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Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 4, April 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-04

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 April 2007
Vol 20      No 4
. JlTFI'l'l
Mahtab Haider
SAARC's Third Decade
Nihal Rodrigo
Sultan Hafeez Rahman
Gujarat's Isolated
Deepa A
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The romanticising of Tibet over the decades has done
injustice to Tibetans. It has dehumanised them, and
ultimately affected their fight for rights and autonomy.
Tibet must be considered as just another developing
country, territory, region or space. Tibet must be
considered mundane - like all the rest of the world, where
there, axe to torvDaSica-U.^ exotic ajecujlea Ptam the inside,
we are all average. Finally, Tibet's future must be decided
by, and for the benefit of, Tibetans who live within Tibet.
It is their future that the Chinese, Southasians and citizens
elsewhere must consider when we look to Tibet. It is with
their future that the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, amidst
India's Dhauladhar range, is clearly exercised.
Our cover image this issue was taken by Beijing-based
photographer Natalie Behring. Posing in front of the Potala
Palace in a costume rented from a nearby shop, is Zha Xi,
a Chinese tourist from Sichuan who had ridden Tibet's
new train line into Lhasa.
Women's words and worlds
Ammu Joseph
Yes, an autonomous TAR
Special report
Excuse me, Milords
Studies in isolation
The crisis of legitimacy
Deepa A
The Parrot'
Southasian briefs
Islamabad's gilded cage
Themrise Khan
Cover feature
The future of Tibetan discontent
Thierry Dodin
18 questions, Dr Singh!
Until the last Tibetan
Tenzing Sonam
The Madras Indus scholar
Autonomy and the railway
Sundar Ganesan
Prospecting the treasure house
Near but far: South and Sou
Carey L Biron
Michael Vatikiotis
Why Tibet matters to Southasia
BhuchungK Tsering
Beauty and contradiction in Tibetan art
Cracking the Indus script
Yangdon Dhondup
Iravatham Mahadevan
Southasia, SMRC and the world
The governed seek consent
Nihal Rodrigo
The collective opportunity of economic integration
Photo feature
Sultan Hafeez Rahman
Tibet, the mundane
Prospects for energy integration
Vidura Jang Bahadur
B Thapa, A Sharma and R Gupta
Dhaka's purge
More mythology
Mahtab Haider
Tenzing Sonam
Only their parents' home
Callings ofthe Oriya heart
Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Rabindra K Swain
President under fire
Escaping 'official Marxism'
Arjuna Ranawana
Sankar Ray
Jaduguda fallout
(1                Una Krishnan
On the way up
Oh, Ghalib!
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Vol 20   No 4
April 2007   |
Editor and Publisher
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Laxmi Murthy
Assistant Editors
Prashant Jha
Himali Dixit
Desk Editor
Carey L Biron
Editorial Assistance
Frakriti Mishra
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo       Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Business Advisor
Monica Bhatia
Marketing Managers
Komal More
Vaibhav Kapoor (India)
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Roshan Tamang
Rupendra Kayastha
Sunita Silwal
Santosh Aryal
Shahadev Koirala
Valley Distributor
Bazar International
GPO Box: 2480
Kathmandu - 29
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
88 912882
Image setting: ScanPro
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors    to    this    issue
Ammu Joseph is an independent journalist and media-watcher based in Bangalore. She
is the co-author of Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues, with Kaipana Sharma.
Arjuna Ranawana is a journalist based in Colombo.
Bhuchung K Tsering is director of the International Campaign for Tibet, based in
Washington DC. The views expressed in the article (p 33) here are his own.
Bishal Thapa, Amit Sharma and Rashika Gupta are with ICF International, a global
consulting firm, in New Delhi.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
Deepa A is a journalist currently based in New Delhi. Research for this article was
completed under a Sanskriti-Prabha Dutt Fellowship in Journalism.
Dilrukshi Handunnetti is investigations editor at The Sunday Leader in Colombo. She
is a lawyer by training.
Sultan Hafeez Rahman is deputy director general of the South Asia Department at the
-Asian Development Bank, based in Manila. The views expressed in the article (p 40) are
the writer's own.
Iravatham Mahadevan is a retired Indian Administrative Services officer, and one of
the world's foremost experts on the Indus script.
Lina Krishnan works with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and
Development, Bangalore.
Mahtab Haider is an editor with the New Age, Dhaka.
Michael Vatikiotis is regional representative of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue,
and has lived in Southeast Asia for more than twenty years.
Natalie Behring is a photographer based in Beijing.
Nihal Rodrigo is former secretary-general of SAARC, presently Sri Lanka's ambassador
to China.
Rabindra K Swain works with the government of Orissa. His fourth book of poems,
Sussurus in the Skull, will be out soon.
Sabir Nazar is a Lahore-based cartoonist with The Friday Times and the Da/7y Times.
Sankar Ray is a Calcutta-based freelance writer.
Sundar Ganesan is director of the Roja Muthiah Research Library in Madras.
Tenzing Sonam is a writer and filmmaker. Along with Ritu Sarin, he is co-director of the
Tibetan feature film Dreaming Lhasa.
Themrise Khan is a development consultant in Islamabad, as well as a freelance
Thierry Dodln is a Tibetologist attached to the University of Bonn. He is the former
director of the defunct Tibet Information Network, and is now director of TibetlnfoNet, its
successor. The views expressed in the article (p 22) are his own.
Vidura Jang Bahadur is a Bangalore-based photographer.
Woeser is a Tibetan writer who writes primarily in Chinese. She lives in Beijing.
Yangdon Dhondup is a research scholar based in London.
Cover image: Natalie Behring
j AsJdress Jag
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April 2007 j Himal Southasian
 Hunting with the hounds
I have read very carefully the article
by Walter Fernandes (February
2007, "Haivks descend on Assam"),
and am surprised by his balancing
act between the Indian Union and
the ULFA insurgents. In reality,
this was a typical case of hunting
with the hounds and running with
the hare.
The crux of Fernandes's
argument is that there are
hardliners among the government
functionaries and the ULFA. But the
criminals, masquerading as ULFA
cadre - who have butchered Flindi-
speaking women and children,
settled in the state for over a
hundred years - cannot be divided
into soft- and hardliners. While of
course, in India's open democratic
system, dialogue and discussion
must be allowed to go on; but the
government must also do its duties,
one of which is to punish criminals
who commit murder. To term the
armed forces as the hardliners is to
misunderstand India's six-decade-
old democratic political culture.
Nobody denies that there has
been regional imbalance in terms of
economic development in India,
despite the execution of various Five
Year Plans. That is why there is a
national consensus that 10 percent
of national resources are to be
committed to the development of
the Northeast region. I am a Hindi
speaker, who has family ties with
the Assamese; I also had the
privilege to serve at an academic
institute for nearly three decades in
the area. During that time, I did not
experience any 'Hindi dominance'.
Language has not been an issue in
the Northeast for decades now,
and should not be raised at
this juncture.
As far as migration is concerned,
every Indian has a constitutional
right to be in Assam or anywhere
else in India; indeed, that is what
Fernandes himself is doing by
basing himself in the Northeast. But
what happened to ULFA's fight
against the alleged foreigners in
Assam, immigrants from Bangladesh? If it stands for Assam, as it
claims, it is immaterial where in
Assam the immigrants are.
As for Fernandes's plea for the
so-called People's Consultative
Group, this was neither a people's
forum nor a consultative body, but
rather a ULFA-nominated group.
With the exception of one or two
individuals, it was a discredited
body of self-seekers that nobody
took seriously. Which 'civil society'
did   the   members   represent?
What credentials did they have?
They simply passed on the ULFA
agenda to the formal bodies in
the government.
At the risk of being labelled a
hawk, I put forward that there
seems to be no middle ground
between sovereignty (as dreamt by
the ULFA) and autonomy as
permitted by the Indian
Constitution. So where is the
meeting ground for a negotiated
settlement? Till then, is there any
choice but to give the armed forces
the responsibility to tackle this
security issue?
Fernandes has been a
spokesman in the past for
'ecologically displaced' communities. Now he pleads for the ULFA.
How can a small band of criminals
hiding in a mountainous frontier
tract be permitted to be the
spokesmen of the Assamese at
large? Equating it with the Indian
Union is a misplaced argument in
itself. This sort of academic
doublespeak becomes obvious in
his last paragraph: "It is important
to realise that the ULFA represents
the socio-economic and political
aspirations of the people of Assam,
even as most Assamese do not
support the means it rases." What
evidence does the author
have to make this profound
statement? Does it mean that the
Assamese at large share ULFA's
vision of a sovereign Assam
outside India?
A C Sinha
New Delhi
International Women's Day
I am an avid reader of Himal
Southasian, and find the topics and
content of the magazine extremely
thoughtful and interesting. But
with the March issue I was slightly
disappointed that you missed out
on an important subject -
International Women's Day,
8 March.
This would have been an apt
theme for the March issue of the
magazine; the region offers stories
of extraordinary women, who
changed the course of history and
mankind. Hence, coverage could
have reflected on the progress
made, called for change and
celebrated acts of love, courage
and determination by ordinary
women who have played an
extraordinary role in the history of
the region.
Nima Chodon
New Delhi
Send mail to
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Turkish Cypriotic
Your article on Cyprus (Himal
September 2006, "Thin green line") is
either biased, or your writer, Ananya
^T* 1
Vajpeyi, was wrongly informed as
to why Cyprus has been divided
since 1974. Vajpeyi does talk about
how an Athens-led coup that
year attempted to assassinate
Archbishop Makarios, then the
head of the Cypriot government,
which prompted the subsequent
Turkish invasion. But reference was
completely missing to the fact that
the Greek Cypriots already had the
paramilitary EOKA-B - a militant
wing of the National Organisation
of Cypriot Fighters, or EOKA in
Greek. This group kidnapped and
killed 400 British personnel and
countless more Turkish Cypriots,
starting in the early 1970s. As
Turkish Cypriots, to this day we
continue to suffer more than the
Greek Cypriots. Unfortunately, 1 do
not think your writer understood
the situation of Turkish Cypriots,
and ended up writing from a Greek
Cypriot perspective.
Suleyman Tosun
Umbrella modalities
I was both attracted to and
fascinated by Kanak Mani Dixit's
"On the way up" column (Himal
March 2007, "A Southasian umbrella
university"). While I liked the
idea of a regionwide umbrella
university, I failed to see how it
could be achieved. Could Dixit give
an example of such an institution
anywhere else in the world?
I am a Nepali Bahun, a graduate
of the erstwhile and idyllic Benaras
Hindu University of India, where I
read between the pre- and
post-Independence days. The
academic atmosphere at the time
was excellent. I visited BHU
recently and found it to be a parody
of its former dynamic self.
How would Dixit's multi-
centred, umbrella Southasian
University be administered? From
where? .And would it be possible to
make the academic standards of
such a multi-faceted institution
uniform? For example, would
the post-graduate products of,
say, Tribhuvan University of
Kathmandu, be at par with
those of JNU of Delhi or
LUMS of Lahore? How
could such standards
be guaranteed? And can
the writer be sure
that the Southasian
University would not
end up as a commercial
venture, a money-making
'Lotus Gem'
Democratic centralism
I am confused about the new
'federalism' that the Nepali
Parliament passed on 9 March, and
which has been covered in past
issues of Himal. In India, federalism
has been successful because every
state seems to have both the
technocratic and the economic
resources required by that state. In
Nepal, however, states under a
federal system may not have
important human resources,
including competent engineers,
medical experts, educationists and
systems managers. Furthermore, the
topography of the various states
might not be favourable for the
overall development of the states in
a federal system.
Since the early 1960s, during the
days of the Panchayat system, I
have never been in favour of the 'go N
back to the village' campaign. I have
always been in favour of a very
democratic and centralised system,
with a centralised databank,
planning mechanism and capable
technocrats. Democratic centralism
would also be better for cost-effective
economic development, which
Nepal surely needs in order to
employ its youth.
Ravi Manandhar
'Milakpani te ahibo'
I wanted to say
how moved I
was by Sanjay
Barbora's story
on the late
Nilikesh Gogoi
of Assam in the
February issue,
lt is sad that
such positive personalities are lost
to the world when na rrow territorial
considerations on all sides
outweigh the development of
human potential and cooperation
between communities. Thank you
for the piece.
Rohan Belliappa
Sydney, Australia
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Yes, an autonomous
Tibet Autonomous Region
How are Tibetans to proceed with Tibet, now that the
'cause' has slowed to a crawl? The Khampa uprising
of the 1960s and 1970s is but a fading memory now,
ready forfictionalisingfilms. The misty-eyed insurgents who
survived are now aged and on their way out. The incredible
rise of Tibetophilia in the West, underpinned by the humane
spiritual politics of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama,
has fed the world's need for a spiritual anchor more than
it has provided political basis for bringing freedom or true
autonomy to Tibet. Southasia's own governments,
overawed by China's economic rise and intimidated by its
reactive insularity, prefer not to rile the dragon.
The government-in-exile in Dharamsala has gone more
than halfway to meet Beijing. There have been several
rounds of talks between the two, which indicate that the
latter at least recognises the Tibet issue as a political issue,
whatever its harsh propoganda. But there has been nothing
more forthcoming from Beijing over the half-decade that
the talks have been held. Beijing seeks to overwhelm the
Tibet question through the sheer weight of its power and
certitude. One would wish it were otherwise, but it seems
that the future of Tibet is hostage to the slow pace of
democratisation within China. Those who had hoped that
the Chinese economic boom ofthe 1990s would lead to
magnanimity on, say, the identity demands of Xinjiang or
Tibet, have come to realise that such magnanimity will be
a long time coming. Or, alternatively, it will come all of a
sudden, in a way that cannot be planned.
It was such considerations that led the Dalai Lama to
propose what came to be known as the 'Middle Way'
approach, which was eventually formally adopted in 1988.
This was hardly a 'splittist' suggestion, but rather a
sagacious attempt to seek autonomy for Tibet under the
Chinese umbrella. But that was not good enough for Beijing
- which leads one to reconsider why exactly China wants
to keep Tibet under its overwhelming grip. It could not be
that Beijing fears irredentist movements in parts of the
expanse of the People's Republic, which is the reason
why conservatives in India and Pakistan refuse to consider
an autonomous Jammu & Kashmir. Beijing has no such
fears because its autocrats wield a fairly tight command
over their realm, much more than do the rulers in Islamabad
or Delhi.
Besides the simple reason of Han nationalism mixed
with a generous dose of xenophobia, it becomes clear
that China wants Tibet as a less-than-autonomous region
so that the physical spread of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo,
including the wide Changthang plateau, can be used for
the future expansion of the mainland economy and
population. The exploration and discovery of mineral
deposits in Tibet, the railway line that has made it from
Beijing to Lhasa via Golmud and is set to snake farther
south and west, can be said to be manifestations of what
drives the Chinese policy for Tibet. The arrival in Tibetan
towns of Han migrants is now bound to extend to the
villages, even while the lived experience of decades under
Chinese rule must have created its own realities for the
Tibetan inhabitants.
A return
If Beijing has successfully created a one-way street on
Tibet, what is the rest of Southasia and the world to do?
For that matter, what of the Dalai Lama? Forthe latter, a
drastic possible action could be the abandonment of his
Dharamsala eyrie for Lhasa -a return to the Potala palace
and prayers at the Jokhang temple. There are many
imponderables with such a move, and certainly it would
have to be a considered action taken after hectic
backdoor negotiations with Beijing. However, dramatic
moves tend to create new realities. The ultimate decision
would have to be taken based on two considerations:
What Tenzin Gyatso feels in his innermost heart, and
. what the population of Tibet - four to six million,
depending on your definition of Tibet' - would feel about
this course. Would Tibetans within Tibet want the Dalai
Lama back without a change in the Chinese policy on
Tibet? We should be prepared to be surprised by what
the answer might be.
As for the other Southasians, it is mainly India and
Nepal (and, to a lesser extent, Bhutan) that have been
on the Tibet-China-Southasia interface, mainly due to the
advent of refugees and refugee-pilgrims from Tibet.
Bangladesh, which is less than a hundred crow-
flight miles from Tibet, and Pakistan,
which is linked to Tibet by the
Karakoram Highway, could hope to
gain from the economic expansion
in the high plateau and the rise of
trade, but today they remain largely
outside the geopolitical calculations.
New    Delhi    has    long    been
welcoming to Tibetan refugees, and
Jawaharlal Nehru's good turn of
allowing the Dalai Lama to set up
his     administration     in
Dharamsala    has
remained part of
Indian regional
Yes, autonomy
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 policy. This should not change, even while the world awaits
evolution in the Dharamsala-Beijing theatre. As for Nepal,
it is geopolitically constricted from making utterances on
Tibetan affairs that might anger Beijing, but it has continued
to serve as a way station for Tibetans who feel the need to
visit Dharamsala, as pilgrims or as refugees. This too should
not change. One can only hope that a newly democratic
Nepal, as it emerges from its turmoil, would find the
confidence to allow the Dalai Lama to visit the birthplace
of the Sakyamuni Buddha, at Lumbini.
What will happen in Tibet will depend upon how rapidly
the Chinese dragon turns democratic. By now, the
realistic goal is nothing more nor less than a Tibet that is
truly autonomous under Chinese suzerainty - although it
is also important to deal with Tibet as a developing region
in its own right. But even achieving that might be a
long wait, and in the interim the only thing the Dalai Lama
can do is to set his own demarche. He can either do
nothing, or he can do something dramatic with its
attendant risks. £
Excuse me, Milords
The tussle between the judicial, executive and
legislative branches is an old one. Competing loyalties,
political interference and plain corruption have challenged
the independence of the judiciary in most countries of
Southasia. Yet when General Pervez Musharraf removed
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for "misuse
of office" on 9 March, he probably did not expect the
groundswell of protest that was to follow. Demonstrations
soon spread from lawyers and the media to human-rights
activists and the general public.
The ousted chief justice quickly became a veritable
symbol of resistance to executive high handedness. This
was particularly so because the dismissal came in the
wake of Chief Justice Chaudhry having taken up cases
that Islamabad would rather have swept under the judicial
carpet: disappearances (the polite term for those
abducted and probably killed by the military intelligence
agencies), and the high-level corruption in the Pakistan
Steel Mills case. There can be no disagreement on
enhancing judicial accountability, but such an obviously
politically motivated move is less about keeping the
judiciary under the scanner than about removing a chief
justice who refused to be a puppet (so goes the received
wisdom in Pakistan). The attack on Pakistan's
judiciary - and the attempt to control independent
institutions - must be viewed with alarm, particularly given
the general elections announced for later this year.
.As the lawyers' protests spilled into the streets, police
barged into the Islamabad office of Geo TV, which had
been airing regular coverage ofthe protests. There, they
beat up journalists, broke windows and computers and
lobbed teargas into the newsroom. Just a day before, the
popular and controversial show 'Aaj Kamran Khan Ke
Saath' had been banned, after it had covered the chief
justice's removal and the subsequent protests. Are we
expected to believe that Gen Musharraf did not order the
assault (as he claims), or is the general losing his grip?
At deadline, Chief Justice Chaudhry refuses to resign,
demanding that the hearing by the Supreme Judicial
Council into his alleged abuse of power is conducted
publicly. Even so, Justice Rana Bhagwan Das, next in line
to be acting-Chief Justice, is waiting in the wings. While
Das's appointment would certainly notch up the score on
minority welfare, one wishes that the only Hindu judge to
have risen to the Supreme Court level in Pakistan had
been given the honour under less-controversial
Such shenanigans have been witnessed elsewhere. In
her drive for a compliant judiciary in the years preceding
the 1975-77 Emergency, Indira Gandhi superseded senior
judges and put in place her own appointees, on the plea
of setting up a 'committed judiciary'. Likewise, Gen
Musharraf would like others to believe that he is on a
crusade for a clean judiciary - and hence the ousted Chief
Justice Chaudhry. Given the high constitutional and moral
authority vested in the judiciary, judges refusing to occupy
positions made vacant after unfair removals of their
predecessors might contribute to the independence and
stature of the judiciary. A Lahore High Court judge and
four other civil judges have already resigned to protest
Gen Musharraf's interference. Will Justice Bhagwan Das
also stand up? As we go to press, the latest indications
are that he will not.
Under the scanner
Meanwhile, the Indian Supreme Court has also been
seeing its share of drama. On 16 March, with tears in his
eyes and folded hands, Justice A R Lakshmanan recused
himself from hearing a case pertaining to Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's disproportionate
assets. This unprecedented spectacle came mere hours
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 after the receipt of an anonymous letter faxed to the
tearful judge's residence. In choked tones, his lordship
said that he was "very disturbed" over the contents ofthe
mysterious letter, which apparently contained none-too-
subtle threats. While this Caesar's-spouse approach may
be laudable, it is clearly no substitute for a transparent
procedure whereby a judge shows himself to be
accountable to the public.
Over the past decade, initiatives such as the Committee
on Judicial Accountability (COJA) have emerged to counter
the alarming corruption in the Indian judiciary, as well as
the misuse of powers of contempt of court and immunity.
More recent moves go beyond monitoring corruption, and
attempt to make the judiciary answerable to the people
at large, rather than to the ruling elite. The National
Convention on Judicial Reforms, held in Delhi on 10-11
March, brought together public-minded lawyers, civil-rights
activists, people's movements and consumer
organisations, with a view to "reclaim the judiciary by
having it restructured in accordance with the needs of the
common people".
Meanwhile, across India's northern frontier, if the alleged
doings ofthe Chief Justice of Nepal, Dilip Kumar Poudyal,
are anything to go by, it is none too soon for Nepal to set in
motion a similar process. Recorded phone conversations
obtained by a Kathmandu newsmagazine in mid-March
supplied evidence of corruption at the highest level, in a
case relating to the 'fixing' of hearings for a price. As the
country proceeds with demolishing old institutions of state
and rebuilding more suitable ones, the judiciary too must
be put under the scanner. An independent judiciary, free
from executive and legislative control, is undoubtedly a
prerequisite for democratic governance and maintenance
of rule of law, in Nepal and elsewhere. k
The crisis of legitimacy
A cross the ideological spectrum, ruling political outfits
in India's north and east are in trouble. If the Congress
party is struggling to recover from a string of electoral
setbacks in Punjab and Uttarakhand states, the
Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, is staring
at defeat in the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh (slated
to begin the first week of April). More strikingly, the
Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has been in
power for the last three decades in West Bengal, is facing
its toughest test yet, with the controversy over the setting
up of Special Economic Zones on farmland, and the latest
mass killing of protestors by the state police - egged on,
allegedly, by party cadre. These are disparate and
seemingly unconnected events, which can be explained
away as part of the rough-and-tumble nature of
popular politics. But there is a common thread here, as
well - the legitimacy deficit faced by political parties in
India, which are increasingly out of touch with the needs
of the masses.
The loss of the Congress party in the state assembly
elections, party leaders claim, can be explained by
widespread.'anti-incumbency' sentiment. The Congress
had been in power in both Punjab and Uttarakhand for
its full tenure; the party is rife with in-fighting and
factionalism, which have had implications on the provision
of basic services, and led to poor governance. Incumbents
have more often than not lost elections in recent years
due to increasing public resentment. What this trend really
reflects is the increasing disillusionment with the party in
power. Rising expectations from elected representatives
also seem to have played a role, and the failure to meet
the expectations ofthe populace indicates an acute crisis
of 'performance legitimacy'.
This same crisis will, in all likelihood, lead to UP
strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav's defeat in the
upcoming polls in his state. While at the time of writing
.,Uttar Pradesh Assembly Poll Schedule 2007 Q
Total Seats:403
Phase II
58 seats
(April 13)
Phase III
57 seats
(April 18)
Phase IV
57 seats
(April 23)
Phase V
58 seats
(April 28)
Phase I
62 seats
(April 07)
(May 08)
the campaign is picking up steam - and, in the past, Yadav
has shown an ability to bounce back - signs from UP
indicate that the Lucknow administration has failed rather
dramatically in its primary task of providing law and order,
let alone performing other functions. In addition, Yadav
has been accused of promoting the politician-criminal
nexus, and makingthe state bureaucracy partisan. Several
social groups within UP feel excluded from governance.
The possible beneficiary of this situation is expected to
be the Bhaujan Samaj Party, led by the Dalit leader
Mayawati, who has not had a particularly bright record in
office but is carving out a unique Brahmin-Dalit social
coalition in the state. If Yadav does indeed lose, as opinion
polls predict, he will only have to look back at his own
tenure in government to understand why.
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Ignoring inflation
While the failure to perform needs to inspire some serious
introspection within parties, there is another alarming trend
currently overtaking Indian politics. Powerful political
groups do not seem to have learned any lesson from the
National Democratic Alliance's disastrous 'India Shining'
poll plank from 2004. Despite promises to cater to the
aam aadmi (common person), the Congress has allowed
its single-minded pursuit of high growth figures to have
negative implications for inflation - which has now reached
a high of 6.5 percent. This is hurting the common citizen.
There is no doubt that India has gained enormously from a
high growth trajectory, which hopefully will be sustained.
But the costs must be recognised; in the
face of increasing demand, supply-side constraints have
resulted in the sharp rise in the price of basic commodities.
The incumbent state governments - not to mention the
central government - are vulnerable to the public
disenchantment linked to inflation.
But if there is one instance in which parties have gone
all out to woo big business at the cost of lives and
livelihoods, it is by encouraging the creation of mini
enclaves - Special Economic Zones (SEZs) - where
corporates can exercise near-sovereign control, and enjoy
'friendly' labour laws and massive tax cuts, among other
provisions. Land for this purpose, in most cases, is being
forcibly appropriated from marginal farmers and landless
labourers. And for those who thought that the mainstream
left would provide alternative models in such an economic
context, the CPI (M) has been in the forefront of this
initiative in West Bengal.
This magazine recognises the complexities involved in
economic policymaking - there is a need to woo foreign
and private capital, which helps in creating infrastructure
and generating employment. In a competitive
environment, states and countries have to offer the best
possible deal to investors. But this can never be the pretext
for the state to forcibly acquire land from the poor, to refuse
to engage in dialogue with the discontented, to offer dismal
relief and rehabilitation packages, or (if dissent grows) to
permit the massacre of protestors. The Left Front
government has followed exactly this course - first in
Singur, and now in Nandigram, where it did not hesitate to
kill the common folk. Only after large-scale opposition and
national outrage has the West Bengal government agreed
not to extend its SEZ plans - for the time being.
Electoral ups and downs are natural in a polity. There
are certain issues that will galvanise the opposition, even
in a state where there is virtual one-party dominance. In
addition, state security fcyses will occasionally overstep
their brief. But what is happening in many parts of India at
present reflects the increasing disconnect between
people's expectations and the performance of parties - a
worrying trend in any democracy. It also shows signs of a
rise in illiberal politics and a tendency of ruling parties to
side with powerful vested interests, rather than to
accommodate them alongside the concerns of the
marginalised. k
The Parrot'
In this painting by Sabir Nazar, a bird sits in a cage.
Outside, people go about their activities, good and bad;
their lives, pleasant and painful. They pray, they nap;
sometimes they go to war. For the parrot, experience of
the world is mediated by the presence of the cage: its
bars are the source of the troubles with which it must
contend, or against which it must rebel. Until and unless
it flies, the cage is also the source of all the contentment
it will know. The cage itself is suspended between the
earth and the sky, seemingly between two worlds -
worlds between which the parrot cannot choose. One
man lies asleep on the ground beneath; another is too
far away to hear the bird's calls. But the space of cage is
bright, with the warm glow of possibility. The parrot can
only hope for the best. >
This is part of a regular series of Himal's editorial commentary
on artwork by Sabir Nazar. Watercolour, 24" x 36"
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Pipeline ahoy!
Sanctions are not
supposed to work this
way. After seemingly
endless stops and starts,
India, Pakistan and Iran
decided during the second
week of March to begin
construction on the long-
discussed gas pipeline
between the three
countries - and on a strict
deadline, too. Ironically, it
was the threat of possible
future US sanctions
against oil companies
involved with Tehran that
ultimately pushed through
the agreement.
Construction is now slated
to begin no later than
September 2009.
Each country will be
responsible to lay pipes in
its own territory - a project
that Iran has already
begun, and now needs
only to extend another
200 km to its eastern
border. Pakistani officials
say that they will be
appointing private-sector
contractors to put down
the 655 km of pipe in
Pakistani territory
immediately after
purchase agreements are
signed in June.
The total estimated
pipeline costs for each
Through Bangladesh?
Just before leaving for a recent meeting of SAARC
energy ministers in New Delhi, officials in Dhaka
announced an abrupt about-face: they were keen to
return to the negotiating table with regards to a long-
proposed pipeline from offshore gas fields in Burma to
India through Bangladeshi territory. Although India
desperately wants to come to a deal with Burma (in fear
that that gas will otherwise go to China), for the past year,
Bangladesh has been pushing three preconditions to any
such arrangement, including a stepdown in the trade gap
between the two countries. Dhaka's position has stalled
discussions, and India has been exploring more circuitous
options for transporting the fuel.
The apparent change of policy was announced by
Bangladeshi Interim Energy Adviser (essentially, 'Minister')
Tapan Chowdhury, who said that, "There will be no
conditions tagged to the pipeline." One of those conditions
remains, however, as Dhaka is concurrently intensifying
its appeals to Indian lawmakers to allow a power-starved
Bangladesh to import hydroelectric power from Bhutan
and Nepal across Indian territory.
And, with a proposal for two studies on Southasian
energy trading currently in the offing - one by the Asian
Development Bank and one by the SMRC organisation
itself - Indian power-keepers may be more interested in
hearing the Bangladeshi appeals. A
country are: Iran, USD
4.0 billion; Pakistan, USD
2.6 billion; India USD
600 million. At the
moment, involved
officials are very
tentatively putting an
end date for the project at
around mid-2014. Better
late than never, it seems
the Iranian gas will flow, to
energise the Southasian
economy and politically
stabilise the region.        A
Kuppi okayed
Rght in time forthe 16-year anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi's
assassination, a Tamil-language film on the event is all
set for widespread release in Tamil Nadu - and has
reportedly received not only
the go-ahead, but also
some stylistic critiques from
LTTE leader Velupillai
Evidently a pre-release
copy of Kuppi (which means
'cyanide')    was    made
available to the secretive insurgent chief in his hideout.
According to the film's producer, Viswas Sundar, while
Prabhakaran seemed to have been "very appreciative" of
the new movie, he suggested a couple of changes "to suit
the sensitivities" of his cadre. For instance, when the main
protagonist discusses how the LTTE thirudinom (stole) a
government military stockpile some years
ago, Prabhakaran wanted the word changed to
kaipotrinom (seized).
Kuppi is actually a remake of an older film, originally in
Kannada. The film's producers are now at work on a Hindi
version, which they say will "include the assassination
scene" - although they did not elaborate as to why the
scene was not included in the Tamil version. Several
additional attempts have been made in the past to release
a film depicting Gandhi's 21 May 1991 assassination,
but have run into longstanding legal obstacles. One of
these, Kutrapatrikai, finally hit theatres in mid-March after
14 years of legal wrangling. A
China-only zone
Following up on the
bilateral free trade
agreement inked last
November, the Pakistani
government in late
February agreed to set up
special economic zones
(SEZs) that would accept
investments only from
China. Finance Ministry
adviser Ashfaq H Khan
said that the new deal
would include a 3000-
acre parcel of land outside
of Lahore, as well as a
host of lucrative
incentives, including
five-year tax holidays for
investors. Islamabad will
also provide the SEZ area
with water and electricity.
Beijing has announced its
intention to set up eight
such SEZs throughout the
world, and the Pakistani
one will now be the first. A
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Settling in for resettlement
official movement towards
resettlement in the 16
years that the roughly
106,000 Bhutani refugees
have lived in UNHCR-
overseen camps in
southeastern Nepal.
One US embassy official
in Kathmandu said that
the new office would aim
to process around 60,000
refugees over the next five
years. This is the number
that Washington DC has
agreed to take in to the
US, also with the hope that
other countries would take
in the Lhotshampa. The
OPE office is to open for
business in early July.
There is also
speculation that the new
office will be used to
process applications from
other refugees living in
Nepal, particularly from
some of the 25,000
Tibetans in the country.
Last year, news broke that
the US was quietly
planning on resettling
around 5000 Tibetans
from Nepal, starting
this year. A
The United States
government has now
officially proposed to set up
a so-called 'overseas
processing entity' (OPE) in
Kathmandu, which would
begin the process of going
through applications from
Bhutani refugees for
eventual resettlement in
the US. This is the first
Mihin almost off the ground
Just prior to its maiden flight in early March, Sri Lanka's
first budget airline (and second national carrier), Mihin
Lanka, ran into technical difficulties. The airline had
chartered a Fokker-27 aircraft from another private
operator in Colombo to prove to regulators that it was
able to utilise that type of plane for a passenger service.
