Clifton.
"When we returned to Avari in the evening, there
were hardly four people left. Everyone else had been
dropped off along the way. That's when yve knew
we were on board." What GEO wanted was diversity
of reporters and producers - people who could tell
the country's many untold stories from a non-elitist
point-of-view. Having dropped off the majority of
the handpicked team before the bus neared the city's
elite enclaves, Aslam felt optimistic that they had
accomplished that goal.
Fair representation has been key to GEO's success
and it was ultra-important to GEO's mission as it
got started. All along, it was to be an Urdu-language
channel. Remembers Mir, "Even wdien we hired
people, one question we asked was, 'Do you think in
Urdu?'" He adds, "At one period, we became almost
fascist about our local ideology and didn't hire
anyone from Clifton or Defense for one and a half
years." GEO's head office is filled with people of all
persuasions, he says. "We have liberals, we have
conservatives, we have socialists, we have old people
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 and young people, people from north Karachi and
south Karachi. The list goes on."
That diversity is meant to achieve 'balance', as
far as possible, in order to reflect the national society,
and to provide news, entertainment and
infotainment that are relevant to the broad-based
Pakistani viewership. But even when all the
equipment was purchased and the training was
completed, the real hurdle was transmitting
newscasts without government intervention. GEO
followed ARY Digital's route and setup studio
headquarters in Dubai. Seven of its anchors are
stationed there, along with a staff of 40 people.
Operating out of Dubai's Media City, GEO manages
to avoid the complicated and messy business of the
Pakistani government's telecast regulations.
"Except for business and sports, all of our anchors
are sitting in Dubai," explains Aslam, who was
intimately involved with planning GEO long before
it went on air. The lanky, wiry, chainsmoking former editor of Jang's English
daily, The News, is well known in
Pakistan for his special brand of
theatrical political satire that targets
everyone, including the General.
Aslam says that Dubai has some
obvious advantages. Studio facilities
are better, and there is spiffier
technology and a sharper technical
staff. But the drawback is that all live
transmissions have to be aired via
Dubai. This means that rather than
broadcasting live images, CEO's news
has to substitute a still photograph of
the concerned reporter and an audio recording. The
only other option is to get specific permission from
the government each time - permission that the
government is not always willing to give.
It helps that Ehibai's Media City is the allegedly
pro-Western Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al
Maktoum's pet project, says Mir. Back home, the field
has been opened up, but remains under the wary
gaze of eagle-eyed authorities in Islamabad.
PEMBRA and the public
GEO and other channels are taking advantage of the
possibilities offered by the Dubai satellite uplink, but
it is not by choice. Even without uplinking from
national territory - which is not allowed - there are
enough challenges created by the state for any
information media, including television. Take, for
instance, the October 2002 Freedom of Information
•Act, which provided journalists with the largely
unfettered freedom to report outside the sphere of
national security matters. By 31 August the following
year, three draconian press laws had been passed to
undermine the Act. One of these is a loosely worded
defamation law, which is deliberately fuzzy on what
the government thinks qualifies as 'defamation'. In
some places, the definition refers to material that
would offend "friendly countries", while elsewhere
there is reference to "decency" and other similarly
hazy notions. "That's the standard position in
Pakistan - be vague," notes Internews' Adnan
Rehmat dryly.
Lately, a public brouhaha has arisen regarding
proposed amendments to the defamation law.
Punishment would be made more sev-ere; fines would
increase; and authorities could more easily invoke
the law and slap journalists with penalties. The
changes have been approved by the Pakistan
Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PF.MBRA) -
established in January 2002 to license privately
owned radio and television channels - and are soon
to be promulgated into law. "Tlie implications of all
this is severe for electronic media," warns Rehmat.
"It means seizure of equipment at any point."
The government has recently
banned several publications, accusing
them of inciting hate. Perhaps because
of the hubbub this would created, none
of the broadcast channels have been
either closed down or severely
threatened, but the channels do receive
strings of official objections to content.
The bigger danger, of course, is the
culture of self-censorship that the
government's attitude has developed.
Television channels require heavy
investment, and this builds timidity-
due to fear of repercussions. "We all
have it," admits Mir, referring to self-
But GEO does try to fight its own demons, and
does it quite successfullyr. Take, for example. Hum
Sab Umeed Say Hain, a humour programme that
caricatures political personalities, social bigwigs
and other influential people. That show has not
shied away from tackling a Who's Who of Pakistan's
present setup. Even an imitation of Gen. Pervez
Musharraf made an appearance on a live telecast,
wagging his finger and assuring the nation how
much taraai (progress) Pakistan has made. Recently,
GEO asked its viewers, 'Is Pakistan ready for this
kind of political satire?' The response, hardly cross-
spectrum but still indicative, was a 92 percent vote
in the affirmative.
GEO is also known for innovative programmes
that maintain viewer interest week after week, even
without the standard tearjerker melodrama format.
Take the 13-episode reality show called George ka
Pakistan, which followed a burly Englishman
navigating his way through the country with the
objective of obtaining authentic Pakistan credibility.
In the final episode, it was Prime Minister Shaukat
Aziz who welcomed George into the "Pakistani
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 George and the prime minister in the
last episode of 'George ka Pakistan'
brotherhood", but not before the audience
overwhelmingly voted positively for him.
But there is also much concern relating to the
Islamist influence across parts of Pakistan. When it
came to airing the discussion programme on incest
on 29 January, both fvlir and Aslam say forthrightly
that they did everything possible to publicise the
importance of the topic as a burning social issue.
"By the way," adds Mir, "a recent World Health
Organization report states that 12 percent of
Pakistani children are abused." The decision was
taken to air the programme - albeit outside the
regular primetime slot at 9:30 pm - after enough letters
had come in from around the country identifying
incest as a significant issue. Despite the attack that
followed, GEO's managers claim they are not
deterred. It was not the first time they had aired shows
on socially sensitive - and even volatile - subjects,
including homosexuality. They plan to take it all in
Given such an editorial outlook, one may wonder
why there have not been more physical attacks on
the channel from ultra-conservative elements. One
reason may be the unique philosophy that GEO
developed to address the needs of the Tslamist
segment of its viewership. The mullahs have a point
of view, says GEO, and that means giving the clerics
a fair share of on-air time. And indeed, the mullahs
do come. A show on GEO that is watched regularly
is Aalim Online (the term translates as 'scholars'),
Whose host, Aamer Liaquat, a member of the National
Assembly and a renowned national debater,
facilitates discussions on Quranic scriptures
between a Sunni and a Shia scholar. This is a unique
programme making full use of the possibilities
offered by an electronic mass media to reach across
sectarian divides, particularly^ in a country where
Sunni-Shia differences have led a surfeit of violence
over the years. Parsi, Christian, and Hindu priests
have also been on the show.
Much of GEO's success can be attributed to its
somewhat paradoxical vision. Like any commercial
media enterprise, it caters to audience demand; yet
somehow, it also manages to challenge, and
sometimes rattle, its audience as well. The channel's
engineers like Aslam have always encouraged
critical thinking, and in some ways - despite the hard
talk of its military government - Pakistan's broadcast
media does not seem any less open than the so-called
free media in the United States.
Every now and then, having aired a sensitive
discussion or reported controversial news, GEO
anticipates a coded phone call or a veiled threat. The
movers and shakers at GEO, however, seem more
than willing to ride out the storm. A general view in
media circles here is that there is freedom of speech
under the present dispensation in Islamabad, and
there is enough flexibility in society to bring important
issues to the fore, including onto the television
screen. The real larger question is whether there is
freedom after speech. GEO's prime visionary, Mir
says the channel owes a great deal to Gen. Musharraf,
who he deems a man of progressive bent. That is not
to say, certainly, that there aren't remaining
challenges. "In my grandfather's days, Jang printed
blank columns to make their point against state
censorship. The Generals would be sitting inside our
offices. All that has changed. It's like chalk and cheese
between then and now." 7
5th KaraFilm Festival
December 1st»11th, 2005
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Special report
by | Fareeha Zaman
For over 25 years now there has been a frantic
murmur that ripples through the crowd the
moment the fate of film and cinema is mentioned.
An announcement, an assertion, a warning that the
Great Digital Revolution is coming. It is coming, they
say, as if referring to a threatening storm on the
horizon and urging the crew to batten the hatches
and take shelter below. And so the world of cinema
marches on, as we wait in the near-darkness of its
flickering glow for something dramatic to happen,
straining our ears for signs of the coming deluge and
hearing only the gentle click of celluloid streaming
from one reel to another on sturdy old projectors. Or
- could that be the distinctive hiss of a running VCR?
Is that low hum the sound of a video camera being
operated, perhaps part of a closed circuit television
system discreetly displayed at a public venue near
you? The almost inaudible whirr of a DVD spinning
in its player, being shown in the theater via an
electronic projector?
Wake up, comrades, because the storm is upon
us, and the evidence will be on display at this year's
Film South Asia documentary festival in Kathmandu,
whose theme presciently centres on the digital
revolution. Well, it is not upon us so much as within
and amongst us, a revolution that may not have lived
up to the emphatic warnings in the sense that it is
not blowing into town with bells and wmistles, nor
accompanied by thunder and lightning. That
particular era in the ey^olving status of digital cinema
- a time when the world w^as overcome with a single-
minded wonder of the medium, a time of self-
conscious video art that usually featured video itself
as the main attraction - has actually already come
and gone. The true revolution has not.
Even in those early stages filmmakers and budding
artists were able to move beyond basic video
fascination relatively quickly, making 'home videos'
and other records of daily life that showed an
appreciation for the ramifications of digital film
technology in terms of its convenience and
affordability, and setting the stage for current
conditions. For, over time, the use of digital
equipment became so ubiquitous that it no longer
even seemed necessary to reference or acknowledge
the medium while working with it, and that is when
a major shift occurred, albeit a subtle one.
The qualities of digital that had instigated the first
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 wave of change in the cinematic world and somewhat
rightly earned it a reputation as the technology of
the people, a leveller in the art of filmmaking and the
non-filmmaker's relationship with the camera, led it
into a state of complete integration into our society.
We recognise the presence of video-cameras, are
aware of the digital editing process, and identify
special effects or animation created artificially by
computers, but remain largely untroubled by them.
Our familiarity with the wonder that was digital film
technology has caused it to become an unconsciously
accepted presence in the world - even outside
filmmaking - and that, really, is radical, and has in
rum allowed artists to use the medium with much
more freedom, savvy, and flexibility.
Today, the revolution in digital is not the mere
presence of the technology and all its trappings, but
the fact that this presence is comfortably accepted,
even ignored; that something so mechanical can be
considered an organic part of modern day life. On a
wider level, this technology has become a part of our
subconscious map of the world, an understated
component of modern architecture and an extension
of human limbs and senses.
Intimate portraits
During that old misdirected wait to be overtaken by
an army of digital technology in the 20 some odd
years after its initial explosion, it has executed this
silent but deadly invasion. Staring off in the other
direction, anticipating and imagining the lives of the
proverbial children of the revolution, we have been
reborn as just that. In response to this change, Film
South Asia (FSA), the biennial Kathmandu film
festival that screens documentary films connected to
the region of Southasia, has named the theme for the
vear "Revolution in Digital - Go Documentary!" In
many ways this was an especially appropriate year
for the pairing, as FSA (organised by the non-profit
Himal Association, with some help from the
magazine you hold in your hand) is going through a
few changes of its own, and may be in a prime
position to appreciate the process of a slow
One of the most dramatic changes, appropriately
enough, is fact that the festival is internally
witnessing an ever-increasing number of entries shot
and submitted on digital media of some kind. DV
CAM, DVC PRO, Mini DV, DVD, and a variety of
others that all add up to the same thing; a film culture
permanently imbibed with digital technology. Other
changes include the venue upgrade from the smaller
theatre of the Russian Cultural Center to the much
larger holding capacity of the commercial duplex,
Kumari Cinema, and the extension ofthe festival by
two days .with the addition of a supplementary
section to take place after the main competition.
Entitled 'The Barrel of the Gun', the purpose of this
section is to reflect and address tumultuous times in
Southasia through the screening of a small selection
of films, both features and documentaries, that deal
with conflict, resolution, and rehabilitation in a
variety of areas around the world where the people
are (or have been) targeted by the gun, whether on
the hands of rebels or the state.
The theme of this year's festival, FSA '05, also
seems an apt one considering the ways in which the
digital medium is and has been particularly well-
suited to the documentary form. As alluded to earlier,
the two have had a longstanding relationship
stemming from some of the earliest days of video.
Some of the continued preference for digital on the
part of documentary filmmakers is based on
characteristics of the medium that were apparent
since its inception.
Its legendary affordability made more frequent
filming possible, really catering to the need for many
documentary filmmakers to shoot large quantities of
footage in order to capture spontaneous moments
that were the life of their unscripted work, as opposed
to costly film which often forced those who employed
it to carefully plan and limit their shooting schedules.
The relative portability and unfussy handling assists
in allowing filmmakers to shoot unplanned because
Shai Khabsr (Good Ne.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 the equipment can be set in motion quickly and they
are able to focus on their subjects without being
distracted by the gear. Digital editing is likewise a
quicker, cheaper option than celluloid splicing, and
it allows relatively simple special effects such as
vndeo loops, speed changes and colour correction to
be easily added without drawing too much attention
to itself and distracting from the subject matter. These
things have always been true and have become ever
more so as advancements in the form of smaller,
lighter cameras and more advanced, and user-friendlyr
editing programmes are developed, and filmmakers
adopt them with a greater sense of refinement, with
one eye on the bigger picture.
Part of the documentary's alliance with digital
technology, however, lies in the implications of the
more recent incarnation of the digital revolution. As
a result of our relative comfort, as a society, with
digital media, it seems filmmakers can now turn their
cameras on human subjects with" less worries of
intrusion or exploitation. Tn Dhaka independent
filmmaker Yasmine Kabir's 'A Certain Liberation',
one of the films that will be screened by FSA this
year, the central character profiled in the movie, a
woman who has lost her entire family in the
Liberation War and now independently wanders her
town in a kind of functioning madness, appears to
interact with the camera with surprising ease. In the
small rural town in which the film is shot, manyr of
her townsmen seem quite comfortable during
interviews or as the camera follows them going about
their daily business. When speaking to the camera,
the subject seems to disregard it as a piece of
machinery used for recording, and instead speaks
directly to the woman behind it. In doing so she
allows the audience to witness some of her most frank
confessions and passionate emotional outbursts, and
her lack of self-consciousness regarding the media
allows filmmaker Kabir to paint a truly intimate
As a greater portion of the world gradually joins
those who are already intimately familiar with
digital, as it experiences being filmed or itself films
with a video camera, and as it discovers the
voyeuristically gruesome pleasures of reality
television, even more people will be able to interact
with its technology without alarm or even extended
acknowledgement. In an age where the rapid spread
of technology has made constant surveillance and
its subsequent broadcast to millions of viewers a
well-accepted form of popular entertainment, the
concept of being 'on camera' no longer triggers
instant self-consciousness, as obvious from television
programmes where common folk are asked to
respond to the roving camera. This is leading to more
natural results and therefore adding value to
documentary cinema.
Interestinglyr, the revolution seems to spawn
filmmakers who use the more natural attitude
towards the presence of digital technology to turn
not just their fellow human beings into successful
documentary subjects, but themselves as well. Even
those who are making films about others, groups or
environments foreign to them, or for tlie purpose of
tryting to raise awareness regarding various
social issues seem to note their own presence or
their personal experiences while filming.
Not for them the traditional approach - still
employed quite successfully by some - in which
the documentary-maker remains scrupulously
outside the frame. Even when tackling a
decidedly external issue, they still recognise that they,
too, are experiencing the depicted events for the first
time, and connect these feelings to the larger
framework of the film.
In Biju Toppo's 'Kora Rajee', the filmmaker seeks
to call attention to the long-suffering Adivasi tea
plantation labourers of Jharkand working in India's
Northeast. Simultaneously, the camera captures
Toppo uncovering his own ancestral and familial
relationships with the community. In 'My Brother,
My Enemy', co-directors Masood Khan from Pakistan
and Kamaljeet Negi from India explore the wider
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 issue of tense Indian-Pakistani political relations by
visiting one another's countries for the first time and
experiencing what it is like to by surrounded by the
so-called enemy, thus examining the global via the
personal. Perhaps filmmakers like these believe in
the idea that simply by sharing the environment with
the person or location that they are shooting, they
have had a valid intellectual participation with the
subject and even altered it, and so want to include
that in their film in the name of depth and honesty'.
This particular trend in documentary filmmaking
also arises from an increased comfort with the
technology, this time on the part of the filmmaker
rather than on the part of the intended subject. If
filmmakers see the camera in their hands not as a
foreign object or mere recording device, but as an
extension of their eyes, the machine becomes
inextricably associated with their own
consciousness. The technology is the external
method of capturing their inner vision, thus they
come to see the camera, however inanimate, as
absorbing the workings of their mind. When
filmmakers become this aware of their thoughts
shaping the otherwise neutral process of video-
recording, it is natural that theyr choose to include
this content in the finished product, as on some level
that content is there already.
This view of digital technology also makes its use
open to a greater number of people outside of the
'filmmaking' industry, as the camera can be
perceived as a personal rather than solely
professional tool. The introduction of such people to
the world of documentary film may be part of what
is helping to break down old conventions such as
the filmmaker's necessary absence from the action.
The assimilation of digital machinery into modern
life affects filmmaking, especially documentary
filmmaking, not only through changes in the
technology itself, but also through the creative
products that come of tlie fusion between the evolving
technology and the subtler phenomenon of an
evolving attitude towards it. Something we have been
seeing again and again in this year's submissions to
FSA are films that have reached a peak in terms of
the medium sublimating into tlie subject matter. This
is something that would have been impossible before
the modern digital revolution, as filmmakers and
audiences with no internalised relationship with the
technology could not make or watch, respectively, a
digital film without being struck by the fact that it
was indeed a digital film. Now we are so hyperaware
of digital that we are beyond awareness. It has
become a feature of our subconscious, so constant or
mundane that the brain deems it unnecessary to
specifically alert us to its presence.
Big Brother, really
Other submissions to FSA '05 this time around (this
is the fifth edition of the festival, which began in
1997), even more fascinatingly from the standpoint
of the revolution, use digital technology in an obvious
or even self-conscious way, but blend its presence so
artfully into their w^ork that it no longer feels like an
intrusion. Furthermore, they manipulate the
technology with such deft and wizened familiarity
that, rather than give the work an aesthetic of
mechanised distraction, their use of digital
technology adds real warmth or emotional
poignancy- This is also a result of digital acceptance,
as audiences are willing to look past a technique or
special effect that they may subconsciously realise
was added during post-production with the aid of a
computer programme, focussing instead on the
overall effect.
One film from the festival line-up that successfully
utilises digital technology in the spirit of the
revolution is Ali Kazimi's 'Continuous Journey'. Tlie
film charts the disastrous voyage of the Komagata
Maru, a Japanese steamliner chartered in 1914
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 >■;; i* ■; x  -. ■;   : . ■      v .?. j f.» -s :. ^ :
carrying 392 Indian immigrant hopefuls (mostly
Sikhs) to Vancouver, only to be turned away byr the
exclusionary policies of the British Columbia
authorities. Kazimi's greatest challenge, one that faces
many who tackle the subject of a little-known
historical event, was the lack of filmic evidence, or
In order to give the tale the dynamic visual
substance required of a film, Kazimi relied heavily
on still photography and even shots of old written
documents, employing digital technology and simple
animation to bring them to life, and quite effectively
at tliat. Although unable even to match the faces of
the passengers from the few old photographs that
he had found to their names, he was able to
humanise them for the audience by animating parts
of the photograph to have different people
move independently of one another, thus creating a
three dimensional space where there was none, by
zooming in on particular faces during tense or
emotional parts of the narrative, or by placing
artificial backgrounds such as grey skies with moving
clouds behind them. Rather than stand out as fancy
video tricks or the cold work of machinery, these
technological techniques actually do just the
opposite, injecting some humanity back into dead
photographs and other historical records.
The best example of a purposeful use of the digital
medium, however, is Avinash Deshpande's "The
Great Indian School Show", in which the filmmaker
subtly uses digital technology to highlight society's
takeover by it, a microcosmic embodiment of
the phenomenon that is taking place on a global
scale. Deshpande quietly profiles what seems like
a typical Indian school, whose facade of normalcy is
shattered  when the  audience learns that the
administration employs 186 surveillance cameras to
keep a constant watch on the students. Here is where
we see the darker side of the revolution, where the
time for warnings returns. For the audience is able
to make some terrifying realisations through
Deshpande's careful rendering of just how
omnipresent digital technology is and can be in our
everyday lives.
It appears that we are so comfortable with the
construction of digital architecture, so skilled at
adapting to its presence, that no situation is too
extreme. The children and teachers of the school seem
to now be at ease with the environment that they are
in, with constant surveillance and no privacy. They
even speak to the camera in order to address their
e\rer-watchful principal, who is shown many times
standing proudly in front of his massive wall of
television monitors, providing one of the most realistic
visualisations of Orwell's infamous Big Brother.
In the final scene of the film, we even see a young
boy bobbing up and down in front of one of the
cameras to make it move with him, playfully teasing
it with an expression of innocent curiosity' as if it
were for all the world a stray puppy or fellow
schoolmate. Furthermore, the thin line between
filming for art and filming for surveillance becomes
painfully apparent during moments in the film when
it is briefly uncertain if the filmmaker is using footage
shot from his own cameras or culled from one of those
of the school's vast network. The truth is that we
camiot grow so comfortable with digital technology
that we simply ignore it, cannot stop watching the
march of its progress, because as much as it has
brought to documentary film and to the cinematic
world, it does not stop watching us.
■**Jl ±*.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Neo-liberalism and dictatorship
by ! Asim Sajjad Akhtar
Sixty vears after the emergence of aid
as a strategic tool, its geo-political
importance is undiminished. While
there has been a renewal of more overt
forms of capital accumulation in the
post-9/11 dispensation, aid continues to
stand out as the primary means of
asserting imperialist control ovct entire
regions of the world. Fully 50 vears on
from the historic Bandung Conference,
-omc third world leaders mav still be
waxing lyrical about the unity of the
oppressed peoples of the world but many
of these leaders, major beneficiaries of
strategic aid, are actually reinforcing neo-
colonial dependency.
General Pervez Musharraf is one such
example. While the general was in
Bandung in April attending the African-
Asian Unity Conference, a meeting of the
Pakistan Development Forum (PDF) was
being held in Islamabad. The PDF is an
annual ritual where bilateral and
multilateral donors meet with the
country's economic managers to 'consult'
on economic policy and to outline the
parameters of future cooperation. For two
vears after the Musharraf coup in October
1999, there was no PDF or any other such
gathering, a gentle hint that the genera!
was in disfavour with the international
financial elite. The situation changed
after 9/11.
In April 2002, the PDF was held in
Paris. Amidst the gala surroundings, the
then finance minister (now prime
minister) Shaukat Aziz committed to the
donors that "democracy will not impede
our economic reform process". The
reform' process Aziz referred to was a
typically orthodox set of neo-liberal
policies based on further reducing the
state's already meagre welfare
responsibilities, selling off state assets,
unbridled liberalisation of trade and
financial markets, and initiating obsolete
mega development projects. In Paris, the
donors in turn welcomed Gen
Musharraf's expected assumption of the
presidency in the interest of 'continuity
of reforms'. Only a few weeks after this
consensus, Gen Musharraf 'managed' a
successful presidential referendum
for himself, securing 99 percent of all
votes cast.
IFI mandate
Fast forward to the October 2002 general
elections, which gave a token civilian face
to the Musharraf regime, thereby-
addressing nominal demands of the
international community that the general
be seen to conform to some democratic
norms. Although an ostensibly elected
government was to come into power in
October, the Asian Development Bank
(ADB) and World Bank both had already
signed multi-year, multi-billion dollar
assistance packages with the government
months earlier in June. While concerns
have been expressed about the limited
sovereignty of developing states vis-a-vis
international financial institutions (IFI),
seldom is the interference as blatant as in
the case of Pakistan of late. The pliant
civilian government we have today is as
much a product of the IF! mandate as that
of the people of Pakistan.
The 20tkl and 2004 PDF meets
reinforced the neo-liberal 'reform process'
and further committed large aid injections
to the government. Throughout this time,
the donors have congratulated the regime
for its numerous 'good governance'
practices and for achieving an
unprecedented level of macroeconomic
stability. But they have been silent on the
dismal and worsening situation of
working-class Pakistanis. Unemployment
continues to soar, and nearly 45 percent
citizens are living under the poverty line.
Meanwhile the 'good governance' brigade
conveniently overlooks the single most
important governance problem in
Pakistan - an army engaged in politics.
The donor community continues to
laud the general's 'devolution of power'
initiative. The 2005 PDF, held in April,
pledged to wholeheartedly continue
support for the local governments that
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 were instituted in 2001. In fact, donor
portfolios have been totally overhauled in
recent years to accommodate huge
funding packages for this not-so-unique
'decentralisaton' exercise. Gen
Musharraf, like his predecessors Ayub
Khan and Zia-ul Haq, has utilised a co-
opted coterie of elected local councilors to
create a mirage of legitimacy for military
rule. There is little doubt that government
agencies have perfected the art of political
engineering, which was also used to
'good' effect in the second round of local
government elections in August this year.
Economic sovereignty
There was a time when imperialist
expansion could be disguised as a heroic
struggle against communism. The
discourse of anti-terrorism that came to
replace its outdated anti-communist
predecessor has already lost a great deal
of credibility in the eyes of people across
the world. So the neo-liberal agenda is
propagated through the institutions of
global governance that seek to introduce
'good governance' to the 'under
developed', with the help of highly
democratic governments such as those of
Gen Musharraf.