Although the plan was to fly a crew and 58 guest
passengers from Colombo to Trivandrum, two and a half
hours later the plane was still on the ground due to
unspecified problems, and officials announced that no
further flight tests were planned. Once it is certified,
however, the government-floated Mihin Lanka plans to
tap into both the Indian and Gulf markets. At the moment,
the airline does not own any plane of its own, but it will
soon have a spanking new airport to fill in Hambantota in
the country's south. A
India sets the dole
When Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram
unveiled his country's new budget on 27 February,
an observer could have been forgiven for thinking he
had exchanged his portfolio for Minister for Donor
Assistance. For fiscal year 2007-08, Chidambaram
announced that he would double India's development
aid to Burma, from INR 446 million to INR 804 million.
Bilateral assistance to Bangladesh, meanwhile, will
plummet significantly - from INR 500 million to INR
150 million, a 70 percent drop.
Despite the recent renegotiation of the Indo-Bhutan
Friendship Treaty, Thimphu should have liked the news:
New Delhi will be increasing its aid from INR 5.6 billion
to INR 6.7 billion. So too should Male - aid to the
Maldives is set to triple in the upcoming year from INR
44 million to INR 133 million. (Aid to Sri Lanka will
remain the same in the coming year, while information
for Afghanistan was unavailable.)
Meanwhile, there was some confusion over how this
neighbourhood largesse would treat Nepal. Initial media
reports in Kathmandu had Chidambaram cutting India's
aid to Nepal from INR 2.1 billion to INR 1.4 billion. The
Indian embassy in Kathmandu quickly issued a
statement, however, explaining that India's assistance
to Nepal is not confined to Foreign Ministry allocations,
but includes a plethora of other aid mechanisms -
including the promise of INR 10 billion made during
Girija Prasad Koirala's June 2006 visit to New Delhi.
This is undoubtedly true, but we are still confused as
to what all of the neighbourhood autocrats (Than Shwe,
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, King Jigme) have done to
make New Delhi so happy as to want to open the spigot
all the way. A
No change
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Peaceful Ocean
ddressing the first Pakistani
i conference on the Indian Ocean,
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in
early March emphasised the
need to put in motion
bilateral and regional joint
efforts with regards to that
watery expanse. In order to
work against the possibility
of the Indian Ocean
becoming a space of
competition or power-
grabbing, Aziz said: "We in
Pakistan are of the view that
the Indian Ocean should become a zone of peace
and cooperation:"
The conference, held at Bahria University in Karachi,
was dubbed 'Maritime Threats and Opportunities in the
21st century: A global perspective on the Indian Ocean'.
Aziz noted that the body of water could well be considered
the most important of the world's oceans, in that it
connects the traditional 'seven seas', as well as four of
the most important waterways - the Suez Canal, and the
straits of Malacca, Hormuz and Mandeb.
Meanwhile, within days after Aziz made his remarks,
warships from 27 navies around the world arrived in
the Karachi port to participate in the AMAN 07, a joint
training exercise in the North Arabian Sea organised by
the Pakistan Navy. Hey, weren't we talking zones of
peace here? £
Antsy traders
A  Burmese trade
delegation headed
across the border into
India recently, making the
first such visit in the
dozen years of bilateral
trade between the two
countries. Indian trade
delegations have made
several trips into Burma in
recent times. The impetus
for the westward trip was
the continually declining
levels of crossborder
trade through Moreh, in
Manipur - the only official
trade point currently open
for international trade.
The secretary of the
Union of Myanmar Border
No 'joint management'
Traders Chamber of
Commerce, U Aye Ko,
noted that the
environment in Moreh
itself has been
increasingly less
conducive to traders, with
76 days of 'disruption-' in
the city between April
2006 and January 2007
disallowing trade of any
kind. He also noted that
such a situation would
only increase traders'
desires to set up shop
elsewhere - particularly
once planned trading
centres in Mizoram
and Nagaland come
into being. A
n a not unforeseen
rejection, Indian
Foreign Minister Pranab
Mukherjee recently
definitively stated that
Pervez Musharraf's
proposal of 'joint
management' of Kashmir
by India and Pakistan
"cannot be the basis of a
settlement of the issue
of Jammu & Kashmir".
Mukherjee delivered the
pronouncement in
response to a question in
the Rajya Sabha, stating
that such an option was
not workable because J
& K constitutes an
'integral' part of India.
General Musharraf
had earlier emphasised
his personal desire to
see an end to the
conflict over Kashmir,
and proposed a four-
point proposal that could
make it acceptable to
the Islamabad
establishment -
including the joint Indo-
Pakistani management
of Kashmir. Although the
proposal was lauded at
the time as indicative of
a potential sea change
in Islamabad, most
observers warned
that New Delhi would
have a hard time
accepting the idea. Well,
it has come to pass.        A
Parliamentary support
For the first
members of
from New
Delhi attended
the annual 10
March Uprising
Day, held in
Dharamsala. It
was on that
date in 1959
that thousands
of Tibetans
rose up against Chinese security forces, after which
tens of thousands died at the hands of the People's
Liberation Army.
The members of a new all-party parliamentary
forum on Tibet also pledged to push for a resolution
that would press for New Delhi's official commitment
to "initiate talks and engage with China" to address
the demands of the Tibetan refugee community in
India. The move seems to be the result of a string of
stepped-up actions by pro-Tibetan activists following
last November's visit by President Hu Jintao to India.
During that trip, Manmohan Singh's administration
reiterated its view that Tibet was a "part of China" - a
policy change first put forth in 2003 following Beijing's
recognition of Sikkim as a part of India. A
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Ringing the region
attending the second
SAARC Energy Ministers
Forum in Delhi on 7 March
approved an Indian
proposal that would
create a regional
'energy ring'. Such a
plan would mean
stepping up the
of crossborder
and transnational
transmission lines,
with an eye towards
increasing bilateral and
multilateral cooperation
on trading electricity
and petroleum energy
and products.
Addressing the opening
ofthe meet, Indian Power
Minister Sushil Kumar
Shinde noted that north-
south crossborder
connections have been
set up between India,
Nepal and Bhutan,
and that technical
studies are
currently in the
offing to extend
the grid to
Bangladesh and Sri
Lanka. The ministers
agreed to commission the
Asian Development Bank
to do a feasibility study for
a "common energy grid",
for which USD 1 million
has been earmarked.     A
The ULFA bankroll
Accord ing to a report
released in late
February by the US think
tank Strategic Foresight
Group, the separatist
United Liberation Front of
.Asom (ULFA) is financially
supporting political
contenders in
Bangladesh's temporarily
suspended national
elections. The report
alleges that roughly USD 6
million - part of the
estimated USD 100
million fortune in the
control of ULFA's chief,
Paresh Barua - is being
used to bankroll at least
15 candidates, belonging
to both the Awami League
and the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party.
Strategic Foresight
researchers say that the
move is an attempt on the
part of ULFA to "hedge its
bets" regarding the
eventual election's impact
on its business and
militancy operations. "As
long as ULFA can continue
funding the appropriate
candidates, it can
ensure that the
Bangladesh government
will resist caving in to
Indian demands to
crack down on the
militant group," the
report suggests.
Barua is alleged to
control extensive business
operations throughout
Southasia and the Gulf,
including hotels, stores,
factories, investment
firms and driving schools.A
Rally for regionalism
The first SMRC Car Rally kicked off on 15 March
from Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh. The rally will cover
a distance of 8000 km across seven countries and will
conclude - hold your breath - in the Maldives exactly a
month later.
Bhutani Foreign
Secretary Yeshey Dorji, at
a late-February
inauguration of the event,
clarified that the race was
not a competitive one.
Rather, he said, the rally's
objective was to
strengthen people-to-
people contact; promote
goodwill; identify the need to improve regional transport,;
road infrastructure and connectivity; and encourage
intra-SAARC trade and economic cooperation. Around     j
120 participants in 30 vehicles provided by the Indian
government are taking part in the event.
A significant portion of the trip will actually be by boat
- the jeeps have to make it to Male, where they are
sure to create the greatest traffic jam the city has ever
seen in its handful of kilometres of roads. A
Flag follows trade
On 18 February, at the
end of the second
SAARC Business Leaders
Conclave, regional
leaders agreed on the so-
called Mumbai
Declaration, which states
that SAARC countries
must implement a 13-
point policy reform
agenda to raise intraregional trade to USD 20
billion by 2010.
In addition to
resolving to build new
infrastructure at land
border ports between all
countries, the
declaration asks
Southasian capitals to
implement the South
Asia Free Trade
Agreement (SAFTA, which
came into effect in July
2006), reduce the
number of items on the
various 'sensitive lists'
and remove non-trade
barriers, while
regularising and
liberalising trade
in services.
Member countries
were also urged to
promote energy trade
and cooperation, adopt
an 'open-sky policy' to
improve connectivity
between all capitals and
major cities, facilitate
tariffs and customs
procedures, and reduce
the cost of doing
business in Southasia.
Finally, the declaration
suggests that, in order to
simplify migration within
the region, simple
and long-term multiple
visas must be issued
to businesspeople
and tourists. A
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Nepali trade hubs
As part of an INR 3.2 billion project to enhance the
efficiency of trade across the India-Nepal border,
New Delhi has decided to invest INR 1.2 billion in the
development of Nepal's trade infrastructure. While the
construction of facilities at four border points - Raxaul
and Jogbani in Bihar, Sunauli and Rupa idi ha/Nepalganj
Road - has already begun, a formal Inauguration ofthe
scheme will take place only when Minister of State for
Commerce Jairam Ramesh visits Nepal. A recent
planned visit by Ramesh to the northern neighbour was
cancelled due to unrest in Nepal's southern regions.
Ramesh said that the new facilities "would house all
regulatory agencies, like immigration, customs, border
security, together with support facilities like parking,
warehousing, banking and hotels in a single complex
equipped with modern amenities." Altogether, as part of
India's larger scheme to upgrade border infrastructure,
13 points along India's border with Pakistan,
Bangladesh and Burma are said to be in the offing,
amounting to a total estimated cost of INR 8.5 billion.A
Businessman blues
Despite the much ballyhooed economic reforms in India
and Pakistan, a recent World Bank study warned that
Southasia as a whole and India in particular remain weak
in eliminating obstacles to business growth and job
creation. The worldwide study used indicators such as
ease over starting or closing businesses, dealing with
licenses, employing workers, paying taxes, getting credit
and enforcing contracts.
At the 134th spot, India was above only Bhutan and
Afghanistan in Southasia, and was significantly lower than
both Pakistan (74) and China (93). Sri Lanka (89) narrowly
trailed Bangladesh (88), while Nepal (100), Bhutan (138)
and Afghanistan (162) rounded off the Southasian list.
Caralee McLiesh, the study's principle author, put down
India's poor showing partly to the country's massive
populace. With a billion-plus population and a work force
of 458 million, McLiesh said, India has only eight million
workers with formal jobs in the private sector, and an
alarmingly large section still lacking worker rights,
protections and benefits.
Yet five rounds of formal reforms in India and two in
Pakistan have succeeded in
reducing the time, cost and
difficulty for businesses to
comply with legal and
requirements. "India and
Pakistan are reforming
very    aggressively    in
many   areas'    that   we
measure in doing business,
McLiesh conceded. A
Gas-guzzling competition
The Indian government recently moved to set up a
cabinet-level panel on energy and energy security.
The new body will be tasked specifically with countering
Beijing's use of various types of aid to convince foreign
governments, mostly in Africa and Latin America, to
award it rights to offshore oil fields.
Energy-crunched India currently imports 75 percent
of its petroleum usage, and many policymakers are
worried that such continued dependence, coupled with
China's increasingly aggressive manoeuvring, will have
a drastic impact on India's long-term economic and
military interests.
India's oil usage is estimated at 115 million tonnes
for 2006-07, when 104 million tonnes will be imported;
this use is calculated to rise roughly four percent per
year in the foreseeable future. By 2030, International
Energy Agency head
Claude Mandil says,
India will be importing
around five million
barrels of oil
per day; at
that time,
China will be
more than
twice that, at
around 12
million per day. A
Resource clash
Forthe first time in more
than a decade and a
half, Bhutani refugees
housed in several UNHCR-
overseen camps in
southeastern Nepal
recently clashed' with
locals, The confrontation
took place near the
Sanischare refugee camp,
when Nepalis from the
area attempted to stop
refugees from collecting
firewood in a nearby forest,
During the skirmish, one
refugee was killed and
several more were
wounded. Local
communities subsequently
instituted an 'indefinite'
strike, calling on
authorities to close
down the camp, Around
16,000 refugees live at
Sanischare alone.
Refugee leaders claim
that the current trouble
began in January 2006,
when the UN's refugee
agency decided to
eliminate longstanding
rations of kerosene to the
camp residents. Although
cheaper charcoal bio-
briquettes were
substituted for the gas,
many refugees have said
that the allotment is not
enough, and that they
have been forced to
scavenge firewood from
the surrounding area.       A
Himal Southasian [ April 2007
In February. three Hummers - US-made luxury SUVs
estimated to cost at least USD 500,000 each - were
found abandoned on Dhaka's roadsides. A week
later, in Old Dhaka, a crocodile turned up in the heart
of a congested neighbourhood. Next, five pythons and
a flock of rare deer were found abandoned; the snakes
in a residential area, the deer in a disused iron
foundry. Next was a luxury Toyota SUV, discarded
on a highway.
As a military-backed interim government that
suspended Bangladesh's January elections mounts a
massive anti-corruption crackdown under a state of
emergency, Dhaka's wealthy are feverishly
abandoning luxury pets and toys that were once
symbols of their power and opulence. By the third
week of March, night raids led by the army had netted
over 160 top politicians, former ministers and
businessmen; their driveways and weekend retreats
have so far given up a cheetah, hundreds of deer,
peacocks, another clutch of Hummers and other
luxury 4x4s, and even a late-model Porsche Cayenne
SUV. In mid-March the interim government froze 53
bank accounts, mostly belonging to politicians, with
collective funds worth a staggering USD 377 million.
For the Bangladesh that lives on the other side of town
- nearly half of whom make less than a dollar a day -
these discoveries came as a rare window into the lives
of those who have been governing them.
At the heart of the corruption that is being
uncovered is Tarique Rahman, son of former Prime
Minister Khaleda Zia. Over the past five years,
Rahman has become an emblem of plunder and
cronyism in the public eye. He earned the nickname
of 'Mr Ten Percent' for his alleged cut in almost every
big business deal that his mother's regime signed,
and her tenure marked a meteoric rise for his business
clique. Following his dramatic 8 March arrest (see
image), Dhaka's national media reported that Rahman
may not only have squirreled away as much as USD
230 million to Malaysian bank accounts - which
Dhaka's purge
Corruption purges, high-level arrests, an
unelected military government promising
democracy - bizarre events are afoot in
Kuala Lumpur has reportedly frozen - but also that
his investments run as far afield as South Africa.
Among other things, his closest business associates
are accused of selling millions of dollars worth of
overpriced electric poles to a rural electrification board
in Bangladesh, which should have spent that money
setting up power plants.
When the current 'interim' regime swept into power
on 11 January, it did so riding on the coattails of public
outrage over the crude power struggle between the
two major political parties, the Awami League and
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In the first
week of January, Bangladesh was caught in the grips
of pre-electoral violence tliat left over 30 dead; at that
point, the League was boycotting the polls slated for
22 January, accusing the BNP of having rigged the
voter rolls. Though the army had been called out to
aid the civilian administration in maintaining law
and order, there is little doubt that a bloodbath would
have ensued had the polls gone ahead.
It was against this backdrop that the United
Nations, worried about the possibility of a sham
election, sent an uncharacteristic letter to the
Bangladesh military chief, Lieutenant General Moeen
U Ahmed, warning him that he would seriously risk
his forces' peacekeeping contracts with the UN if he
agreed to provide security for the elections. The
Bangladesh Army contributes over 10,000
peacekeepers to the UN - more than any other country
in the world - and rakes in a massive USD 300 million
a year in peacekeeping contracts. It was no surprise,
then, that by the evening of 11 January, Lt Gen Ahmed
had ordered President lajuddin Ahmed to cancel
the election and place Bangladesh under a state
of emergency - and to put in place a military-backed
regime, which subsequently promised a massive
cleanup of the country's politics before any
new elections.
In its first two months in power, the new regime
restricted its anti-corruption crusade to the
investigation of businessmen and politicians at the
margins of the BNP's and the Awami League's inner
coteries of power. It reshuffled the Anti-Corruption
Commission, the police and the bureaucracy, and
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 sought to ensure that there was proper distance
between the judiciary branch and the executive. Then,
on 8 March, the generals ended weeks of speculation
by arresting Tan que Rahman and a handful of senior
leaders of both parties. As Rahman faces trial in an
extortion case that could see him serve up to five vears
in prison, Dhaka is in an excited state. Through this
one major arrest, the interim government has earned a
groundswell of support from the capital's elite, which
had had a ringside seat to follow the abuse of power
under both the League and the BNP.
Elite purging elite
But the optimism among the elite may be misplaced.
With Tarique Rahman's arrest, the generals have
clearly shown how far they are ready to go to see their
goals met. Immediately following Rahman's
detainment, they formally abandoned the pretence of
ruling the country from the shadows, by activating
the powerful National Security Council, which
features the three chiefs of staff of the army, though it
is headed by a civilian. While the jurisdiction of the
council is yet to be announced, its creation is clearly a
move to give a formal framework to the control the
military wields over the interim government.
There are also rumours that the council will remain
powerful even after the political process is eventually
restored. The generals know too well that a return to
democratic process anytime soon will undoubtedly
result in reprisals against those who have headed the
ongoing cleanup, whereas a permanently powerful
council would help against anv future backlash. As
the military flexes its muscle, even the foreign
diplomats who had helped to engineer the gentrified
coup of 11 January are realising that orchestrating a
return to the barracks may be more difficult. With the
government still silent on a new date for elections, the
word on the street is that they may not take place until
2009. The fact that this new regime enjoys the
unequivocal support of certain sections of the media
and civil society is ample proof that its mandate is
that of one elite purging another.
Bangladesh's economy is facing a damaging
slowdown. There might have been expectations of an
economic boom related to the crackdown, but in fact,
as the newly empowered Anti-Corruption
Commission embarks on its crusade - equipped with
the power to arrest anyone, without need for a warrant
- a culture of fear is spreading through the business
community. Amidst rumours of widespread capital
flight, imports are down by millions of dollars, and
the vibrant real-estate sector is faced with a crash
because no one is willing to write a large cheque for
fear of being investigated over the source oi the funds.
In the last week of March, prominent business leaders
called tor the interim government to lift the state of
emergency as early as possible, even though the
country's apex business body, the Federation of
Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry,
had publicly solicited the emergency during the
political strife of late December.
The serial in sensitivity that is the hallmark of
middle-class-bodied autocracies is also beginning to
show itself. Since 11 January, army-led forces have
demolished hundreds of thousands of shanties across
Dhaka and its suburbs, suddenly making homeless
more than 50,000 people. The government has also
evicted hundreds of thousands of street-side hawkers.
In their stead, the administration has offered the notion
of a weekend market, which has failed to take off; this
has inevitably bit into the livelihoods of millions of
ordinary Bangladeshis. None of this bodes well for a
regime that has failed to stop the rising prices of
essential commodities. The prices of most essentia]
foods had risen massively since the last elected
government relinquished power in October 2006 - in
some cases topping 70 percent. The current regime's
inability to rein in prices mav go a long way in
undermining its credibility among the poor.
For an administration that promised to bring
accountability to governance and is fronted and
cheered on by Dhaka's great and good, the new regime
has all too quickly amassed a damning human-rights
record. Not only have 95,000 people been arbitrarily
arrested since the state of emergency was declared,
but extra-judicial killings in custody are a continuous
feature. The US-based Human Rights Watch has noted
that from 12-21 January, security forces killed 19
people, either in custody from torture or in 'crossfire'
during arrest. Since then, that number has grown to
50, without securitv forces being held accountable for
even a single death.
Ultimately, none of these failings will come back to
haunt this current government as much as its own
lack of constitutional legitimacy. For a regime that
has mandated itself to hold free and fair elections,
such a prospect could become a liability. All the
reforms that the interim administration institutes, all
the actions it takes - including the well-intentioned
ones - will still require a constitutional amendment
in order to attain retrospective legality when
the political process is restored. In fact, this
government's own legality hinges on that same
eventual amendment, which will have to be brought
in bv the next Parliament with a two-thirds majority
vote in its favour.
Awami League supremo Sheikh Hasina recently
promised to oblige this interim government with such
a constitutional amendment if her partv were voted
to power, but there is no guarantee that she will hold
the two-thirds majority in Parliament required to do
so. If tliere is such a guarantee, however, with one
single act, this government will have undone
all the good it had intended to do when it seized
power. For how can one rigged election be any better
than another? j,
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Only their
parents' home
Sri Lanka's new refugee
policy only deals with Sri
Lanka's internally
displaced, and not the
refugees in Tamil Madu. But
what if the latter don't
want to return home?
The Colombo government's new initiative to
resettle displaced Sri Lankans has not only
angered many of the people it is targeted to serve,
but also fails to address the concerns of over 100,000
refugees who live in Tamil Nadu. On 16 March,
international watchdog Human Rights Watch claimed
that authorities were using "threat.s and intimidation"
to force Sri Lankans who had fled because of recent
fighting to return to their homes, although this has
been widely disputed. According to UNHCR, there
are more than 130,000 displaced people from within
the northeastern district of Batticaloa alone - 40,000
of whom had fled during the second week of March.
Nevertheless, by mid-March 800 people are reported
to have been sent back to Batticaloa, as part of the
government's plan to 'return' 2800 people back home.
Even as the internally displaced are being relocated,
the new scheme, the brainchild of Abdul Risath
Bathiyutheen, the Minister of Resettlement and
Disaster Relief Services, does nothing to address the
situations of Sri Lankans who have fled to Tamil Nadu.
This silence is a clear departure from the tone set by a
2002 government initiative, which sought to repatriate
individuals living in the more than 130 camps in the
Indian state. Some say that such an initiative is doubly
important in the current context, with more than
18,000 Sri Lankans having fled to Tamil Nadu since
the outbreak of the war in July last year. The refugee
camps are now bursting beyond capacity.
If there is reluctance on the part of the Sri Lankan
government to offer repatriation options to its refugees
in Tamil Nadu, recent times have also seen a greater
ambivalence within the refugee community as to how
desirable it would be to cross back over the Palk Strait.
Among the refugees now living in temporary camps
within Sri Lanka, too, few seem to like the idea of
repatriation. The position of the displaced on both
sides of the strait is encapsulated in the views of 65-
year-old Yogeshwari Kanakapillai, who lives in a
transient camp in eastern Batticaloa: "We made this
camp our home nearly two decades ago. Our children
braved the seas to seek refuge in Tamil Nadu. If they
return, they will be consumed by the violence here."
At least a quarter of those displaced from the
northeastern provinces of Sri Lanka have relatives or
friends living in South Indian refugee camps. "We
know the difficulties they have," said one internally
displaced woman, referring to her sons who fled the
island years ago. "They cannot find employment. They
live in poverty. Education for the yoting is a problem.
But they have one guarantee which we do not have -
that they will not fall victim to shell attacks and turn to
ashes from aerial bombing."
The sentiment among many in the older generation
of displaced within Sri Lanka is that, despite the
harassment and the lack of options they must face,
their children and relatives are better off in the relative
safety of the South Indian camps. This is in direct
contrast to the refugees own sentiments as expressed
as recently as 2002, when a majority of those living in
Tamil Nadu volunteered to repatriate under a
government scheme. Then, 6000 had returned to Sri
Lanka. "That was in the afterglow of the Ceasefire
Agreement," says R Sampanthan, the parliamentary
group leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
"There was so much hope then. The conditions are
very different now."
Married and settled here
For most internally displaced, the resettlement plan
introduced in March is a case of too little too late. "In
fact, nearly a quarter-century late," points out
Sampanthan's fellow TNA parliamentarian Suresh
Premachandran, "And it still excludes the displaced
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 living in Tamil Nadu. One has to accept that they are
a forgotten community. Resettlement to the government
means resettling the internally displaced. It does
not address the needs of Tamils who fled this
island fearing for their lives since 1983 - and who
continue to flee."
But would an approach such as that which the
Colombo government is currently using in the
northeast really help the refugees in Tamil Nadu? M
Rasamma, a mother who is living in a transit camp in
Anuradhapura, in the northwest of the island, says
no. "Tell us why our children have to come back
here?" she demands. "What do they have here except
renewed war and temporary shelter?"
Colombo has no answers to such questions. For a
state that has neither long- or short-term plans to
.iddress the refugee question, Sri Lanka wil! have fresh
"roblems if the displaced refuse to repatriate under a
tuture scheme. While Minister Bathiyutheen says he
wants to introduce a repatriation scheme at a "future
date", problems will undoubtedly arise if an eventual
plan is put into action with Indian assistance at a
time when refugees are still reluctant to leave. In the
past, any effort to repatriate refugees in Tamil Nadu
has been viewed either with suspicion or as an
infringement of their right to choice. Perhaps the larger
issue is that, having been left in limbo for up to two
decades, these refugees have now come to consider
Tamil Nadu their permanent home.
"Our children do not know Sri Lanka," says
Sugunan Kishor, a Jaffna Tamil living in a camp just
outside Madras. "They identify themselves with Tami
Nadu. Some are married and settled there. To them,
Sri Lanka is only their parents' home and nothing
more. We were hopeful of returning after 2002. But
with the increased violence, we have no desire now to
return." Kishor once fished for a living, and he recalls
with sadness how his once-fervent wish to "return
home" has died: "I have my parents living in the
northern district of Mullativu, I will never be reunited
with them."
For Vellamma Kadirsamy, a 56-year-old woman
who has lived in the same camp as Kishor for several
vears, the lack of government efforts to repatriate,
coupled with the now-intensified war, signifies a
complete separation in the minds of many refugees.
" Any hope of returning home to Sri Lanka is now over.
We have nothing to go there for," she says. "Our
children are here. Some members of our families living
there warn us against our return."
Suresh Premachandran agrees. "Most refugee
children in Tamil Nadu now have access to education.
Though certainly our conditions of living need to be
improved, some kind of continuity of life happens
there. Why should they upset everything and return
to this simmering volcano?" he asks. LTTE spokesman
Daya Master says he understands these feelings.
Following the 2002 truce, the LTTE requested the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for
help in repatriating the refugees living in lamil Nadu
back in Sri Lanka. "But now the conditions are
different," Master notes. "This is war zone, where they
would be victimised yet again. It is not a question of
sentiment anymore, but about human safety."
Resettlement Minister Bathiyutheen stresses that
though the refugees living in lamil Nadu are not
addressed under his new scheme, they are a "high
priority". The minister's new plan, which seeks to
establish a National Resettlement Authority,
concentrates only on the internally displaced. "We are
about to commence drafting a national policy for
resettlement which will address many facets of the
question of displacement. There are the war displaced
and those displaced due to natural disasters. The
refugees in South India are a different category, and
need to be addressed separately." Badiudeen has given
himself a target of two years to resettle half the island's
displaced. As for the National Resettlement Authority,
it is vet to start on the formulation of a resettlement
policy, a policy which will categorically not address
the needs of the refugees in South India.
Hour of need
While Colombo has been unsure about what to do with
the Tamil Nadu refugees, India has done little better,
The refugees have long been a major political issue for
Madras politicians, with which to criticise both
Colombo and New Delhi. The formeris pilloried for its
approach to the ethnic conflict and its lack of
recognition of Tamil rights; the latter, for its lack of a
coherent policy, even as great numbers of Sri Lankan
refugees continue to arrive on South Indian shores.
Official Indian estimates claim that besides those
Sri Lankans living in the designated refugee camps,
25,000 or more live outside. Besides these, there are
also around 2000 undocumented Sri Lankan migrants
detained in 'special' camps, who are liable for
prosecution under Indian migration and anti-terrorism
laws. In March, the lamil Nadu police finally took
steps to issue identity cards to Sri Lankan refugees
who have been living in camps for more than 12 years.
New Delhi's approach to the matter is
straightforward, says Nagma M Mallick, an Indian
diplomat in Colombo. India has given Sri Lankan
refugees shelter on humanitarian grounds. "What
better policy is there than that?" Mallick asks. "They
are not citizens of India, but refugees. In their hour of
need, India has given them a home - that's all."
Clearly, however, that is not all, at least as far as the
Colombo government and the refugees themselves are
currently concerned. As Vellamma Kadirsamy notes:
"Sri Lanka is only a memory for most refugees. Whether
they feel connected or not, it is a home they have no
wish to return to, not even for nostalgic reasons." When
and if the time comes, it may take some effort to
convince them otherwise. A
Himal Southasian | April 2007
President under fire
The days are getting more difficult for Mahinda
Rajapakse, as allegations swirl of pre-election deals
with the LTTE, and human-rights violations mount.
It is never easy being Sri Lanka's
president. The island's chief
executive has to deal with
a seemingly intractable civil
war, a faltering foreign-aid-
dependent economy and a
crumbling infrastructure. It is even
more difficult being Mahinda
Rajapakse these days. The rural
politician, who became a human-
rights activist and trade unionist
on his way to becoming the most
powerful person in the country,
now spends time behind an
extraordinary wall of security.
Roads in Colombo are closed for
hours when he ventures out of
'Temple Trees', his well-guarded
official residence. Heavily armed
commandos line the roads as his
convoy speeds past, guards
anxiously motioning away
passers-by. While none of this is
particularly unusual for a Sri
Lankan president, just over a year
after he took office President
Rajapakse is looking particularly
besieged for other reasons.
The most prominent recent
furore has been over whether
President Rajapakse cut a deal
with the LTTE during the 2005
presidential elections to block
Tamil votes for his opponent, Ranil
Wickremasinghe. A recently
sacked minister from his cabinet,
Sripathi Sooriarachchi, said in
March that he had been present at
a meeting between the president's
brother Basil and Tamil Tiger
representatives when the alleged
deal had been discussed.
Sooriarachchi claims that he
walked out of the meeting because
he "did not agree with what was
being said". (In February,
Sooriarachchi was sacked along
with former Foreign and Ports and
Aviation Minister Mangala
Samaraweera, after they publicly
opposed President Rajapakse over a
cabinet reshuffle during which
Samaraweera was demoted.
Samaraweera claims he lost his job
because he raised concerns over
human-rights violations and the
growing power of Rajapakse's
brothers in government.)
As with previous elections, the
central issue in the 2005 poll had
been the on-going civil war. At that
time, Rajapakse had campaigned on
a hard-line platform with the
backing of the Sinhala-nationalist
parties, including the Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Both
of these parties oppose the 2002
Ceasefire Agreement, which
Rajapakse's main rival, Ranil
Wickremasinghe, signed with LTTE
leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. As a
result of this dynamic, President
Rajapakse had attracted a
significant number of votes from
the Sinhala-dominated south.
Wickremasinghe had then pledged
to carry on with the peace process
he had begun, and expected heavy
Tamil support.
Rajapakse, who was then prime
minister, won the presidential
elections by a margin of less than
181,000 out of a total 9.7 million
voters. In line with Sooriarachchi's
allegations, election observers at the
time noted that hundreds of
thousands of Tamil voters did not
come to polling stations because the
LTTE called for - and violently
enforced - an election boycott. The
chief of a European Union election
observer mission noted: "In the areas
which the LTTE either controlled or
exercised influence, there was little
tangible evidence to show that an
election process had actually taken
place. Political campaigning was
nonexistent, and voters were
prevented from exercising their
franchise because of an enforced
boycott by the LTTE and its proxies."
.As a result, the number of voters
who turned out in the Tamil-
dominated Jaffna District, for
instance, was abysmal. Out of
around 650,000 eligible voters on the
peninsula, less than 10,000 voted -
71 percent of whom chose
Wickremasinghe, compared to the
25 percent of votes that went to
Rajapakse. The former's supporters
continue to contend that if Jaffna and
other Tamil-dominated areas had
been allowed to vote freely,
Wickremasinghe would have won
the presidency.
For his part, Wickremasinghe has
revealed that his party, the United
National Party (UNP), had indeed
been in negotiations with the LTTE
on the eve of the 2005 elections. He
says that a UNP emissary met Tamil
Tiger representatives and "urged
them to respect democracy and
allow the people of the north and
east to vote freely". Wickremasinghe
says the LTTE wanted guarantees
that he would support an interim
self-governing authority in the north
dominated by the LTTE; when he
refused to do so, he says,
negotiations broke down.
Trouble brewing
Although President Rajapakse's
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 government spokesmen have denied
that any pre-election meeting took
place, the president himself has
remained silent on the matter.
Wickremasinghe, who now heads
the opposition, has directly
challenged the president to prove
that the new allegations are untrue,
noting that "the legitimacy of the
outcome of the [2005] elections is
otherwise in doubt." Sooriyarachchi
has also asked for a Parliamentary
Select Committee to investigate his
allegations, a move backed by
Wickremasinghe's parliamentary
group. Currently, the JVP, the other
major party in Parliament, has yet to
take a side on the issue.