For PDF 2005 in Islamabad, Pakistan's
economic managers put together a
proposal for USD 42 billion. This, coming
from a government which claims to be
well on the path to economic sovereignty,
was but ironical. But it is unlikely that
the ordinary Pakistani will be duped. If
nothing else, the neo-liberal counterrevolution of the past two decades has
produced an understanding that goes
against the attempts of generals and
donors alike to frame neo-liberalism as
'poverty reduction' and 'pro-poor
While the rumblings in Pakistan await
metamorphosis into a coherent political
challenge to dictatorship and neocolonialism, we can expect more elaborate
gatherings like the PDF, complete with
back-slapping and self-congratulatory
awards. The fact is that Pakistan is
today on the path of unprecedented
polarization. The neo-liberal fabrications
will ultimately be exposed, as has already
happened in parts of Latin America, even
if it is a long haul. jt
New From
A Clearing in the Thicket
edited by FARAH FA1.ZAL and
Bringing together a large amount of statistical,
ethnographic and survey data,this volume explores
sources of security and insecurity in women's lives, as
well as their agency in creating security fot themselves
and cnhers in different settings wirhin rhe South .Asian
2005 / 216 pages / Rs 495.00 (cloth)
Rs 295.00 (paper)
Arguing that peace is nor a one-time event to he
achieved and rejoiced over but a matter to be
' sustained againsr various odds, the contributors to
this volume show that the sustainability of peace
depends on a foundation of rights, justice and
South Asian Peace Studies, Volume 2
2005 /320pages /Rs 650.00 (cloth)
Rs 380.00 (paper)
Media, Culture and Politics across Asia
An outstanding book on a significant topic—
1 recommend (Ats highly to interested readers.
Arvind Singhal, Ohio Univasity
A useful reference for anyone who is interested in the
development of transnational television hi Asia-
Joseph Man Chan, Chinese UnntcrsLy of Hang Kong
2005 / 288 pages /Rs 680.00 (cloth)
Rs 380.00 (paper)
Exploring Theory and Practice in South
and Southeast Asia
This volume, a collection of articles spanning eighr
countries in South and Southeast Asia, reports the
excellent work being done by many organisations to
transform perceptions and improve living standards
across a range of gender and sexual expressions,
behaviours and identities in Asia.
2005 / 312 pages / Rs 62 0.00 (cloth)
Rs 350.00 (paper)
SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd
B-42, Panchsheel Enclave, Post Box 4109, New Delhi U0 Of 7; Tel: 26491290; Fax: 26492117; e-mail: * Ground Floor.
59/5 Prince Baktiar Shah'Road, Toliygunge, Kolkara 700 033; Tel: 24172642, 24220611, 24226832; e-mail:
• II, Saravana Strccr, T Nagar, Chennai 600 01.7; Tel: 24.126265, 2434582Z, 24348132; e-mail: • 31 LB Stadium,
Fbsr Box 131, Hyderabad 500001; Tel: 23231447,23230674; e-mail: * 1187a'37 Ameya, Shivajinagar, off Ghole Road,
Pune 411005; Tel: 25513407,2 5 513408; e-mail:
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Southasian Mediafile
Without doubt, the Nepali
dailies and magazines have
some of the best cartoons of
Southasia. This is probably
the function of the country
being large enough to sustain
vibrant media and yet small
enough to ensure that national level politics touches
the people at large, with no
more than perhaps two degrees of separation. Starting
gingerly at first after King
Gyanendra's military-aided
putsch on 1 February, the cartoonists of Nepal have
become increasingly daring, and since the last two
months there has been no holds barred, with some
showing the dead horse of a 'constitutional monarchy' and another showing a historical king with a
dagger behind his back. But the best cartoon lampooning King Gyanendra in terms of knife-edge subtlety is by Rajesh KC, which takes some explaining
and backgrounding for the uninitiated. Okay, soon
after he became the Nepali monarch, King Gyanendra
started giving a series of interviews and speeches in
which he indicated that he proposed to be a more
proactive monarch than his dead elder brother
Birendra. On 8 February, in a speech to citizens in
Nepalganj in Western Nepal, he said "Abaka
.iinliaruma raja dekliinai/ tara uasuninai/ ... jasto abasia
slihaina." (In the days to come the king will no longer
iinly be seen, he will also be heard.) Let us leave aside
lor the moment whoever gave the king such an idea
of a constitutional monarchy, but there the matter
rested. After the coup of seven months ago, the king's
son-in-law Raj Bahadur Singh decided to start a cellphone company to compete with the government-
owned aNepal Telecom, and for this he used his 'royal
prerogatives' to get a sizeable share of something
known as Spice Mobile, without having spent a
penny. In order to, it is said, support the upcoming
royal cell-phone company, the regime of King
Gyanendra gave all kinds of disruptions to Nepal
Telecom's service, firstly banning mobile service as
soon as the royal coup happened, then limiting postpaid service supposedly as a anti-Maoist security
measure, denying pre-paid service, and denying
roaming facility. By end August, the mobile phones
were practically useless, and one had to be lucky to
get a call through. On 31 August, the daily cartoonist
for the Kantipur daily, Rajesh KC, did a cartoon
which is carried alongside. The ex-Nepal Southasian
reader should now be able to understand the cartoon
with the background given. Tlie person at the Nepal
Telecom counter is saying, "Duichaar din bho, kebho
kebho, yo mero mobile phunlai! ... Dekhinay tara
nasuninay!" (What's happened to my mobile phone
these days?! It can be seen but not heard!) To Chhetria
Patrakar, this is the best that a political cartoon can
be. Subtle, contextual, daring, and going right to the
heart of the royal matter!
■ ■
Laxman Kardirgamar died close to midnight on 12
August, when most newspapers across Southasia
had already wrapped up and editors were
probably packing up. By
the    time    the    wire
services   would   have
provided the storv, they
would  probably have
been home and asleep.
Which explains why the
coverage        of        the
assassination     in     the
dailies of Southasia the
morning of the 13th   was
almost non existent. But one can be less kind to the
editors for letting the story drop thereafter, as most
newspapers had forgotten about Kadirgamar by the
14,h. One of the few to stand up and take notice of the
Lankan tragedy was The Hindu, from across the
■ ■
If the written signature doth make the man, then the
reader may want to check out the signatures of
Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka 'Prachanda') Chairman
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
Nepal (Maoist) and of Ganapathy, General Secretary
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
India (Maoist). These were included in a press release
sent out on 1 February via email, which rails again
the ruling roval regime in Kathmandu as well as the
"reactionary expansionist ruling classes" of India.
Interestingly, the two gentlemen are almost plaintive
when they state, "They [aforementioned royal regime
and Indian reactionary expansionary ruling classes]
are propagating continuously about the grave
danger' posed by the long Red Corridor of armed
^Jfl^.    / stretching from
tyo^bb- . [y^tv^^^——, ^e BaSe Areas
'        ~ in Nepal up to
the guerrilla
zones of Andhra Pradesh or the so-called Compact
Revolutionary Zone." What, comrades? Are you
trying to downplay the significance of the Red
Corridor? Arc you trying to say that the Compact
Revolutionary Zone is a figment of the imagination?
Awww... Whatever, the "undersigned" comrades
have pledged "to fight unitedly till the entire
conspiracies hatched bv the imperialists and
reactionaries are crushed and the people's cause of
Socialism and Communism are established in Nepal,
India and all over the world."
■ ■
Hey Mati Bhai, over in Dhaka! Congratulations on
the Magsaysay Award for doing good journalism in
Dhaka,     I     especially     like    it    that    this     is
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 acknowledgement of the power of the 'language
media' in Southasian. Let the English-speaking elite
classes all over understand that there is quality,
depth, commitment wisdom and sensitivity in them
vernaculars! Matiur Ramhan of Prothom Alo, you
have now joined the select rank of Southasian
personages to receive the Magsaysay. Here is an
incomplete list of the people you join with your
Kiran Bedi
Vinoba Bhave
Mahashweta Devi
Abdul Sattar Edhi
Asma Jehangir
Verghese Kurien
James Michael Lyngdoh
Satyajit Ray
Ibn Abdur Rehman
Aruna Roy
M S Swaminathan
Boogli George Verghese
Muhammad Yunus
Ela Bhatt
Zafrullah Chowdhury
The Dalai Lama
Angela Gomes
L C Jain
Bharat Dutt Koirala
Sandeep Pandey
Laxminarayan Ramdas
Mahesh Chandra Regmi
M S Subbulakshmi
Richard William Timm
Tarzie Vittachi
Forgive if this sounds a bit peevish, but the 21 August
issue of The Times of India titled 'Nasty
Neighbourhood' deserves a response. The full-pager
by Indrani Bagchi is supposed to be a '360 degree'
scan of the region to describe how unsafe the
neighbourhood is beyond Tndia, "Blasts in
Bangladesh, Maoist insurgency in Nepal, Tiger threat
in Lanka, Jehadi camps in Pakistan... India finds
itself surrounded by failed or failing states." Oh,
really. Hmmm. So what if we take this full-spread
map of that the paper uses to describe this terrible
neighbourhood with dynamite sticks and palls of
smoke rising from Thimphu, Karachi, Colombo,
Dhaka, Kathmandu, etc. And just let us use the same
computer generation to add some more palls, over in
the Northeast, there in Telangana, there in
Chattisgarh, there in Gujarat, there in Jharkhand/
Bihar, there in J & K. There, now that looks like a
more realistic picture of the region.
■ ■
So much happens
in Tibet and there
is so little interest
in our press, which
tends to forget that
the TAR is also in
Southasia, and not
East or Central
Asia. A 1,118 km
railway line is
coming all the way from Golmud in Qinghai all fhe
way to Lhasa, one of the major infrastructural projects
of our region, and one which will change the face of
Tibet in every way imaginable, and also have an
impact on the Subcontinent. But we know nothing
about it. Here is a picture of the new railway bridge
being constructed across the Kyichu (Lhasa) river to
bring the trains into central Lhasa. A billboard with
slogan in Chinese script in the midst of the
construction savs, "Fiffht the plateau and resist the
■S, i;r ■■:.-*■ >* ■^•rt If:
lack of oxygen. Tlie flag of electrification shakes the
Kunlun mountains. Safeguard security and create
national excellence. Prestige is displayed on the
Qinghai-Tibet Line - China Railways Electrification
Bureau Group.'
■ ■
A two-day meeting of SAARC information ministers
concluded in Kathmandu on 30 August, doing next
to nothing. Oh yes, they have decided to set up a
regional media development fund, with a seed money
of USD 1 lakh, which is meant to support both
government and private media. Ahem. India is to take
the lead on that one. And then, they will broadcast a
weekly radio news program 'SAARC News' and
monthly TV news programme 'SAARC Roundup'.
Sri Lanka has agreed to organise a SAARC Film
Festival covering feature films, telefilms and
documentaries. The fifth SAARC quiz will be
broadcast through a tele-conferencing medium. The
meeting also requested Pakistan to complete the video
documentary on "SAARC in the New Millennium"
by the second week of October. The ministers agreed
to meet next in India in 2006. Well that is only four
months away. All right, all right, they did seem to
have achieved quite a lot, the ministers. But forgive
me for the tone of cynicism that has permeated this
section, but you see I have watched the SAARC Audio
Visual Exchange (SAVE) programmes on tv.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
The point is to change it
1 profile and mmmmw. if Matiur Hainan, -Journalist of Dhaka.
by | Zafar Sobhan
atiur Rahman, the crusading editor of the
number one newspaper in Bangladesh and
recipient of this year's Ramon Magsaysay
Award Journalism for, among other things, his
tireless efforts on behalf of the victims of acid attacks,
is a throwback to the old school. He looks and sounds
like a Bengali intellectual from central casting - sharp
intelligent eyes behind gold-rimmed specs, carefully
parted hair, impeccable kurta-pajama, and a
softspoken and disarming manner that belies the
Matiur Rahman was interviewed in    f
Prolhom Ala's conference room, whose
walls  are  overflowing with  his
personal art collection.
Zafar Sobhan: How did you first get
involved in journalism?
Matiur Rahman: I used to write and
help produce pamphlets and booklets for the party
and was involved in outreach to the artistic and
literary community in the Sixties, so it was a natural
step for me to end up with the party":'s weekly
ZS: Then you could just as easily have ended up
as a writer or painter.
MR: Don't think I didn't want to! I paint, T write
poems, and 1 have had some work published. In
fact, I wanted to be many things. As a child I could
never make up my mind. But in the end one ends
up doing what one is best suited for. But I maintain
good relations with the artists and the writers.
Tliere are some very good painters in this country
and I am very lucky to be friends with some of
them for ove r th irty years. They have given me some
of their pictures.
ZS: How did you make the switch from paj-ty nuin
to newspaperman?
MR: As a secretariat member of the CPB and as an
editor, I had the chance to travel to many of the
socialist countries. I was in Moscow in 1987 and
was very much inspired by Gorbachev and
perestroika.- It was the time when many of us in the
party were questioning some of its internal
contradictions - the absence of democracy,
independence and freedom of speech, as well as
the inability to and to dissent. The failures of
steely hardness beneath the surface.
One can see him sipping his chai as he peruses the
newspaper and indulges in the long and leisurely
political and philosophical addas so beloved by his
countrymen and women. But it would be a mistake
to write Mati Bhai (as he is known) off as a mere
armchair intellectual - his entire life has been devoted
to fulfilling the Marxist dictum that it is not enough
to describe the world in various ways, the point is to
change it.
communism and the restrictions and
contradictions made it a very
frustrating time, and when in 1991
the party split into two, I decided to
withdraw from the committees and
ZS:   How do you compare editing
Ekota and being a mainstream journalist today?
MR: I am much happier now, no question about it.
I do not have to deal with internal contradictions
any more. 1 have also discovered that 1 can be much
more effective here. You see, people want neutral
news. It is for the evenhandedness and
independence that people read Prothom Alo. The
thing is that for a newspaper to be successful, even
if you don't want to be objective, you have to be.
The people won't buy your newspaper otherwise.
We have demonstrated that the path to financial
success is neutrality, and of course, once you have
financial success you can be even more independent
as you are no longer relying on the owner or
ZS: So you are convinced you can do more as
editor of a mass market daily?
MR: Yes, definitely. My goals remain the same.
Support the people. Help bring them out of
repression. But the methodology is different now. I
have one and a half million readers. I think that a
newspaper can be stronger than a political party.
Every day I get to speak to one and a half million
people. That is more than any politician
can claim.
ZS:   What do you see as the role of the media in
today's Bangladesh?
MR:   It is a great responsibility. Civil society in
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Bangladesh was once very active. But due to
divisions that have emerged in civil society si
democracy in 1991 it has become factionalised and
lost vitality. In this atmosphere, the role of the
newspapers becomes crucial. It is we who have to
step in and raise issues that should have been
raised by civil society on a bipartisan basis.
ZS:  Is this why you get involved in causes such
as the campaign against acid attacks?
MR:  Yes. It is a terrible thing in our country. The
issue is really tied to repression of women.
Mostly, the victims are young womi
who  refuse   to  marry  a  man,   01
something like that. In 2000, we were
reporting on so many acid attack
incidents and 1 felt wtc had to do more.
So started holding, seminars and
established a fund for the victims,
which today totals 86 laldi taka. The
fund provides legal help to the
victims, and supports their medical
treatment and rehabilitation. We
organise meetings and try to raise awareness, and
helping the victims to get accepted back in their
communities. This is very difficult work. There is
still so much that needs to be done.
The Magasaysay
ZS: What is the significance of a Bangla language
paper   when   English   is   gaining   so   much
MR:   This is an important point, but even today
ost the entire country speaks Bangla. The
lish language papers are important too, theyr
are read in influential circles, including by
decision-makers and donors. But if you want to
reach the people, you must write in Bangla, even
today. You could say that we help to empower
and inform people in a way that the English
dailies cannot. We bring everyday people into
the national debates. One more thing, I am also
concerned with promoting Bangla as part of our
heritage, our culture. Which is why Prothom Alo
sponsors an essay-writing competition
for school children. It has been very
ZS: Has working in Bangla has
lowered your profile nationally or
MR:  If it has, I don't mind!  It is a
price I am willing to pay. But! don't
notice this, really. When 1 travel
outside Bangladesh I find that
Protltoni Alo and what we are
doing and what we have written is discussed in
other countries.
ZS: What do you do with your free time?
MS.: There is not much time for much else in this
job, but 1 like to read and watch films when I can.
1 am still very fond of looking at art. Cricket, too.
1 always try to make time to watch when
Bangladesh is playing.
Mati Bhai joined the Bangladesh Communist Party
in 1962 at tlie age of 18 and was its active and integral
member for the next 30 years. He started as the acting
editor of the weekly party newspaper Ekoia (Unity) in
1970, two years after having finished his Masters
degree in Statistics from Dhaka University, and -was
promoted to full editor three years later - a position
he held until his withdrawal from the party and active
politics in 1991.
Mati Bhai's skill at the helm of Ekola had not been
lost on the publishers and owners in the Bangladeshi,
and in less than a year he had been offered the
editorship of a new publication, Bhorer Kagoj, that
instantly cemented his reputation. Limits on his
editorial independence saw him quitting in 1998, but
within three months he was able to put together an
ownership group and start up Prothom Alo, which is
today the best-selling and most influential paper in
the country, with a readership of a million and a half
and growing.
The irony that he has been able to accomplish so
much for the people after leaving the party where he
devoted the bulk of his adulthood is not lost on Mati
Bhai.   With   his   trademark   patient   smile,   he
acknowledges that it has been as editor of Bhorer Kagoj
(Dawn's Paper) and now of Prothom Alo (First Light)
that he seems to have made more of a difference.
At age 60, Mati Bhai isn't slowing down any.
Prothom Alo is known not just for the professionalism
and accuracy of its reports, but also for the social causes
it highlights and supports, from the campaign against
acid attacks that caught the attention of the Magsaysay
award committee to drug addiction and HIV
In Mati Bhai's mind, it is not enough to provide
truthful and objective reporting (even though this alone
is no mean feat in such a politically polarised country).
Most would consider their duty done to shine a light
on injustice and inequality as he does every day, few
would feel that it is their additional duty to actually
go the extra mile to do something about it.
Perhaps the most fitting honour for Mati Bhai is the
hostility of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of
the Opposition that he has earned over the years.
Dhaka's ruling classes of whatever shade have little
time for the independent and the non-partisan, and
the fact that both criticise him in equal measure means
that he must be doing something right. ^
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
by | Ismail Khan
The opening of a road could change the political and cultural landscape of
one mountainous corner of Southasia that has suffered more than
it should on account of others.
In July, this writer was part of a four-member
delegation from Gilgit-Baltistan (the 'Northern
Areas') that travelled 1,500 km to reach Srinagar
to attend tlie first 'intra-Kashrnir dialogue' of its kind
to have happened in 57 years. Courtesy of the Jammu
& Kashmir Government, the participants got a visa
extension and permission to visit Kargil, another 203
km from Srinagar. lt thus took four days and 1700 km
of road travel to reach Kargil from Balitstan. The direct
road would have taken no more than four hours, but
that route remains closed since 1948, prey to the larger
animosity of India-Pakis tail which has everything to
do with the Kashmiris and nothing to do with the
people of Gilgit-Baltistan or Kargil-Leh. Tlie distance
from Skardu, capital of Baltistan, to Kargil town is all
The picture shows the jeepable road connecting
Skardu with Kargil, which is blocked by a stone wall
between Gangani village on the Baltistan side of the
LoC and Kharol Hundormo on the other side
of 173 km. There is a stone wall built over the preexisting road where it meets the Line of Control, a
barrier which has kept 7000 families apart now for
nearly six decades now. This barrier has held this
culturally rich and resource-laden mountain region
hostage for much too long. It is time to open the
Skardu-Kargil road and to let an innocent peoples
enjoy their birthright of visiting each other, to begin
with. Everything else will flow from this one
humanitarian act of correcting a historical wrong.
The peace dividend will include renewed tourism,
an energised economy far beyond these steep valleys,
and a confidence built on the fact that a people and
landscape have been united once again, whatever
may be the designation of the frontier on the ground.
Buried under the rubble of the Kashmir conflict
lies a treasure strove of the Southasian mountain
complex. The high Himalaya-Karakoram is to be
found not in 'Kashmir proper' but in the cross-
frontier fastness stretch from Kargil-Leh on the
Himal Southasian [ Sep-Oct 2005
 'Indian' side to Gilgit-Baltistan on the 'Pakistani'
side. These rugged highlands cover a vast area of
145,565 sq km of the 222, 230 sq km of the erstwhile
princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. Populated by
Buddhist and Muslim populations speaking a
mixture of tongues, this sparsely populated region is
woven by common geography, history and cultural
But the 1947 Partition created the LoC as an
impenetrable division and the people on the two
sides have suffered in silence since as larger geo-
strategic considerations in New Delhi and Islamabad
made mere pawns out of them. Today, as the two
states gingerly proceed with their detente process,
the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Leh-Kargil are
holding their breath and hoping that it will also touch
their own lives. More than anything, they are waiting
to see if the road between Kargil and Skardu, and
also one between Khaplu and Leh, will be flung open
to allow them to once again be with their own kind. If
the road between Srinagar and Muzzaffarabad in
'Kashmir proper', in the very centre of the conflict,
could be unbolted, ask the normally laid back and
'passive' people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Leh-Kargil,
why not us? The Srinagar-Muzzafarabad link
provides all the precedent that is needed.
Hijacked history
Historically, Gilgit-Baltistan and Leh-Kargil (Ladakh)
were never a willing part of what came to be known
as Jammu and Kashmir. For nearly 900 years, from
the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an
independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descended
from the kings of old Tibet. Perhaps due its political
stability, the region evolved as a reliable trade route
between Tndia, the Orient and Central Asia, with the
high passes and open valleys traversed by caravans
carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyes,
narcotics and what not. Notwithstanding rugged
terrain and apparent remoteness, merchants,
explorers, spies and soldiers traversed the region.
Attracted by its economic importance, the Dogra rajas
from the southern hills decided to extend their
hegemony over the region, and they had subjugated
all the major valleys by 1846. The Dogras subdivided
the region into two wizarats (districts), placing Hurvza,
Nagar, Ashkoman and some tribal areas under the
Gilgit Wizarat, while Ladakh and Baltistan came
under the Ladakh Wizarat.
Worried about the possibility of foeign interference,
the British acquired Gilgit Wizarat in 1935 on lease
for a 60 year period from the Maharaja of Kashmir.
Sensing an opportunity for self-rule as the British
withdrew in 1947, the people of Gilgit and Baltistan
revolted. But after a brief period of independence, the
local rulers invited Pakistan to take control of the
region. The Pakistan Government did so, but the
hopes among people that they would become a part
of the federation with equal political rights have
remained unfulfilled to this day. Meanwhile, the
cross-border people have seen a redefinition of their
traditional space. India lost to China 37,555 sq km of
Ladakh's Aksaichin region during the 1962 border
war. Meanwhile, Pakitsan is said to have ceded to
China a 5180 sq km area in the Shamshal area of
The fact is that neither Ladakh nor the Gilgit-
Baltistan are 'Kashmiri'. The locals do not eat, dress
or speak like the Kashmiri, and have much more in
common with each other in every way in terms of
culture and sensibility than with Srinagar valley or
Azad Kashmir. The people of Ladakh and Gilgit-
Balitistan have been dragged unwillingly into the
Kashmir conflict, the major continuous flashpoint of
Southasia, simply because a confluence of geography
and history brought them under the state of Jammu
and Kashmir.
After Partition, as part of what became the state of
J&K, Ladakh has representation in India's
Parliament and in the State Assembly in Srinagar.
Meanwhile, Gilgit-Baltistan were given the
ambiguous title 'Northern Areas', and brought under
the direct control of Islamabad. Administered directly
through the Ministry of Kashmir & Northern jAreas,
the people of the region do not have an empowered
representative body to call their own, locally or in
Islamabad. The million plus population living in the
Kargil town
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 72,500 sq km area of Gilgit-Baltistan remain
abandoned - subtext to a possible final resolution on
Kashmir. After Partition, both Ladakh and the
Northern Areas have struggled for attention from
New Delhi and Islamabad, respectively. But the
mountain-dwelling people were no match to the
urbane and aware Kashmiris. While representation
has made a difference as far as the people of Ladakh
are concerned, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan do not
even have that.
Roads and glaciers
Before 1947, the road to Gilgit-Baltistan was through
Srinagar. In 1966, Pakistan's Army Corps of
Engineers began work on the 840 km Karakoram
Highway from near Islamabad to a height of 4800 m
on the Khunjerab Pass and the Chinese border. The
all-weather road connection between Islamabad and
Giglit was eventually completed in 1978 with liberal
assistance from China. Later, the link was extended
to Skardu - the capital of Baltistan. Today, under an
agreement, bona fide residents of the Northern Areas
have visa-free unlimited access to the Sinkiang
Province of China. The KKH has brought with it trade,
economic, social and - above all - political
The people on both sides of the LoC have borne
the brunt of wars between Pakistan and India, in
1948,1965, 1971 and 1999 Kargil. Ironically, the fight
over the Siachen Glacier and the Kargil heights has
proved a kind of blessing for the local inhabitants.
The needs of the military have pushed infrastructural
and socio-economic development, and the roads,
airports, school, and hospitals built to serve the
soldiers have served the purpose of locals as well.
The high military stakes have led to improvements
in communications, education, health and other
social services for the poor and alienated mountain
communities. It is also true that most likely neither
New Delhi nor Islamabad would have bothered with
these remote outposts if they had not been entangled
in Siachen and Kargil. However, the locals are quick
to point out, the advantages of peace far outweigh
the modest benefits achieved by hanging on to the
coat-tails of the military.
Conservationists and mountaineers have been
lobbying for the entire Siachen area to be declared a
trans-boundary peace park, and this is music to the
ears of the people of Skardu and Kargil (see Himal
December 98, article by Harish Kapadia). The idea is to
conserve the outstanding natural heritage and highly
prized glacial ecosystem, amd promote low impact
eco-tourism which will help improve the lives of the
local communities. The peace park will also provide
a fine exit strategy for the two armies, whose soldiers
have been dying among the snowcapped peaks from
altitude sickness and frost bite. Islamabad is presently
playing down the down the park proposal as it
believes that the price of holding on to Siachen is
higher for India. Nevertheless, the melting of the ice
in bilateral relations leaves the hope that a Siachen
Peace Park may be considered seriously before long.
If the voice of the local people were to be heard, it
would happen even earlier.