The government's reaction has
come through Prime Minister
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake. "There
was no such pact with the LTTE,"
he has insisted, "so there is
nothing to reveal and nothing to
investigate." Media Minister ,Anura
Priyadarshana Yapa says that while
his - and Rajapakse's - Sri Lanka
¥teedom Patty ($LW) Yvas m^ot. \he
most votes during previous
presidential elections in Jaffna, this
time around those who voted did so
for Wickremasinghe. The boycott, he
contends, therefore hurt Rajapakse,
and "this proves there was no pact
with the LTTE."
At the moment, political analyst
Jayadeva Uyangoda does not see a
serious crisis developing for
President Rajapakse out of these
allegations. "Most of the major
The president
political parties have cut deals with
the LTTE before elections from the
1990s onwards," he notes.
Nonetheless, he believes Rajapakse
and the government are "slightly
shaken" because of the resulting
uncertainty. "The president
expected monolithic support from
[the SLFP]. That has changed
because there appears to be a
realignment of the forces that
actually brought him to power."
While at deadline an official probe
has yet to be appointed, if the
allegations are found to be true, there
is every reason to assume that they
will spell trouble for the current
Colombo administration.
Uyangoda says that the larger
issue right now is the developing
crisis over human-rights violations.
Since Rajapakse came to power
there has been an escalation of
violence, with attacks and
counterattacks by both the military
and the LTTE leaving the Ceasefire
Agreement in shreds. Government
foices, Y^e made ^TfttorA
progress in occupying areas
previously held by the Tamil Tigers,
particularly in the eastern districts
of Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
Buoyed by these successes, the
military has indicated it will go
deeper into LTTE-controlled areas
in the near future. Pro-government
commentators justify such action by
saying that, because the LTTE is
"irredeemably militaristic, it needs
to be neutralised militarily."
But these military successes have
come at a cost. More than 4000
civilians, military personnel and
LTTE cadres have died since serious
hostilities resumed in November. In
addition, around 200,000 civilians
living in the midst of the
current operations have been
displaced, adding to the million or
so already without homes because
of the conflict and the tsunami of
December 2004.
The fighting and its consequences have prompted international concern over human-rights
violations. The United States,
Switzerland and the United
Kingdom, among the principle
donors to Sri Lanka, have expressed
alarm over a recent spate of
abductions and disappearances,
particularly of Tamils living in the
government-administered regions of
the country. The country's Human
Rights Commission says that from
January through early March, its
office has received complaints of
nearly 100 abductions taking place
in Colombo, Batticaloa and Jaffna;
such statistics have been criticised,
however, for not including
abductions from within LTTE
territory, which rights groups say are
significantly higher. On 7 March,
Defence Affairs spokesman Keheliya
Rambukwella said that the
government has arrested at least 20
security personnel, some of whom
"may be involved in abductions and
killings and disappearances". In
mid-March it was also announced
that the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on Torture and the
Special Representative of the
Secretary General on Human Rights
m\M toh w\\ %\\ lata, to fee
coming months.
Still, President Rajapakse's
regime is not about to collapse. The
military victories against the LTTE
have been well received by his core
electorate in the Sinhala community,
and recent opinion polls have
found that his support base
remains strong. Indeed, after several
smaller political parties and an 18-
member group of MPs from
Wickremasinghe's party joined his
government in February, President
Rajapakse's parliamentary majority
is for the moment relatively ironclad.
One particular thorn remaining in
the president's side, however, is
Mangala Samaraweera, the former
minister. Currently, his supporters
are canvassing MPs to form a group
that would push for him to become
head of the largest parliamentary
group (likely to comprise of
breakaway factions from the SLFP
and several smaller parties), and
thus make him prime minister. If
Wickremasinghe stays neutral,
President Rajapakse could end up
with a hostile Parliament, quickly
making him a weak president.      ^
Himal Southasian | April 2007
The future of Tibetan discontent
After six decades of domination by the Chinese state, the people of Tibet continue to
lack the most basic of requirements: security, health and contentment. Despite
Beijing's hopes, even without the Dalai Lama's leadership the Tibet issue will remain
alive so long as these frustrations continue. And while continued repression may
suppress political movements at the moment, it will never be able to address the
underlying causes of this discontent. The key for Tibet's future now lies with the rise
of a Tibetan civil society inside Tibet.
Prominent Tibet supporter and Tibetologist Robert
Thurman once compared the Tibetan cause to
that of baby seals. This appears to be quite an
accurate comparison. Indeed, the plight of the Tibetans,
like that of the Arctic mammal, belongs to those rare
causes with seemingly universal appeal and the power
to forge broad and unlikely coalitions across political
orientations, cultures and ages. But the comparison
goes further. Strong emotionality and, inevitably, the
annoyance of the self-proclaimed 'serious realists' are
as inseparable from both causes as Tibet is from the
Chinese motherland - at least according to the
prevailing Chinese mantra. And, last but not least,
both issues are far more complex than they first appear
to be.
Acknowledging the complexity of an issue is a
difficult endeavour when clear-cut ideologies prevail
and political mythologies often replace hard facts. The
position of the Beijing authorities on the Tibet issue is
clear: There is no issue. Tibet always was, firmly is,
and ever will be an inseparable part of the Chinese
Motherland. The Tibet issue is a conspiracy
orchestrated by those who opposed Tibet's 'liberation'
from imperialist foreigners (of which there were two
individuals in Tibet at the time in 1951, one British
and one American) and, not unrelated but more
importantly, the 'international anti-China forces'.
'China's Tibet' is striving, and Tibetans, most of whom
are 'liberated serfs', are thankful to the central
government because they enjoy the 'best time in their
history', just as 'China's other 55 nationalities' do.
This position was formulated down to the letter
during the 1950s, and has been maintained throughout
all of China's subsequent political upheavals, a clear
illustration of Beijing's rigidity. However, even official
Chinese statistics demonstrate that, six decades after
'liberation', and behind the glass-and-steel facades of
contemporary Lhasa, there is an overwhelming
percentage of Tibetans living in appalling poverty. This
does not fit well into the rosy picture put forward above.
Neither does the fact that every day Tibetans undertake
the ordeal of clandestinely crossing the border to Nepal
in order to receive the blessings of their religious leader,
the Dalai Lama, or to get a-chance to attend a school of
their choice - and occasionally get shot for their efforts.
In comparison, views of the Tibetan situation among
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Tibet supporters at first appear far more pluralistic
and flexible. However, here too, ideologies and an
inclination towards conspiracy theories often prevail
over accuracy and sound analysis. Some see in Tibet
'the last antique culture disappearing', and view the
intrusion of commonplace aspects of modern life, from
tourism to the new Qinghai-Lhasa railway, as tools
'designed to undermine Tibetan culture'. Promotions
or transfers of cadres in Tibet are inevitably denounced
as 'victories for the hardliners'. The People's Republic
of China (PRC)'s creeping shadow appears to
some to be omnipresent - even banal network problems,
hoaxes and computer viruses are often presumed to be
Chinese attacks.
Whereas one might still take all this in with some
bemusement, other views in circulation are more
worrisome. For example, foreign development
organisations working in Tibet were for many years
bitterly accused of cooperating with the Chinese
government, and the same blanket accusations are now
directed towards corporate foreign investors.
Meanwhile 'independent' reports and press releases
often muddle historical facts, and produce inaccurate
or inaccurately collated and contextualised figures.
This contributes to a damaging reputation for hysteria
and triviality for the Tibetan cause in the wider world.
Potemkin Tibet
With obstinacy here, and encapsulation in ideological
parallel worlds there, Tibet singularly seems to provide
an ideal backdrop for all kinds of political oddities
that are never quite comprehensible to outsiders, and
have the effect of obscuring far more real Tibetan
concerns. Ironically, though, myths propagated by
both sides are sometimes stunningly convergent.
Currently, the most widely spread of these is that
regarding China's total control of Tibet. This myth hits
the global information market in two forms. First, we
have the Chinese authorities praising the 'stability' of
today's Tibet, and declaring that the Dalai Lama has
now become 'irrelevant' for Tibetans as they are "busy
becoming well-to-do". Second, however, some Tibet
activists outside Tibet, and media reports inspired by
them, cry out in alarm about the imminent
disappearance of Tibet under the control of an
apparently omnipotent China. One side wants to
discourage us in the wider world from even thinking
that resistance against Beijing's rule has any chance
(this is what governments do, certainly those who do
not have to fear not being re-elected). The other side, in
not untypical NGO style, appeals to our sense of
urgency (and pity) in order to win us over for their
struggle (and acquire funds for this struggle).
The messages we are made to believe and the
agendas behind them are as obvious as they are
different, but they converge in their factual perception
of the status quo and the depiction of Tibetan passivity
that this involves. There are problems with these
views. The perception that Beijing's hold on Tibet is
particularly strong and confident is anything but
accurate. Admittedly, compared with the late 1980s
and the 1990s, there is less overt repression now. But
this is largely because there is less open Tibetan
opposition than there used to be - although this does
not indicate Tibetan resignation. Rather, Tibetans have
learned to articulate themselves in a less offensive, and
often more effective, way, within the structures imposed
on them by the Chinese state.
The public burning of wildlife pelts, for example,
which occurred throughout Tibet in 2006, was a
key event that left both the Chinese authorities and
many Tibet supporters perplexed. Although the
environmental and ethical aspects of the campaign
were doubtless crucial, its unexpected amplitude and
success were an unambiguous display of loyalty to
the Dalai Lama, who had just recently expressed
disapproval of using wildlife products in clothing. The
campaign was skilfully implemented and took place
strictly within the legal framework defined by the
Chinese authorities. It was non-confrontational and
clearly contradicted the twin assumptions of Tibetans
having become helpless victims on one hand, and
politically 'pacified' on the other.
As much as this episode has again confirmed that
the clear majority of Tibetans inside Tibet continues to
regard the Dalai Lama as its leader, Beijing's
identification of the Tibet issue as a "Dalai issue" is
based on an inaccurate understanding of the dynamics
within Tibetan society and culture. In tune with their
authority-oriented - rather than any consensus-
oriented - understanding of political dynamics, the
PRC authorities apparently assume that following the
Dalai Lama's death, Tibetan opposition to their rule
will fragment along regional and sectarian fault lines
(which are indeed existent, and which they actively
encourage), and finally collapse. But while the Dalai
Lama is certainly a powerful catalyst of Tibetan
resistance, all observations at the grassroots
level indicate that Tibetan discontentment is the key to
the issue.
Most Tibetans experience the mainland Chinese
The Dalai Lama s'
led to widespread
pelt burnings
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 presence in Tibet, whether physical or through the
bias of more discrete structures, as a nuisance at best
and an existential threat at worst. Even atheist
Tibetans in the higher ranks of the Communist Party
(those ranks Tibetans can access) express such views.
This is not because tire Dalai Lama has 'stirred them
up', but is the result of alienation and daily frustrations
in their contacts with mainland Chinese immigrants,
military, laws or officials (whether they are ethnic
Chinese or Tibetans operating within an essentially
Chinese system) - or, simply, exasperation, for
instance regarding the Mandarin accents of Tibetan
newsreaders on Radio Lhasa.
In other words, the real problem is the failure of the
Chinese state to accommodate what Tibetans regard
as their legitimate rights or needs, and convince them
that they are better off within China than they would
potentially be in an independent Tibet. The crux of
the matter therefore lies with China and its policies,
and not with the Dalai Lama. Hence, Beijing's
assumption that the issue may resolve with the Dalai
Lama's demise muddles cause and effect; it is a
misconception that simply does not match Tibetan
reality. With or without the Dalai Lama, the Tibet issue
will remain alive as long as dissatisfaction and
frustration continue to fuel Tibetan aspirations for a
better and more self-determined life. Repression may
suppress any political movement in the short term,
but it does not fundamentally correct the situation that
generates it, because it addresses symptoms while
doing nothing about the underlying cause.
There have been considerable efforts to engage a
new generation of Tibetans in the Chinese mainstream
- mainly through education - but these have yet to
pay off. In fact, today the most nationalist-minded
Tibetans in Tibet are young people, many of whom
speak and write better Chinese than they do their own
mother tongue, and are better integrated into the
Chinese system than are the large majority of their
fellow Tibetans. This is not surprising; numerous
parallels can be found in colonial histories across the
world. It was most commonly the acculturated
younger generations educated by the colonial rulers
who became the champions of nationalism. (The thorny
issue of whether the current situation in Tibet can be
formally labelled 'colonial' will not be discussed here,
despite there being striking similarities.) Certainly,
considering that Tibetans hardly make up half a
percent of China's population, any Tibetan freedom
movement would face a difficult time succeeding. But
Beijing's hope for resolution of the Tibet issue through
firm determination alone remains as hollow as the
ultra-modern facades of Lhasa's main streets, which
suggest progress and yet, reminiscent of Potemkin's
villages, obscure the real face of Tibet.
Realistically, change for the better in Tibet does not
appear to have any possibility without Chinese
acquiescence. At the same time, it is only if China's
leadership manages to provide a large number of
Tibetans with a better life, both in terms of economic
opportunities and non-material satisfaction, that a real
solution to the Tibet issue can be found - and, along
with this, a more dignified future for both Tibetans
and Chinese, whatever their point of view. Given the
current power dynamic, the Tibetan contribution
towards this goal can only be minimal; the onus is on
China, and it is China's further course of action that
will decide whether and when the issue can be
resolved. One thing is clear, though: if the Dalai Lama
is not the cause of China's problems in Tibet, he is
certainly the only Tibetan who can make major
contributions towards their swift resolution - that is,
provided China finally manages to find a more
constructive way of dealing with him.
Calibrated activism
That real policy-level progress in Tibet will depend
mainly on the Chinese state's capacity and willingness
to correct its course does not mean that contributions
for improvement in the Tibetans' situation cannot be
made by the other parties involved. So far, the focus of
the Tibet movement outside Tibet has been on exerting
political pressure on China; but there is a growing
realisation that this approach has reached the limits
Role models: From left, the 13th Dalai Lama, the 9th Panchen Lama, Gendun Chopel, Ngawang Sangdrol
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 of what can be achieved, and that alternative strategies
need to be considered. The central question here is
what exactly 'support' for Tibet should mean. The
answer now seems to be coming from Tibetans inside
Tibet itself.
Recent years have seen the emergence of an
astonishingly bold and creative - though sensibly
circumspect - civil society within Tibet. Hardly
acknowledged by the outside world, local NGOs have
been mushrooming, mostly under the initiative of
educated young Tibetans, and partly with the backing
of mainland Chinese NGOs or individuals supportive
of Tibetans. In eastern Tibet, monasteries also have a
level of participation in this movement. Their work
focuses on environmental, cultural and social issues,
and has yielded remarkable earlv successes in solving
local ecological problems; claiming due respect for
local culture and sensitivities; and empowering
Tibetans by supporting local development, health and
educational initiatives.
The nascent Tibetan civil society not only operates
strictly within the legal framework of the PRC, but even
designs its work according to official government
agendas - ie, proactive protection of the environment,
respect for the feelings of 'minorities' and poverty
reduction. This is the result of the realisation that a
confrontational attitude to the PRC government may-
yield credentials of heroism but no improvement in
Tibetan society at large, whereas the government is
ready to accept social activism as long as its own power
positions are not challenged. Indeed, the state has even
come to appreciate the 'watchdog' function of nongovernmental bodies as a tool to regulate the work of
local authorities, who often escape effective
supervision by the Centre.
This approach might appear 'un-political' to some,
but experience on the ground shows that it yields
practical results and benefits for the Tibetan people.
Interestingly, it also echoes the course propagated by
the Dalai Lama for the last two decades to drop the
demand for independence in exchange for a
substantial improvement in the living conditions of
his people, After all, the demand for independence-
stems to a large extent from the experience that Tibetans
have not been able to live good and dignified lives
under Beijing's rule. Real opportunities to address
these issues would not necessarily solve al! of Tibet's
problems, but calls for independence would lose some
of their resonance if conditions significantly improved.
What is happening here could therefore be defined as
a shift of balance of Tibetan political activism from
ideal (but hardly achievable), to practical, achievable
goals. Simply put, this recalibration of Tibetan activism
is in fact a major shift of paradigm from pro-Tibet
activism to pro-Tibetans activism.
This new approach raises questions about the role
and potential of Tibetans and Tibet supporters outside
Tibet. It is an open secret that many Tibetans in exile
are still very emotional about the call to 'free Tibet',
and far less enthusiastic about a more pragmatic
course. This is understandable. However, except for a
very small minority, the path chosen by the Dalai Lama
is the one with which they are ready to go along, if
only because there seems to be no convincing
alternative. In this respect, the attitude of those in exile
is not essentially different from that of their fellow
Tibetans inside Tibet.
The situation is quite different when it comes to
(mostly Western) Tibet support groups. For what
appears to be a rather strong, or at least particularly
vocal, minority among these, Tibet is commonly
envisioned as the 'good cause' par excellence,
symbolising the eternal struggle between good and
evil. As such, the struggle for a 'free Tibet' itself has
become something of a crusade. In this perspective,
activism tends to be seen as a success in itself, and any
adoption of a less-polarising approach can easily be
challenged as a betrayal. At times, this has led to very
awkward situations.
For instance, demands by Dharamsala to exert a
degree of restraint in the way protest against Chinese
leaders is undertaken has generated stark
disagreement among certain Western support groups.
This has reached a point where leaders of some such
groups have more or less openly refused to accept what
they see as a 'Dharamsala diktat' and have insisted
instead on their 'independence'. There has also been a
certain amount of support for the activities of Tibetans
who openly campaign against Dharamsala's and the
Dalai Lama's (and thus, implicitly, Tibetan NGOs')
pragmatic approach.
One cannot fail to get the impression that some
among the Tibet support groups see their role less in
providing support than in providing 'guidance' to
Tibetans. This raises a crucial issue of legitimacy.
Whereas one may or may not agree with their decisions,
the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala is
democratically legitimised by the exile community,
while the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama to be the voice
ofthe overwhelming majority of his people, both inside
and outside Tibet, can hardly be questioned. Support
groups in comparison are at best legitimised by their
members, and very few of them are even Tibetan.
To be fair, there is also something of a 'silent majority'
among the support groups that has begun to diversify
its activities bv supporting, in one wav or another,
civil-society groups inside Tibet. Perhaps more
significantly, they are creating a new awareness about
Tibet that has less focus on fundamental issues and
more on the kind of concerns that Tibetans - as any
people in a poor, developing country - face. Of
particular significance are efforts to enter into a
constructive dialogue with potential foreign investors
in Tibet. But this approach still faces formidable
scepticism from a movement that too often appears to
value ideology over practical progress.
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Dignity in modern times
French President Jacques Chirac once said:
"Predictions are always difficult, particularly when
they apply to the future" - and so we shall abstain
from conjecture about the future. The past and the
present, however, are within our reach, and analysing
them is the best way to be prepared for things to come.
As it looks now, the only ones in any position to
determine Tibet's future are the two most concerned
parties, Tibet and China.
The policies of China's leadership are based on a
rare blend of pragmatism and rigidity that serves two
main aims: keeping power, and looking good while
doing so. So far, pragmatism has not been prevailing,
as Tibetan dissatisfaction, though hardly presenting
any acute danger for China, has challenged both of
these aims. One can hardly see how this situation could
change, unless the Chinese authorities abandon their
rigidity - readily or under duress - and provide
substantial measures to appease Tibetan discontent.
This may happen, but it may not; and even if it were to
take place, nobody can predict when.
Meanwhile, the nascent Tibetan civil society inside
Tibet works with the tools it has at its disposal to
provide its people with what six decades of Chinese
domination has failed to provide: material security,
contentment and a healthy environment. Although this
in no way precludes anything about what Tibet's future
will be, it does imply leaving aside macro political goals
and reverting to the essence and ultimate goal of
Tibetan nationalism: the search for an appropriate and
dignified place for Tibetans within modernity.
In seeking this, it means following the steps of several
prominent Tibetans - Gendun Chopel, the late Panchen
Lama, Baba Phuntsog Wangyal, Ngawang Sangdrol
and many more, but primarily the current Dalai Lama,
as well as his predecessor. This unlikely resurgence of
Tibetan activism inside Tibet is currently the best bet
for Tibet's future. Supporting it from outside Tibet is
both possible and necessary, but it will require
reconsideration of familiar positions, a farewell to rigid
ideologies, and the unlimited acceptance that Tibetans
have to make their own decisions - with the support,
but not the guidance, of non-Tibetans. A
Until t
Fhe Tihr§t mevement has stalled, partially because there is little understanding of
how it will continue after the Dalai Lama's passing. While those who disagree with
the Middle. Way approach are not necessarily looking to violence as the answer,
they are looking for reaffirmation of what exactly it is they arprying to achieve.
On a cold and wet Saturday morning a few weeks
ago, several thousand of us exile Tibetans
gathered once again with our leader, the Dalai
Lama, in the courtyard of the main temple in
Dharamsala to commemorate the anniversary of the
Lhasa Uprising of 10 March 1959 - the event that
triggered our exodus to India, and sealed China's
occupation of our homeland. As with every 10 March
commemoration, speeches were made and songs were
sung to remember those who gave their lives in pursuit
of Tibet's freedom.
In his statement this year, the Dalai Lama once again
reiterated his commitment to the Middle Way approach
- his proposal to resolve the Tibet issue by making the
key concession of giving up demands for
independence, in return for a genuinely autonomous
Tibet within the People's Republic of China. .And once
again, the unresolved incongruities of the Tibetan
April 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 situation manifested themselves. As the Dalai Lama
spoke, above him stretched an enormous
Tibetan national flag, still banned in Tibet for
being a symbol of nationalist aspirations.
Those gathered also sang the Tibetan
national anthem, another expression of
Tibet's separate identity proscribed by
Beijing. And during the traditional march
to the town centre in Lower Dharamsala that
followed the speeches, the crowd once again
raised slogans calling for a free Tibet, and
demanding that China leave the plateau.
The Tibet movement has suffered this
split-personality syndrome ever since the Middle Way
approach was first broached, more than two decades
ago. The Tibetan community's complete devotion to
the Dalai Lama as our spiritual and political leader
has meant that, for the most part, we have accepted his
proposal without any question. Indeed, until recently,
any expression of doubt on this matter was
immediately denounced within the community as
being a personal attack on the Dalai Lama himself.
But while on the surface there has been a unified show
of support and commitment to the Middle Way
approach, deep down many Tibetans have suffered a
disquieting crisis of confusion and conflicting
loyalties (See Himal December 2006, "Roadblock on the
Middle Path").
In exile, we were brought up to believe that our raison
d'etre was to fight for Tibet's independence. From the
time we were children, the word rangzen -
independence - was relentlessly hammered into us.
To be suddenly told that rangzen was no longer our
goal was almost impossible to comprehend; and
indeed, during the 1980s, in the early days of the
.Middle Way approach, we went about our lives as if
nothing had fundamentally changed in our struggle.
But as time passed, we could no longer pretend that
this contradiction between our loyalty to the Dalai
Lama and our instinctive belief in Tibet's independence
did not exist. Our confusion became more difficult to
ignore, and we were stricken by a sense of helplessness
and frustration. As a result, some vital force was
sucked out of our movement, and it began to founder.
Even our most ardent supporters began to wonder what
it was that we were fighting for, and the once-
impressive international support-group network that
we had so painstakingly built up began to unravel for
want of a clearly defined cause.
A movement adrift
There is evidence to show that we exiled Tibetans are
not alone in evincing this duality of purpose. Inside
Tibet, although faith and belief in the Dalai Lama
remains largely undimmed, the demonstrations that
took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s were all
driven by the demand for independence. Even today,
despite heightened security controls and measures,
Tibet: traditional
(blue) and modern
any leaflet or wall poster that surfaces invariably calls
for independence.
This dilemma, between supporting the Dalai Lama's
Middle Way approach and continuing to believe in
independence, is now so deep-rooted in the fabric of
our condition as exiles that it even creeps into our
official statements. Last year Prime Minister-in-exile
Samdhong Rinpoche, one of the staunchest supporters
of the Middle Way approach, said: "Since the struggle
of the Tibetan people is based on truth and nonviolence, there is no need for us to lose heart, as all
Tibetans believe that the truth will prevail some day."
The Kashag - the executive body of the government-
in-exile - in a statement on 6 July last year, reaffirmed
its "determination to engage in dialogue for resolving
the issue of Tibet through the present Sino-Tibetan
contacts", but concluded its statement by exhorting:
"May the truth of the issue of Tibet prevail soon!"
What exactly is the 'truth' to which Samdhong
Rinpoche and the Kashag are referring? The official
website of the government'-in-exile gives us the answer:
At the time of its invasion by troops of the People's
Liberation Army of China in 1949, Tibet was an
independent state in fact and law. The militadry invasion
constituted an aggression on a sovereign state and a
violation of international law. Today's continued
occupation of Tibet by China, with the help of several
hundred thousand troops, represents an ongoing violation
of international law and of the fundamental rights of the
Tibetan people to independence.
How can Samdhong Rinpoche and the government-
in-exile be promoting the Middle Way approach -
which requires that we bury this 'truth' - while
simultaneously continuing to present the case for
Tibet's independence? Is it any surprise, then, that
Beijing continues to view the Middle Way approach
with deep mistrust, branding it as a call for "disguised
independence"? Or that, before it will make any move
towards a serious dialogue with the Dalai Lama, it
insists that he declare, once and for all, that Tibet was
never independent, that it was always a part of China?
But Samdhong Rinpoche and the Kashag are not
Himal Southasian ] April 2007
 The new generation: Tsundue and Phuntsok
anomalous in inadvertently manifesting this
contradictory position. All Tibetans are complicit in
this fundamental paradox within our 'cause', and it is
precisely this that has led to the gradual erosion and
dissipation of Tibet's national struggle. In order to have
any hope of success, the key demands of the Middle
Way approach - a genuinely autonomous region made
up of the three traditional provinces of Tibet, and ruled
by a democratically elected local government - would
have to be watered down, or even given up entirely.
But making such concessions would rob the Middle
Way approach of any credibility - indeed, its meaning
- and there is no way that the Dalai Lama can deny
Tibet's past. The result is the stalemate that we see
today. Behind the smokescreen of presumed dialogue,
which it has no intentions of furthering, China
continues to do what it wants in Tibet with impunity.
Meanwhile, the once-vibrant Tibet movement floats
listlessly in the doldrums.
Beyond the Middle Way
Two statements emanating recently from Dharamsala
seem to indicate a slight shift in its thinking with regard
to the jMiddle Way approach. In January, Samdhong
Rinpoche said: "In the past, we have asked the Tibetan
people not to annoy the PRC [People's Republic of
China] by [engaging in] propaganda or campaigns
against them. Unfortunately, since last year the PRC
has not cared for our actions and they have attacked
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Under such
circumstances, we are not able to ask the Tibetan people
to keep quiet."
This statement reflects a welcome retreat from
Dharamsala's earlier appeals to Tibetans and Tibet
supporters not to hold demonstrations, particularly
against visiting Chinese dignitaries, for fear of
jeopardising the 'conducive atmosphere' necessary to
help the Middle Way approach make progress. It comes
in recognition of the fact that efforts by Dharamsala to
appease Beijing have only resulted in a stepped-up
campaign of vilification aimed specifically at the Dalai
Lama. One immediate consequence of this climb-down
was the unexpectedly large (and loudly pro-
independence) crowds that turned out across the world
for this year's 10 March demonstrations - evidence
that Tibetans, especially the younger generation, need
only the slightest encouragement to give expression to
iVafik desire to ti^Jxt for an independent Tibet.
More significantly, on 23 January, Prime Minister
Rinpoche stated that Tibetans should, "Hope for the
best - ie, to hope for a successful resolution of the Tibet
problem within the lifetime of His Holiness the 14th
Dalai Lama." At the same time, they should also,
"Prepare for the worst - ie, to be prepared for the
worst eventuality, whereby the Tibetan movement has
to be sustained indefinitely, for centuries until the
last Tibetan."
This grim warning is perhaps the first official
admission of the possibility that the Middle Way
approach may not bear fruit within the lifetime of the
Dalai Lama. Assuming that this worst-case scenario
comes to fruition - and all indications point in that
direction - how then can the "Tibetan movement... be
sustained indefinitely"? More to the point, what is the
nature of the struggle that is to be sustained
indefinitely? Are we to assume that, in the absence of
the Dalai Lama, the Middle Way approach can still
retain the credibility to fire the Tibet movement until
the so-called last Tibetan remains standing? Or should
we be considering new initiatives that will ensure the
continuation of Tibet's freedom struggle while we still
have the Dalai Lama to lead, guide and inspire us?
The stigma of violence
One of the most common misrepresentations in the
ongoing debate between supporters of the Middle Way
approach and proponents of independence is the
reduction of these two positions to one simply of 'nonviolence versus violence'. The Middle Way approach
is consistently presented as the only way of resolving
the Tibet situation that directly conforms to the Dalai
Lama's commitment to peace and non-violence;
whereas its detractors, particularly those who support
independence, are unfailingly portrayed as pushing
for violence. If the Middle Way approach does not
succeed, we are told (usually by its supporters), the
alternative is a Palestine-like cycle of unending violence
and chaos.
Such a grim scenario has by now been widely picked
up by the media. Almost every article on the question
of Tibet seems to contain a statement similar to this
one, which appeared in the 24 January 2007 issue of
the US pop-culture magazine Rolling Stone:
"Increasingly, young Tibetans reject His Holiness the
Dalai Lama's commitment to non-violence, engaging
instead in the tactics of Palestinian militants." The
constantly emphasised point is that those who reject
the Middle Way approach reject the Dalai Lama's
commitment to non-violence - that supporting
independence as a goal necessarily implies supporting
violence as the means of attaining it.
Unfortunately, this perception is not helped by
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 statements made by those at the forefront of the pro-
independence lobby. In the same article, Kalsang
Phuntsok, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress,
which supports independence, was quoted as saying:
"We are admitting at the international level that Tibetan
people, and the Dalai Lama, are happy in China. We
need to educate Tibetans that attacking China is the
only way. If you're willing to die, you have no fear."
The article then went on to say this about Tenzin
Tsundue, one of the most prominent and vocal
champions of independence: "Unwilling to accept
anything less than complete independence, [Tsundue]
and his supporters have abandoned His Holiness the
Dalai Lama's peaceful approach, drawing inspiration
instead from the Palestinians and other militant
I personally do not believe that Tibetans such as
Phuntsok and Tsundue are actively promoting violence
as a means of pushing for independence. The fact
remains, however, that people increasingly equate their
stance with violence, in direct contradiction to the nonviolent and compassionate approach symbolised by
the Dalai Lama. This subsequently sends a signal to
the outside world that anyone supporting Tibetan
independence must necessarily be a dangerous militant
with terrorist tendencies.
This is an unfair generalisation. Why should
supporting Tibetan independence be incompatible
with a non-violent approach? There are many Tibetans
who are committed to non-violence as a principle, but
who find no contradiction in believing that regaining
Tibet's independence should remain the primary
objective of the struggle. We need only take the example
of Mohandas K Gandhi - a leader much admired by
both the Dalai Lama and Samdhong Rinpoche - whose
satyagraha (firmness of truth) movement, although
rooted in ahimsa, or non-violence, was in fact a
dynamic, forceful and often confrontational form of
resistance, which had as its ultimate goal nothing less
than India's independence from British rule.
When Tsundue says in the Rolling Stone article,
"Youngsters tell me they don't want to join a nonviolent protest. Youngsters feel non-violence is getting
nothing", I for one do not believe that these 'youngsters'
are necessarily asking to engage in violence. Rather,
they are asking for something to believe in - a cause
they can fight for, a clear goal to which they can aspire.
Their frustration stems not so much from the lack of
results through non-violent protest, as from confusion
about what it is that they are trying to achieve.
Anti-Apartheid lessons
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Himal Southasian | April 2007
 grounds were feverish with the anti-Apartheid
campaign. The immediate issue was the divestment
of the University of California's investments in
companies that did business with South Africa. Day
after day, the central Sproul Plaza was the scene of
raucous demonstrations. The climate of student
activism was contagious. But more importantly, the
issue at stake was clear and uncomplicated: this was
a 'good v evil' scenario, literally a black-and-white
question. Apartheid was evil; it had to go. It was that
simple. It did not take much effort before I found myself
a willing participant in the movement. Not
buying anything made in South Africa was a
simple act of solidarity, and before long it became
an instinctive gesture - so much so that, years later,
even after Apartheid had long been dismantled,
I still found myself resisting South African grapes
or wines.
A number of years ago, when Nelson Mandela
made his triumphant state visit to England, I
happened to tune into a radio programme on which
some former anti-Apartheid campaigners were being
interviewed. Commenting on the contribution made
by the worldwide grassroots campaign to defeat
Apartheid, one interviewee said that the success of
the anti-Apartheid movement lay in the fact that it
was ultimately able to reach and draw support from
every level of society; that although it was widespread
and might have appeared spontaneous, it was, in fact,
carefully orchestrated by African National Congress
leaders in exile.
Although there is a huge difference between the
anti-Apartheid movement and the Tibetan struggle -
not least in the fact that China is a far more powerful
adversary, economically, politically and militarily,
than was the white South African government - we
should not forget one important lesson: A well-
coordinated and widespread grassroots movement
can apply immense pressure on governments, and
achieve results. China may appear impregnable, but
it is not immune to international leverage, particularly
so when it seeks to play a leading role in global affairs.
But we must also realise that such a movement can
only be effective if it is focused around a clear-cut
cause - one that pits right clearly against wrong.
We are fortunate that in the case of Tibet, as with
the Apartheid regime in South Africa, there has never
been any moral ambiguity. And just as the anti-
Apartheid movement was guided by the moral force
of its leader, Nelson Mandela, the Tibet movement is
blessed in having the universally respected figure of
the Dalai Lama at its head. Moreover, we already have
in place a wide and committed network of
international supporters who are only waiting for a
clear rallying call to galvanise themselves into action.
But before this can happen, the Tibetan leadership
must act upon its realisation that the Middle Way
approach may not achieve the results it seeks within
the lifetime of the Dalai Lama. All Tibetans believe in
the truth of Tibet's independence, without any doubt
or question. This is the one aspiration that can
immediately dissolve the morass of conflicting goals
and loyalties besetting the Tibet movement, and unite
all Tibetans, whether inside or outside Tibet. Restoring
the truth of Tibet back to the core of the movement,
and making it once again the freedom struggle that it
rightfully is, holds no guarantee that Tibet will become
independent any time soon. What it will achieve,
however, will be to reactivate the increasingly
moribund Tibet movement by giving it focus; bring a
sense of urgency to the Tibet issue; make it harder for
Beijing and the international community to ignore it;
and ensure that our struggle remains strong and
motivated, even after the present Dalai Lama passes
away. If Samdhong Rinpoche's appeal to sustain the
Tibetan movement indefinitely - "for centuries until
the last Tibetan" - is to make any sense, this is the
only option available. A
Lhasa in another age
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April 2007 | Himal Southasian
and the railway
Perhaps no other railway in the world could have
competed with the new Qinghai-Tibet railway for
the amount of attention, comment and opinion it
inspired. The fact that the Chinese government decided
on 1 July 2006 - the 85th anniversary of the founding of
the Communist Party of China - as the day for the formal
inauguration of the railway leaves no room for
ambiguity regarding the project's 'political colour'.
Driven by the intense media coverage of the new track,
a massive collective interest in Tibet suddenly broke
out throughout China - and, indeed, around the world.
According to the numbers put out by the Tibet
Autonomous Region's Tourist Bureau, 90,000 visitors
arrived in Tibet within the first 20 days the railway was
in operation. This has not only added an unbearable
burden to the crumbling Potala Palace - which is
supposedly designated as a World Heritage Site - but
has significantly impacted on the lives of Lhasa locals.
The prices of staple foods, vegetables and meats have
all gone up dramatically, while worshippers are being
forced to fight crowds inside temples.
The reaction of Tibetans to the new rail line is
complex. This writer took a ride on the train from Beijing
to Lhasa in January. Because it was winter - the slow
season for visitors - there were few tourists on board.
Instead, there were many Tibetan students heading
home for the winter break. These students had been
sent to 'inland' China for schooling from a very young
age. In the past, because of the high cost of transportation,
they could have gone for years without going home for
Losar, the Tibetan New Year. The cheaper price of a
train ride now helps in easing their homesickness, and
this might well be the major benefit that the Qinghai-
Tibet railway has brought Tibetans. The other benefit
has been that the faithful from the Tibetan provinces of
Amdo and Kham can now take the train to go on
pilgrimage in U-Tsang, and vice-versa. Besides these, it
is hard to locate the railway's merits.
During the first seven months of the new service, the
cars were overloaded in the summer and almost
completely empty in the winter; the imbalance between
supply and demand was evident. Indeed, this writer
met a conductor on the train who acknojayledKed that
the railway line lacks economic value, but has political
and military significance. Despite agreeing that the
railroad itself may not make economic sense, many
Tibetans are concerned about the opportunity it
provides to businessmen and transient labourers from
inland China to exploit Tibet's natural resources.
According to official statistics, approximately 2500
potential mining sites have been identified within the
TAR - which could in the future mean more than 30
mining sites for each of the TAR's 76 districts (See
accompanying story, "Prospecting the treasure house").
With 'gold-mining' expeditions already taking place
along the tracks, the nightmare that the plateau's fragile
ecosystem might be further destroyed has become more
real than ever.
Even though the crises of natural resources and
environment that Tibet has been facing could darken
the railway's reputation, they remain irrelevant to
Chinese officials and state-controlled scholars. Instead,
these people consider themselves messiahs and
spokespersons for the Tibetans: "We want Tibetans to
also have the right to enjoy modernisation," goes the
official line. "Neither tradition nor modernisation
should be missing." While such sentiments might at
first sound logical, what is important for Tibetans is
not necessarily the issue of modernisation, but genuine
autonomy. When there is no power, where can one find
rights? And what can one do with tradition?
Furthermore, what actually constitutes modernisation?
The current reality of Tibet already attests to the falsity
of the kind of modernisation that has come to the
plateau. Ultimately, it is just another form of invasion -
sugar-coated and equivalent to colourfully beautified
violence. For Tibetans, who are deprived of
autonomous rights, it is absolutely necessary to learn
to recognise different types of invasion.
In fact, the railway by itself is not a problem. If Tibet's
genuine autonomy were put into practice, the idea of
having railroads connecting villages could be
internally debated. But when Tibetans lack autonomy,
their fate is decided by others. They can only watch as
their rights are taken away, and they are further
marginalised in their own land. Rather
than the indigenous Tibetans, it is the flocks of 'gold-
miners' who are the real beneficiaries of such
'development' projects.
Unfortunately, under the banner of 'development',
the modernisation symbolised by the Qinghai-Tibet
railway is flourishing in Tibet. Tt has not only altered
the appearance of Tibetan tradition, but has also begun
to change the inner essence of Tibetans themselves.
Gradually, all aspects of Tibet will be completely
rewritten. Is this the blessing that Tibetans have received
from those who hold power? Since Tibetans do not have
the right of autonomy, the Qinghai-Tibet railway
cannot be, as the Chinese state claims, the "Road of
Fortune". Instead, it is a road of no return - of the
sacrifice of the land once known as Tibet. ^
Prospecting the
treasure house
When Beijing heralded the opening of the new
Qinghai-Lhasa train line in early July last
year, Tibetans, environmentalists and human-
rights activists across the globe worried in anticipation
of the hoards of Han Chinese - tourists and settlers
alike - that would now be able to flood onto the 'roof of
the world'. When the project was originally
announced in 2001, the Dharamsala government-in-
exile dubbed it a "disaster", for reasons of both
population influx and environmental damage. With
around 4000 passengers now riding the rails every
A colony's wages
ks rich stocks of minerals are shipped out of Tibet, it looks
as though their concomitant wealth will follow. Even as
critics warn about the impact of Chinese strip-mining on
the area's fragile ecosystem, others worry that Beijing is
acting more and more the colonist in Tibet. One recently
arrived refugee in Kathmandu noted in Decemberthat mining
in the Yulung area has indeed led to short-term economic
benefits among the local nomad villages. Each individual
received initial compensation of RMD 40,000 (USD 5160)
in order to quell anger overthe mining of a sacred mountain,
reportedly with more payments to come. (When large-scale
extraction at Yulung began in 2005, it was estimated that
the area would produce nearly USD 260 million of copper
per year.) But the man also noted that, even with more than
ten loaded cargo trucks per day leaving the Yulung facility
for the mainland, there has been no further benefit to
Tibetans. "No locals are allowed to go into the mining area,"
he explains. "Nearly all the workers and officials there are
Chinese nowadays."
day (in 1980, a fourth that number of tourists visited
during the whole year), those worries may indeed prove
warranted. But in fact, just as much emphasis should
probably have been placed on what the new 1965 km-
long train tracks would be able to ship out.
In mid-February, Beijing published a report
announcing the 'discovery' of an estimated USD 128
billion worth of minerals in more than 600 sites in Tibet
- a result of a seven-year programme by more than a
thousand surveyors to geologically map the plateau.
Their findings are large enough to astound: a billion
tonnes of iron ore, 40 million tonnes each of lead and
copper. Such a backyard stockpile would be a huge shot
in the arm for the Chinese economy, which has struggled
increasingly in recent years to keep up with domestic
demand for raw minerals in the face of steeply rising
international prices. If the finds are as large as Beijing
reports, they would double China's current stores of
lead, copper and zinc. Tibet's mineral wealth seems to
now justify the alluring traditional Chinese name for
central Tibet - Xizang, roughly translating to 'Western
Treasure House'.
In the past, the focus has been on Tibet's oil reserves,
which in 2005 were estimated at roughly 10 billion
tonnes - a tantalising lode for the world's second-largest
oil importer. But oil production in Tibet has remained
low, in part because Western oil companies - including
Shell and BP - have faced harsh public criticism in the
West for any involvement. It is not clear how quickly
Beijing will move from prospecting to extraction of
Tibet's ores; at present, less than one percent of the
discovered mining spots has been explored.
The fact is that there simply has not been the
infrastructure required to move raw products out of the
Tibet£in hinterland in any kind of large-scale process.
While there are now two major pipeline projects
working to bring Tibetan oil to mainland China,
construction on these only got underway in 2000 and
2002. Mineral transport, of course, is even more difficult
an undertaking. But with the opening of the Qinghai-
Lhasa train line, as well as the multitude of planned
rail spurs and access roads, a major step has been taken
towards realising this goal. Indeed, cargo service along
the track was opened to business in March 2006 - a full
four months before the unveiling of the passenger
service. Rail operators are charging just RMB 0.12 (USD
0.14) per kilometre to transport one tonne of cargo.
Ultimately, the flow of Tibet's mineral wealth may
not be heading only northeast to the mainland. A survey
will be finalised in May for a 253-km southward
extension of the train track to Xigaze, located near the
border with India, Bhutan and Nepal. Construction is
slated to begin as early as July, just a year after the initial
line opened. Utilising trains capable of moving around
120 km per hour, the new track is slated to eventually
carry ten million tonnes of cargo per year. Meanwhile,
Beijing has been making increasingly louder noises
over the past year about additional rail connections
directly to Nepal and India. k
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Why Tibet matters to
When reports about the possible entry of China
into SAARC first appeared a few years back,
quite a few eyebrows went up. When China
was subsequently given observer status to the
organisation in 2005, some wondered whether SAARC
would now be used as a forum for a proxy India-China
battle for regional dominance. As a Tibetan living in
Southasia, China's connection with SAARC has long
held a particular interest for this writer. And indeed, if
there is any direct relevance to China's involvement in
SAARC, it is due to Tibet. In terms of physica 1 geography-
alone, the main connection between today's People's
Republic of China and Southasia is through Tibet.
But what has S.\ARC got to do with Tibet?
Historically, Tibet and the Tibetan people have looked
to the south for their spiritual and cultural heritage - to
countries including India, Bangladesh and Nepal. But
this is not necessarily why the rest of the Southasian
countries should pay attention to Tibet. The political
path on the plateau and beyond is taking its own route.
Since 2002, there have been five rounds of discussions
between envoys of the Dalai Lama and representatives
of the Chinese government on the future of Tibet. As the
Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, said in recent
testimony before the US Congress, "We have now
reached the stage where if there is the political will on
both sides, we have an opportunity to finally resolve
this issue." So, we now just need the Chinese leadership
to appreciate the vision and initiative of the Dalai Lama.
Of course, a resolution of the Tibetan issue will certainly
contribute to peace and stability in other parts of
Southasia, as well.
However, Tibet should matter to Southasia because
of its trade possibilities, as well as its strategic and
environmentally sensitive location. At one time, within
living memory, there was a robust trade
relationship between Tibet and its southern neighbours
- Nepal, Bhutan and India. A revival of such relations
has considerable potential for helping to speed up
the rise of the Southasian economy. If there is truth to
the belief that China is a vast, tappable market,
Southasia is well placed to tap it through Tibet.
Second, the management of Tibet's rich water
resources and environment will have a long-term impact
on the region as a whole, Critically, analysts speculate
that the next big global crisis will be on the sharing of
water resources. A report from 2000 by the Asian
Development Bank on the "looming water crisis" found
that globally, "The demand for freshwater increased
sixfold between 1900 and 1995, twice the rate of
population growth." Further, "The most accessible
water is that which flows in river channels or is stored
in freshwater lakes and reservoirs." In the Subcontinent,
most of the major rivers have their source in Tibet.
According to the Central Tibetan Administration in
Dharamsala, "A substantial proportion of river flows
in Tibet are stable or base flows coming from
groundwater and glacial sources." Thus, the impact of
changes in Tibet's glacial reserves - through either
climate change or more direct human intervention -
will affect regions far beyond Tibet.
Already some Southasian countries are experiencing
the negative impact of improper management of Tibetan
river systems. Frequent flooding of the Yarlung Tsangpo
(Brahmaputra) continues to have devastating results
in India and Bangladesh. According to a 2004 report,
"The Brahmaputra is mainly responsible for the annual
floods that hit the eastern region of the Subcontinent.
Estimates say that [2004's] floods, the worst in a decade,
claimed close to 2000 lives in Bangladesh and in the
eastern Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.
Millions of people lost their homes in the region that
includes the foothills of Nepal." The report continued,
"International agencies once again began
discussing the need for a regional approach of water-
resource management of the Himalayan rivers that flow
through China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan
and Bangladesh."
When reports appeared in 2006 about China building
a dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo, strong reactions
immediately arose from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh,
which would be directly impacted by the move. China
subsequently denied having any such plan, but the
impact that the handling of Tibet's rivers would have
on downstream countries was crystal clear. Now that
China has an observer status to SAARC, the countries
of Southasia have an increased need, but also a crucial
ability, to pay direct attention to the situation in Tibet -
environmental, political and social. Indeed, Southasia
as a whole now has both the increased impetus
and leverage to call for the opening up of Tibet,
both physically and psychologically, to its
southern neighbours. >
Human Rights internship
Nepal Human Rights News
Nepal Human Rights News is a not-for-profit newssite specializing
in issues of human rights and fundamental freedom of people.
Kathmandu, Nepal
Job Description
Students of journalism, sociology, anthropology, psychology,
political science, or any other related subjects of humanities
could apply.
Vacancies Contact
Nardev Pandey
Closing date
21 Apr 2007
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Beauty and contradiction in
What is Tibetan about art that bears no obvious reference to 'Tibetan-ness'? Plenty.
Gade's "Railway Train", July 2006
I first met the Tibetan artist Gade (transliterated as
dga' bde) on a cold November day in 1994. After
showing me around the Fine Arts Department of
Tibet University, where he was working as a lecturer,
we looked at some of his own art works. His paintings
were enthralling. Some depicted elegantly posed
figures swathed in warm colours, while others were of
delicate bodies framed within the silhouette of a resting
Buddha. Gade uses paints he makes from
mixing different types of minerals, and his work
therefore carried an earth-tone colour scheme,
occasionally accentuated with bright hues. Buddhist
symbols imbued his works with a sense of serene
beauty and mystery.
A few hours later, over lunch at a newly opened
Indian restaurant on Beijing East Road, Gade said that
a Chinese postage stamp was being released that
featured one of his paintings, a rare opportunity for a
Tibetan artist living in Tibet. The restaurant at which
we were eating was owned by two businessmen, one
Tibetan and one Nepali - it is one of the joint-ventures
that has boosted the economy and the mood of Lhasa
residents following the years of particularly repressive
control. The novelty of being able to eat spiced curries
while watching Tibetan girls wrapped in colourful
saris dance to Indian music had made the restaurant,
for a short while, the talk of the town. In a way, the
restaurant represented Lhasa and Gade -hybrids made
of a mixture of Tibetan, Southasian, Chinese and
Western influences.
Over the past 12 years, Gad£ has remained
consistent with his technique of grinding stones into
paint - as if he were trying literally to ground his works
in his native soil. His focus during this period,
however, has shifted. In his early works, Gade's figures
were mainly inspired by Buddhism, which he says
led him to depict a mythical Tibet that only existed in
his imagination. "What I really wanted was to paint
my Tibet, the one I grew up in .and belong to," he says.
Gade's current works include significant depictions
of present-day Tibet - a monk comfortably sitting next
to a People's Liberation Army soldier; miniature
portraits of Elvis Presley, Sherlock Holmes and .Mickey
Mouse painted on a faint lineation of a Buddha. The
juxtaposition of the local with the global is not just
Gade's own preoccupation; in this he represents a new
generation of Tibetans who are at home in both the
traditional and the modern Tibet. "My generation has
grown up with thangka painting, martial arts,
Hollywood movies, iMickey Mouse, Charlie Chaplin,
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The Lhasa this new group knows has evolved from an ancient city into a modern
metropolis, where the past and the present coexist - sometimes uncomfortably, but
sometimes quite comfortably.
rock-and-roll and McDonald's," he has written, (For
more on representations of Tibet, see "Mare mythology",
page 74-75.)
Indeed, Gade and his generation grew up during a
time of political and socio-economic reforms. They
have not experienced, but only heard of from their
parents, the disastrous political campaigns that China
and Tibet were forced to undergo. Many of them also
belong to a group of privileged Tibetans who were
sent to mainland China for their education. Gade, for
example, was trained in both Western and Chinese
styles of painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts
in Beijing.
The Lhasa this new group knows has evolved from
an ancient city into a modern metropolis, where
the past and the present coexist - sometimes
uncomfortably, but sometimes quite comfortably. Early
each morning, young and old Tibetans alike reverently
queue up to get into the Jokhang, Tibet's most sacred
temple; their evenings are often spent in glittering
karaoke bars and fancy nightclubs. Artists such as
Gade - as well as many of his peers, such as Dedron,
Tsewang Tashi, Nortse, Tsering Nyandak, Tsering
Dhondup and Zhungde - are constantly switching
between these two worlds, of traditional and
contemporary Tibet. Some do not even feel obliged to
express any noticeably 'Tibetan' reference in their
works; although physically based in Lhasa, their art
includes cultural references from all over
the world. The result is innovative, and
shows a creativity and vitality not seen
in the traditional Tibetan art forms.
Undoubtedly, these works mirror the
present state of Tibet - a place full of
beauty and contradictions.
Tibetan artists are significantly more diverse, ranging
from traditional paintings to realist, abstract or
expressionist pieces. In creating such works, these
artists, as with their forerunners, are pushing the
boundaries of what is known as 'Tibetan' art.
Many worry that such interfusion could destroy
what little of traditional Tibetan culture is left standing.
But to locate authenticity only with those who produce
traditional art is to deny the existence, history and
experience of those like Gade. Gade vehemently
opposes being forced into a defined category: "Now",
he writes, "we cannot place our identity in a fixed
area, as there are too many things that have happened."
This comment, which he made regarding a painting
he had created depicting the arrival of the first train to
Tibet in July 2006 (see image opposite), is a strident
reminder to those considering how to define a
'Tibetan' or 'Tibet'. The issue of authenticity does not
torment the artists themselves, it seems, but more so
those who want to confine Tibetans into certain
constructed and constricted identities.
How else can we explain the silence with regard to
the works of, for example, Kalsang Lamdark, a Tibetan
artist born in India, raised in Switzerland and trained
in the United States? Lamdark is one of the few Tibetan
artists who expresses himself through multimedia
installations. His works are articulations of his many
understandings of what it is to be a Tibetan, a Swiss
and an artist; the multiple layers of his identity are at
the centre of his artistic vision.
Nobody seems to be
Too much has happened
The history of contemporary Tibetan art starts
with the controversial scholar, monk and traveler
Gendun Chopel, who lived during the early part of
the 20th century. Chopel's paintings and sketches,
especially those he produced while traveling through
India during the 1930s and 1940s, provide windows
onto his innovative and inquiring mind (See Himal
October 2006, "The new reasoning of Gendun Chopel").
Chopel's student and friend, Amdo Jampa, who died
in 2002, became the first Tibetan to study art in China.
Jampa's works, such as the murals he painted during
the early 1950s inside the Norbulingka, the Dalai
Lama's traditional summer residence, were
pioneering in the sense that they combined traditional
Tibetan styles of painting with photo-realist portraits.
The styles now used by the new generation of
Gade's "New Scripture"
in discussing
Lamdark's work in the context of contemporary
Tibetan art, however. In this case, is authenticity
vested only located in those who live within Tibet, or
is Lamdark culturally too close and therefore of
no interest?
Whether their works are produced inside or outside
of Tibet, these artists are breaking away from what is
commonly known and presented as Tibetan art.
Their work, however, reflects an important aspect of
contemporary Tibetan culture, and merits careful
consideration. They represent, after all, the present
state of Tibet and its people. i
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Call for Papers
Asian Political and International Studies Association
Third International Congress
Asian Conceptions of Justice
(23-25 November 2007, New Delhi)
Jointly convened by Developing Countries Research Centre,
(DCRC), University of Delhi, Jamia Millie Isiamia, New Delhi, and
Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
The four sub-themes of the Congress are Conceptions of Justice in Asia, Social Justice,
Transnational Justice and Corrective Justice.
Panels that incorporate key research questions include: Normative Conceptions of Justice; Asian
Conceptions of Justice; Feminist Conceptions of Justice; Subaltern Perspectives on Justice;
Environmental Justice; Transnational Justice; Humanitarian Aid; International Human Rights
Organizations; Cosmopolitanism; Global Civil Society; Just Wars; Distributive Justice; Resource
Transfers - Taxation; Pensions; Social Security; Social Policy; Labour and Peasant Insurance;
Affirmative Action Policies; Welfare Policies; Institutions; Governance; and Development.
Paper presenters and panel organisers are requested to send the theme of their panel or the
title of their paper along with an abstract (approx 500 words) and a short CV by 1 June 2007 to
the conference secretariat by email and a hard copy. Final papers are due by 1 September
2007. Limited subsidies for travel, registration and accommodation will be available on a
competitive basis.
Contact Address: Prof. Neera Chandhoke (Chair); Mr. Dhruv Pande (Research Associate). Third
APISA Congress Secretariat, DevelopingCountries Research Centre, Academic Research Centre,
Guru Teg Bhadur Marg, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
Email: ,
Congress Secretariat website:
APISA website:
Southasia, SAARC and the world
In early April, India takes over a young-adult SAARC - one nearly ready
to assert its identity.
rime Minister Manmohan Singh, who assumes     been identified, but perhaps not adequately addressed
Pthe SAARC chair in April, has spoken of the
importance of assessing Southasian regional
cooperation "in the larger Asian context". The
implications here are twofold. First, Southasians must
critically assess our own achievements within SAARC,
measured against those of other Asian regional groups.
Second, SAARC needs to engage more actively with
such groups for wider mutual benefit.
The prime minister's message this past December
on the 21st anniversary of SAARC's founding spoke
of opportunities to "re-claim our legacy of
interconnectedness to restore the natural exchange of
goods, people and ideas that have characterised our
shared Southasian space." CTearlv the objective
envisaged was not to install the type of central control
or conformity over the region as was imposed in
colonial times, but rather to enhance connectivity
within Southasia in areas where
At various times during SAARC's adolescent years,
bilateral political issues, as well as economic
disparities and different approaches to development,
acted as constraints to collective action. At the 14th
Summit in New Delhi on 3-4 April, both the larger
Asian context and the complex mosaic of bilateral
relations within the region will have an impact on the
extent of collective success that can be achieved.
in realistic terms, contentious bilateral issues cannot
be ignored, as national interests, real as well as
perceived, have obvious direct political impact at
domestic levels for governments. Happily, however,
in the current Southasian context such issues are being
dealt with pragmatically - being at least managed, if
not settled, At any rate, they are not currently posited
as obstacles to discussing issues of a regional nature,
nor are they holding up SAARC summits. The meeting
of the foreign secretaries oi India and Pakistan, for
uch links have been example, which concluded on 14 March in Islamabad,
obscured and obstructed - was described  as  "fruitful and  positive",  "a
watershed" for Indo-Pakistani relations. In the
past, faltering lndo-Sri Lankan dealings, for
instance, have indeed caused complications
for summits and led to their delay. The 6th
Summit in Colombo was a single-day meet,
although it did eventually establish comfort
^ levels in the relationship between the two
countries, as well as reach a major decision on
establishing    the    Independent   South    Asian
Commission on Poverty Alleviation.
Beyond the borders
Establishing deeper, more substantia! linkages with
Himal Southasian would like to be
among the first to welcome
Afghanistan into its formal
membership of SAARC. Three
decades of occupation, war,
autocratic regimes and ethnic and
political conflict have kept from
Afghanistan and its citizens the
peace and opportunities for progress
that they deserve, while leaving the
country with neither basic
infrastructure nor services, nor even
the benefits of institutional memory
enjoyed by most of its neighbours. As
Afghanistan works to build itself up
anew in the face of continuing
insurgency, the editors, together surely
with the rest of Southasia, hope that
involvement in the network inherent
to a regional association will help in
the Afghan quest for permanent
security and prosperity.
We celebrate, too, Afghanistan's
entrance into an organisation that has
long missed its presence. We
look forward to the formal entrance
of this old friend as indicative
of Afghanistan's true return to the
region, after having been sealed off
for some thirty years. With the
presence of Afghan representatives in
governmental and non-governmental
forums in years to come, we will
surely see added perspective
to conversations on pressing
matters of security, development,
modernisation, diplomacy and cultural
transformation. ^
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 other regional entities and individual countries outside functions well. Similarly strengthening the Southasian
Southasia was particularly slow in the early years of nexus through practical  dialogue and  action  in
SAARC!. The argument was that it was essential first specialised areas were the SAARC 'recognised bodies'
to achieve greater cohesion within the association, and and apex organisations of regional professionals. The
to    consolidate    its    programmes    within     the government-private   sector   partnership   is   well
acknowledged SAARC framework, before reaching entrenched in the Southasian political lexicon, and
outwards. The 10th Summit in Colombo eventually support of professional  groups  has become an
noted proposals for developing cooperation between important aspect of governance in the region.
SAARC as an institution and individual states outside
the region. Despite this, however, there was some initial I UG DDServeiS
rejection, later melting into reservations, about inviting China indicated its interest in seeking some form of
high-level political officials (such as the US assistant association or observer status with SAARC sometime
secretary of state) to speak at SAARC forums on their after the Kith Summit, in Colombo in 1998. At the 11th
political views and interests in the association. Summit, in Kathmandu, the matter was considered at
By 1993, however, SAARC and Japan had reached length, particularly the manner in which China (and
a pragmatic agreement for the establishment of a others seeking status in SAARC) could participate in
special bilateral fund to finance select programmes, the   association's   activities,   and   the   extent   of
avoiding  any  political   involvement.   A   similar their engagement in any decision-making. At the
agreement was signed between SAARC and the summit in Dhaka in 2005, regional leaders welcomed
European Commission three vears later for exchange and "agreed in principle with the desire" of China and
of information, training programmes, technical Japan to be observers.
assistance, trade relations and other activities. The Currently, China enjoys excellent bilateral relations
Canadian International Development Agency did the with all Southasian countries - although some are
same in  1997 to work on poverty alleviation, trade perceived as being more excellent than others. China's
relations and projects for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS economic rise has long been spoken of as an opportunity
control. Meetings between SAARC and  ASEAN rather  than  as a  threat.  Beijing has established
ministers also commenced in 1997 during the UN institutional linkages with virtually all of the world's
General Assembly in New York, and have been held regional  organisations -  including  ASEAN,  the
regularly   ever   since.   Ultimately,   SAARC   has European Union, the Arab League, the African Union
cooperation agreements  with  19  UN  and  other and  Latin America. China also opened a strategic
multilateral and regional organisations. dialogue with the US in 2005. In the meantime,
During a hiatus in high-level political meetings in however, S.AARC has been a notable exception. China's
SAARC following the 6th Summit in Colombo in 1991, foreign policy is directed to ensure a peaceful and stable
a vaguely defined distinction evolved between SAARC environment both in Asia and globally, which would
as an organisation and Southasia as a region of seven in turn permit China's economy to develop without
different countries. At a time when Sa^ARC political disruption. Towards this end, Deng Xiaoping spoke of
meets were not possible due to bilateral difficulties, "hiding one's capacity while biding one's time". As
this enabled close, specialised interactions between such, China today retains a modest image, describing
ministers and other leaders in the region on the grounds itself  as  a  developing  country  despite  being  a
of 'Southasian'  rather than  'SAARC  meetings, nuclear power, a space power, a permanent member of
Likewise, agreements signed with UN agencies such the UN Security Council and the fourth largest economy
as   the   WHO,   UMCLF   and   UNDP   permitted in the world.
conferences of 'Southasian ministers' on such focused At a conference on Afghanistan held in London in
topics as poverty alleviation, child welfare and health February 2006, China's Foreign Minster, Li Zhaoxing,
-minus the SAARC logo on their identity cards. Apart proposed a regional road network to link China and
from their value in promoting regional cooperation in SAARC countries, including the organisation's newest
specialised areas, the conferences also provided member, Afghanistan. He also identified security as
opportunities for informal, closed-door, ministerial- "the key to success in regional cooperation", and
level meetings among Southasian leaders. referred to the three evils of terrorism, extremism, and
The Southasian corporate sector, impatient with the separatism (which, incidentally, Sri Lanka and China
political constraints on high-level meetings in SAARC, have in several communiques pledged to fight against),
established a series of practical working relations Li gave priority to combating these threats through the
within itself, which have acted as pressure points on Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, in which India,
governments to move more quickly on economic Pakistan and Iran have observer status, and in which
cooperation. In fact, the SAARC Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal seek the same,
and Industry and the China Council for the Ptromotion China's relations with India, the largest of SAARC's
of Internatinoal Trade established the South Asia- member states, have steadily improved. Prime Minister
China Economic Forum in December 2004, which Singh has said that after years of Western domination,
38 April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 "together with China [India can] reshape the world countries outside the region. In Sri Lanka (which
order". Dialogue is proceeding, and Sino-Indian border enjoys the highest HDI rating of any regional country),
disputes are being settled outside the glare of publicity. President Mahinda Rajapakse's economic vision seeks
The manner in which the larger SAARC relationship to achieve a balanced economic developmentbenefiting
with China is to proceed remains to be determined, al!  segments and  areas of society,  particularly
Given the extensive bilateral dealings Beijing has with comparatively disadvantaged rural areas. This cimld
virtually all the Southasian states, however, China's be termed as an essential corrective measure of
relationship with SAARC should not be less than the localisation in a period of globalisation.
sum total of these individual bilateral ties. China, meanwhile, has been complemented by the
It is expected that once the parameters of the future UN Development Programme for moving 300 million
relationship between China and SAARC have been people out of poverty in a relatively short time as "one
worked out, a study would need to be undertaken of of mankind's greatest achievements", and is now
the areas in which cooperation can be mutually focusing added attention on marginalised rural areas,
beneficial in what Chinese officials call a 'win-win Academic institutions such as Sichuan University have
situation'. Given the varied nature of the bilateral already begun to hold seminars and workshops with
relations China has with individual Southasian states, Southasian  diplomats and  experts on poverty-
the regional equation will need to move into areas that alleviation programmes
do not affect existing bilateral relations. Most recently,
at the sessions of the National People's Congress,
which ended on 16 March, China acknowledged the
massive problems it faces given the growing disparities
:- the country. Poverty alleviation, of course, remains
a prime and common concern of all SAARC countries
and of China.
Of particular note is the proliferation of linkages
that individual SAARC members have with extra-
regional entities. India, for example, has multiple
identities. Apart from SAARC, it has links with ASEAN
and with states such as Japan, Korea, China and many-
others. While maintaining its own identity, SAARC as
a regional organisation needs to venture its team onto
Disparities continue to abound among SAARC's a larger playing field - for the moment, at least into the
member states as well, not only with respect to greater Asian context, if not beyond. The observer status
population, economic and military strength, but also granted to SAARC by the UN General Assembly would
in terms of criteria such as standing in the UN Human be one avenue for the association to open wider its
Development Index (HDI). These tend to help shape windows to breezes from outside Southasia - without,
the relationship each Southasian country has with of course, being blown off its feet. £
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Himal Southasian | April 2007
The collective opportunity of
economic integration
An economically integrated Southasia that is at the same time open to the rest of the
world would not only respond to the aspirations of its peoples for prosperity and
peace, but could also be a major anchor for global economic stability.
Over the past decade, globalisation and Asia's
impressive economic performance, driven
mainly by strong GDP growth in China and
India, have created an unprecedented environment for
the growth of intra-regional trade, Pakistan and
Bangladesh have also registered impressively high
growth rates, accompanied by significant reduction in
poverty levels in both countries. All countries of
Southasia have attempted - and, in some cases,
succeeded -in concluding free trade agreements (FTAs)
with each other. Significantly, the Southasian Free
Trade Agreement (SAFTA) also took effect last year.