Cross-border tourism
Radio Pakistan Skardu is a popular means of
information and entertainment for thousands of
Balti- and Shina-speaking families stranded in Kargil
and Ladakh. Similarly Ladakhi poets, musicians and
artist are popular in Gilgit-Baltistan. All that India
and Pakistan have to do to unify the spirit of the
divided people is to remove the stone wall built across
the road where it intersects the LoC in the Kharmang
valley. This act of demolition would revive the 192
km all-weather road between Skardu and Kargil
along the Indus river valley. This would be the
beginning of the peace dividend, and before long, the
ubiquitous 'cross-border terrorism' would be replaced
by 'cross-border tourism'.
Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan command a
spectacular mountain presence. Sandwiched
between four awesome mountain ranges - the
Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindukush and Pamir - the
region contains the highest number of above-7000 m
peaks in the world. The countries that converge here
are China, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan. The Indus
flows from Ladakh through the Northern Areas before
moving south to the Punjab plains, hi the headwaters
are the world's largest glaciers outside the two poles,
including the Siachen.
Baltistan's enchanting meadows, plateaus, lakes,
rivers, passes, valleys, glaciers and mountains hold
tremendous promise for adventure tourism, including
climbing, trekking and white-water rafting.-The
reopened road would merge Baltistan's enchantment
Himal Southasian ] Sep-Oct 2005
 with the cultural heritage of Ladkah, the Tibetan
Buddhist mecca which already attracts more than
40,000 Western tourists a year. The road would also
provide pilgrims direct access to various shrines and
religious relics in this region precious to Buddhist,
Muslims and Hindus. The great saint Sayed Ali
Hamadani, who brought Islam to Kashmir and is
popularly known as Shah-e-Hamadan, is buried in
Katlan near the Tajikistan border.
The Skardu-Kargil road would actually link the
two most peaceful areas on both sides of the LoC.
Other than the disaster that was the Kargil conflict,
Gilgit-Baltistan and Leh-Kargil have been spared the
violence that has plagued Srinagar valley and other
areas of the erstwhile J&K. The much-hyped
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which seeks to
reconcile the most troubled parts of Kashmir, has
rekindled hopes of the forgotten communities that
perhaps they too could look forward to an open road
and a bus service. In fact, India and Pakistan have
agreed on principle to open the Kargil-Skardu road,
but there has been no on-grotmd progress. There is
growing resentment, which plumbs the depths of
neglect over the last six decades, that the few morsels
of peace dividend have all gone to the Srinagar valley
and Muzaffarbad.
During his recent June 2005 visit to Kargil and
Siachen, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated
New Delhi's intention to reach a formal agreement
with Islamabad on the road to Skardu. Gen Pervez
Musharraf in his meeting with the BJP's LK Advani
in May 2005 also seemed to understand the need and
rationale. More than anyone else, it is the people here
who hope the two countries will capitalise on what
Gen MuaSharraf had called the "fleeting moment" of
history that will not recur.
While unbolting the Kargil-Skardu route may
provide tremendous opportunities for trade and
tourism, and help cement detente in Southasia, in
essence it is a level humanitarian issue. Take the case
of Habiba Khatoon of Kargil. She had been married
for four years, with two children, when India was
partitioned. Her husband was stranded in Kharmang
tin the other side, near Skardu. After years, realising
that he might never be able to make it back, her
husband proposed a divorce but Habiba did not allow
it. Instead, she had a window built in her house
opening towards the road to Skardu. For decades,
she spent her daylight hours waiting for the day her
husband would come up the road. Her hopes
unfulfilled, Habiba passed away last year. She might
be gone, but there are many more wives, husbands
and siblings awaiting reunification. They wait for
New Delhi and Islamabad to see the light, and not to
hold them hostage to the dictates of the Kashmir
south, asia livelihooa docmaentaaxy competition
Jeevika is a search for documentaries that focus on legal and regulatory restrictions,
bureaucratic process of approvals and licenses with attendant extortion and harassment as well
as social and cultural norms and religious practices that prevent or constrain people from
earning an honest living in the vocation of their choice.
jeevika is open to all, young filmmakers are particularly encouraged to participate.
Any language with English subtitles; Any format; Any length
Entry Deadline: December 1, 2005 Awards & Festival: January 2006
PRIZES: Cash prizes worth Rs 105,000; Financial support for future film on a related issue;
Dissemination to educational institutions and NGOs.
Visit for entry form & resource material on livelihood issues
Jeevika is supported by Sir Ratan Tata Trust.
For further information, contact Nidhi Chadha, Centre for Civil Society
K-36 Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi 110016; 2653 7456/ 2651 2347;
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Wi ■
Festival of South Asian Documentaries
29 September to 4 October 2005
Details of selected films
Bhai Khabar {Good News) (17)
Aaamlndia. 2005. &r ~ AtaSftsM
■ tacking for £taa*d dre^ ?n lytiQS Aswijji
The.Boy Who Piays on the Buddhas of Batniyan (96')
Afghanistan. 1003, dir- Phil Grata! Vy
Ertfyjo^ EdBafltfc OS an fi&j
A Certain Liberation (38')
Bangastesh, 3003, (Sir - Yaimirre
GfdOSt tj]r£d)ff &J/r£d"cr;rVsn War
City, of Photos (60')
India. J8305, dir - hteStha Jain
■ We^fi&aildfiofad pfodo Jtdfc'jos ihut dye fedjeaa'
Continuous journey (87!)
Canada/India, jaoC-ifir ■ Aii Kazimi
tattering Canards Jrr j 9J4
Cosmopolis; Two Tales of a City (14')
■.Jda.'20aa4. dir- Parotid Vohra
f^0Fi-b(2getdaddin i.d Bornfcffr
The Curse ofTalakad.{48")
Kp.mstakiiflfirfia, -2005, dir - 5Hsrii SfrramkrishrH
Nc sens for a Wfd Mysore dynasty
Days and Nhghb in art Indian jatf (63')
DeWWEruJk, 20D3, dir - Sifnandan Wafia fc'Yugash Wsta
L:fe made Titan ;g.;J
The Day My God Died (S3')
-■■ .i 2C03, tSIr - Andrew Levitt
.: rfce-js fa Bombay
The, Die is Caste (83)
.■-.-in., 20G4. dir - Ran-jar Kamadi
■■■ - rj?se ftn Bi'iicr
Dirty Laundry (42)
. Africa, 2005, dif - Sanjeev C^at^rjee
identify: Sfuth African*.o\ S-jLrtJitisfcrc otf^r.
Filial Solution (149')
Gu|ara£flnqU 2004L'dir - Rakesh Starma
Tlie eJrtr^nTJsm that wta Jn Gti-jnriil
Ganges: Rivers to Heaven (771)
UttarFraofiiWlndia. 2003, sir- ijayle F-i
Girt Song (29')
9ensal(ii!dia: 2003, (Sir -Yasudti; .
Juza Kgflls in Oi^JJitdd
The Great India School Show (53')
MaharBSErfl/indJa. 2005. dir- Avir.ash Deshpande
The young oner udxter cct* gaze
The Happiest People in the World (94')
BafijIWesti. 3004, air - ShaSi-isr: DilJ-RIaa
f/jaadj sp^te orriurj VjLTrdshfff£ m tbe dcJE£f
Home of the Brave - Land of the Free (52')
■ the Twain Shall Mt
fhe Other Side of War anc
The Life and Times of a Lady from Awadh:
,.■■:■■:. ■
Looking for Amitabh (5'j
A Million !
Mv Viilage is Theatre, My Name i
ftdiiari.ahi & Sudhatw
i ddft
In the Name of Honour
ftftftd!        ft
1 For India (70)
iradii'UK. 2005, dir -iandh;
Ffitit dkfKfes.dS.dJn inwiigro ,:
In the Shadow of the Pagodas - the Other Burma (74")
Swj'teertarytfMyannsai. 2004. liir. °rene M*rcy
Overview ofllie Btd.-jna a^ajas
jaal (The Catch) (67')
: :J.L'..j:id[^ Gharekh-an
journeys (37}
Bombd!;. I
atir - Kajnnchainsrar. K.
:o f^rrjJssiidJd
 Photo feature
Into the Tibet of old
In 1904, Viceroy Lord Curzon gave an
aggressive British colonel and a less
adventurous brigadier-general
command of an expedition to Tibet.
Colonel Francis Younghusband and
Brigadier-General James Macdonald led
the expedition. With a battalion of
'native' soldiers and some late model
machine guns in tow, they pioneered a
route through the Chumbi Valley starting
from the Duars plains near Siliguri, up
through the Himalayan valleys
northwest of Bhutan into eastern Tibet,
the town of Gyantse, and finally to Lhasa.
The expedition's mission was to procure
a trade agreement from the recalcitrant
Tibetan authorities and to secure the
appointment of a British resident in
Lhasa. Although not sanctioned by the
government in London, the expedition
was in essence an invasion of Tibet.
The month of September 2005 marks
the 101sl anniversary of what came to
be known as the 'Younghusband
Expedition'. Coincidentally, this is also
the month when India and China have
decided to reopen Nathu La for cross-
border commerce. Nathu La is the pass
in Sikkim up the road from Gangtok
which leads to Chumbi Valley on the other
side. (The expedition itself used the nearby
Jelep La, up from the Darjeeling town of
John Claude White, a civil engineer,
colonial administrator and pioneer
photographer, was part of the 1904
adventure. Using a large format, glass plate
camera, his record of the expedition serves
today as a unique reminder of the old Tibet,
its culture and landscapes, as well as a
record of a particularly audacious colonial
Incidentally 18 September also marks the
launch at New Delhi's India International
Centre of In the Shadows of the Himalayas,
containing a selection of White's
photographic record. The book was
conceived by Kurt Meyer, a Swiss architect
based in San Fran-cisco who discovered
White's photography while living in
Tn these pages, Himal presents a
selection of John Claude White's Tibet
photographs from the book, which also
includes old-world pictures of Bhutan,
Nepal and Sikkim.
Printed here with permission of Mapin
Publishing, Ahmedabad.
The British invasion forces somewhere in Tibet, 1904
'Native' soldiers, forming just a portion of the British invasion forces, pose for John Claude
White's glass-plate camera.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Members of the 2nd Batallion
Norfolk Regiment
A machine gun contingent stands in front
of a Maxim. The gun was used in the first
battle of the invasion, in Guru, against
Tibetan warriors armed with only
swords, spears and matchlock rifles. The
British, as a gesture of 'good faith', asked
the Tibetans to extinguish the fuses of
their guns (which made them
inoperable) and then proceeded to fire
on them with machine guns.
The British tented camp at Karo la, below the Nishi Kang Sang glacier
... ■. .jbb;bi7:
Like the glacier itself, the expeditionary force camped here was an imposing sight to many, consisting of,
among its other companies, a British Field Hospital, two and a half sections of a 'native' Field Hospital, about
3,000 mules and 250 yaks acting as transport, and two coolie corps.
Gyantse Dzong - location of the
one major battle of the invasion
While the fort, or dzong, at Gyantse
housed only a few monks,
thousands resided in the
monastery, one of Tibet's most
significant. The Tibetans attacked
the British mission post here, and
were devastated by the British
might: over 250 Tibetans died and
the British took over the Dzong.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Khampa Dzong, built on an overhanging limestone cliff
(Champa Dzong was a commanding fortress built on a major Himalayan trade route linking India and Tibet, as
well as on the route to the Tashilhunpo monastery, home of the Panchen Lama, second in importance to the
Dalai Lama. Here in 1903, prior to the invasion, Younghusband held his final attempt for meaningful negotiations
with the Tibetans.
The gateway to Lhasa
The entrance into Lhasa passes
through the chorten in the middle
of the picture, Pargo Kalin. The
British were prohibited from
entering Buddhist sites in Lhasa, an
order with which Colonel
Younghusband and his men
complied. White, however, was
extended a warm personal
invitation to visit the temples and
monasteries because "we [Lhasa's
rulers] have heard from our
Buddhist Lamas in Sikkim that you
[White] treat them well".
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Trading in uncertainty
by | A C Sinha
•7  \
The increased bonhomie between India and
China in recent years has opened up the
possibility of building newer avenues of
cooperation between the two countries. There are
reports that after a gap of four decades, the Nathula
route (located on the Tibet
border with Sikkim) will be
opened for trade between India
and China in late September,
which could give a boost to
transnational economic ties in
the region. However, an
assessment of the ground
situation reveals that the
implementation of the proposal
has not proceeded apace with
public pronouncements.
Prior to 1962, Nathula
(la = pass) was open as a trade
route between India and China.
Initially an offshoot of the
ancient Silk Road, the pass was
brought into use by the British
in 1904 as part of an attempt to
connect Calcutta to Lhasa. The
short border war between India
and China in 1962, however,
led to the closure of the pass and
subsequent limitations on trade
between the two nations.
Until very recently, relations
between India and China had
been friction-laden. The signing
of   the   "Memorandum   on
expanding border trade" on 23
June 2003, however, marked a
change in the way the two states
dealt with each other. Traders
from both China and Sikkim
supported their governments'
decision to establish a trade
mart at Nathula by September 2005. The trade center
was to have banking services, warehouses, customs
offices, and other facilities essential for cross border
trade. The proposal also included a plan to link the
Official Chinese map showing   Sikkim
merged in to India, with Indian
foreign secretary Shyam Sharan's
marker pen encircling the area in
question at a press conference
pass to the commercial metropolis of Siliguri, a
major center in India's commercial network, via a
four-lane road.
Despite the recent easing of relations between
New Delhi and Beijing and the ensuing agreement
to reopen the trade route, there are
no visible results in Nathula.
There is hardly any activity on the
snow bound ridge currently
under the charge of armed forces
from the two states. There are no
settlements, no markets, no
banking facilities, no customs
offices, no civil police, nor any
form of commercial activity. Even
the narrow roads, built for armed
vehicles, have been closed to
tourists because of landslides.
Although Indian strategists
have pointed out the economic
benefits of reopening the pass, to
both India and China, the
complexities lie in politics. Since
China has made the figurative
first move, acknowledging that
Sikkim is part of India, the
presasure remains on the Indian
government to show a change. For
India, the opening is more
symbolic than practical. In early
August 2005, the Indian
government announced the need .
to postpone the creation of the
crossborder market, citing
national security concerns as a
key issue. Nonetheless, the
Indian government has said, the
route will be opened on 30th
There is also an additional
complexity vis-a-vis the tribal
communities in the region. The land around the
proposed trade mart is within the zone of Bhotia
territory, where an order of a former Namgyal ruler
forbids outsiders (i.e. those not of the tribe) from
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 buying land and settling as permanent residents.
Thus, a sizeable section of the Sikkimese people will
not be able to take advantage of this mercantile
opportunity. Naturally, the Bhotia interpret Delhi's
reluctance to open the pass as unwillingness to help
Sikkim's economy. The Sikkim state government has
also had difficulty finding a way out of this impasse.
Interestingly enough, while strategists outside
Sikkim see the opening of Nathula as an opportunity
to bring a massive boost to regional trade, the
Sikkimese establishment simply expects a
continuation, albeit on a larger scale, of the
traditional trade of fresh fruits, vegetables, and wool
via coolies and mules. Historically, it is the Bhotia
who have been the main operators and traders on
this and other Himalayan passes. With the Bhotia
benefiting from the trade of local products, it is
expected that they would have more goodwill
towards the state government.
Despite the Indian government's dilly-dallying
in opening Nathula, the Gangtok government of
Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling clearly
means business. It has established the 'Nathula
Trade Co-ordination Committee' presided by the
state chief secretary, that also includes key
bureaucrats, representatives of the army, the Border
Roads Organisation, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam
(telecommunications), and officials from a wide
variety of departments, from roads to health. After a
preliminary study, it waaS proposed to shift the site of
the mart from earlier suggested Tsomgo in upper
Sikkim down to Sherathang, an army base. Tlie Indian
army has reportedly agreed to surrender Sherathang
once an alternative site is provided for it. While the
Government of Sikkim is willing to provide access to
the Chinese traders up to Rinchengang, north of
Gangtok on the way to Nathula, the Chinese have
sought access right up to Rangpo on the West
Bengal-Sikkim border. Furthermore, the Chamling
government is keen to open a Lhasa-Gangtok bus
service via Nathula.
In regional terms, opening the trade route to
Kakarbhitta in Nepal, Faro in Bhutan, and Rangpur
and Rajshahi in Bangladesh would create much
needed new opportunities for transnational trade,
thereby strengthening the economy of the region as a
whole. However, since no infrastructure has been
erected in Nathula nor its approach, the likelihood
of extensive trade in an assortment of commodities,
involving a variety of stakeholders, does not appear
possible in the existing situation. Achieving this
vision requires a progressive leadership willing to
rise above the prevailing pettiness and distrust
that has marked the politics of Sikkim. Only then will
it become possible to create and maintain
transnational trade. £
A History of ]vjepa]
0421-67141-8     3l&pp:   Rs.375.00
Nepal emerged as a unified state over 200 years
ago,, centred: on the Kathmandu Valley with its
2000 years of urban civilisation. While John
Whelpton's history focuses on the period since the
overthrow of the Rana family autocracy in 1950-1,
the early chapters are devoted to the origins of the
kingdom and the evolving relations of its diverse:
peoples. By drawing on recent research on Nepal*
■s environment,society and political institutions
from the earliest times, the author portrays a
country of extraordinary contrasts,which has been
constantly buffeted through history by its neighbours, the two Asian giants, China and India,
Economic and political turmoil over the iast fifty:
years came to a climax in the massacre of the
royal family in 2001,when the country erupted into
civil war. The book represents the first widely:
available one-volume treatment in English of the
whole span of Nepalese history to appear for over
a generation.. Its comprehensive and accessible.
approach will appeal to students, professionals
and those visiting the region for the first time.
CAMBRIDGE HOUSE, 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryagunj, New Delhi -110002
Tel: 23277332, 23285851,23285852 Fax: 23288534 Email:
A History of
By: John Whelpton
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Here's a land route that would not only open up the possibilities for
India's Northeast to trade and interact with its eastern neighbours,
but as an overland link would also work to cement relationships
between Southasia, East Asia and Southeast Asia.
by | Carin I Fischer
Hacked out of the jungle 60 years ago as part of
the Allied push to end Japanese military
domination in Asia, the Stilwell Road, if reborn,
may soon instigate a sea-change in the Asian
economic balance, further, there's little reason to
believe that the reverberations of such a shift would
be confined to the eastern hemisphere. While recent
years have seen increasingly fervent discussions of
the rising - and rival - individual mights of india
and China, the current momentum to reopen the link
between the two countries promises a whole new
consideration: the prospect of further aligning the
two economies, which jointly comprise 40 per cent of
the global population.
While most of the men who built the Stilwell Road
are now dead, the Road itself remains: disused in
many places, crumbling in others, and in a few areas
impassable during heavy rains. Built by Asian labour
and American machines and travelled by trucks
constructed in Detroit factories, the Road was once a
testament to America's emergence as an economic
superpower. At that time, India, Burma and China
were seen as little more than conduits and
destinations for goods made elsewhere. Today that
dynamic has changed.
Perhaps more so now than during that era, the
Stilwell Road is not one road, but many roads.
Passing through South, Southeast and East Asia
through fractious, politicised regions, it is a very real,
physical route through difficult terrain. In November
2004 and April 2005, a series of overland surveys
found that, contrary to ptiblic perception, the road is
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 very much motorable. Except for a stretch of about 80
km in Burma that remains impassable without a
bridge during the rainy season, the work needed for
a revival of the road is not nearly as extensive as the
public has been led to believe, Some of that work is
already underway or complete; the Chinese portion
is essentially done. China is also currently providing
funds and working extensively with Burma -
including the creation of a new shortcut that
dramatically cuts the Burmese portion in half.
In the wartime atmosphere when the Stilwell Road
was first laid, the task was physically daunting but
remarkably free of political complexities. Reopening
the Road, on the other hand, will involve several
governments and their bureaucracies. It is even
possible that the most important forces pushing
through the opening will not necessarily be national
governments, but the agitations of trade, modernity
and human connection.
Wartime update
While the Stilwell Road itself was put down in the
early 1940s, the mountainous course that it follows
had long been an integral part of the so-called ancient
Southern Silk Route. Based on new evidence,
historians now say that trade along this track
between China, Burma and India could have been
going on in full swing as early as the second century
BC. Traders bartered jade, silk, silver, tea and
lacquerware, while Buddhist and Hindu missionaries
treaded the route as a threshold to East Asia.
The shortest land route between northeastern India
and southwestern China, the Stilwell Road connects
the rail spur at Ledo in Assam to the provincial capital
of Kunming in Yunnan, over a distance of 1,736 km.
US Army General Joseph Stilwell, who was the
regional commander of US troops as well as Chiang
Kai-shek's chief of staff, was defeated by the Japanese
in Burma in the spring of 1942. After retreating,
Stilwell prepared for a counterattack and ordered into
existence the supply link that would bear his name.
Fifteen thousand soldiers and countless local
workers laboured for two years, carving a muddy
track and parallel fuel pipeline through the heavily
forested mountains. The feat was an engineering
marvel, a labour nightmare - and, elsewhere as the
war took its own route, an unnecessarily massive
effort. Completed in 1945, the Japanese surrender of
eight months later brought the wartime need for the
Road to an end.
Known as the Burma Road in China, the Ledo
Road in Burma, and the Stilwell Road in India, the
course was composed of around 57 km in lndiai, 1,040
km in Burma, and 639 km in China. The Indian part
of the Road has been closed since 1961, mainly for
security reasons, and some stretches have fallen into
disrepair. Similarly, about 80 km of the Road in Burma
is barely passable during the rainy season. China, on
the other hand, has built a six-lane highwav from
Kunming that ends abruptly at the Burmese border.
It is largely stubborn determination on the part of the
Chinese that has given the reopening plan its current
momentum. While the old Stilwell Road is still used
by local border-crossing traders, significantly greater
has been the illegal trafficking between India, China,
Burma, and Southeast Asia. A reopening would
convert much of the contraband transport to
legitimate trade.
Three countries
The current movement towards reopening the Road
was formally initiated in August of 1999, when
China, India and Burma - as well as Bangladesh -
met in China's southern province of Yunnan and
officially approved an agreement known as the
Kunming Initiative. On a broad level, the Initiative
decided to improve communications between India's
northeast and south-western China. While general
talk involved the possibilities of developing rail,
water, and air links, specific emphasis was placed
on revitalising the old Southern Silk Route. Chinese
and Indian officials eagerly pushed for the
infrastructure project to get underway, however, n
former Indian ambassador to China urged the
Kunming delegates to be patient - to wait while New
Delhi wrestled with its own issues and doubts. That
patience may now be paying off.
Back in 1991, while facing imminent bankruptcy,
India ushered in a series of belated financial reforms
and the first place it turned to was the burgeoning
market that was Southeast Asia. That year, India not
only took steps towards ASEAN partnership,
policymakers also put in place ii Look Fast policy
that positioned the Northeast at the forefront of its
strategy. Despite this, it has only been over the past
year that New Delhi is finally placing serious focus
on the region as an eastern gateway. Tlie largest
component of such a strategy would be the reopening
of the Stilwell Road, while there is an effort underway
to reestablish international trade through Sikkim (see
accompanying article pp). Undoubtedly, some of this
flurry has to do with a push for closer economic
interaction with Southeast Asia. Much of it also has
to do with the giant, hurried steps currently being
taken by both China and India towards one another.
That pace is partly to make up for lost time. Security
concerns have long played the most critical role in
formulating India's regional foreign policy -
particularly the perceived 'vulnerability' along its
Himalayan frontier, which is a legacy of the 1962
war with China, Trade, for the time being, took a
back seat. In the meantime, traditional trade routes
crucial to the local economies dried up, while new
land routes were rarely discussed. The Northeast has
faced a debilitating paradox as local crossborder
trade has been outlawed due to security concerns,
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 while trade between the secluded region and the rest
of India has failed to develop. The inter-community
and secessionist violence that continues to rack the
poor, agrarian region has only made New Delhio:'s
policymakers more skittish about opening it up to
international traffic and attention.
Even as New Delhi has waffled on the matter, the
northeastern states are overwhelmingly in favour of
reopening the Stilwell Road. Leading that charge has
been Pradyut Bordoloi, Assam's Minister of
Environment and Forests, in whose constituency the
Road begins. In 2002, Bordoloi participated in the
Dhaka meet of the Kunming Initiative - an unusually
forthright action for a minister; in so doing, Bordoloi
essentially bypassed New Delhi, taking his concerns
directly to the international delegates. Bordoloi is
joined by kev politicians, as well as numerous local
businessmen, academics, tour operators, security
experts, travel writers, filmmakers, and - most
importantly - the tribal communities that live along
the Road, whose cultural and familial ties transcend
political frontiers. Northeastern academics, top-level
state and national politicians, as well as large
corporate interests have all expressed the view that
reconstruction of the Road is the ideal vehicle for
advancing vital economic ties between the Northeast,
ASEAN partner countries and China.
Since the 1999 signing of the Kunming Initiative,
the Stilwell project has received intermittent jolts of
energy. In October of 2000, India declared its section
of the Road'a national highway (No 153). After China,
Bangladesh and Burma had officially endorsed the
agreement in 1999, the head of the Indian delegation
followed suit at the 2002 Dhaka meet. The Northeast
Council, a committee that focuses on economic
development of the region, also gave its formal
support to the project in November of that year. This
vear, however, has seen a unique flurry of action -
kicked off on January 20 when a high-level Indian
team visited the Nampong-Pangsavv Pass, the border
point between Burma and Arunachal Pradesh along
the Stilwell Road. There, national officials publicly
stressed the need for creating basic infrastructure to
promote crossborder trade and promising all
possible help from New Delhi. A month after that
official site visit, Congress President Sonia Gandhi
stated in a speech in Arunachal Pradesh that the
reopening of traditional trade routes with
neighbouring Burma (as well as with Tibet and
Bhutan) would give a much-needed boost to the
economy of the state and the region.
India's movement on the Stilwell project follows a
thaw in its dealings with China. While tense Sino-
Indian relations long placed such talks off limits, the
successful settlement of the long-running dispute
over Sikkim and ongoing efforts regarding the border
at Arunachal Pradesh have soothed political
sensitivities. In February of 2005, during a visit to
the Assamese capital Guwahati, officials of the
Yunnan Provincial Chamber of Commerce (YPCC)
stronglv recommended that the Road be opened to
help traders in the Northeast, Burma, and Yunnan.