Southasia is the world's fastest-growing region; over
the past decade, its GDP growth has exceeded 7.5
percent. The political environment for regional
cooperation and integration has improved markedly,
and is reflected in SAARC's Islamabad and Dhaka
Summit declarations. In addition, political
pronouncements by Southasian leaders, coupled
particularly with events of the past vear, have raised
expectations that the region could finally, to borrow a
term from cricket, 'go for a six''.
While such are the expectations based on realistic
appreciation of economic and political trends, there is
no doubt that for the moment the economic advance
does not touch all, nor is the trade scenario verv rosy.
While Southasia accounts for 23 percent of the world's
population, its share of global GDP is onlv around two
percent. In 2005, Southasia's share in world trade was
only 1.5 percent, one quarter of Southeast Asia's share.
Exports of goods and services accounted for only 19
percent of the region's CDP in 2005. Of this, only 6.7
percent was due to services, while the services sector
as a whole accounted for more than half of Southasia's
GDP, Foreign direct investment (FDI), meanwhile, is
still only one percent of region-wide GL^)P.
Trade and investment flows have played a crucial
role in the economic integration of other regions of the
world, and they have the potential to do the same in
Southasia. The realities on the ground with respect to
trade among the region's neighbours are, however, still
sobering; left to themselves, thev could continue to
deter regional economic integration. In terms of intraregional trade and investment in goods and services,
Southasia lags far behind other regions. Intra-regional
trade here amounts to only 4.9 percent of total trade,
compared to almost 24 percent in Southeast Asia. The
ratification of SAFTA on 1 January 2006 did mark an
important milestone for the SAAKC organisation, and
it stipulates that SAARC will reduce customs tariffs
on goods to 0-5 percent bv 2016. However, that the
trajectory tariff concessions would take could not be
agreed upon ahead of the upcoming 14th Summit in
Delhi on 3-4 April has had a dampening effect on the
cheerleaders for SAFIA, and on the new 'spirit'.
Notably, even after SAFTA takes full effect, a complex
web of obstacles to trade in the form of non-
tariff barriers will remain.
There have been several studies on the
economic gains that would accrue from
/l     SAFTA.   Most   indicate   significant
J\   advantages to both India and 'smaller'
'/.  •. countries, particularly Bangladesh and
f }   Pakistan.   However,  there  is  much
variation    across    studies    in    the
magnitude    predicted    for    these
advantages. Furthermore, these SAFTA
7   gains are not large in either absolute
or relative (to total exports) terms,
because most models used in the free-
trade policv simulations are constrained by
the existing parameters - the current small
volume of trade among these countries. As such,
any computation of the response of trade to
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 rapid GDP growth and liberalisation based on these
volumes would not do justice to the potential impact
from SAFTA,
The empirical results of such studies are therefore
moot. Any serious investigation would consider the
long-term, dynamic impacts of trade liberalisation. The
evidence from existing regional trading arrangements
in different parts of the world, not least within the
ASEAN countries oi Southeast Asia, clearly
demonstrate that strengthening economic integration
via freer trade is not a zero-sum game in the long run.
A freely trading Southasia, supported by a liberal
investment regime, would permit both restructuring
of the existing production structures and specialisation
along lines of comparative and competitive
advantages, and yield significant benefits to most of
the region's countries. In the early phases of
implementing such an arrangement, some of the
smaller and narrowly based economies, as well as
certain economic activities and socioeconomic groups,
will need protection. In other words, not only may
revenue losses due to tariff drawdown be required,
but so too would social protection due to job
losses. However, investment flows into those countries
could be counted upon to spark growth and
employment-creation in the longer term.
Deepening SAFTA
As the first step towards the grand vision of a
Southasian Economic Union, not only will the present
impasse in SAFTA have to be overcome, but much
bolder action will need to be taken on a broader front
to create a Southasian free trade area.
Deeper integration in trade and investment in goods
requires, most immediately, an accelerated phasing
out of non-tariff barriers, other than quantitative
restrictions such as import restraints, technical
requirements, inconsistent and lengthy customs
procedures, and complicated documentation
requirements - all of which currently prevent the easy
flow of goods and services across the frontiers of
Southasia. At the moment, trade documentation can
take up to 20 days; import or export of goods can take
up to 60 days to see fruition; an inordinate proportion
of goods shipped in Southasia are inspected, against
a world standard of 5-15 percent; and cumbersome
procedures alone can cost 15 percent of the traded
goods. Little wonder, then, that here in Southasia,
trade-transaction costs, a key determinant of economic
efficiency, are the highest in the world, barring a
handful of regions such as Africa. Fligh transaction
costs distort economic incentives for trade in Southasia,
and lower productivity.
The issue of non-tariff barriers is well known;
indeed, SAARC's 2005 Dhaka Declaration emphasises
that "parallel initiatives for dismantling of non-tariff
and para-tariff barriers" are necessary, and calls for
"expeditious action on conclusion of agreements on
mutual recognition of standards, testing
and measurements with a view to facilitating intraregional trade."
The benefits of removing non-trade barriers can be
substantial. Preliminary research indicates that the
trade benefits of improving port efficiency and the
customs environment in Southasia are several times
greater than the trade effects from reducing tariff
barriers. Improvements in trade-facilitation measures,
such as harmonisation of customs procedures and
systems, can yield benefits similar in magnitude to
those of non-tariff barriers. According to official
statistics, while improving port efficiency would
increase bilateral trade significantly between, for
instance, Bangladesh and both India and Sri Lanka, it
would increase by a lesser degree between India and
Sri Lanka. This is because the initial port efficiency
level of Bangladesh is much lower, and hence the
improvement is greater; since the port efficiency levels
of India and Sri Lanka are much closer to the world's
average, the improvements are smaller. Similar
patterns are seen for improvements in customs
environments - increases in trade are greater for
countries that initially had lower levels of efficiency.
Clearly, therefore, a significant advance can be
achieved by simply improving procedures, before even
getting into the lowering of tariffs and the removal of
non-tariff barriers.
Southasia lias a strong comparative advantage in
its services sector, which accounts for a substantial
and growing share in the region's total output - 53.3
percent in 2005, However, due to the lack of research
on services trade policy and the limited availability of
data on international trade in services, policymakers
have limited knowledge on how liberalisation in trade
in services and investment should proceed.
Liberalisation of trade in services is in many ways
different from that of trade in goods. Barriers that
restrict the crossborder movement of goods are rarely
similar to the restrictions on crossborder mobility of
services, For instance, many services transactions
require physical proximity, and therefore physical
mobility of providers and users is essential. Barriers to
trade in services are often more complicated than tariffs,
and may take the form of regulations, standards,
capital and labour restrictions, as well as other policy-
measures that are difficult to quantify.
Broadening the current SAFTA agreement beyond
trade to include investment is equally important,
Evidence from other regional groupings shows that
investment flows play at least as significant a role as
trade in promoting integration of economies. To recall,
investments from Japan had a crucial impact on the
economic interdependence and integration of ASEAN.
.Allowing freer flows of investment within Southasia
will foster country-specific economies of scale, which
can be exploited on a regional scale. As a result, more
fundamental  structural  change  of  the  region's
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 economies will take place. While free trade alone will
yield gains, these are unlikely to be great. However,
dynamic long-term effects can be significant,
particularly if combined with aggressive trade-
facilitation measures, removal of non-tariff barriers and,
in particular, liberalisation of the investment regime.
The full realisation of the gains of freer trade and
investment would also require continuous and massive
investment in physical infrastructure to connect the
region more efficiently. (Though related to trade,
physical connectivity through air, rail and road routes
is a subject in its own right, and outside of the scope of
this article.)
Cars and textiles
To undertake external sector reforms at a more realistic
pace, and to make these more politically feasible, it may
be prudent initially to focus on exploring the potentials
of priority industries, where more-immediate and
specific interventions, such as removal of non-tariff
measures, can be implemented more easily. Priority
sectors could be selected on the basis of an analysis of
comparative advantage and strong potential for long-
term economic growth and structural change. Focusing
reforms on a limited number of priority sectors could
increase the chances of success, permitting the positive
results to be used to demonstrate the significant
economic benefits of trade and investment liberalisation
among Southasian countries. This would be a 'showing
by doing' approach, and would help to build mutual
confidence and trust.
The Southasian textile sector, for example, has strong
potential for developing a regional value and
production chain. Given that most Southasian countries
are large exporters of intermediate and finished clothing
and textile goods, the region as a whole could gain
greatly if the countries were to cooperate strategically
to enhance efficiency, improve product quality and
thereby increase value. As India shares borders with
most Southasian countries, has proven capability in
marketing, and has economic linkages with the major
apparel-importing countries, it could become a hub for
spurring the growth of intra-industry trade in the region.
With its central location and size, India could also serve
as an assembly and exit point of high-value Southasian
goods (as well as services) for both domestic and
international markets. Intra-industry trade could also
be boosted by greater crossborder foreign direct
investment. For lower-value and specialised textile
products, Bangladesh, Pakistan or any of the other
smaller countries could become the hub.
The automotive sector also has the potential to
develop as a regional priority sector. Several crucial
ingredients are already in place for this to happen.
Automotive manufacturing is a complex, multi-tiered
production process that involves assembly of a large
number of components. The assembly complexity spans
the entire range, from simple mechanical components
to complex electronic parts. Hence, a degree of
specialisation for each of the countries is feasible
without entering into debilitating direct competition.
Furthermore, advances in production technology allow
for the geographical spread of assembly of parts and
components to locations where economies of scale ean
be used optimally. Unlike in earlier production
technologies, it is no longer necessary to
geographically concentrate the entire assembly activity
in one geographical location. The current and potential
size of the market for automotive products makes it
more worthwhile for manufacturers to optimally
exploit economies of scale and comparative advantages
for each of the countries. Incidentally, in order to fully
benefit from scale economies and sub-regional
specialisation, it may also be appropriate for
Southasian car manufacturers - in the wake of Chinese
competition - to broaden the market from the sub-
regional to the wider Asian or even global level.
As other successful regional cooperation and
integration initiatives have demonstrated, regional
cooperation in trade and investment benefits all
countries. Focusing on and recognising the longer-term
and dynamic benefits of regional integration helps to
eliminate the anxiety that Nepal's gain, for example,
would be offset by India's loss - ie, that there is not
much to be gained from such cooperative economic
arrangements, or that only the small neighbours would
gain. The long-term approach acknowledges that
benefits will accrue to all members of the regional
group, irrespective of their size. While static benefits
for the larger countries in trading with the smaller
countries may seem limited, the longer-term dynamic
effects from integrating with smaller neighbouring
countries are substantia!. For smaller economies,
exploiting their comparative advantages in specific
phases of the regional production chain will yield
significant benefits while boosting intra-regional trade,
investment and integration with the neighbouring
country. Some analysts have also pointed out that
regional economic integration, driven by more free trade
and investment, could have substantial gains for
India's borders states, some of which arc among the
poorest in the country.
The peace dividends of a more economically
integrated Southasia, as exemplified by the European
experience, could be enormous. Peace and stability in
the region would spur the 'neighbourhood effect' in
foreign direct investment; after all, the rest of the world
views Southasia as a region, and events in India's
neighbourhood are likely to influence FDI decisions.
An economically integrated Southasia that is at the
same time open to the rest of the world would not only
respond to the aspirations of its peoples for prosperity
and peace, but could also be a major anchor for global
economic stability. Globalisation is an inexorable
process, and the smart thing for Southasia would be to
deal with it collectively, as a region. A
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Dr Singh!
The editors of Himal believe that India's chairmanship of
SAARC, beginning the SAARC Summit of 3-4 April, is a
good opportunity to strike a firm blow for Southasian
regionalism. It was important to ask questions about
India's understanding of regionalism, and so we sent off
18 questions to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. We
also received a level of assurance that the answers would
come through, but they have not as yet. We though
readers of Himal might like to see the questions.
- Editors
Questions for Manmohan Singh,
Prime Minister of India:
1 We have begun to see an acceptance of the term
'Southasia' in the Indian discourse, which was not there
before. Do you believe that the Indian government and
intelligentsia are today more aware of the need for
Southasian integration than they were, say, a decade
ago? What do you think has led to this change?
2 India is not only large in every sense, but it borders
every other country in the region while few of the others
adjoin each other. What kind of regional doctrine would
you like to propound to address the asymmetry of
Southasia as a regional block?
3 Talk of Southasian regionalism is seen with suspicion
by some, as a part of India's attempt to
economically overwhelm its neighbours. Others see
regionalism as a ganging-up by the smaller neighbours
against India. How do you react to these extreme
propositions?    ^ifflHj
4 What do you feel are the common challenges and
priorities forthe countries of Southasia, which art-active
regional framework can help tackle? Is there any
prospect for common planning and implementation
for social and economic development of the. region as
a whole?
5 Some say that regionallsm's direct impact will be not by
way of development programmes, but through
economic growth that will touch all 1.4 billion people
of the region. Would you agree?
6 We learn that 'interconnectivity' is what the Indian
government hopes to push for as a way of promoting
regional integration, even as India takes on the
chairmanship of SMRC. What are the specific steps
you intend to take towards this goal?
7 Which comes first, economic integration or political
engagement? Can building roads, rail networks,
power   grids   and   other   infrastructural   links
across borders achieve integration in the absence of
political engagement?
8 You have spoken of making borders irrelevant. And yet
it is India that is promoting the hardening of frontiers,
with thousands of kilometres of barbed-wire fences
along its eastern and western borders. How do you see
the process of dismantling beginning, even as fences
are in the process of being put up?
9 Till now, Southasian regionalism has been limited to
relationships between the national capitals. Do you
see a need to expand outwards from capital-centric
regionalism? Should not India allow its constituent
states, which may be direct beneficiaries of regional
integration, to communicate more easily across
international frontiers?
10 The India-Pakistan rivalry is said to keep all Southasia
hostage. Do you think thatthe relationship is improving,
and if so, how do you see this impacting the rest of the
11 How do you react to General Musharraf's decision not
to attend the SMRC summit? Does it affect the cause
of regionalism that a bilateral matter is impacting on a
regional summit?
12 If there were one matter that has the region as a
whole waiting for resolution, it would be that of Kashmir.
What can you tell the Southasian audience about the
prospects for resolving the Kashmir matter in the
coming year?
13 New Delhi's relationship with Dhaka is fraught with
tension, and this is reflected in India's inability to buy
Bangladeshi natural gas. How would you proceed to
develop the relationship, and overcome suspicions in
Dhaka about Indian intentions?
14 The development of Sri Lanka-India economic links is
held out as an example for other bilateral
relationships in Southasia. What is so significant about
this relationship that it is to be emulated?
15 Pakistan may be a different case. But how does India
deal with the perception that it influences the domestic
politics of its other smaller neighbours?
16 Many observers in the region notice a selectivity in
India's engagement with the neighbours. For example,
it was laudably supportive of the Nepali people's fight
for peace and democracy, but has played a hands-off
role in the Bhutani refugee crisis for more than a
decade. How do you find a balance between principle
and practicality?
17 How do you visualise the broader Southasian region?
While Afghanistan has been included in SAARC recently,
Burma and the Tibet Autonomous Region have also
had close economic and cultural ties with Southasia
throughout history. Is there a need to look at this larger
area when thinking regionally, so that we are closer to
the historical evolution of our region?
18 India takes over as chair of SMRC soon. What are the
specific steps you plan to take to rejuvenate the
organisation during India's chairmanship? A
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Prospects for
energy integration
New economic realities mean that ideas
for regional energy integration that were
previously thought of as outlandish could
soon become realistic options.
Regional energy integration has long been a pie in
the Southasian sky. And like other grand visions
that fail to materialise, the blame for this lack of
success has fallen on geopolitics. But the traditional vision
for energy integration was impractical, regardless of
geopolitics or trade barriers. It was based on the premise
that the very existence of energy resources in each of the
Southasian countries provided adequate incentives for
trading. The quantity of resources available in the
Subcontinent, however, is not great enough to justify the
costs of transportation within the region. In fact, it is in this
very inadequacy of resources that the key can be found to
regional energy integration. All of Southasia's countries
would benefit by combining their much-needed energy
imports and distributing power through a common grid.
Luckily, the new economic and political landscape of the
Subcontinent today makes this a real possibility.
These are prosperous times for Southasia. Since 2000,
regional economic growth has consistently averaged well
over five percent, in spite ofthe political uncertainty and
conflict in many parts ofthe region. India has set a blazing
course at over nine percent for this fiscal year. Growth
trends also reflect a deepening in the shift from agriculture
to services and manufacturing. Increasingly, services and
manufacturing sectors are driving economic growth.
Figure 1
5 65
■5 S
fl u   -
B   _
o y-
£  E
0 Kc
■                   ' ■                ■"'                      	
Nepal: 44
Bhutan: 243.—
m Bangladesh: 89      ^-anka: 200
Pakistan: 355 ^^) India: 351
1                          20                        AO                         60                         80
Percent Households Electrifed
) of Oil Equivalent
Source: "Regional Energy Security For South Asia: Regional
Report." Energy For South Asia. SARI/Energy Program.
Sustained economic growth and the change in its driving
forces have altered the political constituency of energy
markets. Demand now pits increased energy security
against increased energy access. Southasian countries
have some of the lowest per-capita commercial energy
consumptions in the world, reflecting both limited energy
commercialisation and low levels of electrification
(see Figure 1).
Policymakers have typically sought to increase energy
consumption through increased electrification, and almost
all ofthe region's countries currently have an explicit policy
of improving access to electricity. Both India and Bhutan
have ambitious goals of electricity for all by 2020.
Bangladesh's poverty-reduction strategy seeks to extend
transmission lines to all villages. Pakistan intends to
reach another 40,000 households within the next year.
And Sri Lanka intends to electrify 75 percent of its
households by 2010.
Policies on improving energy access were created at a
time when economic growth was much more modest, oil
prices were lower, and it seemed as if there was always
going to be enough resources to simultaneously meet the
dual objectives of growth and access. Now, the rising cost
of energy, the vulnerability of supply links and the
increasing scarcity of energy resources mean that
somebody will have to do without. The trade-off
between energy-for-growth and energy-for-access has now
become visible.
Energy shortages are seen as the key impediment to
sustaining today's high levels of economic growth -
particularly in services and manufacturing sectors that
require uninterrupted energy supply, The need to secure
supplies and enhance supply-infrastructure has created
a new political constituency for energy demands that
rallies around the need for energy security, While an
approach to energy that emphasises access could tolerate
gaps in supply so long as the supply-infrastructure exists,
energy security requires uninterrupted supply. The
emergence of energy security as a national objective in
Southasian countries has thus reshaped the demand for
energy away from the focus on domestic supply-
infrastructure for improved access, and towards an
increased security of supply.
The emphasis on energy security is best reflected in
India's current global grab for energy. ONGC Videsh - a
wholly owned subsidiary of India's largest oil and gas
producer (ONGC) and one tasked with the sole purpose
of acquiring productive assets abroad - has secured
several oil and gas 'blocks' worldwide. The company has
a mission to acquire 60 million tonnes per annum of
equity oil and gas by 2025. India's overseas investment
in oil fields is projected to reach USD 3 billion within the
next few years. Several Indian companies, including Tata
and Jindal Stainless, have sought to acquire coalmines in
Indonesia and Australia.
Energy-security concerns of other countries in the region
are reflected in their diversification strategies. Sri Lanka
is making a concerted effort to de-link its energy sources
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 from oil prices, and has announced a venture with India's
National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to build an
imported-coal-based plant in Trincomalee. Pakistan has
been aggressively seeking to utilise lignite deposits in its
Thar region. To reduce its dependence on imported
petroleum, Pakistan set up a 100,000 barrels-per-day
refinery in collaboration with Abu Dhabi in 2000, and two
more are planned. A liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal
is planned for Karachi in 2009. Many of these various
proposed diversification strategies will no doubt fail to
materialise. The important point, though, is that energy-
sourcing strategies that seemed outlandish even a few
.ears ago during the era of low oi! prices now appear far
more feasible.
Limited trade options
The economic case for regional energy trade based on
distribution of energy resources has always been
exaggerated, and is even less meaningful under the
current demand for energy security. Reserves of primary
•'ossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - are located in Bangladesh,
India and Pakistan, with many of them concentrated in
India (see Figure 2). Other than India's coal reserves,
known fossil-fuel reserves in Southasia are too small to
have any trade potential. Indian coal is of poor quality,
and transportation over large distances remains
uneconomic. In many parts of India, particularly in the
coastal south and west, higher-quality coal imports from
Australia. Indonesia and South Africa are competitive
against domestic coal transported locally. Furthermore,
Indian coal production is already overextended and unable
to meet even domestic demand.
Prospects for regional energy trade have traditionally
focused on bringing hydropower potential from Nepal and
Bhutan into India and Bangladesh. After the success of
the 1020-megawatt Tala hydroelectric project in Bhutan,
which sells electricity to North India, the potential for
crossborder hydroelectric trading has often seemed great.
What Tala has illustrated is that trading opportunities do
exist for isolated projects that add a few hundred
megawatts. But the scope for a larger plan to systematically
tap the vast hydro potential of the rivers of Nepal and
Bhutan in order to meet India's energy demands remains
limited, for reasons discussed below.
India's demand for energy, growing at over seven
percent annually and facing worsening shortages, can be
divided into the long-term 'base-load' demands - which
include those for the electricity required to serve the high-
growth services and manufacturing sectors - and more
short-period 'peak demand'. The base-load demand will
largely be met by power generation from coal, and
supplemented by gas and possibly nuclear energy, once
the Indo-US nuclear agreement becomes operational. The
government of India's so-called 'ultra-mega' power-plant
scheme, which seeks to push through the construction of
five to eight coal plants of 4000 MW each, is an effort to
meet base-load demand.
Hydroelectric power from Nepal or Bhutan, because it
is based on less-predictable river flows, is unlikely to
provide the energy security needed for meeting base-load
demand. This is in addition to the fact that hydro will
typically be a more expensive option for meeting JhSrt
demand. The lack of generation reliability from fun-df**
the-river hydropower plants also makes them poor
candidates for peaking purposes; in order to meet peak
needs, a plant must be able to switch on and off efficiently
as needed. Storage hydro plants with reservoirs to manage
the variations in river flows can serve as peaking' plants.
The environmental impacts associated with building large
storage dams make them difficult to build, however, and
practically impossible to finance.
The absence of a transmission grid with enough
capacity to bring hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan
makes crossborder electricity trading even more
challenging. Tala survives because of a dedicated
transmission line that connects the plant to demand
centres in North India. Only 150 MW of intra-regional
transmission capacity currently exists between India and
Nepal, though four new lines are currently on the anvil.
Creation of a regional transmission grid has long been a
key recommendation for improving crossborder electricity
trade, and was again raised in the context of the meeting
of SAARC energy ministers in Delhi in early March. Such a
recommendation, however, misses the dynamics of energy
demand. There are many options for transmission
expansion in India: east to west, east to north, east to
south, west to north and Northeastto north. Without clarity
on how hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan would
integrate into the Indian supply mix, the case for a regional
transmission grid remains weak.
More likely than not, the status quo will remain.
Hydropower projects in Nepal and Bhutan will be
opportunistically developed in limited number. Dedicated
transmission lines will be built to wheel power from these
plants to load centres in India. Large-scale development,
whereby the hydro potential of Nepal, Bhutan, and north
and Northeast India is integrated to serve regional
demand, remains unlikely at this stage.
integration, not trade
With limited fossil-fuel reserves and constraints on
integrating hydro potential, Southasian countries are likely
Figure 2: Available energy resources in Southasia
Hydro (MW)
Sri Lanka
Source: "Regional Energy Security For South Asia: Regional
Report," Energy For South Asia, SARI/Energy Program, (mt -
million tons; bcm - billion cubic metres; mtoe - million tons oil
equivalent; MW - mega watt (thousand kW)
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 to remain significantly import-dependent. Energy demand
has been growing steadily, at over five percent for most
fuel categories, in line with economic growth. Dependence
on imported oil is likely to worsen, thereby decreasing the
cost-competitiveness of many industries.
The good thing is that, for the first time, these countries
appear to have conceded that energy-import dependence
is here to stay. This is the first - and most difficult - step
towards a realistic energy-management strategy. The
challenge that remains is to figure out how to manage
supply vulnerability and price volatility. This is precisely
where the new opportunity for energy integration emerges.
By pooling together their primary-energy imports,
Southasian countries can achieve the scale
that they need in order to manage sourcing and supply in
such a way as to minimise price volatility and disruptions.
India holds the key to the strategy of regional energy
integration. Though all Southasian countries are projected
to have high energy-demand growth rates, the region's
most populous country commands a major share of
regional demand (see Figure 3). The region's other
countries are individually too small to achieve any scale
for efficiency in management or for leverage in bargaining.
The three proposed crossborder natural-gas pipelines
are largely predicated on Indian demand volumes. The
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline,
covering over 2700 km and projected to cost upwards of
USD 7 billion, needs Indian gas markets to make it work.
Similarly, the Iran-Pakistan-India and Burma-Bangladesh-
India gaslines will be made feasible by Indian consumers.
Without Indian demand, these pipelines will not be able
to carry sufficient volumes to be economically viable. Spur
pipelines to neighbouringcountries that branch from these
proposed trunk-lines would be an easy way to provide the
energy security that these countries so desperately
seek (See Himal February 2007, "Waiting for
neighbourhood gas").
India's pivotal role in regional energy integration is
consistent with itsgrowingaspirationtobea global energy-
processing hub. The country already has close to 140
Figure 3: Energy demand in 2010
Electricity        Oil
(mkWh)      (mtone)
India ^Pakistan [7Sri Lanka     Bhutan ■ Nepal      Bangladesh
Source: Regional Energy Security For South Asia: Regional
Report," Energy For South Asia, SARI/Energy Program, (mtone
- million tons oil equivalent; mkWh - million units of electricity.)
million tonnes per annum of refining capacity, sufficient to
meet domestic demand for petroleum products. The
planned expansion of several existing refineries will mean
the consolidation of India's position as a net exporter of
petroleum products. Indian private-sector refineries offer
better margins than do those in Singapore and West Asia,
and are targeting exports as their key growth strategy.
An integrated Southasian energy market, with India as
the hub, could afford member countries the opportunity to
be more ambitious in their energy planning. Earlier
recommendations - includingthose for a regional strategic
petroleum reserve, a pipeline grid for natural gas and other
petroleum products, and regional power markets - put
aside previously for being too audacious, could well
become a reality.
Geopolitics of liberalised markets
This is not the first time that an opportunity for regional
integration has come to rest on India's actions. And, if it
remains unexploited, this will also not be the first time
that an idea is discarded for just that reason. But today, a
new geopolitics makes it likely that this opportunity will
not be passed over. Southasian countries have
implemented significant structural and regulatory reforms
to allow for private participation in energy markets. At the
same time, Indian liberalisation has produced corporate
players keen to tap into these new openings.
Indigenous energy markets are slowly taking root in all
Southasian countries. Private participation in power
generation is now allowed throughout the region. This has
attracted both domestic and international investments in
several countries. Fuel exploration, production and
retailing have also opened up to private participation.
Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have been regularly
distributing exploration and production licences to private
companies for development of oil and gas fields. The
liberalisation of energy markets has also been
supplemented by structural reforms in many regional
countries, aimed at reshaping loss-making public
energy companies. Many vertically integrated utilities
have been unbundled into separate functional companies,
and almost all countries have plans to institute
such restructuring.
India remains at the forefront of this liberalisation;
except for that of coal, all of its energy sectors have been
opened up, In manysectors - especially refining, petroleum
retailing, exploration, production and electricity - energy
markets have matured considerably. Liberalisation has
been matched by structural reforms aimed at
disinvestment, restructuring and corporatisation of public-
sector companies. India's status as the forerunner makes
it easier for other countries to connect with it during the
process of regional energy integration.
Many of the emerging indigenous energy markets are
still nascent, and will take time to mature. Nonetheless,
these markets provide the essential framework that can
circumvent government engagement and make it easier
to manage the geopolitics. Some of this has already
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 India's status as the forerunner makes it easier for other countries to connect with it
during the process of regional energy integration.
translated into tangible crossborder engagements. The
transmission line connecting Bhutan's Tala hydro project
to North India was the region's first successful public-private
partnership of its type. Indian Oil operates in Sn Lanka,
and is one ofthe largest retailers of petroleum products in
the country. India's National Thermal Power Corporation
has signed an agreement with Sri Lanka's Ceylon Electricity
Board to develop the country's first imported-coal-based
power plant. Tata made a foray into Bangladesh to develop
an integrated steel-and-power facility that would have
utilised local gas and coal resources, with much of the
electricity produced intended for export to India.
Liberalisation has not only made it easier for Indian
companies to penetrate neighbouring markets, but has
helped other countries solicit Indian partners without having
to rely on the patronage of the Indian government. When
Nepal recently opened up three of its largest hydro sites
for bidding, it was flooded with offers, mostly from Indian
companies. Such linkages allow smaller countries to
develop commercial relationships directly with companies
that are relatively removed from the political pressures of
New Delhi.
India's growth and emergence on the world stage has
also transformed the way Indian companies operate. These
companies have rapidly internationalised to take
advantage of opportunities abroad. Similarly, international
companies have also 'Indianised' to do business in India.
Most multinational energy companies are now active in
India, and use that platform to do business elsewhere in
the region. Today, a country in Southasia seeking to do
business with India has a plentiful choice of partners. For
that country, the differences between an Indian energy
company and an international one will be difficult to spot.
This new corporate environment provides the most
promising basis for regional energy integration. It offers
corporate governance and business ethics that are more
consistent with internationai standards. It provides
Southasian countries and businesses an opportunity to
integrate into an energy market without fear of Indian
political influences, while those countries can also do
business without having to be encumbered by geopolitics.
Better still, it allows an opportunity for businesses to
influence the making of a geopolitics beneficial to the
region as a whole. And what does India get in return for
making all of this regional energy integration possible?
Simple: profits. A
In the Kathmandu Valley.
A The Summit is the preferred hotei for visitors who want to get
^tk away from the packaged environment and the noise of downtown
-■■. Kathmandu. This is where a wide range of travelers come to rest
and recuperate. A popular bar and spacious gardens make the Summit
a favoured base for many who came to Kathmandu to work, The diplomat,
the scholar and the development expert alike, enjoy the ambience and
our friendly service. Our Friday evening barbecue is the
talk of the Valley, The Summit Apartments cater
to all the needs of long-term visitors. If you want a break even
from all of this, then a walk to the cafe which we run, at the
Museum in Patan Durbar Square, is recommended.
Summit Hotel
Somewhere spe
Summit Hotel, Kopundol Height,
P.O. Box 1406, Kathmandu. Nepal.
Tel:5521810. Fax: 5523737
Email: np
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Near but far:
South and
Southeast Asia
South and Southeast Asia once
enjoyed close trade relations,
which ultimately helped to
lay the foundations of modern
culture and society throughout the
mainland and island chains of the
latter. Both of the principal
religions of Southeast Asia - Islam
and Buddhism - arrived via the
Subcontinent, usually on ships
borne by the monsoon winds. Yet
today it is common to assume that
Southeast Asia feels a lot closer to
China than to India.
Patterns of colonial rule had a
lot to do with this protracted
separation. Burma was never 'good
enough' to be incorporated into
greater British India, even if it was
ruled from Calcutta. South and
Southeast Asia were regional
definitions concocted by allied
military commanders during the
Pacific War; never mind that at their
nearest points, the islands of
Indonesia and India lie less than
100 km apart.
In the modern postcolonial era,
the development of South and
Southeast Asia has been a study in
contrasts. Southeast Asian states
tended to be aligned rather than
staunchly non-aligned, as with
India. They tended to be capitalist,
solidly anti-communist and
freewheeling, not socialist and tied
to tedious socialist Five Year Plans.
States in Southasia remain locked
in bitter conflict with one another,
in contrast with Southeast Asia's
relative (if sometimes fragile) interstate harmony. For all of these
reasons, there has developed a gulf
that reflects little of what the two
regions actually have in common:
Islam, Buddhism as well as
Juism, the common use of the
English language, and a great love
of ancient traditions as well as
modern nationalist svmbols.
You have to cast back as far as
the Bandung Conference, in
Indonesia in 1955, to recall a time
when South and Southeast Asia last
truly chimed and communed on
issues of common interest, lt was
really only after the late Congress
Prime Minister P V Narashima Rao
visited Singapore in 1994 that
India's more recent Look Cast policv
started taking shape. In the
meantime, while trade and other
indices of cooperation have grown
by leaps and bounds, there has
remained a curious paucity of
understanding. If the cultural
influence of the West is waning, it
is being replaced by Shanghai chic,
not by Bollywood. Even Southeast
Asia's reflexive bid to escape
China's encroaching embrace has
had little tectonic effect on the
two regions, which remain
physically near but realistically far
from one another.
Wary glance;?
A major political impediment to this
inter-regional relationship has been
the reluctance of the Association of
Southeast ,\sian Nations (ASEAN)
to embrace Southasia, given all of
the latter's prickly bilateral and
security problems. ASEAN officials
prefer rounds of golf to red-faced
arguments over 'lines of control'.
When some years ago there was
debate about how to accommodate
the wider Asian region into the
newly formed ASEAN Regional
Forum - a body expressly designed
to discuss an expanded understanding of regional security - there
was dismay at the prospect of
having Pakistan and India
haranguing each other over
Kashmir. Southeast Asia does not
have the stomach for the
Subcontinent's enduring conflicts -
or the enduring memories and
passions that fuel them.
When it comes to values, India's
much-vaunted democracy comes
up short. Southeast Asia's more
developed countries would like to
see Burma pushed towards
progressive political change.
Pressure from ASEAN has come to
naught, in part because the
Rangoon junta can afford to thumb
its nose at its fellow ASEAN
members, so long as India and
China continue to vie for closer ties.
When asked why India, the
world's largest democracy, is not
interested in applying pressure on
the junta to change, South Block
mandarins generally say simply
that India does not export its
ideology. Meanwhile, India can rely
on the Burmese army to
conduct operations against
Naga rebels on the troubled border
with Assam.
In the end, there simply is not
much empathy between the
Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
India and Pakistan, as well as
Bangladesh, have all inherited a
good deal of the contempt the old
Indian Civil Service felt towards
Southeast Asia - all malarial and
full of Scottish planters gone native.
Indian diplomats are inclined to
see their careers better served by
postings in Washington or Beijing.
Perhaps these long-entrenched
attitudes are not changing as
quickly as they should. But there are
larger dynamics driving the two
regions together. Southeast Asia
needs to find a counterbalance to
China's enfolding geopolitical and
economic embrace. India needs a
wider regional arena in which to
play the incipient superpower. This
explains why Thailand has
pioneered attempts to open up a
new regional development zone
encompassing the Bay of Bengal;
it also explains why ASEAN has
welcomed India as part of the East
Asia Summit process spearheaded
by China.
The two regions may never be
able to recreate the organic ties of
trade and culture that helped
establish Southeast Asia's social
and religious framework in the
medieval period. But eventually
they will have at least overcome the
sad legacy of colonial divide
and rule. t>
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
The Regional Directorate for the British Council's operations in Central and South Asia (CSA) is based in Kathmandu. This post
offers the opportunity for a highly motivated individual to work with the CSA Regional Team in Kathmandu and the other six
countries in the region as REGIONAL PLANNING AND EVALUATION MANAGER. The British Council uses "Balanced Scorecard"
methodology for evaluating and monitoring its performance. This post will be responsible for managing and developing the
Scorecard process in the region, including setting targets, coordinating and analysing data, providing feedback and reporting
on results. The post holder will work closely with the seven country Scorecard co-ordinators.
We work a 5 day week from Monday to Friday and operate an equal opportunities policy.
Ability to analyse complex data, draw conclusions and use results to improve performance
Ability to work strategically and focus on the longer term
Strong drive for achievement, meeting goals and overcoming difficulties
Ability to work independently and as part of a regional cross-border team
Ability to write clearly in spoken and written English and to manipulate numerical data using IT applications
Experience in project/business performance evaluation
Ability to advise on procedures and tools for project planning, monitoring and evaluation
Experience of working in a large multi-activity organisation
Starting Salary
NPR 62,186 per month gross
Only applicants who are eligible to work in Nepal are encouraged to apply.
Telephone queries are discouraged.
Applications to be submitted on the standard British Council application form. The application form and job description are
available at British Council reception. Both documents are also available on-line at . All
applications must be sent by post or handed in at the British Council reception desk.
Address applications to:
Regional Change Programme Manager
British Council, PO Box 640, Lainchur, Kathmandu, Nepal
Candidates selected for interview will be contacted by 16 April 2007. Candidates not short listed will not be contacted.
The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations.
We are registered in England as a charity.
Himal Southasian available at Oxford!
Readers can now find issues of Himal every month at Oxford Bookstores throughout India - in New Delhi, Calcutta,
Bangalore, Madras ond Bombay.
Thoughtful - Irreverent - Coherent - Regional
Himal Southasian - Ihe monthly magazine from Kathmandu
Himal Southasian | April 2007 49
Jaduguda fallout
Despite the December leak of radioactive
material into the rivers and rice paddies
of Jharkhand, Indian officials are
unwilling to admit that their uranium
facilities pose a danger to anyone - least
of all the affected local communities.
For the past four decades, the indigenous Santhals
of Jaduguda, in Jharkhand's Singhbhurn District,
have lived in the massive shadow of the Ur.anium
Corporation of India Limited (UCIL). India's ambitious
and much-discussed nuclear programme is based on
uranium mined in this area. In the villages of
Jaduguda, most families have at least one member
working in either the UCIL mill or the mines. As a
result, people in Jaduguda enjoy a degree of prosperity
unusual in this impoverished Indian state.
But it is hard to say that this relationship has been a
positive one. Ill health is widespread, and accidents
can occur anytime. Indeed, on 24 December 2006, in
Dungridih village near Jaduguda, a pipe burst,
discharging radioactive waste into a nearby rivulet.
The pipe was being used to move the waste from a
UCIL plant to a storage dam. No alarms went off at the
plant, nor did anyone from the mill bother to warn the
village people about the leak - although some
Dungridih villagers did quickly alert UCIL officials.
Lethal sludge continued to leach into the water for
nine hours, killing fish and affecting nearby and
downstream communities that depend on the
watershed for both fishing and irrigation. Anil
Kakodkar, the head of the Indian Department of
Atomic Energy, when he visited Jaduguda in early
February, noted only that there had been a "small"
leak in the pipeline, and hastened to say that it was of
no risk to anyone.
In the wake of the disaster, the Jharkhand
Organisation against Radiation (JOAR), a local
resistance group set up in the mid-1990s, has
demanded that UCIL decontaminate the soil and
water. According to Shri Prakash, a local documentary
filmmaker and activist, the company has removed
some of the sludge, but much of it remains on the banks,
covered by mud.
It is still not clear why the pipe burst. Nor did UCIL
make any effort, then or later, to provide an alternative
1 supply of water to the affected community. But all this
does not surprise the people here. They have a long
history of battling UCIL and the fallout of its uranium
mining. Although it is something of a monopoly
employer and has an overwhelming presence here,
official probes have found that UCIL does not observe
even routine precautions when it comes to the lives
and health of the local people. Workers, for instance,
regularly take their uniforms home, to wash them
casually at local water sources. This is not so much
due to workers being unaware, but because UCIL
provides them with no washing facility on site.
Over the last decade, the local and national press
has regularly reported the unusually high incidence
of ill health in the area, particularly that of congenital
deformities in children. Local groups such as JOAR
have also attempted to increase the public's knowledge
of the situation in Jaduguda. In 1999, Shri Prakash
made a film titled Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda, which
documented diseases in the community, including
congenital defects in newborns, sterility in young
women, and lung disease in mine and mill workers.
Although UCIL management has denied any link
between uranium mining and ill health in the area, in
December 1998 the Bihar Legislative Council
(Jharkhand at that time was still a part of Bihar) sent
its environment committee to look into the situation.
The subsequent report laid blame for the ill health of
people in the area squarely on UCIL operations, as did
an accompanying medical team. Following this, the
council ordered the evacuation of 46 families to a
minimum of five kilometres away from the site, and
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 It is still not clear why the pipe burst.
Nor did UCIL make any effort, then or
later, to provide an alternative supply of
water to the affected community. But all
this does not surprise the people here.
recommended putting up notice boards highlighting
the site's hazards.
Dirty business
What makes uranium mining so hazardous? In a typical
extraction process, usable uranium is extracted from
the ore-bearing rock, which is ground and then leached
with sulphuric acid. The acid picks up the required
elements, leaving behind various radioactive waste
products, known as tailings. As in similar operations
around the world, open ponds are used in Jaduguda to
store these tailings. (Dungridih, the site of the recent
leak, is occupied by families originally displaced by the
construction of such ponds.) Once the pond is created,
liquids from the leaching process are left to evaporate;
in Jaduguda, these liquids have seeped out and
contaminated the area's groundwater. Furthermore,
during the monsoon the radioactive slurry regularly
overflows the ponds into nearby rice fields. Finally, as
the tailings do dry up, a lung cancer-causing gas
called radon is released. Being airborne, the radon can
be transmitted for many miles, affecting a. multitude
of people.
In 2000, local grassroots groups conducted a health
survey in' Jaduguda. The aim was to record the actual
public and occupational health status of the uranium
mining and milling operations. The survey was
conducted in the villages near the tailings ponds, as
well as in 'control' villages further away. The survey
team found a discernible rise in congenital deformities
among people born after the start of mining operations
in 1967. In the villages near the UCIL facility, of the
nine children who died within a year of birth, eight had
congenital deformities. In the control areas, on the other
hand, of the six recorded premature deaths, all were
due to reasons such as diarrhoea, fever and premature
birth. In the nearby villages, 52 men and 34 women had
deformities, in contrast to just seven of each in the control
areas. The team also recorded extremely high levels of
chronic lung disease in UCIL's miners and millers.
None of this should take anyone in power by surprise
- neither the UCIL management nor government
officials. Jaduguda's is not an isolated story in the realm
of uranium mining, either regionally or internationally.
Indeed, it is not even unique to the poor industrial
regulations of a developing country. In Canada, for
instance, two decades of uranium mining in the Elliot
Lake area contaminated 80 kilometres of the Serpent
River system, including as many as 10 lakes. In the
United States, 22 uranium mills, now abandoned, have
left behind an estimated 25 million tonnes of tailings in
mostly unsupervised ponds. In these areas, too,
uranium mining and milling has been linked to high
rates of birth defects. Apart from contamination during
storage and recycling of tailings, the experience of these
countries has also highlighted the danger of mishaps.
In Canada, there have been 30 breaches from tailings
dams in the Elliot Lake area alone. The LJS Nuclear
Regulatory Commission admits to at least 15 instances
wherein radioactive liquid has been accidentally
spilled. In a span of 18 years, there have been two
floods, six pipeline failures and seven dam breaks in
the US alone.
Following the Dungridih leak, JOAR and other
groups have called for the emplacement of inspection
mechanisms and procedures to routinely monitor the
quality and safety of UCIL's facility, its equipment and
working procedures. They have also recommended
periodic monitoring of the exposure of local
communities to radioactive and hazardous chemical
contaminants. Of course, the uranium that originates
in Jaduguda retains its risks even after it leaves the area
- at nuclear-energy plants, in India's weapons
stockpiles, or in tests that endanger unwary
communities that inhabit the adjacent spaces, as in
Pokhran. For its part, the Indian Department of Atomic
Energy denies even the possibility of radiation leaks,
declaring that all of its establishments strictly follow
procedure, and are monitored regularly.
UCIL is now ready to start mining operations in other
areas - Mohuldih, Banduhurang and Baghjanta in
Jharkhand, Nalgonda and Kapada in Andhra Pradesh,
and in the West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Huge
deposits of uranium ore have been discovered in these
areas, and UCIL hopes cumulatively to extract up to
3000 tonnes of ore per day. In each of these places, local
communities are protesting the requisition of their land
and the dangers of its use for uranium mining. Despite
this, and notwithstanding the situation in Jaduguda,
the uranium-mining industry is bullish in India, and
the Ministry of Environment and Forests has given a
conditional clearance to the Nalgonda project. As
with projects from the 'green revolution' to the push
for large dams, uranium mining seems to be another
arena where local communities pay the price for
national 'progress'. >
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Islamabad's gilded cage
With recent attacks within the city limits, Islamabad
has been rudely awoken from its slumber. It had better
learn to take Pakistan seriously.
Since late January, the sleepy,
custom-built capital of
Pakistan has seen a spate of
suicide bombings. What was once the
safest haven in a conflict-prone
political and social zone is now
besieged with security forces
patrolling the streets, forcing
residents of this gilded cage to own
up to the reality that suddenly exists
within its own borders.
On 26 January, a suicide bomber
walked into a staff entrance of the
Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, was
intercepted by a security guard, and
blew up them both. I was inside the
hotel when the blast occurred,
cocooned within its opulent
surroundings. Had the blast occurred
minutes later, I would have been
crossing the street in the midst ofthe
carnage. This fortuitous timing did not
stop me from witnessing bits of
charred flesh lying
scattered on the road, however, as I
ran out to join the crowd that
had gathered. This was the first
suicide bombing to have taken place
in Islamabad.
Before there was time to absorb
the intensity of the event, a second
incident occurred on 6 February at the
high-security Islamabad International
Airport. Once again, the suicide
bomber forced himself into the
premises and, during an ensuing gun
battle with airport security, detonated
his explosive. And again, I was nearly
at the scene, having arrived to board
a Karachi flight barely an hour earlier.
These events were followed by at
least four other bombings in or near
Pakistan - including a suicide
bombing at a district court in Quetta,
and explosions on the Samjhauta
Express train, which had b.een
traveling from Delhi to Lahore. The
infamous 'they' say that this is all just
the beginning.
Personal proximity to two major
violent events in Islamabad has
brought several issues, both
personal and professional,
into new context for this
writer.  The  concept of
existentiality      seems
significantly out of place
when, at one moment,
you sit in a five-star hotel
chatting    gaily    with
friends, and the next
moment    you    come
across a severed finger
lying at your feet. Even
more out of place is the
fact that this finger
belonged either to an
■unsuspecting security
§|uard,   who   probably
earned less than thirty
dollars a month, or to a
young, co-opted jihadi, brainwashed
with notions of religious and political
rebellion. Who should one question
in such situations - oneself? The
West? The ruling elite? It is virtually
impossible to answer such questions
when standing next to the severed
finger of a total stranger.
Pakistan has always been a
country of dichotomous extremes.
Where else can you find women's
rights so abused, yet come across a
group of armed, burqa-clad women
who forcibly occupy a government-run
children's library for days on end? On
21 January, female students from the
Hafsa madrassa of Islamabad's Lai
Masjid stormed into the library
carrying rifles. Their demand was that
the government rebuild their
mosques - which had been built on
illegal land in the first place - and give
up plans to demolish another 80
unauthorised mosques around the
city. Army troops, rangers and police
confronted the women and their
thousands-strong group of supporters
for days - only to finally give in to the
demands. Before the agreement ink
had dried, religious groups had begun
to rebuild one of the demolished
mosques on the same illegal land. Yet
again, the so-called moderates had
given in to the hardliners.
But that has always been the case,
despite General Pervez Musharraf's
stance towards the religious right.
Indeed, the threat of extremism is not
nearly as 'external' as the Foreign
Office would have Pakistani society
believe. Cracking down on Osama bin
Laden is no more of an eyewash for
the Pakistani government than it is a
cover for the United States' own aims
in the game of oil and global power.
But the game grows deadlier as
reasoning becomes increasingly
blurred and the violence starts hitting
closer to home.
10 km from Pakistan
Islamabad has never been the site of
large-scale unrest. The picturesque
capital has repeatedly been declared
the safest city in Pakistan. Home to
the country's political, expatriate and
diplomatic elite, Islamabad has long
wowed its visitors with its immaculate
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 boulevards and pristine environs. The
city is now the most popular
destination for those rich enough
to escape the madness of strife-torn
and polluted cites such as Karachi
and Lahore.
Originally built to hold a population
of only a few thousand, Islamabad
now has to cater to nearly a million.
With one of the highest urban growth
rates in the country (six percent per
year), land is becoming a scarce
commodity, and hills and forests are
being bulldozed to make way for
roads and underpasses. More than
150 new cars are registered daily in
the capital alone. Enormous housing
projects are taking over the outskirts
of town, and what is left of the centre
is being transformed into an
avenue of multi-star hotels and
parliamentarian lodges. Not even the
Margalla Hills, the city's landmark
mountain range, is beingspared - sale
of land is soaring as more and more
of the rich build their retirement
homes on the slopes.
But Islamabad has always been
viewed as being located "10 km out
of Pakistan". And truly, this massive
growth and investment is in harsh
contrast to the rest of the country,
including the other major urban
centres of Karachi and Lahore. More
than half of Pakistan's population is
illiterate. The maternal mortality rate
stands at 500 per 100,000 live births.
Overall, some 50 percent ofthe rural
population is considered vulnerable
to chronic poverty. As if such indicators
were not enough, the threat of
militancy has significantly added to
foreign attempts to de-link
poverty from religious extremism,
by implementing programmes
attempting to alleviate poverty.
Islamabad is the seat ofthe major
multilateral and bilateral lenders, the
key financial and technical drivers of
such programmes in Pakistan. The
Asian Development Bank (ADB), the
Word Bank, the British, Japanese,
Canadians - all make their lending
decisions seated among the elitist
clique of the capital. Whether it
is investment in energy and
infrastructure, poverty alleviation and
gender mainstreaming, or democracy
Whether it is investment in energy and infrastructure,
poverty alleviation and gender mainstreaming, or
democracy and decentralisation, the world of
international development in Islamabad is physically
separated from the reality of rural and urban Pakistan.
and decentralisation, the world of
international development in
Islamabad is physically separated
from the reality of rural and
urban Pakistan.
Supposedly committed to
transforming the country into a
progressive and educated society
(while always admitting that they
have their own agendas),
international donors have been firmly
caught up within the fundamental
dilemmas that now face both
Pakistan and their own agenda,
domestic and otherwise. Whether it
is Tony Blair's new priority of climate
change or the US attempt to tackle
religious subversion through
education, the lending scenario in
Pakistan is suddenly unclear and
undefined. A major contributor to this
is the fact that Pakistanis
themselves are unable to define
what they need, and the Islamabad
location of decision-making does not
seem to help.
Ensconced in the 'security' of
Islamabad, and security threats
notwithstanding, donors prefer
investing in 'safe' projects such as
micro-credit, health, education and
gender training, which have lots to
show but little to deliver. Likewise,
the arguments put forward by
academic pundits that Pakistan's
progress depends on democratic
political and judicial institutions have
been met by the donors with equal
failure. The ADB's USD 350 million
Access to Justice Programme and its
USD 300 million Decentralisation
Support Programme have both been
rife with controversy since their 2003
nception, and are widely regarded
as directionless. Both programmes
are loans to the government of
Pakistan, which already owes the
ADB USD 6.5 billion. Similarly, the
World Bank repeatedly and publicly
warns the Islamabad government to
clean up its act on many fronts. Yet
when World Bank-funded projects
lead to massive displacement, the
multilateral body withdraws to the
shadows of the 'project document'.
Even as the political climate
descends into further uncertainty,
multilaterals and bilaterals continue
simultaneously to chastise Pakistan
for its faults and to invest heavily in it.
The ADB is currently formulating a
three-year, USD 4 billion development
aid package - nearly a seven-fold
increase over the USD 600 million
packages it has offered in the past.
The World Bank is likewise ready to
offer almost USD 2 billion, to help
rehabilitate Pakistan's entire
logistical network. Bilaterals such as
the UK's Department for International
Development (DFID) have doubled
their aid budgets to Pakistan in 2006-
07. It is not overly difficult, then, to
make sense of this generosity, given
that Pakistan is simultaneously
branded as a 'terror' threat.
The distance of Islamabad from
the country has provided the national
power elite a sense of certitude. But
being faced with tbe religious and
political psychosis that is suicide
bombing and terror threats is
something that throws all logic and
consideration into flux. The
connection between religious
extremism and social development
is a difficult one to explore. Poverty is
either a cause or an effect of violence
and extremism; in Pakistan, it is
difficult to say which came first. But
one thing is certain. Living in
gilded cages, as our politicians, civil
society and developmentalists do, is
not going to help in solving the
problem. The residents of this gilded
cage have now awoken to a harsh
reality. One can only hope that they
will remain awake. J.
Himal Southasian | April 2007
CJ...J:v« :m  :a«I.i:a     . Five years after the atrocities of
dtUdlOS IN lSOlatlOn: Gujarat, the state's education
TUa caUaaU «* AUm^^knrl sYstem ls takm9 youngsters
I lie SChOOlS OT AhmedaDad backward, not forward.
In a tiny room with blue walls full of charts about
birds, fruits and vegetables, 10-year-old Tamanna
sits on the floor, drawing on sheets of paper
strategically folded to resemble greeting cards. The
room, on the first floor of a modest dwelling in the
Siding Service locality of Ahmedabad, for the past
seven months has been hosting a learning centre run
by the NGO Pratham. "Earlier, we were in the Muslim
part of the area," says Kanchanben Rathod, a teacher.
"But Hindu children, especially girls, wouldn't come
there, so we had to move to this place." Tamanna,
whose shy smiles preface her every sentence, interjects:
"The Muslim children were troubling us; we were
frightened of them. So I stopped going there."
A few kilometres away at Allah Nagar, where
vegetable vendors, children and goats jostle for space
in the narrow paths of the slum settlement, is another
learning centre managed by Pratham. Many of these
children, also leaning against blue walls as they open
their bags, wear skull caps. Mothers bring little girls,
often wailing as they shake their pigtails in defiance,
into the classroom, and stop to chat with the teacher.
There are no Hindus in this area, and certainly none
in the room. Both the children and their mothers speak
of their lives inside the slum, having little or no contact
with the world that lies beyond their inadequately
covered shacks and the dusty, fly-infested lanes
outside their homes.
Last November in Ahmedabad, where almost
everyone is forced to navigate between real and
imagined boundaries drawn on the basis of religion, a
few social workers got together to attempt to bridge the
divide between Siding Service and Allah Nagar. They
organised a cricket match for the children. That game
quickly came to be referred to as the "India-Pakistan"
match, says Jigna Rathod, who works with Pratham.
"Sometimes, children say such things," she adds.
Afterwards, the children traded insults and threw
stones, recalls Anjana Parmar, another Pratham
worker. Clearly, even a playground could not be
neutral terrain, with the scorecard heavy with bias and
prejudice before the game could even get underway.
Mind-boggling borders
A policeman snoozes inside a khaki tent pitched on a
lane that forms the 'border' in the Parikshit area of the
city. He, and usually his colleagues, are ostensibly here
to douse the neighbourhood quarrels that end up
taking on communal overtones. Their presence is a
forbidding indicator of the omnipresent possibility of
clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the area,
separated by the 'border' - a term that Ahmedabad's
residents mention casually, as if indicating something
as mundane as a traffic light that serves as a landmark
(See Himal October 2006, "Gujarat as another country").
Neelam Mewada lives in Parikshit, and she laughs
when asked about the skirmishes. "We've gotten used
to it," says the teenager. Neelam went to a school in
Shah Mam before the riots of 2002, in which the state
government claims about 1000 were killed, while
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 activists put the number of deaths at around 2000
(mostly Muslim). "I left my studies because the school
is in a Muslim area," Neelam says. When localities are
identified not according to their physical characteristics
but on the basis of the religion of its occupants, it is no
surprise that a school can fall out of favour for being
on the wrong side of the 'border'.
In a paper on the impact of the 2002 violence on the
education of Hindu and Muslim pupils, based on a
study of two schools for girls in Ahmedabad,
researchers Suchitra Sheth and Nina Haeems wrote
about how one expects schools to be spaces where
religious differences can be transcended. This proved
not to be the case in the schools they studied, however,
one a Gujarati-medium school in the Dalit-Muslim
neighbourhood of Rajpur, and the other an Urdu-
medium school in Shahpur. In a subsequent piece
published in April 2006, they wrote: "Even if
neighbourhoods are antagonistic, one would imagine
that the school could be a site for secular socialisation.
The Urdu school of Shahpur of course does not offer
such a chance because its students are all Muslims.
But we found that the Gujarati school of Rajpur was
scarcely different though it has students from both
communities." The authors added later: "We asked
tlie girls to name close friends at school and not one
Dalit child named a Muslim child and neither did the
reverse occur. We found that the Muslim children
played in their groups and the Hindus in their own."
Perhaps these children have merely assimilated the
ways of the world around them. Fr Fernand Durai,
principal of St Xavier's School, Loyola Hall, recalls
how he was shocked by the attitude of a few children
towards their counterparts from the minority
community during the 2002 riots. "Our students have
always lived together," he says. "There is no
differentiation on the basis of religion, so how did this-
come up suddenly? It means that the students must
have seen or heard something, and they picked it up in
no time."
Indeed, several school administrations themselves
were leading the harassment of Muslim children.
Khurshid Saiyed, a politician affiliated with the
Congress party, says that Muslim parents had to
withdraw their children from many schools in 2002
because of the threats made by the school authorities.
"Their ruse was to tell parents that the children were
not performing well and hence were going to be failed.
They offered a compromise to the parents: if they took
their children elsewhere, they would give them pass
certificates." Hanif Lakdawala, director of Sanchetana,
an NGO that works in health and education, refers to
this as "subtle discrimination". "Schools tell parents
that the child will feel isolated in that atmosphere," he
explains, "so parents eventually decide they are better
off taking their kids elsewhere."
Afroz Baig, who works with local schools on peace-
education programmes through the NGO Samerth,
lists various tactics that some authorities have used to
disallow Muslim children from attending their
schools. "A school at Vejalpur didn't throw out
Muslim children, but told their parents that they
couldn't guarantee their children's safety," she recalls.
"At another school in Paldi, the Bajrang Dal people
injured the watchman, and the parents instructed their
children not to speak to Muslims. How could one
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Himal Southasian | April 2007
 The game quickly came to be referred to
as the India-Pakistan' match.
survive in that atmosphere?" Baig herself was at the
receiving end of such discriminatory practices,
when she tried to get her son admitted into a
well-known school in Thaltej. "The principal
categorically told me that the school had no place for
Muslims," she says.
Chor and police
Near Chandola Lake is a school with an entryway
that has heen taken over by unruly shrubs. The blue
letters that form its name are fading in the sun. This
abandoned structure was once the L V Patel High
School, run by a Hindu management that decided to
pack its bags after the riots, when the area suddenly
came to be dominated by Muslims. The school
today functions about three kilometres awav in a
Hindu area.
At one time, Hindus and Muslims went to the same
schools and lived in the same neighbourhoods. School
managements were never identified by religion. After
the riots, however, both communities moved to areas
where they found safety in numbers. Says Lakdawala,
"The authorities are simply not interested in the
children - in areas where there are Dalit and Muslim
students, we have heard high-caste Hindu teachers
saying there is no point in teaching these children." If
the L V Patel management got around their
predicament by moving to a new spot, others chose to
shut shop altogether. The management of one Hindu
school in Shah Alam sold its school building to a
Muslim builder, who plans to renovate it to provide
education for Muslims.
Several others from the Muslim community have
also come forward to establish their own schools to
accommodate Muslim children. Their action is a
display of resilience and self-reliance, for the Gujarat
government has done little to create or improve
educational facilities in Muslim pockets, in areas to
which riot victims have moved, such as Vatva and
Faisal Park, there are hardly any civic amenities - no
water, drainage or electricity. Parents laugh helplessly
when asked if thev send their children to school. Why
would one think of books if there is no livelihood?
Unfortunately, schools set up by Muslim trusts may
not be the solution. By and large, this new wave of
'educationists' have no experience in education, and
tend to place increased emphasis on religious mores
and customs in an already segregated atmosphere.
This leaves the Muslim pupils doubly disadvantaged.
The textbooks carry forward the theme of alienation.
In the Gujarat State Board textbooks, it is not enough
to qualify Aurangzeb merely as a ruler; he is always
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April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 introduced as a Muslim ruler who was intolerant of
other faiths, Hindu mythology is never about myths or
legends; it is presented as facts as sacred as the gods
whose stories curiously form part of Social Studies
textbooks. Exercises for children, mentioned at the end
of each lesson, include suggestions to learn more about
"daughters of sages", and the textbooks are full of slant
and stereotype.
Such tampering with textbooks is particularly
dangerous, says Fr Cedric Prakash of the human-rights
centre Prashant. He and several others worked to bring
many of these errors to light. "When children learn
[these biases], even their games reflect the same
thinking," says Prakash, who recently won the national
Minorities Rights Award for 2006. "When they play
chor [thiefj-policc, the Muslim is always the char and
the Hindu the police. When we used to play, we were
both the chor and the police on different days."
Achyut Yagnik, co-author of the 2005*book The
Shaping of Modern Gujarat, says it is important to see
how history is taught in Ahmedabad schools. "The
teacher, for instance, will only talk about the
destruction of the Somnath Temple [by Muslim kings],"
he points out. Influential Hindu sects such as
Swaminarayan also run a number of educational
institutions, says Yagnik: "More than the Sangh
Parivar, they are responsible for Hindutva-isation, at
a direct or indirect level" Pointing to a vicious circle,
Yagnik notes that most schoolteachers in these schools
are from OBC, tribal or Dalit communities, "Thev are
attracted to the sects, possibly because of a promise of
a more meaningful identity in cities and towns. They
are conscious that their standing in the Hindu social
pyramid is low," he says. It is in the hope of integration
that they become members of the sects, going on to aidopt
ideologies that encourage Muslim-bashing, a divisive
credo that may eventually surface in their classrooms.
A visit to Juhapura
In the cloistered spaces of Ahmedabad, it is now entirely-
possible for a Hindu or Muslim child to grow to young
adulthood without meeting a single individual from
the other community. It is a vitiated environment that
can be exploited to create insecurity and fear. Says
Shakeel Ahmad, administrator of the state Islamic
Relief Committee's legal help and guidance cell: "Our
big concern is that there is no intermingling of
communities because of the segregation that has
happened. This alienation will have a terrible impact
on the children. They are not in a position to know
about each other's culture and religion and, as a result,
their tolerance levels will be low." Adds Khandadkhan
R Pathan, principal of the Republic High School at Lai
Darwaja: "Hindu children will easily believe political
propaganda against Muslims if they are not provided
knowledge. If they know a few Muslims, then they will
at least have a broader vision,"
Perhaps all it takes to demystify the dreaded 'other'
is a simple visit. Lakdawala remembers an incident
from an Id Milan programme organised three years
ago at Juhapura, often referred to as the largest Muslim
ghetto in Gujarat. He remembers: "A friend had
brought his eight-year-old son along. The boy
knew that the programme was being organised at a
school in juhapura, but on reaching there, he asked,
'Where is Juhapura?' My friend told him that this was
the place, to which the child replied, 'But 1 had
heard that Muslim children carry knives; I don't see
that here'."
Lakdawala talks about the experiences of activist
and filmmaker Stalin K, also centred on Juhapura. The
Hindu youngsters, mostly from poor economic
backgrounds, with whom Stalin worked had
particularly vile impressions about the ghetto. Stalin
therefore took them on a visit. Says Lakdawala: "They
walked around Juhapura for three or four hours. They
ate at a bakery there; they enjoyed themselves. Stalin
asked them if they saw any difference between their
areas and Juhapura, and the boys said no." The trip
would have changed the youngsters' perceptions about
the area and its inhabitants. But, as Lakdawala says,
it is not easy to get people to step outside the boundaries
they have set for themselves. Trapped somewhere
between those invisible barriers, the children of
Ahmedabad and indeed all of Gujarat are forced now
to live in insulated bubbles, unable to reach out to
children on the other side. ^
PB       *
' Nepal - China HlOllS
1947 - June 2005
Avtar Singh Bhasin
3580 P
Set Prii
150-0-5            Published by:
IOUND                 A-51/II NARAINA VIH/
AGES                   NEW DELHI-110028 (
:e: INR 6000    E-mail:
Himal Southasian | April 2007
TIBET, the m
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Himal Southasian | April 2007
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
Cracking the Indus script
What is referred to as the 'Indus script' is a collection of symbols and
pictograms that have been attributed to the Indus Valley (or Harappan)
civilisation of present-day Pakistan and northwest India. It is believed to
have been used during 2600-1900 BC. Despite the discovery to date of
more than 4000 objects bearing it, the script has never been successfully
deciphered. Tamil Nadu-born Iravatham Mahadevan is India's leading
expert on the Indus script. He says that with new materials being regularly
unearthed, and with the availability of modern analysis tools, it is likely that
the Indus script will soon be understood.
After completing the first phase
of my studies of the Tamil-
Brahmi script in 1968, I turned
my attention towards the Indus script.
I had been particularly attracted to
this study by the pioneering work of
two groups of scholars, one Russian
and one Finnish. What I found
especially appealing in their work was
that, unlike all previous attempts to
decipher the Indus script, they were
using computers to carry out
sophisticated procedures on a
scientific basis. I felt that similar work
should be undertaken in India.
In 1970, I was awarded a
Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship for this
project. In 1970-71, a photographic
card catalogue of the Harappan
inscribed objects was assembled. The
Indus texts and their background data
were coded in a numerical format
suitable for computer analysis. After a
collaborative experimental
concordance was prepared with the
help of an IBM 1620 computer in
Madras, publication of the resulting
paper brought me an offer of
cooperation from computer scientists
at the Tata Institute of Fundamental
Research (TIFR) In Bombay.