To that end, the YPCC has taken the matter up with
Chinese authorities to help expedite the Road's
reconstruction. Two months Inter, on the occasion of
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's historic visit to India,
it was disclosed that China had already started
renovations to the Road in Burma, in a unilateral
effort to connect Yunnan to that country and
ultimately to India. The Chinese authorities have now
completed initial surveys and a detailed renovation
plan is near release.
To demonstrate its support for the reopening of
the transnational link, China has transformed its
portion of the Road into a modern superhighway.
The major arterv-in-waiting not only leads directly
to Kunming, but also to the neighbouring province
of Guangdong. That powerhouse province's GDP
not only grew a staggering 14.5 per cent last year, it
is also expected to top USD 250 billion by 2006. In
the other direction, the new highway ends abruptly
at the Burmese border. Despite China's mining and
logging interests in Burma, there is only one reason
to build a massive thoroughfare to the middle of
nowhere: the future possibilities towards India. In a
sense, China's entire relationship with Burma has
long been built on such a long-term view. While India
used to be Burma's largest supporter, during the 1970s
and 1980s that relationship was neglected; Burma
inevitably realigned with China, its other
monumentally powerful neighbour. Now China is
everywhere in Burma and Chinese earth-movers are
currently hard at work reshaping and upgrading the
Ledo Road - the obvious extension of the six-lane
M.S.L.3727 Feet
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
fiM%,' '■    *«
\ Myitkyina
■''■:■„ Si
«3*   1
mammoth that ends at the border.
Burma, indeed, has remained the project's
physical lynchpin, as well as its most temperamental
obstacle. The formidable problems plaguing
Rangoon's military junta - including the ones that it
has brought on itself - have included ethnic resisting
Rangoon's strongarm tactics, as well as concerns
over human rights violations; both of these are centred
directly in the area through which the Road passes.
Such issues have weighed heavily on the minds of
Burma's leadership and, despite tentative past
agreements, as of 2004 Rangoon had again
definitively rejected any possibility of reopening the
Road to international traffic.
On June 15 of this year a news item from Rangoon
suddenly reported that Burma would reopen its
section of the Stilwell Road by 2006. This followed
discussions between the Burmese Ministry of
Commerce and the India-Burma Federation of
Chambers of Commerce and Industry, held the
previous month. Several joint projects are currently
underway between New Delhi and Rangoon,
including the planning of a major gas pipeline from
Burma to India via Bangladesh, as well as linking
ports between the two countries on the two sides of
the Bay of Bengal. While all of this international
bridge-building is undoubtedly a welcome change
from the resounding condemnation that the junta
typically receives, the country's pariah status has
nevertheless taken a significant toll. Burma is
desperately in need of foreign currency and is now
actively propagating regional tourism as a key
In recent years, China has become poised to
emerge as the single most crucial component to
India's export growth. According to recent reports,
in 2004-05 China became India's second-largest
trade partner, as well as the second-largest
destination for India's exports - both trailing only
the US. Only two years earlier, Chinese products
were merely the sixth largest among Indian imports.
Total trade between the two countries has gone from
a few hundred million dollars in the late 1990s to
USD 13.6 billion in 2004. With efficient overland
routes such as fhe Stilwell Road inactive, Sino-Indian
trade has continued to be shunted by sea all the way
around the Southeast Asian peninsula.
A continuation of such stasis would only impede
current economic forecasts. With China's rapidly
growing GDP, the demand for imports of raw
materials, components and parts is expected to
continue to rise in the near future. With China's GDP
set to grow between 7.7 and 8.7 per cent between
2004 and 2008, this means USD 20 billion in bilateral
trade between China and India by 2008. From this
perspective, India - and its northeastern states - must
move immediately to foster closer and more broad-
based economic ties with China. Despite the recent
increases, current trade between the two countries
still makes up only eight per cent of India's total
exports and only one percent of China's. At an
August 2005 economic conference in India, Chinese
officials characterised those figures as miniscule
compared to the size of the two countries and pushed
to start talks on a Sino-Indian free trade agreement
Given the enormous expense currently necessary to
shuttle goods between the two countries via the 6,000
km sea route, an efficient land link would be the only
option for such an agreement to result in the desired
economic stimulus.
The Northeast-Yunnan link
Given the proximity between Yunnan province and
India's Northeast, a reopened Stilwell Road would
be almost as important as a region-to-region
relationship as a transnational one. Despite the recent
boom in trade between the two, none of India's current
exports to China are sourced from the resource-rich
Northeast. Up until now, shipping costs have simply
been too high. China has, however, expressed
significant interest in importing rice, tea, neem, and
a variety of other agricultural products sourced from
the northeastern region. This would be a crucial
development for the area, albeit a happily
problematic one: as the Northeast has never had a
significant market for its agro-products, producers
have never placed much emphasis on capacity-
Currently, Indian imports from Yunnan include
chemicals, items used by the pharmaceutical
industry, mineral products and silk yam. From India,
Yunnan imports oil seeds and mills, marine products,
pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals, iron and steel,
textiles, and raw silk. The Yunnan Provincial
Government is now anxious to import a variety of
additional agricultural products grown in the
Northeast. Yunnan's interest in perishable items over
a relatively short distance would require a road
(or rail) link between the two countries.
If more direct transit existed between the Northeast
and ASEAN countries, tourists on the heavily
trafficked Southeast Asia circuit would be
significantly more inclined come this way. A recent
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 report states that if the tourism potential of the
Northeast were fullv developed, within 20 vears the
region could receive as many tourists as Singapore
and Bangkok. Such high expectations are based on
tapping into the Chinese tourism market which is
expected to boom. Currently the entire northeast with
its beautiful mountain landscape, its rainforests and
diverse cultures, is being exploited only by a small
number of tour operators specialising in 'adventure'
Perhaps more than many others, the tribal and
other marginalised groups in Assam and Arunachal
Pradesh in particular would benefit greatly from both
a transnational thoroughfare, as well as any growth
in tourism and associated infrastructure. Many of
these groups have had close historic ties that haive
been cut due to border and travel restrictions. The
Kachins of Burma, for instance, are ethnically and
culturally nearly identical to both the Singphos in
Upper Assam and the Jingpaws in southwestern
China. Members of the three groups YiaveYitf.e it any
sanctioned contact, however, as a result of current
travel restrictions along the Road. In addition to a
long-awaited removal of those obstacles, tourism is
seen as the one activity that would trickle down to all
segments of society, in particular benefiting local
Increased tourism from a reopened Stilwell Road
would be of great benefit to the northeastern regions
of Burma. All throughout Kachin state, new tourism
infrastructure is now visible, including the
appearance of numerous roadside restaurants. A tiger
reserve has been established near Tanai. Despite its
location, current trade negotiations look to use Burma
less as a partner than as a conduit. While significant
finances already flow between the country and
China, the present value of formal Burmese imports
from India is about INR 22 billion per year. According
to a study by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade,
however, the potential for additional trade with
Burma, and especially with bordering states in the
Northeast, is considerable. Informal Indo-Burmesc
trade is estimated to be 44 times the amount of formal
trade and includes electronics, Chinese textiles,
pirated media and narcotics, Burma is interested in
increasing its pharmaceutical imports from India, as
well as encouraging more active trade in vehicle parts,
cotton yarn, branded foods, petroleum products and
construction materials. Although some of these items
would be able to be imported more cheaply because
of reduced shipping costs, Burma's main benefits
from a new international trade route would be through
transit fees and tourism-related activities.
For the Northeast
While linking the northeast with Kachin state and
Yunnan would of course be welcome, reopening the
Road would allow the Northeast to emerge as a major
transit centre for both the S.<\.<\RC aind ASEAN
regions. Along with a significant increase in
transnational trade, such a development could also
provide a resounding answer to one of India's longest
lingering dilemmas: the largely ignored employment
problem in the country's cloistered Northeast. It is a
problem that began with the British, when colonial
mapmakers created security barriers at the edge of
the hills and severed ancient routes of trade and
cultural exchange, With the loss of nearby trade
partners to both its north and east, the Northeast
became completely dependent tin mainland India for
trade options through the 37 km-wide Siliguri
corridor in West Bengal. While both colonial and
independent India have utilised the Northeast as an
important resource garden, the long, circuitous
routes that the indigenous products h.ive to take to
exit the region have made them prohibitively
expensive for any market.
Due in large part to its geopolitical placement, the
KiorfWa-asV IS W-'luCW TatVaTiWvA^^i TSS ^AvV.?,'^
economic laggard. With roughly 40 million people -
30 per cent of them from tribal communities - the
Northeast makes up less than four per cent of India's
population. The economic deprivation that has
masked the northeast, whose overwhelmingly rural
populace (90 per cent) earns nearly half that of the
rest of India.
That inertia has fed the lingering separatist
violence that the rest of the Subcontinent associates
with this region. With arms, illegal drugs, and
ideology already coming from across India's borders,
manv have voiced concern over the years that
reopening sanctioned international border crossings
would only enhance those negative effects. But others,
more circumspect observers maintain that the
reopening of trade routes such as the Stilwell Road
would boost the economy as well as help still at long
last the manv rebellions in the Northeast. The former
Director General of the Indian Border Security Force,
E.N. Rammohan posited in a 2005 essa.y that, "Roads
are the first enemies of insurgents. Denied of a
hinterland, he has no place to retreat. Today this is
the first step to be taiken by the Government of India."
Current restrictions and the absence of legitimate
customs points have also been a reason for the
voluminous entry of smuggled goods from China and
Burma into India. According to customs and security-
experts, the reopening of the Road and the regular
movement of endorsed traffic would significantly
reduce contraband movement through the area. Since
the demand for these goods is already high, many
would greatly benefit from legitimising that trade
through the collection of customs fees, excise taxes
and tolls along the Road. While there are valid
concerns that local produces may take a beating on
the arrival of cheaply produced foreign products,
there   is   good    reason   to   believe   that   local
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 manufacturers are already being hurt by the current
inflow of illegal goods. Either way, the market already
exists; at the moment, however, that market is being
exploited without regulation, or payment of customs
Regional networking
There are other countries in the Stilwell equation
besides Burma, India and China. Since participating
as an original signatory to the 1999 Kunming
Initiative and re-pledging itself to the process in 2002
when the meet was held in its capital, Bangladesh
has been largely invisible in the Stilwell project.
Many observers urge Dhaka to jump on the "Sino-
India bandwagon", warning that a westward
extension of the trade route to Calcutta would
otherwise bypass the country through Siliguri,
Notwithstanding perennial tensions between Dhaka
and New Delhi, those critics maintain that fostering
stronger ties with China is not only in Bangladesh's
best interest, but that the opportunity has rarely been
closer at hand as presented by Stilwell.
Thailand, on the other side of Burma, is
particularly keen to increase trade relations with the
aNortheast and has expressed interest in seeing the
Stilwell Road reopen. The country recently-
announced its intention to expand trade ties with
The Exchange of Ideas and Culture between )
South Asia and Central Europe
South Asia Initiative of Harvard University
October 28 & 29, 2005
Was there a space in Central Europe in the nineteenth and I
twentieth centuries for Indian colonial subjects and ;
Europeans alike to engage in forms of cultural and 0
intellectual exchange that transcended the limits of British 0
imperialism? Or did varieties of imperialism in Central Europe {.
constrain the possibilities for intercultural encounter, ;
despite the absence of formal colonial bonds? More ;'
generally put, how can the varied encounters between ';
Central Europe and South Asia best be located on the .';
spectrum stretching from power and domination to j
communication and dialogue? To ask these questions is to '•
participate in a long tradition of postcolonial scholarship, '
but also to have reached a critical moment within that I
tradition. A transnational perspective, one not limited by ::
the construct of the nation-state or the fixed axis of center ;
and periphery, allows us to shed light on the relationship :
between South Asia and Europe in a way that has not yel j
been done. In coming to a better understanding of European ■:
imperialism and the complex forms of intellectual and ;j
cultural interconnection that it occasioned, this conference ••;
is of utmost timeliness.
Kris Manjapra %
Harvard University
201 Robinson Hall, Cambridge, MA 0213S
Visit the website at    |
the area, with a special focus on tea, fruit and food
processing sectors; it is also actively looking into joint
eco-tourism ventures in Assam.
The economic viability of increased trade between
India, China, Burma and other Southeast Asian
countries largely depends on the reopening of the
most direct land routes connecting the countries.
According to the Indian multinational Hindustan
Lever, which actively trades with most ASEAN
countries, the costs of container shipping of many
products via sea routes from any part of India, in
particular the aNortheast, are prohibitively high.
If, as a result of reopening the Road, the Northeast
were to become a major regional distribution centre,
transit times and transportation costs between the
partners could be reduced on average by an estimated
30 per cent. From the border point at Pansau in
Arunachal Pradesh, exports from India shipped via
the Road could reach Kunming in two days,
Rangoon in less than three days, Bangkok in four
days, and Singapore within six days. All this may
sound fantastic and unreachable at the moment, but
thev are within the realm of possibility. The Stilwell
route could lead to a snowballing of market linkage
between India, China and Southeast Asia. Free trade
agreements are already in place between India,
Thailand and Singapore. Additional accords are due
by 2016 with the rest of ASF.AN countries, while
similar discussions are starting with China. With
all of this high-level trade talk, there should be little
wonder that momentum has picked up towards
creating an economically feasible way with which
to move those goods and products that will need
Down the road
Whether on the six-lane superhighway from
Kunming to the Burmese border, the sometimes barely
discernable track within Burma, or the bustling two-
lane stretch in Assam, at the moment, travelling the
Stilwell Road is an admittedly lively adventure.
While that hair-raising excitement will have to be
toned down to allow for a regular commercial flow,
but make no mistake: emerging with the Road's new
tarmac is a key to the continued transformation of
Asia as a whole - linking Southasia, Fast Asia and
Southeast Asia all at once. Although it was wartime
Americans who brought the Road's original
earthmoving machines, the effort to build the Road,
the fighting that secured it, and the communities that
have incorporated it have always been multinational.
While it would be foolish to underestimate the
geopolitical obstacles facing the push to reopen
Stilwell, the simple fact is that the Road will
inevitably come into greater use as India, Burma and
China continue to become more economically
powerful, independent, and intertwined. And with
them, the rest of Asia. I
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 South asia sphere
by | C K Lai
In whatever way it is defined, violence, politics,
and civilian casualties constitute an integral part
of every act of terrorism. To understand terrorism,
it is essential to understand the historic processes
that create conditions for the calculated use of violence
bv fanatical groups to deliver political messages and
gain mUeage. Mutiny, insurgencies, wars and
uprisings have been with us in Southasia since the
Aryan invasion and before, but ^^^^^^^^^m
terrorism is a distinctly post-
colonial pathology. It needs to be
treated, not fought.
The Supreme Court of
Bangladesh has taken a bold
constitutional step to correct
past mistakes, lt has declared
everything about the coup of 1975
and subsequent martial law
pronouncements as illegal. 'This
precedence will be useful in future
when courts of Pakistan and Nepal
become confident enough to pass
judgements on the decisions of Gen
Pervez Musharraf and King
Gyanendra. But even in the limited
context of Bangladesh, the
landmark riding will be a stern
reminder to ambitious military
generals and their foreign sponsors
that, sooner or later, everyone has
to stand trial in the court of history,
Who knows whether the
Americans had a role to play in the dark deed of 15
August 1975, but there is no denying the impact the
carnage of Bangbandhu Mujib and his family had
on Bangladeshi politics and society. The culture of
vengeance took root in the fertile soil of a newly
independent nation, religion as a tool of populism
found willing takers, and international players
discovered that the cost of meddling in a squabbling
nation was surprisingly low.
Thirty vears after the putsch, serial bomb blasts on
17 August proved that the tree of terrorism planted
in the blood-soaked soil has grown so big that its
shadow now covers the breadth of the country.
Casualty figures from the series of explosions - two
dead and 100 injured - belie the fact that this was a
Did you say Ben ?
carefully coordinated operation in which 63 of the
64 districts of Bangladesh were affected. With
ruthless efficiency, 200 explosions hit the country
within half an hour, frightening locals and forcing
foreigners to flee. The Western media has already-
begun to portrav Bangladesh as the next Indonesia -
hotbed of Islamist extremism harbouring Osama
wannabes in every mosque.
Beyond Ben Gurion
Media pundits often forget that terrorism is a religion
in itself with its own paraphernalia of holy books
(most of it authored by British and American counter-
insurgency experts), hoary prophets (Ben Gurion and
bin Laden) and high-sounding
principles (end justifies means; terror
is the tool of the weak, etc). Use of
adjectives such as 'Christian', as in
Northern Ireland and Bosnia, or
'Islamic' as in Afghanistan, Iraq and
Indonesia, blurs the main issue.
Terrorism is a historic phenomenon
that cannot be tackled militarily with
simplistic slogans.
In his address to the nation shortly
after the 9/11 attacks, amidst
inflammatory catchphrases he used
the terms 'terror', 'terrorism', and
'terrorist' all of 32 times. But he
did not bother to define the
terminology. But back in the saddle
for the second term, he now wants to
be remembered as statesman
rather than warmonger, so his
administration is replacing the
belligerent battle-crv "global war on
  terror"      with      a      'principled'
commitment to "global struggle
against violent extremism." Fiddling with
phraseology doesn't mean much; it is intentions that
matter. However, the words set rolling by the Potomac
may very well change the way the Southasian
intelligentsia looks at its own little wars in nooks
and crannies of our region.
India, that is, Bharat has once again outlawed the
Naxalites. Fear-mongering is the latest sport in
Hyderabad and New Delhi where armchair analysts
pontificate endlessly about the dangers of
Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties of South
Asia (CCOMPOSA) and the supposedly developing
corridor of Maoist insurgency from .Nepal to Sri
Lanka searing through Uttar Pradesh, Madhya
Pradesh, Andhra, Kamataka and Kerala. The idea of
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 an east-west corridor controlled by
extremists appears even more
farfetched, and so whoever spouts it
is naturally worthy of peer respect
in the seminar circuit. No security    T
analyst worth his palmtop can stand    f 4&A
the seductive charm of an al-Qaeda, w
TST, Naxal and Bangla Bhai link
running     through     the     Hindi
heartland   and   networked   with
militants of Assam, Manipur and
Kaslimir. For the sensation-addicted
mass media, these is the stuff that banner headlines
are made of.
Maobaadi and madrassas
To give credit where it's due, the Maobaadi of Nepal
are much more international than their
Subcontinental cousins. The CPN-M is one of the
founders of Revolutionary International Movement
(RIM), is credited for creating CCOMPOSA, and is
even indirectly responsible for bringing various
factions of Indian Naxalites under the banner of
Communist Party of India-Maoists. But despite their
audacious attacks on military targets, even the
Maobaadi have begem to lose their lustre. So far, their
every action has had an equal and opposite reaction
of strengthening the hands of the King Gyanendra's
royal palace as it engages in subjugating the people.
Even the unilateral ceasefire that they declared in
the first week of September appears to be a concession
to the palace rather than an olive branch thrown in
the direction of political parties and civil society.
Meanwhile, King Gyanendra let slip while
speaking to some villagers in west Nepal that he
wants to split the insurgents. But the divide-and-
rule policy has its own perils. If smaller groups of
extremists were easier to handle, Gen Musharraf
would be sitting pretty letting his force do the bidding
of American sleuths engaged in hunting the mythical
Taliban and al-Qaeda guerrillas. He has de-
recognised madrassa diplomas instead. Macaulay's
children in Southasia have a paranoiac disdain for
religious education. The English-speaking elite in
our metropolitan cities - the general sahab is just an
over-achiever specimen of the same - do not realise
that without Sanskrit Pathshalas that are run with
temple funds in India and Nepal, and Madrassas
funded through zakat almost everywhere, some of
the poorest of the poor will not only remain illiterate
but malnourished too. These seminaries provide free
board to the needy (though admittedly most of
pathshala beneficiaries tend to be poor Brahmin
boys) in addition to imparting the rudimentary 3R's.
Had Islamabad diverted some of its nuke and
missile money to social purpose -for example,
compulsory free schooling and midday meals for tire
children of the poor - the madrassas would have
been forced to compete with formal
schools. Stability of Pakistan is
inversely proportional to the
prosperity of its professionals - the
better the air-conditioning in the cars
that cruise about Clifton in Karachi,
the more the likelihood of an uprising
in rural Sindh. The bigger the
bungalows amidst Islamabad's
other-worldly green, the more violent
the protests in Punjab. But these are
matters that a military (or royal) ruler
can never understand.
Sri Uanka isn't getting any better either since the
military engineered a split in LTTE and began to back
the splinter group to the hilt. On 12 August, the
foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar fell to a
sniper bullet. But while blaming the usual suspect -
the LTTE - the government has done precious little
to check Sinhalese chauvinism of Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU)
parties. Tlie peace process in Sri Lanka is unlikely to
succeed without some sort of settlement with Tamils,
but the Sinhalese majority still awaits a leader
courageous enough to make an unpopular deal.
Chandrika Kumaratunga tries, but not hard enough.
Strong centres are too strong to let devolution happen.
The earthen lamp
Post-9/11, peace has come to be defined in terms of
war: wars are declared to win peace. The world has
somehow forgotten the frail man in a dhoti who was
Mountbatten's one-man army in Bengal during the
Partition carnage of 1947. M K Gandhi countered the
terror tactics of fanatics with nothing but his
conviction that violence begets violence and it is only
peace that can create peace.
Gandhi had yet another prescription that very few
remember anymore. Devolution of power to the lowest
units of government will render the use of terror tactics
meaningless - the value of rocket-launchers in 'dirty
wars' would plummet if the prize at the end of it
were limited to control over an impoverished village
somewhere in Telangana
The suicide bomber - the ultimate terror machine
- is not the product of hope but the escape of the
desperate from the injustice of history. That
desperation cannot be addressed by sovereignty or
independence of the post-colonial state, or even the
delivery of development. Nothing less than sustained
and sincere efforts to build a just structure can
address the grievances that breed terrorism. Even a
"global struggle against violent extremism" is wrar
by another name, being waged upon the world by
the most powerful country in human history. Fear
incites violence, even when the fear is caused by mere
shadows. To build peace, we must learn to overcome
our fears and red iscover hope. $
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
by | Pranav Budhathoki
The Japanese tenacity in the fight against nuclear
proliferation was the result of the bombing of
1 Hiroshima and Nagasaki sixty years ago. In the
early morning of 6 August 1945, Japanese radar
mistakenly identified the American B-29 bomber
carrying 'Little Boy' as coming on a routine
high-altitude reconnaissance mission. Fifteen
minutes later, Hiroshima was annihilated, and
80,000 lives had been vapourised.
The Hibakusha are the victims of the fireball and
the raging wind of that day, living testimony to an
act of terror when one country used the nuclear bomb
against a people. Those who were very young are
still with us today. Yoshitaka Sakai was 10 when
the atom bomb fell on his city, slaughtering his family
of 13. "I picked maggots using chopsticks from my
mother's decaying back whilst trying to save her. I
helplessly stood by my brother's side as he died
begging for water," he said. "The Motoyasu River
was clogged with floating corpses. People with
popped out eyes, exploded bellies and peeled
skin were everywhere. Those who died were the
fortunate ones."
On 6 August 2005, as I stood alongside 60,000
silent participants at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial
park to commemorate the horrific day, it was
Southasia that was on my mind. India and Pakistan
are proceeding with their nuclear armament
In both countries, the tests of Chagai and Pokhran
are seen as nationalist enterprises and proof of
strategic virility and technological prowess. We have
no Hibakusha to remind us that what the two
governments are doing by developing nuclear
weapons as well as the delivery weapons (Agni,
Ghauri) is putting our future in the shredder.
India and Pakistan, together with Israel, are the
three states that refuse to sign the nuclear Non
Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And it is New Delhi that
is squarely responsible for instigating the nuclear
race in the Subcontinent. While the Jadugoda tribals
in Jharkhand endure radioactive poison from
unprotected uranium mining, Indian strategic
analysts preen when President George W. Bush
declares of India, as he did on July 18, "a responsible
state with advanced nuclear technology". Said Bush,
he would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy
cooperation with India" and "seek agreement from
Congress to adjust US laws and policies".
Meanwhile, Islamabad's generals no longer get
hauled over the coals for their nuclear aspirations. If
anything, they receive nods and winks of approval.
The British government is contemplating nuclear
co-operation with Pakistan, irrespective of the fact
that the world's supreme nuclear suspect Abdul
Qadeer Khan was caught in January 2003 doling
out weapons secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea
for a price.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 The global anti-proliferation campaign may not
be able to stop Southasia's headlong rush towards
nuclear weaponisation, but do we not owe it to
ourselves to do so? If we do not have our own
Hibakusha, at least we have our own imagination,
our own poverty, our own hopes for a prosperous
future. Simply put, we are not able to comprehend
the scale of dying in a nuclear conflagration, lhe
lumbering bomber Enola Gay took six hours to fly
from the Tinian airbase in the West Pacific before
dropping its payload over Japan. Whereas, at the
push of a button, India's Prithvi missile would take
within three to five minutes to reach almost anywhere
in Pakistan, and Pakistan's Ghauri missile would
require about five minutes to reach Delhi. Neither
country has the know-how to recall a nuclear missile
fired in error.
Hiroshima had an estimated 250,000 residents
when it was bombed. What would one nuclear
explosion, on ground or on air, do to the ten million
plus living in and around Bombay, Delhi, Karachi,
and Lahore? The casualties - in the immediate
aftermath and long term - would easily come to a
million and more. The relief apparatus would have
been vapourised as well. One just has to remember
the absence of emergency relief during the Bhopal
gas disaster, whose victims perhaps come closest to
being India's and Southasia's Hibakusha.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once said that he was willing
to feed his fellow-citizens grass, but Pakistan would
have nuclear weapons. India used the name of the
Prince of Peace to signal in code that Pokhran had
succeeded - "The Buddha has smiled". Such tack of
caring and flippancy on the way to our collective
morgue. But Southasia's anti-nuclear campaign has
not even begun. Without a tangible face to put to the
intangible impression of nuclear annihilation and
ensuing suffering, our disorientated pressure groups
have not been able to spark the terrible imagination.
The fixation on Kashmir has even diverted the
activists. If there is going to be a nuclear aArmageddon
in the near future, it will probably have Kashmir as
the cause. But what are the chances that Srinagar
will be nuked? In the event of war between India and
Pakistan, the man with the hand on the nuclear
trigger will want to cause maximum damage; he will
send the nuclear tipped missiles to Bombay, Delhi,
Karachi, Lahore,
In Hiroshima in August this year, a helicopter
hovered 600 meters above the nuclear hypocentre, at
the exact spot in midair where the atomic bomb was
detonated. It was indescribably poignant, and even
more so to realise, as a Southasian, thait our leaders
do not have the imagination to relate to the tragedy
of 6 August 1945. Even today, thev would rather that
their citizens eat grass. .;.
Liverpool Mm UMversityJJK
I            29tn-30lli lune 2S06 I
I       I
Call for Papers Deadline: 2006-02-28
I This conference is intended to encourage interdisciplinary exchange l
| on the representation, cultures, histories, experience, planning, |
| and articulation of global cities. By interrogating the vocabularies i
| that have arisen in several disciplines which might include in J
ill  addition to the term 'global city', 'global village', megacities' f
| 'cosmopolis', imperial metropolis', 'world cities', 'sprawl', f
| 'postmetropolis'. etc., the conference will bring together debates ;f
1 over images, narratives, economics, planning and, above all, i
| experience, of the 'global' city. Papers are sought from any 3
I relevant discipline in the humanities, social sciences, architecture, 3
| urban planning, and beyond. We will be actively pursuing various |
| publishing outputs related to the conference.
I Abstracts of 200 words for 20-minute papers by 28th February |
| 2006. Further information from Dr. Lawrence Phillips, if
| |
I Dr Lawrence Phillips,
| Global Cities Conference
I            Humanities Deanery Liverpool Hope University |
I                   HopePark, Liverpool, L16 9JD.UK §
Telephone: +44 0151 291 3560 FAX +44 0151 291 3160 |
1                          Email:
Religious Reniueiism and Political
.1 Extremism in Pakistan and Bangladesh at
o tHe International Institute for Strategic
if Studies HISS), London |
December 16, 2005 \
'% The Politics of South Asia Specialist Group of the Political Studies §
t: Association (PSA), in conjunction with the British Association for I
I South Asian Studies (BASAS) and the South Asia Programme of the s.
si International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), seeks paper !
| proposals for a workshop entitled "Religious Revivalism and Political |
E Extremism in Pakistan and Bangladesh." Building upon the success |
| af the annual BASAS workshop held at Ihe University of Bristol on |
ii November 13, 2004, the organizers seek papers that draw light on f
r the apparent revival of extremist religious movements in Pakistan I
f; and Bangladesh. The workshop seeks to understand the extent §
"0 and magnitude af such a revival and aims to draw some J
i conclusions about its potential impact on inter-ethnic relations in "j
1 Pakistan and Bangladesh and on strategic relations in the region in .i
| general. |
I Since the organizers are keen to examine Ihe problem of religious «!
| revivalism from a multidisciplinary perspective, other paper topics p
i are certainly welcome. However, preference will be given to
| papers that explicitly analyze the phenomenon of religious revivalism S
I and political extremism in Pakistan and Bangladesh from a ft
I comparative perspective. Travel costs will be paid for the paper 3
| givers. §
1 Please submit a one-page abstract of individual papers no later than 8
1 Friday, October 7, 2005 to: |
J |
I Contact: Lawrence Saez, Asia Research Centre. London School |
1 of   Economics,   Houghton  Streel,   London  WC2A  2AE,   UK
1 i
ft 3 ¥,
"' ?
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Guerrillas and terrorists
by | Anil Athale
Many insurgencies in the latter half of the 20th
century served as a tool for the 'weaker'
communist bloc to try and change the
global power balance. Open confrontation carried the
risk of escalation and the communist powers were at
a disadvantage in the field of technologies of
conventional weapons. The insurgents relied on
guerrilla tactics that precluded the use of heavy
weapons and hence were able to dictate the terms of
engagement. Guerrilla war is thus a low cost, low
risk, option for a weaker party to change the political
map despite adverse power balance.
What, was r\ew in the theories of Mao and. Che
was the degree of emphasis on politics. Mao brought
down politics from the level of policy and made it
relevant to the individual soldier by relating it to
tactics and morale. This showed shrewd
understanding of the circumstances under which a
guerrilla operates. The emphasis on indoctrination
and ideology was a direct result of Mao's
understanding of insurgency as a protracted war,
where the human element is of crucial importance.
In classical concept, destruction of armed power
leads to collapse of the enemy's morale which leads
to eventual victory, but in the Maoist conception of
revolutionary war it is the loss of morale that leads to
the defeat of enemy's armed forces.
Insurgency in Asia can only be understood against
the backdrop of the current stage of political
development. There may be economically advanced
states, but they may be under-developed politically.
In a politically developed country, government is
effective. Elsewhere, there is violence and instability.
Political institutions in a developed country mediate
between competing groups and individuals and
maintain peace. These institutions are characterised
by adaptability, autonomy, subordination,
complexity and coherence in disunity.
Large parts of Asia are predominantly agricultural
civilisations in the process of industrialisation, which
brings in its wake Western values. This change can
often generate alienation and loss of norms due to
the conflict between the indigenous and new value
systems. Historically, this has been accompanied bv
violence. Racial, linguistic and religious differences
also become factors in the resistance to modernisation
which turns violence. The spread of education,
information and literacy generate additional
pressures due to heightened awareness leading to
heightened expectations
There is the mistaken notion that 'everything is
fair in love and war', but by that token even an acid
attack due to unreciprocated love can be justified - it
is not. Similarly, since ancient times there have been
rules of the game in time of war. There are norms and
ethics, written or unwritten, on the conduct of conflict
which have been more or less universally observed.
As far as the state is concerned, the political acts of
modem-day governments, including the use of force,
have to take place within the democratic framework.
As far as terrorism is concerned, it is a global issue
and needs a global solution. In the 1980s, when the
world faced a rash of aircraft hijackings, a world
consensus was built around the agreement that no
country would give shelter to hijackers. As a result
of this measure, hijackings have been more or less
controlled. Similarly, the world today needs to clearly
define terrorist acts - as distinct from actions of
guerrilla fighters or militants. Once a terrorist act is
clearly defined, the United Nations must enforce a
universal adherence to mandatory and exemplary
punishment to the supporting organisations,
instigators, helpers and propagators of this method
of resistance.
Identification of terrorism as a heinous crime
would entail recognition of guerrilla war as a separate
issue, to be dealt along the lines of the Geneva
conventions dealing with wars. Thus, acts by
insurgents against armed forces and the police would
necessarily have to be placed in a separate category.
While the world does recognise this form of warfare,
all acts against civilians and non-combatants must
perforce be classed 'terrorism'. All countries must
agree to punish the perpetrators and put behind bars
all members of such organisations, without
In the past few years, counter-terror operations
have lost much of their popular support because they
have been dragged into the catch-all nature of the
US-led "War on Terror". Instead, the operations
should be treated as a counter-insurgency. The
implication is that the force used must be appropriate
and discriminate as opposed to maximum and
indiscriminate. Additionally, the emphasis must be
on isolating the terrorists from their support base
and not destruction of the supporting people. The
obvious objection to this from some quarters would
be that it grants a licence for guerrilla war. Which is
true. But mankind has lived with this form of warfare
since ancient times. The world would definitely
become a safer place if we are able to separate
guerrilla war from terrorism. 0-
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 I Analysis
lome and the world
The rise ofthe Indian multinational
The center of gravity of world business is shifting, and India's
MNCs are ready to carve out a good sized chunk of the pie.
by | Indrajit Lahiri
"It's IBM's nightmare," reported the American
business magazine Fortune. In a conference room in
Bangalore, consultants and engineers at the software
company Wipro were redesigning the 'consumer
experience' for a US retail chain to make it state-of-
the-art. Reports the magazine, Wipro's general
manager for retail solutions was leading a group
asking all kinds of detailed questions, "Should sales
clerks carry handheld transaction devices or stand
at cash registers? Which merchandise should be
tracked electronically? How much information needs
to be in the database to ensure that discount
promotions don't last longer than necessary?"
All this would be the stuff of bad dreams for 'Big
Blue' because increasingly its US client companies
are turning to Wipro and other software development
companies in India for solutions. Indeed, lean and
hungry IT companies like Wipro, TCS and Infosys
are already invading IBM's turf. These companies
are part of the wave of 'multinationalisation' that is
sweeping the Indian corporate world.
Wipro's challenge to the mighty IBM is only the
latest element of an unfolding saga, which is likely to
redesign the global business landscape. In particular,
the multinational corporations of China and India
are swooping down on the playing field of the
Western transnational corporations and in many
cases running away with the ball. These Asian MNCs
have drawn a great deal of attention of late, due to
their direct impact on the market traditionally
monopolized by Western MNCs. To trace how the
large Chinese and Indian companies have arrived at
this point, it is important to trace the evolution of the
multinationals in Asia.
Multinationals of Asia
Many Asian multinationals evolved from trading
outfits with overseas ownership, one example being
the Swire Group founded in Shanghai in 1866 as
Butterfield & Swire and now the parent of such
worldwide companies as the airline Cathay Pacific.
There were also the manufacturing leaders such as
Unilever, incorporated in London and Rotterdam,
and with a large presence from the beginning in Asian
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 countries. The common thread running through these
companies was clearly an entrepreneurial flair, aind
a healthy appetite for risk.
It was in 1902 that Citibank (then called the First
National City Bank) set up its first branches in
Calcutta, Hong Kong, Manila, and elsewhere, .^s
business grew, these multinationals, by virtue of their
greater access to capital, depth of management
experience and global presence, came to dominate
the Asian market. World War 11 and a greater
.American presence in Asia also acted as a boost to
Western companies. Coca-Cola, to use one example,
rode in on the rucksacks of US infantrymen into retail
outlets across East, Southeast and South Asia.
Missing in this picture of companies doing
business beyond their national boundaries were the
indigenous companies of Asia. In many cases, newly
established Asian or Southasian companies were too
bus}' navigating the regulatory and competitive
landscape in their respective countries to have the
wherewithal to look outward at regional and overseas
markets. In India, restrictive regulation linked to
licensed manufacturing capacity and restricted
access to foreign exchange acted as barriers for
companies which, at any rate, were struggling to
meet domestic demand. Also missing was a global
mind-set on the part of management, and self-
confidence in the ability to produce and sell Indian
products and services in the developed economies.
Furthermore, the less said about the quality
perception of Indian manufactures back then, the
For many decades, Indian overseas exports
consisted of non-manufactured goods with little
value addition - agro-commodities, steel, heavy
machinery, handicrafts and spices. You had a
peculiar situation of a country able to put a satellite
in space and carry out nuclear tests - in 1974, and
then in 1998 - but unable to sell consumer products
or services in the world market. But there were
company stewards who were dreaming big, and over
the 1970s and 1980s, even in the midst of the license
raj and protected market, they were building a base
of talent, knowledge and physical infrastructure that
would create the foundations for liftoff. The trigger
came with the rapid liberalisation of the Indian
economy after 1991, and soon there was exponential
growth and visibility on the global stage. There has
been no looking back.
Paints and pharmaceuticals
To chart the great advance that has been made by
Indian MNCs, one can consider the case of two
Indian companies that have made it - Asian Paints
and Ranbaxy. The former was founded in Mumbai
in 1942 by four Indian entrepreneurs at a time when
the Indian paints market was dominated by Western
companies   such   as   British   Paints,   Jenson   &
Nicholson aind ICl. From its startup, Asian Paints
focused on rigorous quality control systems, opening
up rural markets, and utilising information
technology, acting as one of the early Indian
companies to use mainframes for data processing. It
was also a leading and early employer of professional
These initiatives paid off, and the company
achieved market leadership in India in 1967. In 1978,
it took its first steps overseas, setting up a greenfield
(meaning starting up rather than acquiring an
existing business) venture in Fiji. Operations were
soon expanded elsewhere in the South Pacific, in
Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Asian
Paints (Nepal) started production in 1985. In 1998,
following the advice of a reputed consulting firm, the
international operations of the company were
integrated into a "strategic business unit". The
organisation as a whole took on an extremely
ambitious goal - to elevate itself to the exclusive club
of the world's top five companies in the decorative
paints segment by 2007.
Several new greenfield projects were set up, notably
in Bangladesh and Oman. In 2002, after two
acquisitions in quick succession, the company
extended its reach to Egypt, parts of the Middle East,
Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Today, Asian
Paints comprises manufacturing operations in 22
countries, primarily in Asia, Australasia and the
Caribbean, with a global turnover exceeding USD 500
million. It is already one of the top ten decorative
paint companies in the world.
Ranbaxy Laboratories was founded in 1961 by
Bhai Mohan Singh in order to produce
pharmaceuticals, with the initial emphasis on the
production and marketing of basic drugs. It went
public in 1973, and in the
1980s it expanded domestic
production significantly,
simultaneously putting up
modern research and
development infrastructure.
There was no looking back
after one of its plants in India
obtained approval from the
US Food and Drug
Administration, which
allowed Ranbaxv entry into
a prime world market. The
company, which set up its
first joint venture in Nigeria
two and half decades ago,
today has manufacturing
operations in seven country
and 'ground presence' in 44.
In 2004, the company
registered a growth in sales
of 21 percent, with turnover
lhe trigger
sane wilii lhe
si tlie Indian
economy after
1991, m§ %mn
there was
!?§nth mi
siolsal stage.
There lias
been no
looking hack.
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 totaling USD 1.2 billion. Ihe overseas market
accounted for 78 percent of the sales, with the US
accounting for 36 percent and Europe 16 percent.
Recently, Ranbaxy enhanced its Furopean presence
by making an acquisition in France, which makes it
the largest producer of generic drugs in that country.
Ranbaxy has embarked on a full-fledged global
strategy based on innovation, alliance-building and
'globalisation'. The company began producing under
intellectual property licenses held by global firms,
conducted clinical trials for its drugs in foreign
markets, and itself created new'intellectual property'.
it developed alliances for
WlltliiSSlfliaSIS   P''^ucin« "™ drugs
.        „   . .      and tor research. Un the
100(31?, 11 IS Rittlffl¥   whole, the work done at
the liiiliiii!homebase over the >'ears
mUltinatiOnalS that   nwketing^anbdlxy
haVe rldtlen the   as a globaf major, and it
wave ofht1s a slobtl1 foDtPnnt
..     '  .'    '*     £   encompassing countries
llberalfSatientO   as diverse as Nigeria,
seek out worid ^.^ Poland'South
markets, and there MaiavLin?1" Th^'S;
are OhViOUS   France, besides the US
reasons whv this "ndAUK- .,. .     ,
Asian Paints and
IIOS iieen SO. Ranbaxy represent just
the tip of the Indian
iceberg that has in the last decade and half invaded
the world marketplace. Some of the other major
players include ICICI Bank, Indian Oil, the Aditya
Birla Croup, and the various companies of the Tata
Group including Tata Tea (with its large acquisition
of Tetley of UK). Not to mention the three giants of the
Indian software industry : Infosys, Tata Consultancy
Services and Wipro.
Lessons for aspirants
The growth of these Indian MNCs throws up some
significant lessons for all aspiring multinationals of
Access to capital: because financing is now global, it
is possible for companies with the right profile and
capability to access a volume of capital that could
only be dreamed of earlier, it is up to the executives
who hope to go global whether and how to take
advantage the highly liquid and 'risk-neutral' sources
of finance that have now become available.
Talent: Capable executives are now willing to
relocate globally, and particularly to India, where they
see stability, income and career enhancement. Indeed,
Indian companies have begun to attract the best talent
from the international pool, one example being Dr.
Brian Tempest, CEO of Ranbaxy. Top-line executives
are joining Indian MNCs because they know the goals
are global, reaching far beyond India and Southasia.
Alliances and Partnerships: Overseas companies
seeking to take advantage of the Indian workforce
and market are willing to allow Indian companies
an 'in' on their expertise and finance capacities. This
seems to be the key to long-term alliances, and that
is the path many Indian companies have taken in
expanding their activities internationally. But it is
easier said than done, because of the unfamiliar
business terrain aind diverse corporate cultures in
different parts of the world. A deep understanding
of the partner's country and culture helps, but in
the end, it is all about an understanding of mutual
goals and expectations which allow both partners
to tide o\*er inevitable turbulence.
Southasian MNCs
Within Southasia today, it is mainly the Indian
multinationals that have ridden the wave of
liberalisation to seek out world markets, and there
arc obvious reasons why this has been so. Most
importantly, the much larger domestic playing field
in India allows Indian companies a range of
experience and access to capital not readily available
to companies in neighbouring countries. However,
it is a fact that the capability to go international does
exist all over the region. Two somewhat dissimilar
examples are Sri Lanka's Dilmah's tea company
with its highly rated marketing, and BRAC, which
is evolving as a multi-dexterous company using its
experience within Bangladesh to reach out with
services bevond Southasia.
In their quest for global growth, the Indian MNCs
are looking at market opportunities across many
geographical areas including Southasia. The style
and functioning of these and other Asian MNCs,
including Chinese and Korean companies, would
have an impact on the functioning of the host
economies. In this highly networked world, along
with increased competition, these MNCs would be
bringing in various elements: specialised
knowledge, technical expertise, management skills,
and new products and processes. These elements,
going into the economy, act as enablers for
development of industrial activity. Also, local
companies learn to develop 'business ecosystems'
built to leverage the presence of these MNCs.
The center of gravity of global economic activity
is shifting inexorably to Asia, and the continued
evolution of multinationals of India will have
significant implications for business, trade and
societal development in this region and beyond. Will
there be an evolution towards more companies from
among India's neighbours becoming multinational,
and will at some point there be a company with
joint cross-national ownership which could
be called a truly 'Southasian MNC? Only time
will tell. v
Sep Oct 2005     Himal Southasian
Department for
DFID is a major bilateral development agency in Nepal. Our commitment is to help
reduce poverty. We give priority to support for economic opportunities and essential
services to poor and disadvantaged communities, including those currently affected by
conflict, and to social justice and governance reforms.We are committed to delivering
assistance transparently and with full accountability locally.
The DFID Programme in Nepal is designed and supervised by a team of advisers
including specialists in governance, health, economics, rural livelihoods/infrastructure,
social development, and conflict studies. We want to further diversify our team to
include Nepalese expertise covering Livelihoods and Human Development (to support
our health and education work).
Applicants should be able to demonstrate they have the necessary professional and
practical expertise in either livelihoods (Ref No LOO I) or human development (Ref No
HDOOI), and have a successful record of achievement working as a professional in a
national or international development agency.Applicants must be able to demonstrate
strong competencies in relation to working with others; leading and managing; forward
thinking; communicating and influencing; and analytical thinking and judgement. Finally,
applicants must have a relevant post-graduate degree or equivalent and be fluent in
both English and Nepali.
Located in the DFID office in Kathmandu, the posts are based in a fast paced multicultural environment that places a high premium on inclusive team working.You will
have opportunities to work closely with all levels of Government and non-governmental
agencies, and interact with Nepalis from all walks of life and from all over the country.
Though based in Kathmandu, in-country and some international travel will be required.
The post will be permanent.
There will be an attractive and competitive local salary and benefits package.
DFID is an Equal Opportunities employer. Applications are welcomed from all parts
ofthe community and we actively encourage interest from women, Dalits, disadvantaged
Janajatis and those with a disability. Selection is on merit. For an Application Form and
Job description, please e-mail or collect from DFID Main Gate,
Jawalakhel.Telephone No (977-1) 5542979.
Completed applications should be addressed to Bidushi Rai, HR Section, DFID Nepal.
The closing date for applications is Friday 21st October 2005.
 Special Report
It should have
come as no
surprise that
children die in sucb
large numbers from
injury. Fortunately,
there is now
recognition of the
••  problem and a
willingness to do
by | Prashant Jha
[hen Shaikat's mother went off to cook in the
kitchen that afternoon, she was confident that
her 19-month-old son was safe with his
grandmother in the courtyard. Not realising that the
child had been left under her care, the old lady,
however, had been paying little attention. Shaikat
wandered out of the house unnoticed. Twenty
minutes later, when the family panicked and rushed
out looking for him, they discovered Shaikat's body
floating on the surface of a pond less than 30 metres
away from the house.
Residents of a village in Sherpur district, four
hours from Dhaka, the family was unfortunate - it
had to cope with a senseless loss of a loved one and
the hopes the infant represented. What makes
Shaikat's death even more striking is the fact that he
was hardly alone. He was but one among the 83 or so
children in Bangladesh who would have died that
day due to accident and injury. Drowning would
have accounted for 46 of those deaths.
Bangladesh, says a health and injury study
released earlier this year, is in the midst of a
"previously unrecognised epidemic of child injury
deaths". The largest community-based injury survey
ever conducted in the developing world, the
Bangladesh Health and Injury Study (BHIS) covered
171,000 households and more than 800,000 people.
The results are so startling that it is important not
only to consider them, but also to try and understand
why something this grave, which affects so many
young and innocent lives, has not even been flagged
as an issue of public health.
Getting hurt
Injury, it turns out, is the leading cause of death
among Bangladesh's children over one year of age,
accounting for 38 percent of all deaths in the 1-17
age group. More than 30,000 children annually
succumb to accidents and injury. More than a million
suffer from non-fatal injuries, which translates into
2,600 children getting injured daily. Of those hurt
annually, 13,000 are permanently disabled. The
statistics have left many shocked, including
Bangladesh's Health Minister, Khandaker
Mosharraf Hossain, who said he was stunned to hear
the BHIS findings.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 The results are shocking due to both the enormity
of the problem and the fact that injury has never been
considered a serious issue in public discourse. While
the belated recognition of injuries as a leading cause
of death and disability among children marks a
transition in child health concerns that is
characteristic to many developing countries, it also
reveals the loose linkage between communities and
the national health system. Additionally, it raises
disturbing questions about whether the 'donor-
driven' nature of public health strategy and
development discourse has diverted national
attention from an area so instinctively important.
These life-threatening injuries may occur due to a
diverse set of reasons at different stages of a child's
life. While drowning is the single-largest killer in the
early childhood years, road traffic
accidents take the lead in later
years when a child is more mobile.
Other causes leading to death or
disability include burns, falls, cuts,
snake   and   animal   bites,   and
poisoning,  besides  intentional
injuries related to suicide attempts.
The biggest tragedy, perhaps, is
that most of these injuries, which
kill and maim, are both predictable
and preventable.
But prevention of injury
becomes complex because the
subject is intertwined in a maze of
political, social, cultural and
economic issues - from, entrenched
patriarchy that relegates child
supervision as the sole
responsibility of the mother to her
economic compulsions and
workload which make such
supervision less feasible; from the
influx of modernity which has
brought with it accompanying new-world hazards
such as traffic accidents and electrocution to a
'vaccine lobby' which would not like the focus of
health interventions to shift away from diseases.
Furthermore, there is the absence of safety norms
which increases the likelihood of injuries, as well as
lack of health infrastructure to immediately respond
to accidents that happen. The dynamics of child
injuries prevention is truly multi-faceted.
The hidden mountain
If there is anything as astounding as the scale of child
injuries in Bangladesh, it is the fact that the
phenomenon had not been 'discovered' till now.
With no numbers in hand, and hardly any injury
prevention programme in place, the matter was not
even a peripheral priority for the government,
development agencies or ngos. Admits Dr Md Abdur
Rahman Khan, Director General of Health Services,
"Injury was never recognised as a health issue and
we always thought it was a law and order concern."
Morten Giersing. representative of UNICEF in
Bangladesh who pushed the BHIS study, puts it
simply, "Injuries as an issue got overlooked."
Interestingly enough, it was not only the national
level planners who neglected injuries. One would
have expected district health offices and local
communities, which see tire problem up close, to be
more concerned. Says a researcher for BHIS, "In our
interactions, health officials would either deny the
existence of injury deaths or would argue that little
could be done to prevent it." The survey found that
in the communities, there was "a lack of awareness
regarding the level of risks for child injury". Most of
those questioned blamed injury
among children on external forces
beyond their control.
What explains this glaring
oversight of child injuries both as a
public health priority and in
popular perception? Some analysts
point to the epidemiological
transition underway in Bangladesh
which has highlighted the role of
injuries. "We have seen successful
health and immunisation
campaigns that have reduced
mortality occurring due to
infections and diseases. This has
resulted in the relative increase in
mortality due to injuries," says Dr
A K M Fazlur Rahman, executive
director of the Centre of Injury
Prevention and Research,
Bangladesh (CIPRB), who has
pioneered injury studies in the
country. A study in the delta region
of Matlab by the ICDDR, a centre
involved with population and health research,
confirms the point made by Dr Rahman. Despite little
change in the absolute number of drowning cases,
the proportion of deaths among children between 1
and 4 due to drowning increased from 9 percent in
1983 to 53 percent in 2003. This dramatic shift is
attributed to the decline of deaths due to other reasons.
Says Giersing of Unicef, "As we conquer the
mountain of vaccine-preventable diseases, we can
see another mountain behind it, the mountain of
injuries." While diseases and infections were indeed
responsible for a large proportion of child deaths
and deserved attention, the question the analogy
raises is wh\r was the mountain of injuries not noticed
at all, either in the first place or while combating
diseases and infections?
For one, there clearly existed a knowledge gap
about the extent of injuries as a leading cause of child
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 deaths. This was because of the inadequate coverage
of the rural communities by the national health
system, as well as poor information transfer. While
mortality data, collected at the household and
community level during periodic census, provides a
reasonably accurate picture of the number of child
deaths, figures regarding the cause of death are
obtained from the health infonnation systems. Many
kinds of childhood deaths, particularly those that
are immediate such as drowning, are not reported at
the nearby hospitals or health centres. Additionally,
the practice of registering births and deaths has not
yet taken firm root in villages, thus leaving a gap in
the data.