This interdisciplinary collaboration
resulted in the 1977 publication of
The Indus Script: Texts, concordance
and tables. As the title indicates, the
book provides the basic source
material for further research, but
does not put forward any particular
theory of linguistic decipherment. In
retrospect, this has turned out to
be a very salutary precaution, as the
work is now used the world
over by researchers, regardless of
individual views on the language of
the Indus script.
In 1977, a computerised 'input
data file' was compiled. This is the
master file from which the pictorial
version of the Indus texts and the
concordance were created through
computer programmes at TIFR. To
appreciate this achievement, one
must remember that the computers
of the 1970s were much less
powerful than today's machines. We
had to use punched cards both to
put in the data and to obtain the
output. There were no monitors for
visual checks. The pictorial version of
the Indus texts has nonetheless
been widely acclaimed as
aesthetically appealing and close to
the originals, providing researchers
without access to the originals with
reliable texts to study.
Professors Gift Siromoney and
Abdul Huq carried out further work
on the Indus script with the help of
computers during the 1980s. Their
collaboration resulted in the
publication of a series of
extraordinary research papers, which
explored the structural properties of
the Indus texts - frequent
combinations of signs, segmentation
of texts into words and phrases, and
the like. What was especially
noteworthy about their work was its
scientific character without any presupposition on the linguistic affinities
of the Harappan people and the
Indus script.
Archaeological context
The potentialities of the
computerised input data file have
not been exhausted by these
achievements, however. For one
thing, much ofthe data compiled in
the file are yet to be published, and
remain open to further research. For
another, new data are becoming
available both from the earlier sites
(Mohenjodaro and Harappa) and
from newer sites (Dholavira).
The format of the input data file,
now stored at the newly inaugurated
Indus Research Centre (IRC) in
Madras, will permit all such
additions, enlarging the corpus of
texts and their background data for
further research. I have faith that the
availability of this material in an
accessible, computerised form will
attract younger scholars from
university departments of
mathematics, statistics and
linguistics. They can join together in
inter-disciplinary research teams to
explore further the structure of the
Indus script and, ultimately, its
linguistic character.
The IRC is a forum for scientific
investigations, without any
ideological bias. This does not, of
course, mean that the centre will not
undertake research into the linguistic
aspects of the Indus script. After all,
linguistic decipherment of the Indus
script is the ultimate objective of this
research. What we mean, rather, is
that we should not start with
preconceived notions or
presuppositions, and tailor our
research to fit into ideology-driven
linguistic models.
Let me illustrate this statement
with a couple of examples. First,
analysis of the Indus texts has now
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 conclusively established that the
writing of the Indus script is from
right to left, with some minor
exceptions. Yet we find some
scholars continuing to claim that the
Indus script should be read from left
to right, because that is how
Sanskrit (or Tamil) scripts are
written. Second, computer analysis
has shown that the Indus texts
possess only suffixes, not prefixes
or infixes. This indicates that the
Harappan language was ofthe
suffixing type (as with Dravidian),
not of the prefixing type (Indo-Aryan).
It is also necessary for well-
rounded research to look beyond
the inscriptions and take the
archaeological context into account.
Let me illustrate this with some well-
known examples. First, the Indus
civilisation was urban in character,
while the Vedic civilisation was rural
and pastoral. There is hardly any
description of city life in the Rig
Veda. Second, the Indus seals
depict many animals but not the
horse; nor is the spoked-wheeled
chariot included in Indus art. At the
same time, these are among the
main features of society depicted in
the Rig Veda. Third, the Harappan
religion, as far as we can make out
from pictorial representations,
included the worship of buffalo-
horned male gods, mother
goddesses, the pipal tree, serpents
and probably also phallic worship.
Such modes of worship seem alien
to the religion of the Rig Veda. These
examples (among many others)
make it very improbable that
the Harappan city dwellers were
the same as the people of the
Vedic culture.
Ruling out the Aryan authorship of
the Indus civilisation does not, of
course, automatically make it
Dravidian. However, there is
substantial evidence favouring that
supposition. The three most
important aspects of this evidence
include: the survival of Dravidian
languages, such as Brahui, in North
India; the presence of Dravidian loan
words in the Rig Veda; and the
underlying influence of Dravidian
languages on the Prakrit dialects of
North India.
The evidence indicates that
Dravidian languages were once
spoken widely in North India, and
one or more of the Dravidian dialects
could well be the language of the
Indus texts. It is extremely important
to note that 'Aryan' and 'Dravidian'
are names of languages, not races.
Speakers of one language can, and
frequently did, switch over from one
language to another. We should not
allow research into the Indus
civilisation and language to be
vitiated by false notions of racial or
ethnic identities.
Speakers of the Aryan languages
indistinguishably merged with
speakers of the Dravidian and
Munda languages millennia ago. This
created a composite Indian society,
culture and religious tradition, which
contained elements inherited from
every source. It is thus likely that
Indus craft traditions and artistic and
religious motifs have survived, and
can be traced in the Sanskrit
literature from the days of the Rig
Veda as well as in the old Tamil
traditions recorded in the classical
Sangam poetry of two millennia ago,
Solving the riddle
Recently, scholars Steve Farmer and
Michael Witzel proposed that the
Indus script was not a writing system
at all, but merely a collection of
picture signs conveying messages
visually but not linguistically. It is
difficult to take this new hypothesis
seriously, however, given that
concordances of the Indus texts
compiled by other authors are in
essential agreement, and have been
able to highlight obvious linguistic
features. The theory that the Indus
script is not 'writing' appears to be
defeatist, born out of frustration in
decipherment efforts.
Indeed, there is a view that the
ndus script can never be
deciphered, owing to the limited
material, its repetitive nature and
the absence of bilingual records.
Nonetheless, I am optimistic that
sooner or later this riddle will be
solved. First, additional material with
Indus inscriptions are being
continually unearthed from older
sites. It is quite likely that we will
eventually reach a critical mass of
inscriptions necessary for a
successful decipherment.
Second, the criticism that there
has been little or no progress
towards decipherment is not true.
While it is correct that we have not
been able to linguistically decipher
the Indus script, much preliminary
work - determination of the
direction of writing, segmentation of
texts into words and phrases, and
isolation of grammatical features -
has been achieved. In these matters,
a large measure of agreement has
emerged from independent work by
various scholars.
It can be hoped that future study
at the Indus Research Centre will
deal both with structural analysis of
the Indus texts aided by the
computer, and also with the
archaeological and linguistic
evidence such as those mentioned
above. Together, they can find
acceptable answers to the riddle of
the Indus script. 4
'Elsewhere' is a section where Himal features writings from other sources
that the editors would like to present to our readers. This selection is from an
address by Iravatham Mahadevan at the inauguration ofthe Indus Research
Centre in Madras, 25 January 2007, originally printed in The Hindu Sunday
Magazine, 4 February 2007, and carried with permission.
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
The Madras
Indus scholar
What first propelled you to
study the Indus script?
Early in the 1960s, I began working
on the cave inscriptions of Tamil
Nadu. They are the earliest records
of not only Tamil but of any
Dravidian language. So I spent
several years visiting the caves,
copying the inscriptions and
published a number of papers. In
between, I spent a
dozen years in New Delhi, and
became enchanted with the Indus
script specimens I saw in the
National Museum. Soon thereafter,
I began working on it. In addition
to the concordance* that I
ultimately prepared in cooperation
with computer scientists in
Bombay, I have published a series
of papers at three levels.
First, there are about half a
dozen papers on the statistical
analysis and such linguistic
features as can be recognised
without reading the language.
Second, I began working on the
meaning of some of the obvious
ideograms. These are pictures of
objects which can be recognised
An interview with Iravatham
Mahadevan, 1 March 2007.
Mahadevan. a renowned
scholar on the Indus
civilisation and the Indus
script, recently donated his
collection of material related
to the Indus civilisation to the
newly opened Indus Research
Centre at the Roja Muthiah
Research Library, in Madras.
For more, see previous story,
"Cracking the Indus script".
directly as representing a subject -
ike a man carrying a bow and
arrow, who can be an archer. A
human being with two horns may
represent an important person or
god, and so on. The other method
is called rebus', that is. the
transfer of sound from one picture
which can be easily recognised to
another word with the same sound
but different meaning. The well-
known example of this is the
Dravidian min, which means fish,
but also means star. So a fish can
be drawn to indicate a star
considered as a deity.
The concordance you created
seems to have required a
Herculean effort. Do you see
any scope for further
The first concordance in the pre-
computer age was made by Hunter,
an Englishman in India who was in
the Indian Educational Service. He
aligned all the signs from their
outward form and prepared the
concordance. But subsequently
more seals have been found at
Mohenjodaro, Harappa and other
new sites. [Finnish scholar] Asko
Parpola and his colleagues have
published a concordance; and in
India. I, with the help of computer
scientists at the Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research, published
our concordance. The first healthy
sign is there is a lot of common
ground between these three
concordances. While more seals
have been found, they only
confirm what has been found
earlier; the concordance shows
that there is an underlying order.
This order can come only from an
underlying language.
I have gone further in my
analysis, and I claim to have
isolated two kinds of suffixes in the
language - nominal suffixes at the
end of names, and suffixes which
indicate what are called 'cases'.
We also know that the adjective
appears before the noun it
qualifies. Then, we know the
numerals. Progress has also been
made in discovering the direction
of writing, which is mostly from right
to left, with some exceptions. We
can also segment words and
phrases. Well, that is good
progress. In my view, the Indian
tradition, mythology, religion,
history, folklore, art, etcetera form
the Rosetta Stone for
decipherment. We can apply what
we know of the Indian tradition to
the pictorial figures in the Indus
seals and try to work out what they
could have represented.
There are periodic reports of
Indus script being deciphered.
Are there standard methods
to test the validity of claimed
The best summary and evaluation
of the work done so far is Gregory
Possehl's book, The Indus Age: Its
writing. I myself have reviewed five
claims to decipherment - two
based on Sanskrit, two on Tamil
and one claiming that the script is
merely a collection of numbers.
My conclusion is negative - that
none of the decipherments has
been successful.
The first test is the direction of
the Indus script. The one fact on
which most scholars agree is that
the Indus script reads generally
from right to left. So this is the first
test, which can eliminate non-
serious attempts. The second test
comes out of the progress
achieved in segmentation of words.
An Indus text can be segmented
into separate words and phrases.
Any decipherment will have to
conform to these segments.
Another method is to match the
frequency-distribution analysis of
the script with similar analysis for
the candidate language. The two
frequency-distributions should
match. To give an example, in
English the letter 'e' has the highest
frequency, of about 12 percent. If I
say that the Indus script is written
*Mahadevan's 1977 The Indus Script: Texts, concordance and tables, which
compiled detailed images of works that had been found until then.
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Any claim from an Indian scholar becomes suspect
because one immediately asks what is the mother
tongue or political affiliation of the scholar.
in English and there is one character
which occurs with 10 percent of
total frequency, then that must be
'e'. There are other restrictions. In
some languages, certain sounds do
not occur in the beginning. There are
other languages where certain
combinations of consonants are not
permitted, and so on. Applying these
three tests, I can say that none of
the decipherments so far have
passed all the tests.
Is research on the Indus
civilisation active at the
There is very little interest in the
Indus script in the West - there are
very few people working on the
Indus script around the world. The
one exception is India, but research
in India has gotten inextricably
mixed up with politics: the Hindu
nationalistic scholars claim the
language is Sanskrit, while the Tamil
nationalistic scholars claim it to be
a form of Dravidian. Both claims
have become suspect because of
their political background. Any claim
from an Indian scholar becomes
suspect because one immediately
asks what is the mother tongue or
political affiliation of the scholar. A
scholar from another country is
happily free of this problem. I
envy that
freedom, but I too have an
advantage: I am a son of the soil.
The traditions of India, its
mythology, its religions, its culture,
its art, are in my blood, and
therefore I may have insights which
people who are not the inheritors
of this culture may not have. This is
a subjective reaction, but such
resources as we have must be put
to best use.
Does the 2006 discovery of
the Neolithic stone axe at
Sembiyan Kandiyur in Tamil
Nadu extend the area of
influence of Indus
Let me first say that this is the
greatest epigraphical and
archaeological discovery made in
Tamil Nadu in the recent past. Two
stone axes were discovered
accidentally by a school teacher
who was digging in his backyard to
plant banana saplings. One of the
axes is incised with four graffiti-like
marks. Fortunately he gave the
axes to his friend, a trained
archaeologist. The inscribed stone
was brought to me, and I was
immediately able to identify the
four characters as being in the
Indus script.
But one can have
differences of opinion in
interpreting the signs. As the
axe was found in the lower
Kaveri Valley, where there are
no hills, it could not have
been made locally. So it
must have come by trade.
The nearest Neolithic
centres in Tamil Nadu are
in Dharmapuri District,
adjoining Kamataka,
and it is known that
Harappans were in
contact with
Kamataka because
the gold in the
ornaments of
Mohenjodaro is supposed to have
come from there. And we also
know about the existence of
Daimabad, a Harappan site in the
Godavari Valley, in Andhra Pradesh.
So it is not farfetched to think that
late Harappan influence could
have spread to Tamil Nadu also.
One thing I would like to
emphasise is that it is only in Tamil
Nadu, and nowhere else in India,
that the particular sign which I
have identified as muruku occurs
continuously. With the exception of
a single seal found at Vaishali in
Bihar, nowhere in India has this
particular sign recurred in the post-
Harappan period. Therefore I do
think it is a continuation ofthe
earlier tradition, and it is likely that
a religious symbol would have
survived. It is quite possible that
after the Indus script was forgotten
and was no longer a system of
connected writing, individual
symbols, particularly those which
were considered to be divine, have
persisted - such as the swastika
and the muruku symbols.
Will Pakistani experts who
are working in the
Mohenjodaro and Harappa
regions be welcomed at the
Indus Research Centre?
Why not? I think our colleagues in
Pakistan should be invited to
deliver talks on their latest
discoveries and share their
experiences with the people here.
Similarly, there are people in Sri
Lanka who are interested in the
Indus script. There is also the
question as to whether the Brahmi
script, which is the parent script of
all Southasian scripts, is itself
derived from the Indus script. The
idea is not far-fetched, and
requires looking into. Scholars
from countries like Sri Lanka,
Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia
would all be interested to join in
the investigations. What is
required is a truly free academic
atmosphere - free of bias,
nationalistic or linguistic, and with
a commitment to get at the truth
wherever it may lead. A
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
C K Lai
The governed seek consent
Socialism in villages,
Capitalism in towns,
In office, feudalism:
Authoritarianism at home.
- Bharat Bhushan Agrawal in
Ulna wah sooraj hai
Lahore is an intense city, one that
overwhelms every one of a visitor's
senses. On the road, every vehicle seeks
to overtake the one in front, while the
frontrunners are equally determined to stay
ahead. Drivers honk in unison to warn cars
coming from the other direction, who in turn
hoot back to demand their right of way.
Taking a walk along the busy Liberty
Market roundabout is a particular experience
for the nose itself. The combined stench of
open sewers, overflowing waste containers
and roadside eateries is overpowering,, which
mixes with the strong odour of rotting carrots
and crushed sugarcane emanating from the
juice shops. Whiffs of cologne waft from nattily
dressed office-goers hurrying past burger
outlets. Extravagantly dressed housewives
shopping for jewellery reek of attar.
The light, sound, sight and smell of the
Spring Festival at Race Course Park create an
even more compelling impression. The hustle
and bustle of a^narkali Market remains
undiminished till midnight. Onlv the Lahore
Fort and the Shalimar Garden still maintain
the serenity and grandeur of their imperial
heyday. All in all, Lahore is a quintessential
Southasian city - languid, boisterous, pensive
and impulsive all at the same time.
Southasians from every part of the region feel
instantly at home in this city of the Sikh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, whose empire once
extended from the banks of the Jamuna to the
Khyber, from Kashmir to Multan.
The long-overdue meeting of South .Asians
for Lluman Rights, a Track-11 initiative of some
eminent Southasians, finally met in March.
Some SAHR participants also found
themselves with a ringside view on police
excesses against protesting lawyers,, which
took place immediately in front of the
provincial assembly close to the venue of the
conference. Below the city's apparent calm,
resentment against General Pervez Musharraf
had been building among professionals and
the middle class, lt erupted over a routine case
of impertinence from the generalissimo.
Executive intervention in Pakistan's judiciary
has a long history, where 'telephone justice',
dictated by influential generals, is known to
have been read out by loyal judges in the
courts. But the recent forced 'inactivation' of
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
enraged even docile jurists. Even as police
mercilessly beat up protestors, defiance of
Gen Musharraf's absolute rule had
snowballed throughout Pakistan;
nonetheless, the general population still
seems surprisingly apathetic to the drama
being played out in front of its eyes.
Something even more worrying has taken
place on the other side of the Subcontinent, in
Bangladesh. In Dhaka over recent months, the
military has quietly taken over, put a puppet
on the throne, pushed politics to the back
burner, and begun consolidating its hold over
the state - with hardly any voice raised in
protest. This young nation is otherwise
known for massive rallies held for or against
everv decision that affect the people's lives, lt
has been surprising, then, that postponement
of general elections for an indefinite period
has been greeted with a wall of silence. In
fact, the comfortable classes of Gulshan have
heaved a sigh of relief, Perhaps this was
exactlv what they had longed tor during the
cacophonic regimes of the warring Begums:
no more hartals, few politicians to put up
with, and the reassuring shadow of military
fatigues. Democratic deficit - dysfunctional
institutions, dishonest individuals and
discriminatory systems - appears to have
given birth to indifference, if not animosity,
towards popular rule in a large section of the
Southasian population.
The intelligentsia of Southasia is faced
with a perplexing predicament. It knows that
the aberrations of democracy can only be
removed with more and better democracy. But
an influential section of the bourgeoisie has
developed a taste for certainties of
dictatorship. This is the constituency that has
given rise to one after another military
strongman in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Unless this group is convinced that its long-
term interests lie with the rest of the people,
the fate of democracy will continue to hang
in  balance.   The  daunting  challenge  of
Run like feudal
estaies by
leading figures,
political parties
repel youngsters
of elite talents
and egalitarian
beliefs, who then
veer towards the
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Edwin Weeks's
"An Open-Air
Lahore", 1889
formulating a political agenda that appeals
to the masses and the classes alike will
test the mettle of party leadership in the
coming days.
Intimate enemies
The other challenge that will determine the
fate of ireedom will be the ability of inimical
political parties to work together and create a
support base that extends beyond parochial
boundaries. The days of one or two
domineering political parties straddling the
scene seem to be over. As multiple parties
carve out their areas of influence, only their
coalition-building abilities can sustain tbe
system of democratic governance.
In its pre-Indcpendence heyday, the Indian
National Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru
was an umbrella organisation that
accommodated all the varying class,
community, regional and cultural aspirations
of different population groups. Mohammad
Ali Jinnah challenged its hegemony bv
appropriating the agenda of Muslim Indians.
But post-Partition, the Qaid decided that he
needed to be magnanimous towards
minorities to ensure the stability and
prosperity of his newfound country. The
legatees of his political heritage lacked this
foresight, however, and failed to maintain
Pakistan's unity.
The Indian National Congress also
disintegrated under Indira Gandhi, as
disgruntled satraps of the Nehru era went
their separate ways. Ttiis was the period when
regional parties professing provincial
agendas rose up spectacularly, particularly
in peninsular India. Indians are in the process
of overcoming that medieval urge of
organising exclusively along communal or
caste lines, as Akalis field Hindu candidates
in Punjab, the Dalit-based Bahujan Samaj
Party has more Brahmin and Thakur leaders
than any other political outfit in Uttar Pradesh,
and Lalu Prasad Yadav tries hard to overcome
his rustic Yadav image.
Indian politics have come full circle. Parties
in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Punjab or Manipur are
provincial, but regional rather than
communal. Local supporters identify with the
party they vote for to the extent that they are
willing to kill or die for it. The leaderships of
al) these parties are alike, their support bases
are similar, their agendas overlap and they
all speak a near-identical political language.
And so they compete with each other without
animosity, and show civility towards each
other when thev meet outside the electoral
arena. Unfortunately, this culture has vet to
take root in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan,
where contesting parties hate each other more
than thev abhor non-political usurpers.
Even when Dhaka's two warring Begums
are present at the same soiree, thev tend to
hold court at opposite corners. Similarly, in
Pakistan, for the Begum from Oxford, Mian
Nawaz Sharif is merely an arriviste, while the
erstwhile trader of Lahore considers his
Sindhi competitor unnecessarily haughty.
Aware of these cleavages, the military brass
of both countries keep deepening the rifts by
planting agent provocateurs in competing
camps. One of the main reasons behind the
success of the anti-monarchy movement in
Nepal was the unity of purpose forged
between the Seven Party Alliance and the
Maoists. The moment that weakens, however,
the future of democracy in Nepal too will go
the way of Bangladesh's.
Run like feudal estates by leading figures,
Southasia's political parties repel youngsters
of elite talents and egalitarian beliefs, who
then veer towards the non-governmental
organisations. Most political parties of the
region have lately become anaemic, as youths
form non-political platforms to pursue
agendas of social change. The problem with
this model, however, is that managerial
operations can seldom function as
manipulator, mediator and moderator of
conflicting aspirations common to all
emerging societies. The full impact of NGO-
tsar Muhammad Yunus and his new dNagorik
Shakti (Citizen's Power) party in Bangladesh
remains to be seen, but if it does manage to
consolidate moderate forces, the rest will
probably gravitate towards Islamic extremism.
The unintended consequences of running a
multi-cultural state as one would a
business enterprise can be too horrendous
to contemplate.
Democratic politics constitute the first
casualty of the search for certainties. To
dissuade the intellectual elite of Southasia
from the fatal charms of formulaic solutions,
it would be yvorthwhile to let it meander
through its throbbing cities and isolated
villages. The societies of the Subcontinent are
too complex to fit any particular ism or model
evolved from the unique experience of some
faraway European country. But no s\rstem of
governance can survive for long if it fails to
institute credible mechanisms of acquiring the
consent of the governed. That is the clear
message of the bustling streets of Lahore, for
anyone willing to listen. -i
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
The trial of U Thein Zan, a b.^-year-old retired
Burmese sailor who was arrested for satirising
government newspapers in early March, was deferred
to the end of the month by a court in Rangoon. Thein
Zan, who makes his living repairing radios and tape
recorders, had been moved to outrage on the morning
of 23 February bv the contradiction between the
escalating prices of essential commodities on the
market and the propaganda in the junta-run papers.
These assured readers that economic and social
conditions in Burma were indeed improving, and that
those who opposed the state were just a small group of
troublemakers. Thein Zan had then cut out a number
of headlines from the government papers and pasted
them on his fence, alongside bits of his own
lampoonery. At 11 that morning, after the fence
attracted the attention of more than 100 people, police
arrived, removed the clippings, and took the artist to
the local council office. A salute to U Thein Zan, who
dared make an individual statement, completely
unprotected, against a harsh and reactive state.
Meanwhile, on 12 March, Burmese journalist U Win
Tin, imprisoned since 1989 on charges of anti-state
activities, turned 77 in prison. Win Tin, the former
editor-in-chief of the daily Hnnthmonti and a senior
member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for
Democracy, is one of the longest-serving detained
journalists in the world. Currently being held in a cell
designed for military dogs,
Win Tin's poor health has
been exacerbated by vears of
torture. Originally shortlisted in July 2006 for early
release, the ailing journalist,
who has repeatedly refused
to sign a statement that he
will give up political
activities upon his discharge,
has been told that he is not
entitled to such favours, as he
has not yet fulfilled the
requirement of hard labour,
opinion is all but completely in favour of unethical
land acquisition and police brutality. After more than
a dozen people were killed in police firing in
Nandigram on 14 March, fhe Hindu reported that,
"Violence erupted as the mob hurled stones at the
police," leading the police to open fire on the "violent
crowd". Chhetria Patrakar also notices the virtual
disappearance of the worthy ,^rundhati Roy and
Medha Patkar from the pages of The Hindu - the one
publication in which their demands for land-for-land
rehabilitation in the Narmada Valley had been given
extensive coverage. All that was well and good, but
how dare thev criticise the CPM?!
The staff at the People's Democracy might as well be
given the golden handshake. Why should the
Communist Party of India (.Marxist) throw away
precious resources on its official weekly organ, when
it has The Hindu doing the job for it? Why should anyone
visit the CPI (Yl)'s rather drab website for FAQs on
Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal, when they
can read editorials in The Hindu instead? Not content
with infusing news reports, editorials and op-eds with
apologies for Chief Minister Buddhadeb
Bhattacharjee's blunders over land acquisition for
industry, the newspaper has even encroached upon
its Letters to the Editor. A series of messages published
- incidentally, from states thousands of kilometres from
West Bengal - would have readers believe that public
Following   almost   four
months in illegal
detention, Mawbima
journalist Munusamy
Parameshawary was
released on 22 March,
after all charges against
her were dropped. Sri
Lankan and international
press freedom organisations launched a campaign for her release after
Parameshawary, 23, was detained by the Terrorist
Investigation Division (T1D) on 24 November.
Parameshavvary's arrest followed her coverage of
human rights violations in Sri Lanka's north and east,
as well as disappearances in Colombo.
Yet the troubles of the Sinhala weekly Mawbima
(officially labelled pro-LTTE soon after its launch in
July 2006, for having exposed human-rights violations
in the north and east, and for having revealed
corruption in government departments) have by no
means ended. In a letter to all ambassadors and heads
of foreign missions in the country, Kuruwita Bandara,
editor of Mawbima and Hana Ibrahim, editor oi the
weekly English-language Suudai/ Standard, wrote: "On
March 13, the accounts of the Standard Newspapers
Private I Td were sealed. This will effectively force both
tlie Mazvbima and the Sunday Standard to stop
publishing in the near future. In Sri Lanka's long and
troubled history there has never been such a frontal
attack of such intensity on a mainstream mass
circulation newspaper. Actions taken by you at this
moment will plav a critical role in helping us
carry out our role as disseminators of free expression
in this country."
No matter that on 8 March, International Women's
Day, women MPs in both houses of India's Parliament
could get no more than the customary, insipid
'assurances' with regards to the introduction of tlie
Women's Reservation Bill, pending now for over a
decade, lust one glance at the picture accompanying
the article in The Hindu (right to left: Delhi Chief
Minister Sheila Dixit, actor Preitv Zinta, and Prime
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Minister Manmohan
Singh's wife Cursharan
Kaur, all looking rather
victorious) and women's-
rights activists should
know that the future of
gender equity in India is
in safe hands. Don't be
picky, sisters!
; State governments across India did not miss the
opportunity to mark the day either, releasing scores of
ads in national dailies in promotion of various
programmes. The Eaadli Laxmi scheme for girls'
education was one ("for the common man's [sic]
daughter"); another was the Codh Bharai project for
the complete care of pregnant women, who were going
to be gifted sindoor, bangles and bindis (along with
iron tablets, one presumes), Whatever happened to the
Muslim, Sikh and Christian Indian woman?
And then there was T F Thekkekara, managing
director and the State Women Development
Corporation of Maharashtra, urging in an Indian
Express op-ed that parents of a girl should be issued a
tamper-proof 'Gold Card' that would make them
eligible not only for tax deductions and extra kerosene
rations, but also for 50 percent of allotments of petrol
pumps, gas agencies, ration shops, industrial plots,
housing plots, telephone and gas connections, and
licences for autorickshaws, taxis, bus services and
other transport vehicles. Whoa!
Tco liege"
The Himalayas, India, self-exploration,
knowledge, skills, lectures, discussions,
practical work, field trips, demonstrations,
presenlations and other interactions...
Gap Year College
S1DH, Hazelwood Cottage, P.O. Box 19.
Landour Cantt., Mussoorie 248179. Uttarakhand, India
Tel: 91.135.6455203. 91.9219594203
Application deadline: May 15, 2007.
While we're at it, we have to admit that other Indian
newspapers devoted their column inches to the real
issues: companies expressing their appreciation of
women on their special day. The Life Insurance
Corporation of India presented its exclusive new
policy for women ("you always cared for others, now
a policy that cares for you"). Nokia, celebrating the
spirit of today's woman, showcased its new models
of phones (Nokia 6300 - slim yet powerful, Nokia
E65 - many more reasons to show it off). Now, now,
women, stop whining about the triple burden.
The Times of India told us that Kaipana Sarees was
offering hefty discounts to women who "dared to bare
their age". Walk in with an age certificate, and walk
out with a discount adding up to the sum of your
birth date. "God is a man" revealed Whirlpool
appliances, while women were "God's angels on
earth", who do his job for him: listen, understand
and make the world a better place. Of course, we
concede that if god owned Whirlpool washing
machines, fridges, microwave ovens and
dishwashers, his job would have been much easier.
And just in case you missed all the action in print,
you could have gone online and sent a free e-card
wishing someone a "wonderful women's day",
courtesy the Grameen Foundation. Thank you,
Yunus Dada!
This March, The Bhutan Reporter, a monthly
newspaper brought out by Bhutani journalists living
in the refugee camps of southern Nepal, closed down
due to lack of funds. Since the newspaper began
publication in 2004, it had been a source of respite to
the 100,000-strong refugee community, the vast
majority of which is restricted to the camps in Jhapa
and Morang districts and has no means of livelihood
or of getting an education past high school. The paper
had a monthly print run of 1000, and had been
running on the basis of voluntary work and funds
raised in the camps.
The last issue of the Reporter, published in
February, contained, among other things, a
celebration of the revision of the Bhutan-India
Friendship Treaty of 1949, several accounts of arrests
of Bhutani exiles in Bhutan, a report of a fight between
refugees and the Nepali police in the Goldhap camp,
pictures of high-scoring refugee students, and a small
box item that demanded the return of the Duars to
Bhutan from India.
This might be the time also to remember the
remarkable Bhutan Review, a sophisticated tabloid
published only during the first half of the 1990s,
which exposed all the misstatements emerging from
Thimpu at the time on the refugee issue.
- Chhetria Patrakar
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
What do women writers talk
about? If the South Asian
Women Writers' Colloquium
held in New Delhi recently is anything
to go by, the answer is: everything. The
subjects discussed at the 21-23
February meet included revolution
and relationships, politics and pain,
gender and genocide, markets and
mothers, caste and creativity,
language and loneliness, form and
family, success and struggle, poverty
and privilege, roots and rootless-ness.
The colloquium brought together
over 40 writers of fiction, poetry and
creative non-fiction, as well as
journalism and academic writing, in
at least 13 languages, from five
countries of the region and farther
afield. The hybrid event, dubbed "The
Power of the Word", addressed
concerns about literature and society,
globalisation and culture, censorship
and human rights. Its main aim was
to explore the diverse forms of
censorship faced by writers in general,
and women writers in particular.
Discussions at the colloquium,
organised by Women's World India,
moved between the intellectual and
the emotional, as writers addressed
both the personal and the political. The
dialogue revolved around four
intersecting themes. The first, 'Writing
in a time of siege', raised questions
about writers' responsibility towards
society, especially in times of conflict,
war, displacement and dislocation. The
second, 'Closing spaces in an open
market', enabled participants to
scrutinise the so-called openness of
the apparently globalised literary
market. In the third session, titled
'Exclusionary practices', writers
examined the impact of caste, class,
sexuality, ethnicity and other markers
of difference - in addition to gender -
on literary acceptability. The final
session, 'The guarded tongue',
highlighted the role of family,
community and other affiliations in the
determination of literary content.
Perhaps expectedly, religion-based
identity emerged as a major issue,
cutting across countries and faiths.
Referring to the peculiar situation of
the Muslim woman writer today,
Karachi-born Kamila Shamsie
highlighted the increasingly
widespread "hijab or mini-skirt"
syndrome, under which she herself
becomes representative of
something in vogue even as the
context in which she is viewed
shrinks. "In the West people want to
talk to me exclusively about Islam and
terrorism - anything else is seen as
less important ... I am expected to
deal with 'Muslim issues' whether or
not I want to," she said. Ameena
Hussein of Sri Lanka, on the other
hand, pointed to the "cloud of self-
censorship" hanging over her as a
member of a community under siege.
Ahmedabad-based Saroop Dhruv
and Esther David discussed the
painful experience of living and writing
in a segregated city and a polarised
society. Dhruv, who recalled the
official and unofficial censorship, as
well as the literary and social boycott,
that she has suffered in her home
state, Gujarat, says she now plans to
write   in   Hindi   rather   than   in
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 1 will guard my tongue for a whiie, and un-guarri it
when I find the idiom to express myself about the world
I see around me.'
Gujarati, so that she can be read
outside the state. David, a Jew whose
ancestral home sits on the tense
border between a Muslim-dominated
area and an aggressively Hindu
neighbourhood, recently reluctantly
moved to a less troubled part of
the city; she now wonders whether
she will be able to write in her new,
alien environment.