Some put the blame on donor-driven policies, so
critical in determining the health discourse of
Bangladesh, which has led to the neglect of injuries
on a nationwide level. This discourse, while focusing
on the 'mountain' of diseases, did not take into
account specific community problems such as
drowning in a heavily populated deltaic country. The
shifting of focus to the prevention and cure of disease
may indeed have diluted traditional injury
prevention practices by targeting and prioritising a
different set of health problems, even if important in
themselves. For instance, an old method to keep track
of young children was to tie bells around their waist,
clearly revealing that communities in the past were
aware of the need to guard against a child going too
far from the doorway towards dangerous water
bodies in the neighbourhood. Such practices have
now faded in the villages. Admits a senior Unicef
official, "A process of de-learning might have taken
Dr M. Amjad Hossain, head of the orthopaedic
and trauma department at the Dhaka Medical College
and Hospital (DMCH), has no doubt that the neglect
of injuries as a public concern is closely linked to a
political and development system that has become
utterly dependent on donor governments and
agencies. Dr Hossain sees the injuries brought to his
trauma unit as the end result of this failure of
Bangladeshi government and development sector. He
says sardonically, "Child injury is a huge crisis but
it seems we will wake up to reality only after
international funding agencies tell us about the
Dr HOaSsain should derive some satisfaction that
his society is slowly but surely waking up to the
challenge of accidents and injuries. Scholars, civil
servants, activists in local communities, NGOs and,
yes, international agencies are beginning to look at
the arena which kills more Bangladeshi children
than any other. The discovery of this lost and unseen
'mountain of injuries', for its part, has been a
remarkable story in itself. Unicef's Giersing, who had
earlier been involved in an injury study in Vietnam,
was aware of the dangers and extent of injury related
childhood death and disability in the developing
world. The key to understanding and action, however,
was to gather data. For his part, Dr Fazlur Rahman
had done a research on injuries in the district of
Sherpur back in 1995 and believed that a national
survey would throw up interesting figures. The
ICCDR study in Matlab, meanwhile, had already
indicated a trend towards injuries emerging as a
leading cause of childhood deaths. With the
development agencies on board, the government was
responsive as well, and a collaborative effort finally
led to the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey. The
hidden mountain had appeared back on the horizon.
Water, water..
Bangladesh is blessed with water, and also with
floods which bring fertility to the land even while
devastating sections of the population. It should
come as no surprise why drowning is the leading
cause of death among children. Almost 17,000
children between 1-17 years of age die of drowning
every year. A further break-up of data suggests that
drowning is the single largest killer in the 1-4 and
the 5-9 age brackets, with other causes taking the lead
during adolescence.
What is surprising, however, is that most children
do not drown during floods or in the rivers. Instead,
they fall into neighbourhood ponds and ditches,
which are filled with water as a result of the high
water table in most parts of the country. Although
incidents do increase during the rainy months, the
presence of these 'harmless' water bodies makes
drowning a perennial danger in rural Bangladesh.
"Adults perceive knee level water to be safe, not
realising that a child needs merely six inches of water
to drown," notes Shams El Arifeen, a research
epidemiologist at the ICCDR.
Besides the dangerous proximity to ponds and
lakes, it is weak supervision that makes children
vulnerable. "Most incidents of drowning happen
during the day when mothers are busy cooking in
the house. They may either leave the children alone
or with slightly older siblings who themselves are
not mature enough to be protective," says Arifeen,
Even while others may lend a hand, it is the mother
who is considered to have the ultimate responsibility
for a child's protection. When she is busy, the child
is inevitably exposed to danger.
General perceptions regarding drowning are also
instructive. The injury study in Matlab reveals that
for district health officials, drowning simply did not
exist as a cause of death while among mothers, it
ranked as the fourth leading cause of death in the
village. Apart from accepting injuries with a sense of
fatalism, the communities were also found to be
superstitious. In order to prevent drowning, the
villagers would, the Matlab study reports, "have the
kobiraj (spiritual healer) bless the ponds and make
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 sacrifices to the goddess of water Gongima" This
superstition is stretched to dangerous levels when
parents of a drowned child are excluded from efforts
to revive the child. Explaining popular perception,
the mother of a child who nearly drowned said, "A
child will die if the mother touches him/her even if
there is a sign of life still left."
While the extent of drowning deaths itself
presents a formidable challenge, activists and
scholars agree that beliefs and perceptions related
to the phenomenon must be tackled before anything
else. This means conveying the message that
drowning is not n:'natural' and in fact, preventable.
"We already have health workers at the ward,
union as well as the sub-division level who are in
touch with families to facilitate the immunisation
programme. This group is the key to making
villagers aware of the risk of drowning and the
need to be careful," says Dr Md Firoz Miah, civil
surgeon of the Sherpur district. Dr jMiah and others
suggest that community discussions in the wake
of a drowning death are crucial for awareness and
A successful prevention strategy would need to
include several components. "To ensure
supervision, the traditional practice of tying bells
around the child's waist must be revived and
encouraged. This would help parents to keep a
track of their child," says Dr Fazlur Rahman, who
also runs the only injury prevention and safe
community programme in Bangladesh. It is also
important to encourage shared responsibility
between both parents and to tap into the extended
family structure and community links in villages
to look after young children. The burden of
supervision must not be allowed to rest solely on
the mother.
While some suggest fencing off ponds and
ditches around homes to make them inaccessible
for children, such a proposal may not be popular
or practical where access to water is important.
"There are other ways to reduce the risk. We can
fill in fhe ditches during rainy months and also
have door barriers to prevent the child's movement
outside the home without supervision," says
Zahurul Haq, a primary school teacher in Sadar
subdivision in Sherpur.
While infants may wander into neighbourhood
ponds, older children tend to drown in slightly
distant water bodies. Despite the fact that children
after the age of four or five can be taught to swim,
drowning continues to be the leading killer in the
5-9 age group. Children who have managed to pick
up swimming skills by then do not die but there
are many others who cannot swim. In fact, it is
reported that only 18-20 percent of five year old
children can swim, a figure that increases to 50
percent by the time they reach the age of 10. BHIS
argues forcefully that swimming needs to be
encouraged to prevent drowning deaths among older
The ills of modernity
Lying on a bed in a Dhaka hospital, Shumi, a six-
year old, presents a disturbing sight. Hit by a taxi
while running across the road, the young girl has
multiple fractures in her leg and around the hips.
Shumi, however, is lucky. She is alive and will
recover, unlike many other children her age involved
in accidents. Road traffic accidents have emerged as
the second leading cause of fatal injury among
children between 1-17 in Bangladesh, with close to
3,400 dying annually. These accidents also curse
1,400 children with permanent disability every year.
A consequence of rapid urbanisation, extension
of road networks in rural areas, poor enforcement of
safety regulations, an absence of footpaths and lack
of road safety awareness among children, road
accidents have now gained recognition as a major
health concern. Says Dr Md Siraj-ul-Islam, Director
of fhe National Institute of Trauma and Orthopaedic
Rehabilitation (N1TOR) in Dhaka: "Reckless driving,
children playing on the road, shops constructed on
the highway, rash road crossing - all these factors
have come together to exacerbate the number of
accidents. In all this, it is the pedestrians and the
rural people, particularly children, who suffer the
Road accidents, while a major cause of death
among children between 5 and 9, become the leading
cause of fatal injury in the 9-14 age group. That is the
age when the children emerge from their houses
unsupervised. The gender composition of the victims
is also revealing. With most girls staying inside
homes after their early childhood, it is the boys who
are most vulnerable. Considering that the society in
Burns injure 170,000 children every
year in Bangladesh
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Injury prevention: Community discussions could
help spread awareness
Bangladesh, like other developing countries, is still
in the initial phases of vehicular ownership, traffic
accidents can only be expected to increase in the days
The fact that expansion of the road network has
not been accompanied by road-safety awareness is
gradually being recognised as a major concern.
"Target school curricula, teach children how to cross
roads properly and make parents aware that
vehicular traffic could be dangerous," suggests a
district health activist. Additionally, enforcing traffic
rules vigilantly, clearly demarcating pedestrian
footpaths and strictly regulating driving license
distribution could also contribute to making roads
Burns are a major cause of non-fatal injury besides
causing a limited number of deaths. BHIS reports
that burns injure over 170,000 children each year,
and make 3,400 permanently disabled. One child on
average dies every day in Bangladesh from burns.
Most of the serious and severe burns in infants and
young children occur inside the house, with over
half of these happening in the kitchen.
The rapid expansion of electrification in the
country is producing an expected but unintended
consequence in the form of electrocution deaths.
Electric burns also now constitute 20 percent of all
the child cases reported at the Burns and Plastic
Surgery Unit in the DMCH. "These burns occur when
children get exposed to non insulated wires, say
while flying kites or climbing trees, and when they
may be playing with electric switches located near
ground level in homes," says A J M Salek, professor
at the Burn Unit of the DMCH.
Besides these causes of death, falls and cuts, long
considered trivial and inconsequential, have also
emerged as numericaUy significant causes of serious
non-fatal injuries. Falls, in fact, are among the
leading causes of permanent disability among
children. Intentional injuries, primarily suicides,
rather than accidents are reported to be among the
leading causes of death in later adolescence. An
overview of the diverse set of factors that have made
Bangladeshi children increasingly vulnerable to
death and disability clearly reveals the need to
recognise the complexity of this rediscovered crisis
of child injuries.
The injury battle
If Bangladesh wants to reduce its child mortality, it
will clearly have to combat injuries on a war-footing.
The battle has to include four major inter-related
components - awareness, prevention, response and
When it comes to generating awareness and
recognition of the injury calamity, it is important that
the message not get lost in the maze of 'development
communications'. After all, rural communities in
Bangladesh are being targeted by a barrage of
messages, from family planning to immunisation
campaigns, and attention span is at a premium. As
one communications expert warns, "Injury
prevention must not become another buzzword.
Instead, if we are talking about behaviour change,
we must focus on inter-personal communication and
talk to villagers in small groups."
The key to evolving prevention strategies is
building an attitude and mindset of 'carefulness'
among parents and guardians. Like all developing
societies, Bangladesh's rural world is going through
metamorphosis in which age-old traditions and
values are being buffeted by new ideas and means. It
is understandable when communities lose simple,
traditional techniques such as the bell tied around
the infant's waist. "We must inculcate a culture of
safe behaviour coupled with simple but effective
measures that will work, for instance, parents
supervising young children, general understanding
of traffic hazards among all age groups, and keeping
children at a distance from fire," says Dr Fazlur
Rahman of CIPRB.
Despite the best efforts, however, injuries are
bound to keep occurring, though hopefully over time
in lower numbers. What is also needed, therefore, is
an effective response strategy to provide immediate
remedyr. "There is a golden window of 3-6 hours after
an injury. If a patient can be given professional
medical assistance during this period, prospects of
recoveryr brighten," explains Dr Siraj-ul-Islam of
NITOR. The Dhaka government is reported to be
planning to build several trauma centers along the
country's highways to provide immediate relief to
victims of accidents as well as those in the adjoining
rural areas. While the step is welcome, it is clear that
an extensive health infrastructure, in close proximity
to every village, will not materialise immediately. The
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 BHIS report, tor its part, recommends that villagers,
particularly older children, be trained in first aid
treatment, which could provide immediate relief and
response at least till the injured reach the hospital.
Can Bangladesh sensitively deal with and help
rehabilitate the 13,000 children who become
permanently disabled due to injuries everv year? "No.
Not with the present government apathy and social
attitudes regarding disability," savs tin emphatic Dr
Nafeosur Rahman, director of the National Forum of
Organisations working with the Disabled (NFOWD).
"Here, once you are disabled, you lose everything -
social status, position in the familv, economic
opportunities and even your name. You begin to get
referred to by the name of your injurv - Shujon, who
may be blind, would only be called andha," says Dr
Rahman. With only four percent of the total number
of disabled children attending primary school in
Bangladesh, the challenges that the new 13,000
annual entrants to this 'club' face becomes clear. It is
also crucial that the larger society jettison prejudiced
notions of the disabled, and the government build
inclusive institutions.
Reviving the Instinct
While awareness about the child injury crisis present
in Bangladesh is spreading, there are clear obstacles
on the way - from vested interests that have a stake
in existing health priorities to senior medical
professionals who are reluctant to do a course
The discovery that it is nol diseases and infections
but injuries that are the leading cause of child deaths
is not music to the ears of one sector - the vaccine
industry. As an official confides, "Thev would like to
sell more vaccine but from the perspective of the hea Ith
system, any additional investment there would only
yield diminishing returns as the cause of mortality is
already shifting elsewhere." The vaccine lobby is
extremely powerful globally, with the money as well
as political network to determine health priorities at
donor headquarters as well as in distant
governments. It would trv to retain focus on vaccine
preventable disease and ensure status quo vis-a-vis
present health priorities. There is also a level of
resistance among leading medical practitioners in
Dhaka to recognise injurv as a major health concern.
To be kind, one can say that this attitude stems from
ignorance rather than a subliminal leaning towards
an approach that would rather maintain the focus
on infections and diseases and their treatment.
But there is hope - younger doctors in Dhaka
hospitals seem overwhelmingly aware of the drastic
nature of the data on injuries. This is because they
are present in the trauma and emergency units, seeing
for themselves the scale of injuries. Tlie inclusion of
injury in several of its key plans and programmes
reflects the positive attitude of Bangladesh's Ministry
of Health. Meanwhile, Dr Fazlur Rahman's
pioneering safe communitv programme in Sherpur,
where drowning deaths have been reduced
significantly, proves that injuries can to a large extent
be prevented evert in low-income communities. All
these events, seemingly unconnected, show that there
is progress at each level - from growing awareness
to policy intervention to prevention - and all of this
has happened in a relative short period of five years.
The 'unseen mountain' is now clearly visible, and
with the large number of children dying or being
disabled from injuries, it does not present a pretty-
picture. While the earlier mountain of diseases was
vaccine preventable, the present one clearly requires
a more complex and integrated approach - from
making a traditional people recognise the a
traditional problem with a new dimension, as well
as devising strategies to prevent it. Indeed, the
challenge in Bangladesh is to revive the society's
instinctive urge to protect its young from injurv such
as drowning, an instinct that has been dulled or
diverted with other health priorities taking
precedence, and also by new injury-causing sources
in the form of highway accidents or electrocution. As
Bangladesh moves to reduce its volume of childhood
injury deaths, other Southasian countries would do
well to ask themselves whether they have a hidden
mountain left to deal with.
India China Institute
Fellows Program
The India China Institute (ICI), based at The New School. New
York, announces its inaugural India China Fellows Program
(ICFP). ICI seeks applicants who are highly accomplished,
innovative and emerging Indian leaders with 5 to 15 years of
professional experience in urbanization and globalization
Applicants from a wide range ot backgrounds such as public
administration, academics, media, civic action, art. architecture,
urban planning and private entrepreneurship are encouraged to
apply, in early 2006, the India China Institute will select live
Fellows each from India and China, for a two-year fellowship
The selected fellows could continue their current profession
during their fellowship period. They will be assisted in research
proposal, travels and the three gatherings and compensated
appropriately by honorarium.
For future Information, please write or email @
India China Fellows Program c/o PUKAR. 1-4, 2"4 floor,
Kamanwala Chambers, Sir PM Road, Fori, Mumbai 400 001
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Time and a Place
H&w     «ft-»
Field sociology in
by | AtuI Mishra
"In rural Maharashtra, I would suggest Phaltan.../'
replied the incisive commentator and good friend
Dilip D'Souza, in April this year, when I asked him
about a possible place to work during my summer
vacation from college. I had only heard of the place
once before, aAnxious and excited, I decided to pack
my bags and go teach English at a Marathi medium
school for a month in Phaltan. It turned out to be a
fine lesson in field sociology.
Phaltan is a small town some 300 kilometres from
Mumbai and 100 kilometres from Pune. A tableland
in Satara district of Maharashtra in India, it wears a
facade that is typical of many backwater towns. A
theatre that plays B-grade Bollywood productions,
Internet surfing parlours (popularly called
cybercafes), a supermarket - all punctuate the
grammar of this town that has more temples than
any other place in western Maharashtra. Tire distant
charm of Bombay and the lesser romance of Pune
have ensured an ironic, but unavoidable, confluence
of the definitely traditional with the apparently
Phaltan was the seat of the Naik-Nimbalkar
royalty, the family of the wife of the Maratha warrior
Shivaji. While the 'idea' of the Indian republic has
clearly reached the corridors of the town
administration, it is yet to make a mark in the minds
of its residents. Descendents of the 'royal family' still
control, if not govern, all aspects of life here. The
sitting member of the state Legislative Assembly
belongs to the royalty.
The 'family' owns and runs everything from
educational institutions to luxury hotels, not to
mention innumerable hectares of real estate. Of nearly
60,000 residents of the town, a handful of business
families live it luxurious. For the rest, it is the typical
story: unemployment, lack of opportunities, little
upward mobility, minimal economic infrastructure,
and the social mires of caste and, yes, religion.
A society in transition needs a catatyst to engineer
that process. In the 1960s, Yashwantrao Chavan,
Maharashtra's first chief minister conceived that
catalyst to be the Cooperative Movement. Cooperative
sugar factories were assumed to be,the key to
empowering the rural populace of this region. But
the movement today is seen as a colossal failure of
state policy, one which only fed the political elites
who came to be known as the Sugar Barons. The
cooperative sugar factory that was set up in Phaltan
initially provided jobs to a number of people.
However, corruption, political feuds and faulty
agricultural policies of the government resulted in
the shut down of the factory: This factory produced
its own sugar baron - one of the three brothers of the
'royal family'. Sugar dreams turned sour, even
bitter. And the town is still reeling from the social
frustration that characterises the end of a Utopian
Progressive education
In the midst of social and economic problems, there
is also a transformation for the better occurring in
Phaltan, primarily due to the efforts of some
enterprising and committed individuals. Dr Maxine
Berntsen, an American by birth became an Tndian
citizen and settled in Phaltan in 1966. Berntsen began
by picking up kids from 'untouchable' families and
'lower' castes, and dropouts from under-privileged
backgrounds and providing them with education. In
1986, she started a school, the Kamala Nimbkar
Balbhavan (KNB). From its initial years wfien
Berntsen had to convince parents to educate their
children to its current status as a vitally important
institution, KNB has come a long way.
How is this school different from any other?
"Experiments in teaching methods, a strictly secular
environment, committed teachers and students, and
no political backing. This is what attracts the
parents," says Dr Berntsen. Dr Manjiri Nimbkar, a
physician by profession and teacher by choice, who
joined KNB in 1994 and became its unpaid principal
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 in 1996 adds, "It's the new ideas that we incorporate
in our teaching process that helps our students think
beyond narrow horizons." And students are indeed
thinking beyond the immediate. Wasim Maner, a
former student of KNB, is now pursuing a career in
professional documentary filmmaking. Given the
extreme poverty he came from, this would normally-
have been considered an audacious choice for a
youngster from Phaltan. Wasim is currently working
on a documentary film related to a United Nations
Individual initiative and commitment have led to
positive changes in other areas as well. The Nimbkar
Rehabilitation Trust, set up by late Kamalabai
Nimbkar (again an American who married an Indian
and changed her name) started the first school for
mentally retarded children in Phaltan. Bon Nimbkar,
a colourful and visionary entrepreneur, was an
agricultural pioneer and is currently working in
animal husbandry. Roping in breeding experts from
Australia, he first spotted the potential of helping the
poor through breeding a fast-growing goat and a
twining sheep. Bon also started a fishery and later a
Fishermen's Association in the town. The Nimbkar
Group employs around 350 people permanently and
over 150 women for seasonal work. An impressive
effort when there is little else for the residents of the
town to rely on.
The underbelly
Despite some positive changes, the dark Indian reality
of caste discrimination, communalism and povertv
continue to define life in Phaltan. Stench welcomes
you to the 'Muslim colony' of Qureshi Nagar, whose
Khatik community has registered little growth on any
of the social indicators over the decades. Situated at
a distance from the rest of the town, it is in this locality
that the dynamics of the mass-elite relationship is
most visible. While the 'community' leaders send
their own children to English schools, they fear that
widespread education will loosen their grip on the
people. And with religious leaders themselves
thriving in a situation of abnormality and discord
between communities, they would rather have people
of Qureshi Nagar continue their ghettoized existence.
As a ploy to deter Qureshi Nagar parents from
sending children outside the ghetto to Marathi
medium schools such as KNB, community leaders
open Urdu medium schools. Marathi, the stereotype
goes, is language of the Hindus while Urdu is the
"Muslim' language. Two or three months hence,
however, they wrap up the ghost school, ruining the
child's education. Only one boy of the ghetto, Kalim
Qureshi, passed out of standard 10 last year from
The Dalit Basti stands as the mute semi-urban
corroboration that caste segregation is alive and well
in Phaltan. It faces Qureshi Nagar across the road,
home to extreme poverty and rampant illiteracy.
Nothing more need be said.
Yet, there are efforts underway to undo the wrongs
of historv and faith. Datta Ahivale is a journalist,
Dalit activist and a teacher all rolled into one fine
human being. He edits and publishes a Marathi
weekly that raises Dalit issues and runs a school for
Dalit kids, all this while surmounting tremendous
economic and social hardship. Somnath Ghorpade
is in charge of KNB's Outreach Programme that
focuses on providing learning techniques to the
government schools. "Is there any hope?" 1 once
asked Ghorpade, while checking his report on a visit
to a government school. (He was my student, learning
basic English). With a smile, and a fair share of
optimism, he replied enigmatically, "I am here only
because someone else hoped 1 could be here." These
activists believe that social change would remain
incomplete if the marginalised are neglected.
The striking thing about Phaltan does not lie in its
uniqueness- it is like any other town that occupies
the Indian rural landscape, with the same problems,
the same feudal mores and similar community
practices. What is remarkable about Phaltan,
however, is that it represents and reveals the power
of individual initiative as well as the empowering
role of education. The focus now has to shift towards
making this change more inclusive. i
Film, Media & Arts Festival
"   J'..
HI   13™ - 25T1! SEPTEMBER 2005
= 'L!.:T       .   N'
.':    . . '
■7-". -'; ::':"'
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 I Analysis
by | Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam
Non-governmental organisations swarmed like
locusts to Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 26
December. They would have dearly liked to do
the same thing in India, but New Delhi declared itself
perfectly able to deal with the disaster. For this
ingratitude India was severely criticised by an
international 'donor community'. There was also
enough criticism to go around in Sri Lanka as well:
how dare the Tamil Tigers claim they can coordinate
and funnel all help through their own, indigenous
NGO, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO),
instead of letting foreigners run loose in the
countryside! This chatter subsided quickly enough,
once it became clear that the TRO was virtuaOy the
only efficient ngo in Sri Lanka when it came to dealing
with the tsunami aftermath. It got so bad, for a while,
that one would have been forgiven for being cynical:
what was worse? The tsunami or the floods of aid-
givers who arrived afterwards?
How India and Sri Lanka dealt with the tsunami
is a study in contrasts, as is the response of the citizens
in the regions tliat were hit. Whereas the government
in Sri Lanka was mired in donor administration and
coordination of NGOs, India decided to go about the
task itself and kept a tight control on the assistance.
The fisherfolk of the Tamil Nadu coast up and down
the city of Madras were a picture of self-confidence
in the aftermath of the tragedy, active in self-help
and in challenging the government. On the other
hand, across the Palk Straits in Mullaitivu in the
LTTE-controlled northeast, the locals riving in camps
were but passive recipients of aid. There was a
lethargy evident, and unwillingness to help with the
reconstruction, which was perhaps the result of
despair related to years upon years of war and
destruction, followed by a tsunami of the kind of
magnitude that it was.
Northeast disaster
In Sri Lanka, 37,000 died and 300,000 were rendered
homeless by the tsunami. The devastation was
concentrated on the coast between Galle in the south
and Trincomalee in the northeast, the latter taking a
direct hit that claimed 17,400 lives. Mullaitivu is the
little market-town along this coast fiercely contested
during the war. It is now part of the LTTE-controlled
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 area, the Vanni. Having seen the place after the war,
it seemed that more destruction was not possible.
Where in the past there was rubble and ruin, now
there was virtually nothing. Ncarh/ 3,000 people lost
their lives here on 26 December, and 21,000 were
displaced. The town was nothing more than dead
branches, fallen trees, concrete slabs, a gutted post
office, and the facade of a ruined church that had
survived the earlier fighting. A children's home
situated along the seashore had 98 of its 150 or so
young residents swept away.
Most of the 23 transit camps had been established
mainly in schools, and the one we visited was clean
but spartan: eight families to a classroom with cement
floor, palm-leaf roof and partition walls. There were
no doors and little privacy. The TRO looked after the
people together with the Red Cross, Unicef and other
organisations. The people appeared well looked-
after, but were still disoriented and apathetic weeks
after the event. In economic terms, the tsunami has
hit the fishing community hardest with nearly 14,000
boats lost in the northeast. The sums needed for
reconstruction were estimated to be highest in the
northeast - USD 774 million - compared to USD 387
million in the south.
Though the Colombo government had declared a
national state of emergency by 27 December, help
arrived tardily. Private organisations were on the
spot much faster, lt took until 24 June for the
government to sign an agreement with the LTTE on
the mechanism for distribution of assistance.
However, this agreement has had to be suspended
because it was challenged by one of the parties in
Colombo's governing coalition, the JVP.
In northern areas under its control, the LTTE was
able to establish help and recovery measures speedily.
However, further down the east where it wrestles for
control of territory with the government, things were
more difficult. There was also a tug-of-
war between the assisting agencies,
quite apart from the hundreds of ngos
that arrived in the wake of the disaster.
There were mounting complaints that
the bulk of government assistance went
to the south, where the devastation was
less marked. Even private help and
donations from various organisations
went to the south at first, not least
because the international media had
infested Galle and preferred to report
from the comfort of the 5-star accommodation
available there.
Meanwhile, tons of aid and supplies were stuck
at Colombo harbour, because the government slapped
customs and excise on goods that were allegedly 'not
suitable' for disaster relief. The smaller ngos were
unable to pay the high fees and so could not retrieve
their relief supplies. The goods fell to the government
Having seen the
place after the
war, it had
seemed that
destruction was
not possible.
by default and were auctioned publicly. There seemed
enough proof to confirm allegations that goods
destined for the north and northeast were taxed
unless they were handed over to the government to
distribute at will.
The situation was complicated by the political
situation, with a fragile ceasefire just holding up
between the Tigers and the government. Things came
to a head when the JVP, as the coalition partner of
the Kumaratunga government in Colombo, refused
to allow the LTTE to be charged with organising relief
in the area under its control. The flow of relief goods
to the Vanni was also hampered by officers at the
lower levels of military and bureaucracy, who had a
history of scoffing at the regulations on transport of
goods and people even under the ceasefire agreement
of 2002.
The TRO, which coordinates and funnels all relief
to the northeast, was founded in 1985 by supporters
in India and Malaysia. While sympathetic to the
LTTE, the organisation has acted as an
independent support group for Tamils
affected by the war, and now it is
responding to the tsunami. The TRO was
extremely efficient in organising the
recoveryr of bodies and helping fhe people
after the disaster. Many of the old and
new ngos elsewhere, on the other hand,
simply, as someone said, "stood on each
other's toes and organised the chaos."
What does retard the TRO's efforts is
fhe apathy among the people in the relief
camps, visible even months after the disaster. When
it was discovered that traditional shelters of brick
were much better than the tents being distributed by
the Red Cross, which were hot and muggy inside,
the TRO decided to promote the rapid construction
of these prototypes. However, the problem was how
to get the people enthused. It was impossible even to
get helpers to carry the bricks required for the
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 construction. It is this apathy that is the greatest
challenge to the TRO's efforts to go beyond the first
stage of direct relief, to medium and long term issues
of reconstruction and rebuilding livelihoods.
Meanwhile, the national authorities are trying to
implement a pre-existing regulation for a Coastal
Exclusion Zone (CEZ), prohibiting permanent
structures within a 100 to 200 m from the shore. The
fisherfolk reject the CEZ because it inhibits their
access to the sea. Leader of the Opposition, Ranil
Wickremasinghe, has supported their stand and
recommended they take recourse to the law.
Interestingly, the regulation is not supposed to apply
to hotels and tourist establishments, because they
are built of stone and presumably safer. As in Tamil
Nadu (see accompanying article), the fisherfolk
suspect that they are being targeted in order to benefit
real estate sharks who have an eye on the seafront
Comparison: Tamil Nadu
For India with its one billion inhabitants and massive
economy, the devastation that the tsunami visited
on Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar
islands was relatively modest. Whereas the tsunami
was a matter of national significance for Sri Lanka, it
was a regional matter in India. The annual budget of
India passed shortly after the tsunami did not show
any impact of the tsunami. Even Tamil Nadu's
economy has been considered 'reasonably sound'
in spite of the disaster.
While aid from the state administration was slow
in coming, both the central government and ngos
acted speedily after the tsunami struck. This created
some controversy between the state and central
governments, enough that the Centre sent relief funds
to the affected areas via loans disbursed directly
through public banks or the municipalities. Not to
be outdone, in Madras, Chief Minister Jayalalitha
promised generous credit schemes and grants to the
affected families. India accepted help from foreign
organisations and ngos only under stern conditions.
In this sense, the Indian government acted with the
same level of confidence as the LTTF in the Vanni,
and in contrast with tbe attitude of the government
in Colombo.
The coast of Tamil Nadu is about 1,000 km long,
and the Chief Minister's idea of building a protective
concrete embankment all the way through was
greeted with ridicule and promptly dropped. Experts
said it would be much more sensible to plant
mangroves along the coast, which had in fact saved
some communities from the brunt of the tsunami. In
a transit camp just outside Mahabalipuram, the
fishermen were unanimous in saying, "Tell the
government, we do not want alms. We want to work."
While they and their families are not the poorest
communities in Tamil Nadu, they are considered
Tow caste', and actually regard themselves as
outside the hierarchical caste system. They are well-
organised, are politically aware, and know their
rights: they demand loans to buy new boats, nets
and engines. But most of alt they demand the right
to stav in their traditional homesteads. Hardly had
the tsunami washed over them and they raised their
heads again, they went and sued the government
because it intended to drive them out of their rightful
While Colombo asks for and relies on international
donations for rehabilitation and reconstruction and
sometimes complains that not enough of the
promised aid is forthcoming, New Delhi and Madras
have relied almost entirely on their own resources.
While Sri Lanka thus puts its foreign policy in
captivity in the wake of the tsunami, India preserves
its autonomy, hi the end, it was the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organisation of the northeast that was
there when the people of the region needed them the
most. On the other hand, the two decades of fighting
seem to have sapped the strength and enthusiasm of
the people themselves. And so when the waves came
to devastate what little was remaining of their willpower and zeal, the people of the Sri Lankan
northeast preferred to be passive recipients. In Tamil
Nadu, by contrast, a people who had not seen the
devastation of war, were able to organise, help each
other, and challenge authority. |
9th International Short & Independent Film Festival Dhaka
December 22 - 30,2005
Call for entries deadline : September 30, 2005
Festival Director
9th Internationa] Short & Independent Film festival Dhaka, 2005
108, Aziz Co-operative Super Mirket (2nd Fl.itir), Shahbng Dhaka-lOOO, Bangladesh
Phone: + (88-02) 8611575, Cell: +880171181365, Fax: + (88-02) 8613958
E-mail: bsff&d ha   Web' www,
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
second tsunami
by | S Sumathi and V Sudarsen
In the days after the 26 December tsunami swept
up the Tamil Nadu coast, people united for the
sheer common fortune of having survived.
Shooing away the vultures, they came together to
bury the dead in mass graves. No one bothered about
the caste or religion of the bodies that lay on the beach.
There was a groundswell movement by individuals
and organisations carrying out rescue operations and
fulfilling the most fundamental needs of the survivors.
On the first day, with the people scattered across
different villages, the survivors were running about
frantically seeking lost family members. Tlie villagers
opened their temples, marriage halls and theatres to
the homeless, and had helped start communal
kitchens by the next day.
By the second day, the survivors were able to
concentrate their search for loved ones in the camps
that had sprung up. Many student groups, ngos and
others had moved into the ravaged areas, working to
locate tbe missing, clearing the corpses, and
providing much-needed medical support. Auto-
rickshaws were commandeered to announce the
names of stranded survivors. It took another couple
of days for the com muni ties and families to finally
regroup. An approximate list of the dead was ready
in a little over a week, the biggest problem being the
identification of bodies that had been washed away
from their home communities. In the end, such cases
did not find registration on any list.
The immediate emotional catastrophe behind
them, half a year later, the people of the Tamil Nadu
coast are now confronted with the challenge of
rebuilding their lives and livelihoods - how to settle
down, where to settle down, and how to get back to
the sea and off the dole. They want to take back
control of their lives and emerge from their
dependence. They want to rebuild their houses by
the beach. But all this is easier said than done.
The women, the children
It was the women and children who were most
affected by the tsunami. Women lost their lives while
trying to rescuing their children. The entire coast is
covered with a thick spread of thorny bushes, and so
many who were trying to escape got their clothes
tangled in them. Dresses were torn or pulled away
by the waves, and many women never called for help
out of a sense of shame.
After the disaster, it is the women who collect
clothing, food, water packets and other relief
materials, spending long hours in queues. The men,
mostly, hang on to their masculine egos and only
Himal Southasian [ Sep-Oct 2005
 come forward when it is time to collect cash
compensations. The day-to-day activity of men has
come to a standstill whereas women are more
engaged in keeping the house going.
The few psychologists who have worked with the
victims feel their contribution in counselling has been
totally insignificant in comparison to the volume of
emotional distress. Thousands of children have seen
dead bodies lying about, many of them would have
been friends. They have watched the removal of
decayed corpses. For days on end, the children were
not playing, and their sleep is disturbed. They tend
to talk a lot about death. Many who saw their parents
carried away were rendered mute for long periods.
The very word 'tsunami' is enough to evoke fear.
Coastal regulation
More than 75 per cent of the victims of the tsunami in
Tamil Nadu were from the fishing communities that
survive by the seashore. The challenge beyond the
trauma of bereavement is providing permanent
shelters and means of survival. The original shanties
which were mostly by the beach are almost all gone,
as are the boats and fishing gear. For these people,
the beach was their world, where they worked,
traded, socialised and played. Their worldview
extended from the beach into the sea, rather than
The Madras government has now taken a stand
that all permanent shelters should be restricted to
areas beyond 500m from the high water line. The
basis for this diktat is the Coastal Regulation Zone
(CRZ), an old,, ineffective law which restricts
construction within the 500m zone. The authorities
are using the opportunity provided by the tsunami
to implement the regulation to go after the poor
fisherfolk, already devastated by the high waves of
26 December.
In considering the government's invocation of the
CRZ as part of its tsunami-rehabilitation policy, it is
important to consider the situation of the coastal
communities. Out of the 591 fishing villages along
the Tamil Nadu coast, about 160 suffered severe
damage. About 300 were moderately affected, while
a hundred-odd villages suffered little or no loss.
Interestingly, it is the villages which bore the
brunt of the disaster that are now facing the wrath
of the CRZ and the prospect of displacement
from traditional areas, in effect confronting a
second tsunami.
Right to homestead
While the ngos and some corporate houses have been
engaged in the rehabilitation works, it is the
government which controls the process and, most
importantly, the placement of the new settlements.
All the fisherfolk kuppams (communities) within
metropolitan Madras have been asked to shift to
temporary shelters, before they are finally moved to
tbeir permanent settlements. Those from the southern
reaches of the city have been asked to move to
Thoraipakkam, which is about 20 km away,
impracticably far from their traditional beaches and
without unhindered access to the sea which they
require, lt all boils down to the right to homestead
land and freedom to practice one's occupation.
There is one more suggestion emanating from the
bureaucracy and some ngos. It is that these shoreline
people give up their artisanal fishing and shift to
newer occupations. The young, it is proposed, will
be absorbed into the government as and when jobs
become available. This flies in the face of the well-
known fact that there has been little or no
governmental recruitment in the past five years or
so, with the authorities preferring to recruit on a
contractual basis through private agencies.
Youths and adults alike, the victims of the tsunami
are resisting the attempt by others to control their
lives. Their ancestors have been living ill the kuppams
for hundreds of years, and they have a natural right
over their household area and also to unhindered
access to the sea. The fact is that oceanfront property
has suddenly become attractive to the wealthy and
powerful, but how crass to try and use a tsunami as
an excuse for evacuation of the locals!
Driving along the coast north of Madras, there are
numerous permanent structures built well within
500m of the shore. Anyone can see that these
structures infringing upon the CRZ are not the homes
of fishing families. It is doubtful that these buildings
of concrete and glass will be asked to shift when the
time comes, while the beachfront shanties may just
be emptied to provide, in time, prime urban real estate
for some of the the city's rich and powerful. But it is
not too late, and now that they have emerged from
their shock and bereavement, it does not look as if
the fisherfolk of Tamil Nadu willevacuate their
beachfront quarters, come hell or high water. ^
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Festival of South Asian Documentaries
™ ^ptember to 4 October 2005
Organised by
Himal A
a 11 o n
Supported by
i helvetas Nepai >
Media Partners Official Airline Publicity Sponsor
The Persuasive
Scepticism and rational Ism brought India/Seuthasia till
here, anil will tala us into the future, says the Nobel laureate.
review by | A S Paneerselvan
However, if
one were to
as! whether
the booh
covers the
entire gamut
oiled India
the obvious
answer is ne,
for instance,
about the
past of tilt
south and lhe
literary and
from the
North ani
the last.
When Penguin released Amartya
Sen's latest book The
Argumentative Indian in early
August, the book became a metaphor for
both Sen, the man, as well as Sen, the
Noble prize-winning economist. The book
reflects on Indian culture, history, and
identity. It gives us an opportunity to
understand where Sen derives his notion
of economics as a discipline which should
be rooted in equality, fairness and
entitlements. The 400-odd page of elegant
prose that is accessible to the general
reader paints India in
particular, and Southasia in
general, in broad strokes.
While retaining an eye for
the detail, never once does
Sen miss the larger canvass.
Unlike a single theme, Sen's
anthology of essays brings
out the heterodoxy of the
mosaic called Subcontinent.
The first section, 'Voice
and Heterodoxy', takes the
reader on a moral and
ethical tour of the
beginnings of Southasian
thought. Starting with an
analysis of the Bhagvad Gita, the essential
arguments between Krishna and Arjuna,
Sen concludes that though Krishna's
argument for action and duty captured the
imagination of Isherwood and T S Eliot, it
was Arjuna's profound doubt about pain
and post-war desolation that has emerged
of eternal value. The entire book operates
on the one cardinal principle that a
defeated argument that refuses to be
obliterated remains alive. It is thus central
for any .system or society to remember
Arjuna's consequential analysis and not
to be just driven by Krishna's notion of
"doing one's duty".
There is another handsome technique
Sen uses to demolish hegemonising
ideology to embark upon a concrete
empirical analysis- Refuting Samuel
Huntington's 'Clash of Civilisations'
thesis, which has placed India firmly in
the category of 'the Hindu civilisation', Sen
argues that this reductionist approach
downplays the fact that India has more
Muslims than any other country in the
world with the exception of Indonesia. The
Muslim population in India is about 140
million- larger than
the entire British and
French populations put
together. The chapter
titled "India: Large and
Small" is a fine exploration
into the number based
classification of majorities
and minorities. For
instance, he explains there
can be at least five different
ways to identify a majority
group among Hindus: 1)
the category of low-or
middle-income people; 2)
the class of non-owners of
much capital; 3) the group of rural Indians;
4) the people who do not work in the
organized industrial sector; and 5) Indians
who are against religious persecution.
Using these five examples, he successfully
establishes the erroneous nature of the
assumption of the centrality of religion-
based categorization over other systems of
classification. What gives this essay its
edge is that Sen, by broad basing his
arguments, not only challenges the
assumption of the Western Huntington but
also the local proponents of Hindutva. He
patiently weaves warp by warp, weft by
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 weft, the multiple strands and plurality
of voices that constitute India's past and
the present. By drawing attention of the
reader to every nuance, he warns us of
the danger of simplification and
The essays on Tagore and Satyajit Ray
are a great primer into the works of these
two masters of their respective arts. While
writing about Tagore and Ray, Sen also
brings out the creative tension in dealing
with other cultures, problems of
representations, and narrative logics of a
work of art. Unlike Edward Said who
sought identity in every work of art, Sen
manages to establish the space for both
identity as well as universality in the
realms of narratives - be it novels or films.
He successfully retrieves the sacred space
of art's autonomy and the deepest
conviction of not to be ghettoized into any
singular identity even as it deals with
cultural particularity and peculiarity. He
brings out Tagore's valiant struggle
against the corruptibility of nationalism.
The central essay is Indian Traditions
and The Western Imagination. Sen
explains that the internal identities of
Indians are drawn from different parts of
India's diverse traditions. The
observational leanings of Western
approaches have had a major impact-both
positive and negative - on how
postcolonial India perceives itself. He
refuses to indulge those who seek simple
classifications and writes quite pithily:
"What is India really like is a good
question for a foreign tourist's handbook".
He repeatedly brings forth the other
positions, other contexts, and most
importantly other concerns. He rightly
explains the limitation of three dominant
Western views and readings of India:
curatorial, magisterial and exoticist,
thereby hurting the rationalist part of
India's tradition.
Part three of the book is a reflection of
the contemporary Indian sub-continent.
It deals extensively with issues of politics
of deprivation. Sen not only looks at
poverty from class and caste dimensions
but also from the point of view of gender
inequality. This is also the only section
where there is an overt relationship
between his economics and his politics.
Positioning himself firmly in the left-
centre economics, Sen brings out most of
the major ills that are plaguing the sub
continent. While holding the mirror closer
to Indian sub-continent, he manages to do
two things simultaneously: first
identifying the problems of today and
second, suggesting implementable ways
to get out of the present state of misery.
The only essay in this section, which Sen
might have loved to completely rework, is
India and the Bomb. The essay is based
on his lecture at the Annual Pugwash
Conference at Cambridge in 2000. Since
then, there have been substantial
developments in the opinion of the
dominant powers over India's overt
nuclearisation programme. The recent
Indo-US agreement on the nuclear
technology- which in real terms accepts
India's nuclear weapon status and deals
a body blow to the six decades old
disarmament debate- is an issue that
deserves a much more closer scrutiny by
razor-sharp mind of the likes of Sen, and
one hopes he takes it up shortly to explain
the precariousness of this giant nuclear
After taking the reader through an
uncomfortable excursion in economic
erudition, Sen moves to a fascinating tale
"India through its calendars". In this
rather enchanting piece, he brings out
India's multicultural history through the
profusion of well-designed and well-
developed calendars that exist, each with
a long history. He also establishes the
notion of continuity by drawing attention
to the fact that Ujjain remaining India's
principle meridian from fifth century CE
onwards to till date.
Sen seeks to draw out India's rich
tradition of argumentation, skepticism,
rationality and heterogeneity in this
important work. However, if one were to
ask whether the book covers the entire
gamut called India, the obvious answer is
no. For instance, there is nothing about
tlie non-Sanskrit past of the south and the
literary and cultural references are
primarily from the North and the East. But,
these are not acts of omission but an honest
recognition of the vastness of the subcontinent and its infinitesimal plurality.
Amartya Sen succeeds in drawing the
readers into his universe by not projecting
his work as "The reading of Tire Indian
Sub-Continent" but as "A reading of the
sub-continent" and opening up the space
for each of us to add to this massive
multitude of voices.
THE  "-"■ --ft-ft-
The Argumentative
Amartya Sen
Penguin Books
UK, 2 June 2005
ISBN 0713996870
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
1 fine memoir of a wronged mai
who refuses is is for the lugular.
of them
by | Ravi Nair and Rineeta Naik
The story of Iftikhar Gilani's days in
prison reads like a textbook case of
all that is wrong with the criminal
justice system in this part of the world. It
is also the story of paranoia, prejudice and
apathy, all of which found full play in a
system tliat boasts of a functioning and
"independent" judiciary and a "vibrant"
media trained to examine and analyse the
facts of each case. Years from now, retired
Intelligence Bureau officials, much-feted
retired bureaucrats^ and perhaps even
honourably retired justices in the know,
will reflect on Iftikhar Gilani's case in their
memoirs, and as is the wont of many such
eminent retirees, will point to what w7ent
wrong, and how it could have, indeed,
should have, been set right. 'Retrospect'
is a comforting, eminently huggable word
- it will soothe those occasional pangs of
For nearly seven months - the time it
mig-ht take to write half a book, or see
your daughter through her final exams
and graduation, or launch a successful
advertising campaign - Gilani underwent torture and humiliation in Tihar Jail
and assaults on his reputation through
the shameful conduct of the media. Tire
simple act of downloading a published
document, widely available in the public
domain, led to a nightmare that began
with armed men and brusque officials
taking over his house in the middle of the
night. Not only did they ransack Gilani's
house and tamper with the data in
question, theyr fed false information to a
press, which, barring a few exceptions,
lapped it up.
India's Intelligence Bureau (IB), which
is accountable to nobody, was clearly in
charge here. The IB officials, using the
Income Tax department as a cover for a
raid, wanted the police to register a case
of espionage under the Official Secrets
Act, accusing Gilani of acting as an agent
of the Pakistani secret service and
passing on information about the
deployment of security forces in jammu
&. Kashmir. They overruled the objections
of the police officers present, who
expressed reservations about the
allegations, and compelled them to
proceed with Gilani's arrest.
The result was that Gilani was sent to
Tihar Jail in west Delhi where he was
given the standard treatment, with the
tacit approval of jail officials - beatings
and humiliation by hardened inmates.
This had been preceded by an orientation
session at the police station where a
knowledgeable   police   official   had
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 described his favourite 'interrogation'
methods to a dazed Gilani. His reference
was to "third degree", which has almost
become a household term in some circles,
liberally used even in polite company.
Gilani was spared the worst of these
methods, thanks to interventions by
some friends in the media. As he points
out in his book, thousands of others
caught in the web of India's criminal
justice system are not so fortunate. They
arc subjected to some of the most
inhuman forms of torture, and the matter
of guilt or innocence is moot.
Other outrages however continued
against Gilani, and it is to the eternal
shame of the politicians, bureaucrats, the
police and the criminally irresponsible
officials of the IB that they all condoned,
and in some cases, even approved the
steps that led to Gilani spending seven
months in jail. These included an initial
false opinion on the nature of the
downloaded document provided by the
Directorate General of Military
Operations (DGMO), and news 'leaks'
about Gilani's 'crimes' to unscrupulous,
unprofessional media persons. All this
influenced judges, jail officials and even
inmates at Tihar, to Gilani's detriment.
There followed an relentlesscvcle of
court appearances, rejection of bail
applications, and false hopes of release.
Finally, however, the case collapsed
under the weight of its own
contradictions, as New Delhi journalist
Siddharth Varadarajan points out in his
excellent foreword. The Directorate
General of Military Intelligence (DGMI)
rejected the earlier assessment of the
document by the DGMO, and when the
court was about to be informed of this
revised opinion, the government
withdrew the case and Gilani was freed.
He was released without so much as an
apology, let alone an offer of
compensation or promise to bring those
responsible to account.
Rights and acquiescence
Gilani's description of the tribulations
of his co-inmates in Tihar is marked by
sensitivity, as he brings out the
poignancy of many a situation. This is
more than can be said about much of
India's mainstream media. Indeed, the
author is much too kind to his fraternity,
viewing the foibles of some of his fellow
scribes with the same semi-detached eye
that sized up his own prospects while at
Tihar. However, he is sharp-eyed enough
to acknowledge the gross inaccuracies
in reporting bv the media in general -
inaccuracies that often have grave, fair-
reaching consequences for the subject of
the media's attention. How many
statements and press releases bv the
police, army, or another security branch
of government, are verified before being
published as the truth; and how many
'encounters' are reported as such simply
because the police said so?
Indeed, how many mainstream
newspapers and television channels
have a policy of double-checking
statements and claims from the security
forces? Somewhere along the way, the
term 'allegedly' went out of fashion. And
when will the media begin to pay
attention to the torture taking place at
thousands of police stations and jails
across India every single day, and the
travesty of justice that takes place in the
courts of the land?
Gilani's reactions to the arbitrary
actions by the officials raiding his home
points to a specific reality, that few-
citizens of the largest democracy in the
world are actually aware of their rights
when confronted by any coercive
authority. He signed the search
'authorisation' and other documents
presented to him without reading them.
When he did realise that this was much
more than a simple search by the income
tax authorities, Gilani did not demand
to consult a lawyer. I le did not even ask
to see a lawyer when he was told that ire
would be held at the police station for
the night. It was much, much later that
he realised that the entire roughshod
operation was illegal. He never thought
to ask why IB officers and others of
indeterminate status were part of an
Income Tax Department team, and why
they remained even after nothing
incriminating was found by way of
concealment of income or money.
The instinctive reaction of citizens
everywhere, elsewhere in Southasia as
in India, when confronted by a
policeman's knock is complete and
unqualified acquiescence. Few
understand that they have enforceable
rights against arbitrary actions by the
state, and so thev never demand warrants
©f Hie lurgest
in the world
are actually
aware if
their rights
by any
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
ibsence of
sly. at the
id of it ail,
the hook's
required a
em and Im
and authorisations. The awe of authority
is so great that few ever think of
resistance. All of which points to the
urgent need for human rights education,
which should be spread not only among
lawyers and university students; rights
awareness must begin in schools. While
schoolchildren are made to cram enough
about their moral and civic duties, they
are not informed about the rights of
citizens. The result -well-educated, well-
informed people like Gilani are at a loss
when confronted by illegal search and
Courts of despair
And so on to forgiveness. Gilani has been
able to transcend his rage and anguish
to write a dispassionate personal record.
He comes across as a gentle, dignified
man, not given to outbursts. This lack of
rancour, and the author positioning
himself as an objective observer, makes
the book an efficient record of facts and
experiences and provides the space to
document the stories of others in similar
situations. But the complete absence of
indignation rankles. Surely, at the end of
it all, the book's conclusion required a
strident demand for justice. Surely, it is
possible to express outrage without being
shrill, to demand accountability for its
own sake, out of a sense of fair play, and
not necessarily out of a desire for revenge.
Is this zen-like detachment a reflection
of Gilani's temperament? Perhaps. Or
perhaps, after long, hopeless days in jail
and surreal encounters with the lower
judiciary, he has stopped harbouring any
hope of those responsible for his plight
being brought to justice. It may thus be
that the lack of obvious bitterness is a
result of despair for the country and
One awaits the memoirs of Sangita
Dhingra Sehgal. It is only then perhaps
we will get some explanations as to why-
she, as Chief Metropolitan Magistrate
before whom Gilani was hustled in June
2002, did not record his statement. And
why she did not consider using her
official telephone line to connect to the
Internet to verify for herself if the allegedly
secret information downloaded by
Iftikhar was in the public domain or not.
The judiciary, touted as the only
standing pillar of an otherwise
insensitive state, revealed its hollowness
in the Gilani case. Let us keep in mind
that verv few criminal cases ever reach
the elevated strata of the High Courts or
the Supreme Court of India. Most such
cases involve poor, uneducated people
who rarely, if ever, have the capacity to
see their cases through the full range of
available judicial remedy mechanisms.
Thus, it is at the level of the trial courts
that their fates are decided, often for
keeps. Prison officials and police often
'forget' about undertrials awaiting court
decisions, those arrested for petty
offences languish in prisons for years
because the bail amount was set too high,
and others have no means to hire capable
lawyers who might point out a thing
or two in their clients' favour in front
of hard-to-please judicial officers
like Sehgal.
Life goes on, meanwhile, for the
protagonists. The two ID officials who
took control of Gilani's life and turned it
upside down on that fateful Sunday are
said to have been given plum UN
peacekeeping assignments in Kosovo.
Nobody in the National Democratic
Alliance government, led bv the
Bharatiya Janata Party, took moral
responsibility for this gross miscarriage
of justice that took place during its days
in power. Most significantly, no one
among the television or print media
asked the then Home Minister a crucial
question: Mr. Pvlinister, your ministry's
action has caused great hardship to
an innocent man, do you intend
to resign? The question would have
been legitimate.
Members of the present United
Progressive Alliance government in New
Delhi were in the opposition when the
forgiving Gilani lived his nightmare. In
fact, many of then had come to his moral
support and aided his family through the
dark days. Even they have not stepped
forward to offer justice to Gilani by going
after the guilty.
Put this behind you, some well-
wishers urged Gilani at the end of his
ordeal. While he has come out with his
book, it unfortunately appears that Gilani.
has decided to take the counsel to heart.
Had he taken legal recourse in addition
to writing this valuable memoir, he would
be representing many, many Indians to
whom injustice is done by their
government, police and courts.