Kannada writer Vaidehi, whose
large family always comprised the
world in which she wrote, has also not
been able to insulate herself from fhe
communal tension seeping into her
corner of Kamataka. "For two years I
have not written a line," she
confessed. "Of course, every writer
has to take a break once in a while.
But that is not the real reason why I
have become dumb ... The seeds of
the events in Gujarat seem to be
everywhere, in everybody. I have
reached a turning point in my writing.
I will guard my tongue for a while, and
un-guard it when I find the idiom to
express myself about the world I see
around me."
Then, of course, there was Taslima
Nasrin, who has lived in exile for more
than 12 years, after a non-bailable
arrest warrant was issued against her
for advocating a gender-just, uniform
civil code in her native Bangladesh.
That development was famously
preceded by the fatwa against her,
and the banning of her book Lajja -
thefirst in a series of official bans that
have ensured that her books are
unavailable in her home country and
that at least one cannot be sold in
West Bengal, where she now lives on
temporary visas that have to be
periodically renewed. Lionised by the
Hindu right as long as she criticised
conservative Islamic practices. Nasrin
is now out of favour with them for
having begun to oppose Hindutva.
Global maramari
A key concern flagged by several
participants was the cultural impact
of globalisation and, especially, the
rise of English as a world language -
the language of power. Bengali
writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen observed
that English is increasingly
overpowering the identity of Indian
literature, which is often reduced,
especially in international circles, to
works in English by a few writers
based in the country and many more
from the diaspora (See Himal
December 2006, "The inheritance
of stereotype").
Acknowledging that the urban,
educated, middle-class readership is
indeed shifting to English, Telugu
writer Volga emphasised the large
potential audience for regional-
anguage writing among the newly
educated. This group is currently not
being catered to, she said, because
the public library system is dying from
neglect, and few booksellers operate
in rural areas. Referring to the many
innovative methods used by private
companies to sell consumer
products in the rural market, Volga
suggested that writers and publishers
also have to evolve imaginative
strategies to make literature in loca
languages accessible to emerging
groups of readers.
A contentious debate on language
was sparked off by Tamil writer
Bama's assertion about her use ofthe
Dalit dialect, which conservative
readers and critics often view as
"bawdy, too earthy, unsuitable and
unworthy" for use in literature. When
some writers suggested that a
glossary was necessary to make such
writing comprehensible to readers
familiar with the more standard
literary version of their respective
languages, US feminist writer Gloria
Sfemem pointed out that several
translators of Alice Walker's
The Colour Purple have used the
language of similarly disadvantaged
communities in their own countries
to retain the flavour of the original.
Several writers identified as
serious problems the influence
of   marketing  considerations  on
publishing decisions, and the impact
of the impersonal, centralised
selection of books by corporate
bookstores. Interestingly, even those
who have benefited from the
'opening up' of the global market for
writing from the region see the
downside of their present currency.
Kamila Shamsie, whose books have
been published in 15 countries and
translated into 12 languages, recently
learned that another writer had been
turned down by a leading UK-based
publisher on the grounds that the firm
already had two non-British Muslim
writers. "I was one of those two
writers," she said. "First I felt
embarrassed and guilty, and then i
was furious ... Such segmentation of
the marketplace creates divisions
among writers."
While Malayalam writer Anitha
Thampi suggested that "women's
writing, like Dalit writing, has become
a much-wanted commodity in the
literary market," Bengali writer
Mandakranta Sen suggested that this
"open market believes in controlled
liberation". Sen spoke from her
experience of having been welcomed
and lauded as long as she produced
"sweet and spicy dishes and served
them hot", and having lost her self-
proclaimed patrons as she grew
into a creative writer with both
"consciousness and conscience".
According to her. "Women, who have
always been treated by patriarchy as
commodities, are now being sold in a
smarter package, more colourfu
and attractive, complete with
a manufacturer's seal and an
expiry date."
Geetanjali Shree. who writes in
Hindi, proposed that what is currently
taking place is really a maramari - a
battle for spaces. "If the market seeks
to direct and influence me," she
argued, "I too seek to shape the
market. I play my own games to turn
the market around to suit me. to open
shop for my own product: and I feel
happy to be in the curio shop for rare
items rather than in the more popular.
simple, easy-appeal stores."
Writing under siege
Writers have also been involved in
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 more physical battlegrounds.
Speaking about the role played by
writers during Nepal's People's
Movement of April 2007,
Manjushree Thapa pointed out that
it Is always difficult to write in the
middle of a revolution: "Every word
is politicised and every loyalty is
questioned. For writers ... the
challenge is to overcome the
impediments to speaking out. For it
is not the speaking that harms, but
the silence."
In present-day Sri Lanka, however,
speaking out can be lethal. Sunethra
Rajakarunanayake described
posters that openly stated, "Marxist
Tigers, Media Tigers and NGO Tigers
should be killed" - as a warning to
those who dared to see the ongoing
ethnic conflict from a Tamil
perspective. According to fellow Sri
Lankan Anoma Rajakaruna, the
country's Prevention of Terrorism Act
makes the message even clearer: "If
you don't guard your tongue, we
cannot guarantee your security."
An important leitmotif throughout
For several writers, censorship began at home while
they were still children and adolescents, as they penned
romantic stories or maintained secret diaries.
the interactions was the role of the
family in determining what women
write and do not write, or at least
what they publish and do not publish.
For several writers, censorship began
at home while they were still children
and adolescents, as they penned
romantic stories or maintained
secret diaries. While some have
managed to break free of those old
binds, others admitted that they were
still struggling to find a balance
between expressing themselves
candidly and not causing hurt to
those around them. Still others -
such as Neeman Sobhan, a
Bangladeshi writer based in
Rome - have consciously decided to
remain, for now, "a scribbler of
poems with folded wings, a writer of
silences, and of books unwritten".
According to fellow Bangladeshi
Shabnam Nadiya, "It is the mom-
looking-over-the shoulder syndrome
that I find most insidious." While a
formal ban can cause despair and
frustration, she said, at least it is overt
and identifiable. "But what about
the other thing, the silencing that has
so little formal expression but is
In the end, each writer finds her
own path. "I write only under siege,"
said Feryal Ali Gauhar of Pakistan. "It
is only possible for me to write from
deep anguish." But according to her
compatriot Fahmida Riaz, who lived
in self-imposed exile for years in
India to avoid cases against her as
the editor and publisher of a
socio-political magazine, "My way of
giving myself some support as a
writer is to organise and get more
women to write ... we don't always
fail and flounder - sometimes
we succeed." £
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Himal Southasian | April 2007
More mythology
Despite its good intentions, this 2005 Chinese film on Tibet falls
into the same traps as ali the other outside depictions.
I first saw Chinese director Lu Chuan's critically
acclaimed Tibetan film Kekexili: Mountain Patrol in
the unlikely environs of an ornate 19th-century opera
house in the Brazilian city of Manaus, deep in the
Amazon. The occasion was the 2nd Amazonas Film
Festival, in which a film I had co-directed, Dreaming
Lhasa, was also participating. Stumbling out of the
packed theatre into the steaming, tropical heat of the
city - for all intents and purposes, a million miles from
the icy wastes of the Tibetan plateau where I had spent
the last 90 minutes - my mind was abuzz with
conflicting emotions.
There is no doubt that Lu Chuan is a talented
filmmaker. Mountain Patrol is a deftly crafted, gritty
and uncompromising tale of greed and heroism set
within a larger theme of man versus nature. It follows
a band of Tibetan vigilantes, led by the noble and
single-minded Ri Tai, as it sets out across the
forbidding northern plains of Tibet in pursuit of a gang
of murderous poachers who have killed one of its men
and left behind a trail of slaughtered chirus -
endangered Tibetan antelopes. As the film progresses,
the viewer realises that the point is not so much the
tracking down of the hunters, as it is tlie journey itself.
Ri Tai's uncompromising search leads to the death
of several of his men - killed not by their enemy but by
the harsh vagaries of nature itself, which does not
differentiate between those who seek to exploit her and
those who are trying to protect her. The end, when it
comes, is swift, brutal and unexpected. The
camerawork brilliantly captures the harsh and majestic
landscape of the high plateau, which is as much a
character in the film as are the human protagonists.
So why did the film leave me with such a sense of
As a Tibetan filmmaker born and brought up in exile,
I have constantly tried in my work to present a more
realistic view of Tibet, and to refute the esoteric 'Shangri
La' image that has found currency in the Western
imagination. Martin Scorsese's Kundun, Jean-Jacques
Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet, Eric Valli's Himalaya
(also titled Caravan) and Pan Nalin's Samsara have all
exploited and perpetuated this myth to their own ends.
It struck me that Mountain Patrol is finally no different
from these films in that it, too, mythologises Tibet, albeit
from an interesting perspective.
A remarkable naivete
The majority of Han Chinese today is unaware of the
political and military events that led to Tibet's
annexation in 1959, having been brainwashed into
believing that this remote land was always an integral
part of its country. In reality, there was literally no
Chinese presence in Tibet before the takeover. But this
changed rapidly. Initially, only those Chinese who
were compelled to relocate as part of the colonising
effort - military personnel and civil servants - settled
in Tibet. Then, lured by government incentives, waves
of poor migrants from the mainland began to pour in,
setting up small businesses and gradually
transforming the demographic make-up ofthe country.
Today, Han Chinese outnumber Tibetans in most major
cities and towns of Tibet.
But it is only recently that a very different type of
mainland Chinese has begun to show interest in Tibet.
Artists, filmmakers, writers and spiritual seekers, not
to mention tourists, have begun to flock to the area,
drawn by its natural beauty and its Buddhist culture
and tradition. Something akin to the interest in Tibet
and Tibetan Buddhism that developed in the West
decades ago seems to be developing in China today.
The first Chinese film to look at Tibet through a new,
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 more personal perspective - one not
tainted by official propaganda - was
probably Tian Zhuangzhuang's
1986 film, The Horse Thief. Although
groundbreaking for a Chinese film
dealing with Tibet in that it takes a
realistic and documentary-like
approach to the lives of Tibetan
nomads, it nonetheless succumbs to
a romanticised and condescending
view of the place and its culture.
Sadly, nearly two decades
later, Mountain Patrol falls into a
similar trap.
The main protagonists in both The
Horse Thief and Mountain Patrol fit a
stereotype popular in films about
Tibet - that of the silent, noble savage. This is no
accident. In the absence of any genuine understanding
of Tibetans or their culture, it is easier to see them as
archetypes. Lu Chuan unconsciously confirms this in
an interview about the film: "Actually, my personal
experiences with the Tibetans weren't like everyone
said they would be; they're alert, but they're actually
very open - if they felt your sympathy. When I d irected
them, they accepted me and cooperated with me.
They're that kind of people, like Native Americans and
Eskimos; as minorities, they're able to preserve their
purity, their nature." This upbeat view, not only of
Tibetans but also of Native Americans and Eskimos,
betrays a remarkable naivete, and not a little arrogance,
towards the so-called minorities.
This perception of Tibetans as a kind of
anthropological curiosity is reinforced in this excerpt
from a journal kept by a Chinese journalist, Teng
Jingshu, who followed Lu Chuan for a few days during
the shoot:
After a few rounds of drinks, the natives started to
sing in their language, one after another. As the song
came to its climax, everyone would hit their bowls with
their chopsticks and sing together. All of a sudden, I felt
like I had understood the true meaning of the movie, I felt
euphoric, as if my soul had been set free. The rest of us
started to sing in response to the natives.
It is not surprising, therefore, that although the
portrayal of Tibetans in Mountain Patrol is sympathetic,
it is essentially one-dimensional and patronising. In
this, Lu Chuan is no different from a Western filmmaker
such as Eric Valli, who offers a similar, taciturn-yet-
heroic stock character in Himalaya, a film that also uses
a superficial Tibetan motif to explore the relationship
between human and nature.
Sky burial
This facile engagement with Tibet in films is even more
pronounced when it comes to representations of the
country's Buddhist culture. For
example, a scene of a 'sky burial' -
the Tibetan custom of chopping up
their dead and feeding the parts to
vultures - is de rigueur for any film
purporting to reveal the 'real Tibet'.
This ritual, with its suggestion of the
macabre commingled with the
deeply spiritual, never fails to
titillate tlie novice Tibet aficionado.
Horse Thief has such a scene. So does
Kundun. Valli dwells on it in
Himalaya. Neither can Lu Chuan
resist the temptation, and in
Mountain Patrol viewers are treated
to yet another sequence of limbs
being hacked off and thrown to
waiting vultures.
But the stereotyping of Tibetan culture is only one
of Mountain Patrol's flaws. More disturbing is the fact
that there is absolutely no context to the film. It is set in
a Tibet that is curiously apolitical. There is no
indication of a Chinese presence, let alone any
representation of Chinese authority. The bad guys here
are Hui Muslims. The only Chinese character in the
film - the Beijing journalist through whose eyes the
story unfolds - is neutralised by the fact that he is
half-Tibetan and can speak the local language, and is
thus soon accepted into the group.
For an audience that has no knowledge of Tibet's
recent history, the film presents the country as a
mythical Eastern version of the Wild West. Here, the
rule of the gun prevails. Bandits operate with impunity.
A man must take the law into his own hands, and
only the brave survive. Either this points to a serious
breakdown of Chinese control in Tibet - which is far
from the case - or the filmmaker has chosen to avoid
dealing with an uncomfortable reality.
Lu Chuan undoubtedly had to tread a delicate line
while making Mountain Patrol to avoid running afoul
of Beijing authorities. Although China firmly controls
Tibet, the government remains especially paranoid
about the area. Nevertheless, one would hope that as
China grows in economic strength and engages with
the world on multiple levels, a younger generation of
intellectuals - filmmakers such as Lu Chuan - would
break out of the cocoon of propaganda within which
they have been brought up, and confront the
complexities of Tibet's situation with objectivity and
reason. Sadly, on the strength of Mountain Patrol, this
is not yet the case.
In the end, it is all the more ironic that, while
Mountain Patrol focuses on the attempts of a group of
Tibetans to save the quintessentially Tibetan chiru
from being wiped out by indiscriminate hunting, the
creature itself has been adopted by China as a mascot
for the Beijing Olympics. The symbolism of this act is
stark: like Tibet, the chiru is now officially Chinese. A
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Callings of the Oriya heart
The English-language poet
Jayanta Mahapatra did not
begin writing poetry until
rather late in life, around the age of
40. At that time, English-language
poetry in India read very haltingly -
more  or  less   like  a  series  of
statements. In tne nands of the Orissd-
born Mahapatra, however, Indian
English poetry acquired a deep sense
of introspection - an exploration of
Door of Paper: Essays and memoirs
by Jayanta Mahapatra
Authorspress, 2007
the self and a new look at the
country's cultural context.
Mahapatra's poetry did not state, but
rather suggested; he was one of the
first Indian poets to be able to
manipulate the language of the
coloniser to suit his own needs. His
poetry is now being emulated by a
body of young poets from Kerala to
the Indian Northeast.
Mahapatra first received
recognition abroad. In 1971, editors
from the premier British literary journal
Critical Quarterly, upon accepting
seven of the then unknown poet's
works, told Mahapatra that they were
publishing poems from an Indian for
the first time in the magazine's 15
years of publication. Five years later,
in the US, Mahapatra received a major
award from Poetry magazine, which
was followed by the publication of his
collection A Rain of Rites by the
University of Georgia Press. That same
year, he was invited back to the US to
attend the prestigious Iowa
International Writing Program. His
magnum opus, Relationship, a long
poem that deals with the rich cultural
heritage of Orissa, was also eventually
published in the US in 1980.
Mahapatra has published 16
volumes of poems, but over the past
three decades he has also written
copious prose pieces. Those works
are now collected in the long-awaited
Door of Paper. These essays deal with
a broad spectrum of themes, from
hunger in Orissa, to the creative
process, socio-cultural conflicts, his
responses to the works of others, and
meditations on the poetic use of
mystery, silence and time. Whatever
his theme, Mahapatra's essays bear
the indelible imprint of a poet.
Since that first success in the early
1970s, Mahapatra has regularly
published poetry in Western
magazines, including the New Yorker,
the Sewanee ReWew and Poetry. But
one particular journal, London
Magazine, would never touch his
poems. His reflection on this in Door
of Paper is revealing, as to why and
how Mahapatra's poems are the way
they are:
I remember Alan Ross, the [London
Magazine] editor, having written me on
a 5 cm by 10 cm rejection slip, when he
had returned my poems, that my work
was unsuitable for publication because
it tended to be philosophic. My own
writing has always reflected an Oriya
sensibility and I have felt myself to be
an Oriya poet who happened to write in
English. I suppose our sensibility, the
Indian sensibility, is different from the
Western one and this stands in the way
of the Western reader.
Moulding the language
What Mahapatra had previously said
of the Spanish writer Camilo Jose
Cela's prose is also true of his own:
"Cela ably demonstrates a prose ...
that reads like a poem". Nearly every
piece collected in Door of Paper also
bears ample testimony to this
sentiment. Many of these essays try
to explain what he has left unsaid in
his poetry. Mahapatra, who pioneered
the type of English-language poetry
that is dominant in India today, has
been described as waging an
undeclared war against the 'poetry of"
statement' that was being widely
practised in the 1970s.
In the works collated here,
Mahapatra undertakes to fill in some
ofthe gaps inherent to that process -
exploring his own unconscious, and
sorting through the disparate
elements that determined the
character of his art. Mahapatra says
that he "never realised the
implications of what [he] was doing
... But I ask myself: what use is a poem
if it is easily understood, if there is a
straightforward working of the words
of the poem, more in the manner of
statement? True poetry, perhaps, has
always lent itself to an indirect
approach and where one returns to
an overwhelming absence." This "true
poetry" ultimately "liberates" the poet
(and hopefully the reader), giving him
an inner "freedom."
In order to express a heightened
feeling, a poet uses a heightened
language, a sublimated one. If need
be, Mahapatra says, he also "moulds"
that language to suit his need to forge
a new direction, and he himself did
so using a language that "came
naturally" to him. Mahapatra has
previously noted that he started
writing in English simply because he
was educated in an English-medium
school. He now suggests that, in the
beginning, he wrote his poetry in
English because of a fascination for
the language, and that his vocabulary
came from being a voracious reader
of fiction.
A lifelong college physics professor
in Orissa, Mahapatra indeed acquired
a stupendous appetite for reading
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 early in life. Preliminary influences
included H Rider Haggard and R M
Ballantyne, as well as the French
novelist Roger Martin du Gard's Jean
Barois, which he recalls "showed
me how to be true to myself more
than any dogmatic teaching of religion
can ... I could go on to question
the existence of God, whom my
parents had taught me scrupulously
to believe in."
Literary nakedness
Although long recognised as a writer
in English, Mahapatra did not
become a bilingual poet until well into
the 1980s. As with Arun Kolatkar and
Dilip Chitre, however, that evolution
was not unappreciated, and his five
volumes of poetry in Oriya have
subsequently won him many
followers among young Oriya-
language poets. When Mahapatra
first turned to the language, however,
he was treated by his fellow Oriya
poets as an outsider. This was
uncomfortably similar to how he had
long been sidelined for "the criminal
act of writing in the colonial language
After long years of writing English-
language poems - that too,
successful ones - he found that he
still was not reckoned as a poet
among his own people, who largely
did not know what he was doing in his
English poetry. At that time, whatever
readership was there for this type of
work was mainly confined to
As such, he decided to try his hand
at Oriya. After writing a few poems, he
discovered that what he was doing in
Oriya - speaking of the common
people, the marginalised, in a
language intelligible to them - he
could not have managed in English.
Even if he had succeeded in doing so,
he now admits, it would not have been
communicable through English.
When Mahapatra deals with this
experience in a piece titled "The
Absence of the Absolutes", his stance
is one of both self-defence and
apology. In an attempt to understand
his own turn from one language to
another, from the acquired to that of
the mother tongue, he finds a lot that
he could not have seen at that time:
"I could now talk to the man in the
street ... I used simple, colloquial
words because my vocabulary in Oriya
is severely limited ... But I spoke with
a literal nakedness." He admits that
his Oriya poems "did not
have the sophistication of the
English ones. They were different,
complementary. Maybe these were
the poems that revealed the naked
truth in naked language, stripped of
all exaggerated aestheticism ... But
my writing in Oriya was a blow in self-
defence. I had dropped my masks."
On these and other matters,
Mahapatra's sense of humility is
great. Though he began as a poet by
writing relatively self-indulgent pieces,
Mahapatra soon began to deal
increasingly with social issues. In Door
of Paper, we find several essays that
tell of "the sadness of his land".
Indeed, Mahapatra always obeyed the
callings of his heart, which made his
poetry subjective. He says, "As a writer
I do not pretend righteousness. Only
this I am aware of - that a writer
should, first of all, be honest to
himself and to his readers." £
Himal Southasian | April 2007
Escaping 'official Marxism9
History is a slaughterhouse
- G W F Hegel
But for the suppression of
Communist International
documents from the post-
Lenin years, the subsequent series of
splits and divisions among the world's
communist parties might have been
nipped in the bud. This dynamic
cannot be blamed on the then-head
of the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union (CPSU), Nikita
Khrushchev, whose controversial
'secret speech' to a closed session of
the 20th Congress of CPSU in
1956 denounced Josef Stalin for
the personality cult he had fostered,
and for his reprisals against those
who differed from him politically
and ideologically.
The 'secret speech' was not the
only point at which the 20th Congress
saw a departure from Stalin's ideas.
On the opening day of the Congress,
Stalin had presented a report on
behalf of the CPSU's central
committee that interpreted the party's
ideology so as to allow for peaceful
transitions to socialism, and for the
extension of an olive branch to
'bourgeois nationalist' partiessuch as
the Indian National Congress. Such
interpretations seemed to suggest a
return to the ideals of Vladimir Lenin,
from whom Stalinist ideology had
made a sharp departure. Following
the Congress, CPSU veterans who
had collaborated with Stalin launched
an inner-party offensive against
Comintern and the Destiny of
Communism in India, 1919-1943:
Dialectics of real and a
possible history
by Sobhanlal Datta Gupta
Seriban, 2006
some of the major conclusions in the
report. The seeds of a schism were
thus sown that were to quickly
grow into a global phenomenon - one
of particular importance to the
Third World.
Until the opening of the
Communist International (Comintern)
archives in 1987, historians had to
depend mostly on the Comintern
journal, Imprecor, to try and
understand these inner workings.
Since then, however, researchers
have been able to uncover a
mountain of information about the
Comintern's actions around the world,
including in India. University of
Calcutta political scientist Sobhanlal
Datta Gupta's new Comintern and the
Destiny of Communism in India,
1919-1943 - which also makes use
of the archives of the Communist
Party of Great Britain and of the
private collections of a communist
veteran - is a path-breaking
contribution in this genre. In particular,
it gives new insights into revisions of
the CPSU's position on the so-called
'colonial question' - its stance on the
ComMei n »♦*} th*
D&tMy of
!tffc*y" ' P]Jt%::;"'i'7^b
struggle for liberation from
imperialism. For students of the
history of the process of national
liberation in the Subcontinent, this is
exciting material.
At the Comintern's Second
Congress, in 1920, Lenin's Theses on
National and Colonial Questions was
accepted after a lively debate on the
comparative merits of two drafts:
Lenin's and the alternative
Supplementary Thesis, drafted by the
Bengali communist M N Roy. In his
thesis. Lenin asked the communists
of the Third World to forge a
"temporary alliance" with the
bourgeoisie in the colonies for the
sake of the fight against imperialism,
even while maintaining an
"independent class role" so as not to
lose ideological orientation. Lenin
argued that the bourgeoisie in
colonies such as India had two roles
- one of conflict against colonial rule,
and another of compromise with it.
Roy, a man Datta Gupta describes as
being of "ultra-left orientation",
disagreed with Lenin, saying, "The
salvation of India doesn't lie in the
nationalist movement", and that
there could be no cohabitation with
the colonial bourgeoisie. Lenin's
democratic mindset allowed Roy's
thesis to be accepted as well, after
substantial modifications.
During his research, Datta Gupta
found that six months after Lenin's
death in January 1924, Stalin revived
Roy's Supplementary Thesis,
essentially shelving Lenin's. Though
he had been silent at the Second
Congress, Stalin now rephrased Roy's
work so as to rule out any acceptance
of native nationalists such as the
Indian National Congress as anti-
colonial forces. It thus becomes clear
how Stalin, in the name of Leninism,
led a clean departure from Lenin's
approach to communism. Datta
Gupta quotes Stalin's heretofore-
unknown comments on M N Roy's
draft: "I believe that the time has
come to raise the question of the
hegemony of the proletariat in the
liberation struggle in the colonies
such as India, whose bourgeoisie
is conciliatory [with British
imperialism]," emphasising that the
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
 victory over the conciliatory
bourgeoisie was the main condition
for liberation from imperialism. This
was a prelude to the so-called
Colonial Thesis that came out of the
Sixth Congress in 1929, in which the
Comintern, led by Stalin, decided that
the Indian bourgeoisie had
surrendered to imperialism, and
would therefore have no role in the
freedom struggle.
After 1989, those who felt the urge
to insulate themselves against the
hangover of 'official Marxism' - the
official, Stalinist-Soviet ideology of the
post-Lenin years - were grateful to the
CPSU leadership for opening up the
Comintern archives, itself a decision
that came out of the glasnost of the
Gorbachev period. A milestone in
post-1987 research on the
Comintern era was a 1992
conference, attended by Datta Gupta,
called 'The Communist International
and its National Sections', held
in the Netherlands. For the
longtime Comintern researcher, the
conference was a watershed. It was
here that Datta Gupta first began to
fathom what it would be to explore
the wealth of the Comintern
repository, an opportunity afforded to
him three years later with an offer
from The Asiatic Society in Calcutta.
In November 2002, at a seminar
hosted by Manchester University,
Datta Gupta presented a paper called
"The Comintern and the Hidden
History of Indian Communism". Here
he proposed, "It is now possible to
reconstruct the secret - the untold -
history of Indian communism by
arguing that during the Comintern
period, beneath the layer of the
official version, there was an
unofficial, suppressed, alternative
discourse of Indian communism,
unrecognised and unknown until
now." His comments referred
most importantly to the ideas of the
'Berlin group' of Indian revolutionaries,
represented by Virendranath
Chattopadhyaya, Maulana Baraka-
tullah and Bhupendranath Dutt. In a
document submitted to the
Comintern, Datta Gupta writes, these
thinkers suggested "an alternative
understanding of the strategy of anti-
imperialist struggle, which was sharply
different from Roy's position in the
sense that they looked upon
nationalism from a positive angle and
considered India primarily as an
agrarian country." The Berlin group's
ideas were not taken up, however, and
probably did not reach Lenin -
something that Comintern giants
such as Grigory Zinoviev, Nikolai
Bukharin, Leon Trotsky and Roy
himself worked to ensure.
Official Soviet ideology had
massive sway on the workings of the
world's communist parties. The
Communist Party of India (CPI), too,
blindly accepted the 'Russification' of
Comintern and its imposition on the
'sections' (affiliate communist
parties) such that the sections
became completely subservient,
despite dissension from European
parties, Lenin himself had sensed this
problem. In his report to Comintern's
Fourth Congress (1922), he praised
the resolution on the organisational
structure as "excellent", but curtly
added, "It is almost entirely Russian".
Material from the Comintern
archives seems to have unnerved the
one-million-strong Communist Party
of India (Marxist), the CPI (M). The CPI
(M)'s erstwhile general secretary.
Harkishan Singh Surjeet, wrote in the
party's journal The Marxist in 1996
that the Sixth Congress's Colonial
Thesis "bore a definite shade of
sectarianism". But one of the
arguments for splitting the CP! - and
the subsequent creation of the CPI
(M) - was the endorsement of the
same: those who had been readying
for the 1964 split had supported the
Sixth Congress thesis on the
colonies as it helped them to refute
the 'reformist' CPl's tacit support
to Nehruvians.
Nonagenarian communist theoretician Narahari Kaviraj recently
recalled to this reviewer an episode
in Calcutta's Dum Dum Central Jail
that took place after the start of the
1962 Indo-Chinese war. That conflict
had bitterly divided the CPI between
those who blamed either China or
India as the aggressor. "We asked
Muzaffar Ahmed, aka Kakababu, the
oldest communist, to take a party
class [ie, a lesson in politics and
ideology). When Kakababu defended
Stalin's characterisation of the Indian
bourgeoisie, I asked what he thought
of [Bulgarian Comintern leader
Georgi] Dimitrov's thesis, which
recommended a united front
with the Indian National Congress
against fascism. He only reiterated his
stand." Ahmed had considered
Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas
Chandra Bose to be reactionary and
pro-imperialist. His jail-time
assertion of the Sixth Congress line
was therefore consistent. Not
long afterwards, he and other like-
minded CPI members split to form
the CPI (M), a party that stuck to
Stalinist ideology.
The Indian communist movement
suffered due to a blind adherence to
Stalin and Stalinism, which ted to a
poor, sectarian understanding of the
national freedom movement and the
Indian National Congress. Marxism-
Leninism, the CPI failed to note, is
based on dialectical logic: real change
is understood to come about through
a struggle between opposing forces
- not by rigid adherence to a single,
predetermined path. In Marxism,
revolutionary perspective is
constructed through a balanced
combination of internationalism and
national specifics: no two successful
revolutions are similar. Stalin's
understanding of dialectics was
shallow and one-sided. It is of little
surprise, then, that a CPI that was
carried away by Stalinism came to
make formulations and analyses that
seem quaint and dangerous today. A
ludicrous brand of sectarianism
throttled the 'revolutionary
possibilities' ofthe Subcontinent. The
Comintern archives strongly suggest
that many socialist states failed due
to adherence to an official Marxism
created during the Stalin period.
Through studies such as Datta
Gupta's, the opening of the archives
now provides an opportunity to
salvage Marxism from 'official
Marxism', which the international
communist movement has still been
unable to overcome. ^
Himal Southasian | April 2007
 Oh, Ghalib!
Just a stone's throw from the sedate, tree-lined, high-end New Delhi
neighbourhood of Nizamuddin East is a patch of Old Delhi - one of
the places along the Jamuna that has seen the longest continuous
inhabitation. Take a turn and a dip off the road called Mathura Road,
and you are suddenly transported through time, cultures and senses. The
lane winds ahead, towards the dargah ot the Sufi saint Nizamuddin
Aulia. On the left-hand side of a plot cleared of all humanity, standing
alone behind some imposing iron bars, is the mazhar of Mirza Ghalib.
Asadullah Beg Khan (Ghalib), the foremost shayar ot Urdu, is rather
lonely here. All the excitement of this Muslim mohallah is on the outside of
the enclave, where the faithful throng on their way to the Nizammudin
dargah. With nary a thought for Ghalib, they also ignore the insistent
sellers of chadars (offerings for the shrine), caps and posters of the Swiss
Mps. Beggars here seek alms in a decidedly jocular manner.
Three cats do give Ghalib company, however, lounging about in the
harsh afternoon light. Some plastic bags whirl dervishly about in the
breeze. Nearby rises the dusty concrete block that houses the Ghalib
Academy, along with its library and the Qami Council for the Promotion
of Urdu Language. Further down fhe lane is Karim's famous Mughlai
eatery, where they claim to have been serving succulent kebabs in .an
unbroken line of ancestry that goes back to the Great Mughal himself.
Outside, in the lane, a young chaiwallah boy pours tea - extra strong,
extra milky and extra sweet - in tiny, dirty porcelain cups. Ghalib would
have liked the tea this boy pours, for sure.
What Ghalib would not have liked is the sign that announces his tomb.
It is in white-on-blue Nagari Hindi and Roman English, with Arabic.
Urdu completely absent: "Inside the marble enclosure lies the grave of the
great shayar ot Urdu and Persian Mirza Ghalib (1737-1866)..."
What would the inhabitants of this exalted corner of Delhi - Muslims
all - feel about this oversight? Perhaps they do not need to read the
signboard because they already know it is Ghalib in there. But should
they not feel somewhat agitated? Perhaps they have opted for an
existential Sufi answer, along the lines of, "Arreh sahab, what difference
does it make to anyone, least of all to Mirza Ghalib, in what language is
written the notice pointing out his mazhar? The Jamuna will continue to
flow, and those who need to understand what this place is and means,
will do so."
Well, okay, but those of us who cannot conjure the Sufistic response
must instead draft a shrill note, and send it to Mrs Sheila Dixit, Chief
Minister of Delhi. A
Dear Chief Minister Dixit:
There used to be a time when the titles of Hindostani films out of
Bombay (before it became called Bollywood) used to run in both Hindi
and Urdu. Now, Urdu has been banished. On a related matter, you as
chief minister are privileged to have the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, great
shayar of Urdu, in your great city. The signboard to the mazhar displays
notices in English and Hindi - lekhin Urdu ko kya huwa?\ Perhaps you
would like to do something about this? Pictures attached as evidence.
April 2007 | Himal Southasian
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