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Book review
Looking bock in BEWILDERMENT
review by | C K Lai
The perplexity of Ram Sharan Mahat is palpable. He
did everything according to the book of the
Washington Consensus, and religiously followed
every prescription of IMF-World Bank. The results
weren't too unimpressive either. And yet the Maobaadi
unleashed a violent revolution. Monarchists
accused the democratic experiment of being
an unmitigated disaster. Most of the
direct beneficiaries of the free-market
fundamentalism pursued by post-1990
governments lost no time in becoming their
biggest critics as they saw the tide turning (so
they thought) in favour of King Gyanendra.
What went wrong? The question is indeed
worthy of a tome that Mahat has tried to come
up with.
Mahat is an important player in Nepali
politics. His omissions cannot be attributed to
ignorance. He has intentionally downplayed
the idea and ideals of socialism in his book,
which is ironic since his political party, the
Nepali Congress, has won every election on the platform
of democratic socialism and continues to publicly swear.
Almost all the voters who elected Mahat to the Central
Committee of Nepali Congress on 1 September 2005 in
Kathmandu are fired by the ideals of egalitarianism, not
the economic Darwinism advocated by the neoliberals
that populate Kathmandu's cocktail circuit.
In democratic politics, Mahat began at the top. Upon
Ms return from a UNDP job in the wake of the successful
People's Movement of 1990, he fought and lost in the
first parliamentary elections. Premier Girija Prasad
Koirala appointed him to the powerful post of vice-
chairman of National Planning Commission (NPC), an
agency that should have played a leading role in the
implementation of the party manifesto. But Mahat was
still enamoured by the idea that socialism had 'failed'.
Under him, the NPC became the focal point of the LPG
(liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) agenda
served under the rubric of 'economic reforms'. The rest
is history, of promises not kept and aspirations belied.
Surprisingly, the author does not seem to realise that
the road not taken created the disillusionment leading
to the division and downfall of his party. While the rise
of the Maoist insurgency cannot be directly attributed to
the distortions in the economic policies of the Nepali
Congress, there is no denying the fact that a sizeable
section of the population began to feel neglected by a
government that seemed to be promoting the private
sector at the cost of everything else. On second thought,
the omissions in the book may not be so surprising after
all. Mahat still harbours the illusion that the elected
government had assumed office in 1991 "with an agenda
for reforms". With that kind of understanding, it did not
take him long to get into the good books of powerful
diplomats and aid agency chiefs.
Known as a "donors' man" in the
bureaucratic circuit, Mahat rose to be finance
and then foreign minister. Within the party,
he was the party president Girija Prasad
Koirala's point man in dealing with
professionals. Everywhere, he espoused free-
market fundamentalism with the gusto of a
convert. His book is a bewildered look at those
eventful years when he hectored the hoi polloi
on the virtues of privatisation, fell on all fours
to get the one billion dollar Arun III
hydropower project moving (it got cancelled
by the World Bank, sowing bitterness in
Mahat), and then saw his party disintegrating
in front of his own eyes. Apparently something
didn't work the way it was supposed to.
Polarised society
To understand the causes of failure, it is necessary to
conduct a critical and reflective assessment of one's
beliefs, aims and methods. What the author has done
instead is package statistics in presentable prose, and
tried to make the case that nothing was wrong in the
way he stewarded the political economy of the country.
With that kind of assumption, it is very difficult to come
up with a convincing defence. And so, In Defence of
Democracy reads like the report of an expensive consultant
hired to produce an apologia for his clients. These pages
are bristling with tables, charts, graphs, facts and figures
but lack a coherent point of view beyond the usual
platitudes about democracy and development.
In Defence of
Democracy: Dynamics
and Fault Lines of
Nepal's Political
Ram Sharan Mahat, PhD
Adroit Publishers
New Delhi, 2005
Pages: xxiv + 437
ISBN: 81-87392-67-3
Price: INR 675
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 In the first four chapters, the author takes a cursory
look at the evolution of the political economy of Nepal.
The result of the labours of the author as a leisurely
scholar on a Hubert Humphrey fellowship in the United
States, this section is a rough compilation of available
information. Lhe rest of the book does not follow from
this beginning, and there is little attempt to interpret
or link the events of post-unification policies of the
Shah-Rana rulers of Nepal with later developments.
Should a reader wish to begin the book from Part Two,
her understanding is unlikely to be affected by missing
what went ahead.
The second part of the book deals with "democracy
and development". Here, the author rushes with the
breathlessness of a youngster euphoric about his report
card. Replete with colour plates, extensive quotes from
official documents, and black-and-white photographs
of development projects, this part is the meat in the
sandwich, placed between the introductory first and
concluding third parts that are there more to add
volume than understanding.
This middle section is celebratory. Mahat gives
himself a pat on the back for the goals achieved in the
face of daunting challenges and stifling constraints,
Contrary to the defamatory allegations of monarchists
about the period when the political parties stewarded
the country, the network of roads had doubled
nationally between 1990 and 2002, when King
Gyanendra took the first steps towards royal takeover
which culminated in the putsch of February 2005.
During those dozen years of democracy, unlike the
claim of scornful critics of the political parties and their
rule, there was development enough, Access to
electricity quadrupled, the literacy rate went up from
40 to 54 percent, and access to improved drinking water
nearly doubled. Life expectancy went up from 53 to 59.
And all this achievement during a period when the
government was battling a restive monarchy in
Kathmandu. By the sixth year, ruthless Maoism had
already begun to exact its toll in the countryside.
The report card is indeed something to be proud of,
and one hopes that the author had spent more time in
analysing the nuances of this victory of democracy, at a
time when superannuated royalists are crawling out of
the woodwork in Kathmandu for a last hurrah under
King Gyanendra's umbrella. Most recently, even the
Asian Development Bank has agreed that the proportion
of absolute poor earning less than a dollar a day got
nearly halved in the decade of democracy, Above
everything else, this is one measure of economic
development that should give most satisfaction to the
leader of a political party. But the fact is that disparities
increased manifold during this period as well, much to
the shame of the socialist Nepali Congress and the
communist CPN-UML. The middle section of Defence of
Democracy provides important reading material to try
and understand the democratic interregnum amidst
Kathmandu's polarised political climate. It is a climate
where donors and diplomats for a long time joined the
Kathmandu valley elite classes in castigating and
pummelling the hapless political leaders for their dozen
years of alleged mismanagement of state. Well, it does
turn out that they were wrong.
Assertion of democracy
The concluding section of the book is the weakest. The
author seems to lack an understanding of processes that
link the political economy with social, cultural and
foreign policy issues. The arguments seem opinionated.
The chapter on the legacy of exclusion and neglect
glosses over the role that the government needs to play
in mainstreaming the marginalised. This entire section
reads like a compilation of the op-ed pieces which the
author regularly contributes to Kathmandu's dailies.
Mahat is nothing if not forthright when he brings up
what he calls the "Arun III debacle", when the one billion
dollar project was scuttled for a variety of reason. But
Mahat sees only an international environmental
conspiracy out to rob a poor country of its just rewards.
One can go on and on, and that perhaps is the strength
of this section - the topics are invariably provocative
and the author is determined to show that he has an
opinion and an answer to everything.
Published from India, the book is produced with the
care that a work of this kind deserves. In a country
where copyeditors are an unknown breed, someone
has done a good job of polishing the work of the former
finance and foreign minister to suit the taste of
discerning readers of English, including members of
the expatriate community who would be the first
beneficiaries of this book (also because of the cover
price that has been set).
As an observant reader commented, In Defence of
Democracy is a self-defeating title. Democracy is valued
more for what it is than what it does, or more often,
doesn't. That's the quality of democracy which makes
its enemies mad: they can't attack something that is
strong enough to be left undefended. In addition, author
Mahat would know, perhaps, that the real achievements
of democracy are beyond quantification: the dalit who
entered the temple, the janjati ethnic person who began
to boast of his 5000 years of history, the madhesi from
the plains who finally got to see their dhoti-clad
representatives straddling the corridors of the Singha
Darbar secretariat, and the women who secured
reserved representation in village and district levels.
Even though they are not in the forefront of the
ongoing movement for democracy, the dalit, janajati,
madhesi and the women of Nepal are the ones whose
appetite has been whetted by democracy; they would
want more and will fight for their rights in the days to
come. They are the real defenders of democracy, even if
this fact may have missed King Gyanendra. Meanwhile,
authors like Mahat will chronicle their travails and seek
to appropriate the achievements. That's the advantage
of having the ability to compile thick tomes in the
language of the farangi. But perhaps this reviewer
complains too much. Someone has to do the paperwork,
better it is a person of Ram Sharan Mahat's
accomplishments. i
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
Summit Hotel
The Summit Hotel offers a wide range of
accommodation for both short and
iong term guests.
The Hotel is situated in extensive gardens
and enjoys wide views of the Himalaya
from its terraces. Located in a quiet
residential area, the Summit is a
convenient venue for workshops,
seminars and meetings. The city center is
only a short ten minutes drive away.
The Summit is the ideal base from
which to live and work in the
Kathmandu Valley,
f  Village  Resort
Kathmandu • Nepal
Your ideal conferencing venue in South .^sia
GUR is located 14 kms away from the city center
a international Airport
Cottage ape buildings & landscaped garden spread
over 14 acres of land
Two Banquet Ralls & three Meeting Rooms
(capacity 20 to 250 persons).
Regular CliEidls:
Regional Center for Strategic Studies, World Food Programme, MS Nepal, FWLD,
Shtrii Shakti, National Human Rights Commission, Water Aid-Nepal, NEEFEJ,
Organizational Development Center. Integrated Research Group, NARC. UNICEF,
Save The Children, SDC, SNV, GTZ, ICIMOD, VSO-Nepal, CECI, ESE-Nepal, PRI,
Action Aid-Nepal, ISGR, ANSAB, ADRA-Nepal, Peace Corps, Plan Nepal, FHI,
Swiss Contact, etc
P.D. Box: 12J46 Amsrabati. Toukhei, Godavari, Kathmandy, Nepal Tel: 977-01-5560675
Fat 977-01-5560777, Emailr godavari@gadavafi^vlsnfccoFn,pp
Website: wvw.<jodavardTeMrtoorn,npxx
 Book Review
The Orientalisation of
by | Yoginder Sikand
Islamists are
in the
intricacies ci
Islamic law and
in ridding iter
countries of
America's 'war on terror', a
euphemism for a war against an
ever increasing number of
Muslim countries and groups, is
premised on the notion of a distinction
between the 'good' Muslim and the
'bad' Muslim. The former are Muslims
who support Bush's imperialist
misadventures; the
latter those who refuse
to toe the American
line. The 'war on terror'
is, at the same time,
also constructed as a
struggle for discursive
hegemony between
rival definitions of
Islam - one version
identified with the
'good' Muslims and
their American backers.
Consequently, the 'war
on terror' comes to
be framed, as this
fascinating book tells
us, in essentially
cultural, as opposed to
political, terms. It is as if the war is all
about Islam, or, as the 'good' Muslims
would have it, about the 'false'
version of Islam championed by
their unpleasant Muslim rivals.
This, Mamdani dismisses as crude
Orientalism, based on the facile
assumption that Muslims exist in a
historical vacuum and that all of their
actions can be explained simply by a
reading of certain Islamic texts.
Western neo-conservative and
pro-Zionist ideologues insist that
the 'war on terror' is a justified
response to 'Islamic terror'. Mamdani
pleads for a nuanced understanding
of contemporary American neo-
conservative discourse about Islam,
pointing out the subtle differences
between ideologues.
While some like Samuel
Huntington see Islam in
monolithic terms, as
inherently opposed to the
West, there are others
who distinguish between
those Muslim groups that
are not overtly hostile
to the hegemonic project
of the West, and the
'fundamentalist' others
that are so. This, in turn,
has crucial implications
for America's policies
vis-a-vis the 'Muslim
world'. The former
position calls for an
unrelenting war against
Islam and Muslims, while the latter,
building on the difference it constructs
between 'good' and 'bad' Muslims,
appeals for a strategy of building close
alliances between the West and 'good'
Muslims in a war against 'bad' Muslims
The author presents an incisive
critique of what he calls this 'culture
talk', seeing in it a convenient means to
absolve Western powers of not only their
role in abetting Islamist militancy in
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 many countries but also their own direct
involvement in terrorism in large parts
of the developing world. He insists that
contemporary Islamist militancy must
be seen ai?- a political phenomenon,
and not something that is linked to Islam
as such.
At the same time, Mamdani also
dismisses the oft-heard argument that,
in contrast to the 'non-West' where
politics is always allegedly culturally
driven, political decisions in the West
are supposedly directed by purely
rational and 'civilised' imperatives. The
enormous clout of fundamentalist
Christianity in America today, with the
President claiming to receive revelations
directly from God, is evidence enough
to debunk this claim of civilisational
and political superiority.
For Mamdani, terrorism is not a non-
Western or a Muslim monopoly, with
various Western powers having
consistently used it as a political tool to
advance what they regard as their own
strategic interests. Marshalling
evidence, lie shows how America, for
decades during the Cold War, used both
state terrorism as well as local terror
groups to wage war against nationalist
and leftist, regimes in a vast number of
countries. These proxy wars caused the
deaths of millions of people and led
to untold destruction, in the face of
which al-Qaeda's attacks fade into
It is this specific political context of
modern times, rather than revival of
medieval orthodoxy, which reveals the
roots of militant Islamism. The links
between radical Islamism and
imperialism are most clearly reflected in
America's funding and training of
Muslim militants in the course of the
Afghan war as well as Israel's initial
support to the Islamist Hamas as a
counter to Palestinian nationalists. In
tact, Mamdani suggests, the emergence
of contemporary Islamist'terrorism' can
be understood only bv recognising its
close links with Western imperialist
interests which used the Islamists as a
principal means to challenge the Soviet
Union during the Cold War. America's
policy of patronising Islamist militants
has now boomeranged on itself with the
former now on the offensive for a host of
reasons.   The   factors   which   have
provided the fodder for discontent
include the United States' continued
support for Israel in the context of
Palestinian aspirations, the brutal
invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the
stationing of American troops in Saudi
Arabia, and America's backing of a host
of repressive pro-Western regimes in
Muslim countries.
The Muslim non-West
lhe book convincingly argues that
militancy in some Muslim communities,
including the issue of radical Islamism,
is a political rather than a religious
phenomenon. It is a reaction to Western
imperialism and its local agents.
Radical Islamists are less interested in
the intricacies of Islamic law and
philosophy than in ridding their
countries of West-dominated control.
America's 'war on terror', for its part, is
also all about politics, the argument
about it being waged in order to 'defend'
'civilisation' being a flimsv tig leaf to
cover up the hegemon's designs for
global control.
While Mamdani's narration of a long
list of US imperialist misdaventures
across the globe, to which Islamist
militancy is, in a sense, a response, and
his critique of American neo-
conservative discourses about Islam is
valuable, in the end he is able to present
only one side of a complex story. The
book keeps off analysing and critiquing
Islamist discourses about non-Muslims
and their religions, which, critics would
argue, is a mirror image of the Western
imperialist notion of the 'Muslim world'
or the non-West. As both Bush and
Osama would see it, if one is not with
them, one is necessarilv against them
With the political roots of 'terror' and
'war on terror' clear, solving the
mounting global crisis, savs Mamdani,
also calls for a political response. What
is needed is a global movement tor peace
as well as a concerted effort to bring
America to its senses, forcing it to respect
local nationalisms and desist from
behaving like the global bully that it has
become. But are such pious desires, as
here of Mamdani, enough to tame the
imperialist beast? The reader is left with
the sense that while Mamdani excels in
analysis, the solutions he has to offer
somewhat fail to enthuse.
Good Muslim, Bad
Muslim: Islam,
the USA and the
Global War on
Permanent Black
New Delhi, 2005
Pp: 304
ISBN: 81-7824-
INR 295
Himal Southasian | Sep-Oct 2005
 Books received
Economic Growth, Economic Performance and
Welfare in South Asia, edited by Raghbendra Jha.
Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005. Price not
This volume presents frontline
research by leading academics and
public policy experts on the prospects
for rapid economic development in
Southasia. It reviews the recent
macroeconomic performance of
Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri
Lanka, and examines three
emergent challenges for the Indian
economy: devising a policy response
to climate change; attaining the
Millennium Development Goals set by
the UN; and restructuring state level finances.
Asian Medicine and Globalization, edited by Joshep
S Alter. University of Pennsylvania Press,
Philadelphia, 2005. Price: USD 45
There is a critical tension in the ways regional medical
systems are conceptualized as "nationalistic" or inherently
transnational. Although all medical systems function in
specific cultural contexts, almost all of them claim
universal applicability. This volume is concerned with
questions and problems created by the friction between
nationalism and transnationalism ic:in times of
globalisation. Offering a range of perspectives, the
contributors address questions such as: How do states
concern themselves with the modernisation of
'traditional' medicine? How does the global hegemony
of science enable the nationalist articulation of
alternative medicine? How do global discourses of science
and 'new age'spirituality facilitate the transnationalisation
of 'Asian' medicine? As more and more Asian medical
practices cross boundaries into Western culture through
the popularity of yoga and herbalism, among others,
and as Western medicine finds its way East, all such
issues become inextricably interrelated. These essays
consider the larger implications of transmissions between
Between Ethnography and Fiction: Verrier Elvin
and the Tribal Question on India, edited by T B
Subba and Sujit Scm. Orient Longman, New Delhi.
Price: INR 550
This collection of essays examines
anthropological studies of
Northeast India, studies the
history of the region, and
attempts to establish the
connection between the present
and prehistoric past. It also
examines the colonial context and
its effect on policy and present
perceptions. The book brings
together writings of 16 scholars
of various disciplines to re-examine
the works of Verrier Elwin in the
field of tribal literature, tribe and non-tribe relationship,
tribal development policies, missionaries and conversion,
myths and legends, and arts and crafts.
A Concise Encyclopaedia of North Indian Peasant
life, A Compilation from the Writings of William
Crooke, J.R. Reid and G.A. Grierson, edited by
Shahid Amin. Manohar, New Delhi, 2005.
Price: INR 2500
Weaving an intricate tapestry of crops, seasons,
products, beliefs, ceremonies, folk adages, while
showcasing the multiple dimensions of rural life, this work
reveals the unlikely but enduring threads that bind and
sustain the peasant world. The Concise Encyclopaedia
aims at a better understanding of both peasant life and
culture, and the ways of colonial ethnography.
Tribal peoples, nationalism and the human rights
challenge. The Adivasis of Bangladesh, by Tone
Bieie, Chr. Michelesen Institute, CMI, Bergen,
Norway. University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2005.
: felted
The book unravels how the
Adivasis have not been given
their due recognition in spite of
their history as Bengal's earliest
inhabitants and their prominent
role in mass rebellions leading up
the   nationalist   movement.
Instead, human rights violations
and escalating livelihood crises
characterise the lives of Adivasis
in north-western Bangladesh.
The book documents the loss
of agricultural and forested land
through    circumvention    of
protective land laws in the post-colonial period. This
has resulted in erosion of indigenous knowledge
systems, forced migration and escalating poverty. The
inability of Adivasis to take part directly in the
international indigenous movement is explained in the
light of cultural homogenous nationalisms and internal
institutional fragmentation as a result of ethnic and
religious divisions.
Beyond Lines of Control: Performance and Politics
on the Disputed Borders of Ladakh, India by
Ravina Aggarwal. Durham, Duke University Press,
2005. Price: USD $23.95
Aggarwal brings the insights of performance studies and
the growing field of the anthropology of international
borders to bear on her extensive fieldwork in
Ladakh. She examines how social and religious
boundaries are created on the Ladakhi frontier, how
they are influenced by directives of the nation-state,
and how they are shaped into political struggles for
regional control that are legitimised through discourses
of religious purity, patriotism and development. She
demonstrates in lively detail the ways that these
struggles are enacted in particular cultural performances
such as national holidays, festivals, rites of
passage ceremonies, films and archery games. By placing
cultural performances and political movements in Ladakh
at center stage, Aggarwal rewrites the standard plot
of the nation and border along the Line of Control.
(See also article by M Ismail Khan, pp. 61)
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 The Saneeya Hussain Indo-Pak Media Fellowships
Panos South Asia invites mid-career print and broadcast journalists to apply for fellowships to investigate and report on conflict issues
between India and Pakistan in a rational and unbiased manner.
Fellows will be financially supported for their research as well as awarded a grant of US$600.
They will be expected to travel to conduct in-depth investigations to produce:
■ At least three feature articles or programs to be published/broadcast in mainstream media.
■ Additionally, a 5000-word journalistic report for possible inclusion in a book to be later published by Panos South Asia,
Interested candidates must submit the following no later than 20 September 2005:
• Curriculum Vitae.
• Up to five samples of published/broadcast work (tapes or transcripts) on conflict issues.
• A 500-word write-up indicating why the applicant should be considered for the fellowship along with a tentative proposal for their
• Two references from persons who have known the applicant professionally for at least one year.
Journalists writing in local languages are encouraged to apply. However, their CV and the write-up should be in English and at least one of
the samples of the work submitted must be translated into English.
Applications must be addressed to:
Panos Institute
F/50/2/A, KDA Scheme # 5
Block 4, Clifton
Panos Institute
D-302, llnd Floor
Defence Colony
New Delhi: 110024
Queries may also be e-mailed to the above address.
Panos is an international development agency specializing in information and communication.
Vajra (literally-flash of lightning), is an
artists' condominium, a. transit home lot-
many, providing a base during mouths
or lribernation and creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic splendour and
peaceful, ambience, make an ideal
retreat irom the clock ox pressure.
Ketafei Sheth
Ittnide Qittsidc.
I stayed a week at tlie Vajra, fey which
time f had become so lond or it that I
stayed another.
John Collec
T/yc London Oirsrcer.
Vajra, a serene assembly oi .brick
buildings, grassy courtyards, ivycovered
walls and Hindu statuary is a caliin oasis
over looking", chaotic Kathnu^ndu.
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swayambhu, Dallg Bijyaswori. PO Box 1084, Kaihmandu
Phone: 977-1-271545,272719 Fax: 977-1-27169S
by | L S Aravinda
When I read about Gita's menses in Love,
Stars, and All That, I felt many a page was
yet to be written on this rarely told yet
widely experienced love-hate relationship. Would I
ever attain the peace of Anne Frank, who cherished
her monthly cycle as her own sweet secret? For twenty
years T wondered, and now 1 know.
Growing up in Indiana in the 1970s, I believed
our family would soon be moving back to India. In
fact, we never even visited the country till I was 13. It
was only then, while braving the heat one fine
November in Tenali, that I learned to dress like a
"mature" girl, wearing a half-sari that fell in a V
behind my knees. Catching trains at all hours, we
visited every branch of the family. But the one thing
I could never find when I needed it the most was a
trash can. So when I woke up one day in yet another
family member's home tofind I got my period, I asked
whee I should dispose off my napkins.
What a shock to learn then that their plan was
instead tp di.spose me off. Confined to a corner room,
I could go out to the bathroom only by the side door.
The rest of the house was forbidden territory. Meals
would be brought to me. For three days, 1 cried and
cried. My cousin played cards with me as long as
we did not touch the same card at once. At the end
of the ordeal, I had to wash my clothes. Not before,
for my touch would have contaminated the water
supply. I was a Brahmin, yes, yet untouchable all
the same. Had I known about Chokha Mela, who
wrote in the 14lh century that from this untouchability
springs life itself, perhaps I'd have some hold against
the abyss taunting my adolescent self-esteem.
But there was no one to tell me of such affirming
things, not until another time, another place.
It was in a tribal village in Maharashtra that I first
learned about the cup six years ago. Not from a
villager mind you. It was the rest of us non-tribal
visitors to the area who had to discuss our sanitary
needs. No trash cans in sight, those using
disposables carried them back to the city. Those of
us using cloth washed and dried them out of sight
on the rooftops. One young woman from Canada,
however, used a rubber cup that she could simply
empty, wash, and reinsert within a minute.
How many hours, how many gallons of water,
and how much trouble could I have saved had I tried
the cup then? Now when I tell others about the cup
and they have qualms, I can only smile.
Thinking back, part of the reason why I could not
quite shrug off that sense of "wrongness" those
relatives of mine conveyed about menstruation was
that it simply was a graceless ordeal, month after
month. There were times in college I remember my
insides churning and thighs aching so much that I
barely made it to class. The smell, the leakage, the
bulkiness, and discomfort left me accepting that
maybe I was too dirty to go to temple. Even my bad
uncle felt the need to change his threads when he
found out I was menstruating.
There was subtle humour as well. I remember
visiting relatives soon after marriage. My aunts were
"resting". Since no one knew I was "resting" too, I
could have cooked, but my dear husband took us all
out (breaking other, less rigid, rules). Both my aunts
had all items served to them at one end of the table
before passing to the rest of us. Better than eating
last, I suppose.
My commitment to a cleaner environment had
motivated me to try cloth pads. They relieved other
problems as well - no odour, less leakage, and so
much more comfortable. When they proved their
mettle through all my jumps and squats in dance
class, there was no going back. Ten years later, after
having a child and preparing to ovulate again, I
ordered new cloth pads online, and looked afresh at
the cup. I consulted friends, and finally, I got one.
And looked forward to my next period like
never before.
After using it during our recent trip to the Grand
Canyon, one remarkable difference struck me. I
heaved no sigh of relief at end of my flow, just as I'd
not met its onset with so much as an "oh dear". It
really doesn't matter when Amit Flo comes and goes.
At last my period is an entirely internal matter. It
is no longer an inconvenience. A
Sep-Oct 2005 | Himal Southasian
 Earn miles with Miles & More
I Airport
Open For New Horizons.
fly with frieands.
fly Europe, USA
& Canada
For Further details contact your Agent or
G.S.A. The Explore Nepal (P.) Ltd.
Tel: 4223317, 4223331, 4241470
Fax: 977-01-4241506
Sun, 600 mi 11 ion years old.
Culture, 3000years old.
Al in Sri Lanka.
There is year long beachcombing climate in Sri Lanka.
If you're not content just lounging in a deck chair,
there's water sports, deep sea diving and surfing.
However, you wouldn't be prepared for the
awe-inspiring spectacle of ancient Sri Lanka
and all its well-preserved remnants.
You're our world
^SSnlankan Airlines


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items