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Himal South Asian Volume 14, Number 4, April 2001 Dixit, Kanak Mani Apr 30, 2001

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brfepafese restaurant. in a historic arid
beautiful setting.
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 Vol 14 No 4
April 2001
Idolatry and the Taliban
Bloody brinkmanship
How not to do a South
Asian Treaty
by Dipak Gyawali &
Ajaya Dixit
Refugees of the Kosi
by Dinesh Kumar Mishra
Back to the future?
by Adrian Rehmat
Large dams under the microscope
by Himanshu Thakkar
An officer and a middleman
by Itty Abraham
A fish out of another water
by Lubna Marium
Local democracy and development
reviewed by Jayati Ghosh
Mr. Lai in the red
by Gomathy Venkateswar
 ri KBmlyamJ
Contributors to this issue
fanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas 1 Mattiew
Copy Editor
Shanuj V.C.
Contributing Editors
Colombo  Manik de Silva
Islamabad Adrian Rehmat
«wdbki Mitu varma
Prabhu Ghate
toronto  Tarik Ali Khan
Editor, IrtSA
An mote Prasad
Oiandra Khatiwada
Indra Shrestha
Bilash Rai (graphics)
Sunaina Shah
Sambhu Guragain
Nandita P. Bhatt
Awadhesh K. Das
Sekhar Chhetri
Website Manager
Anil Karki
Anil Shrestha
Marketing Office, Dhaka
Abu Shams Ahmed
Tel: +880-2-812954
rax: 911 5044
Himal is published and distributed by
Himalmedia FVt Ltd
GPO Box 7251, Kathmandu,
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edi tors@h i mai med ia .cam
market! ngiahimal media, mm
ISSN 1012 9S04
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Imagesetting at: Polyimage
Printed at: Jagadamba Press,
Tel: +977-1-521393, 536390
Ajaya Dixit is a water resource engineer who has taught at Tribhuvan University, has been a
member of the Nepal government's Water and Energy Commission, and edits the journal Wafer
Nepal. Dipak Gyawali is a hydroelectric power engineer and resource economist who has
served in Nepal's Ministry of Water Resources and is a member of the Royal Nepal Academy
of Science and Technology (RONAST). He is also the author of Water in Nepal.*
C.K. Lai is columnist with Nepali Times, Kathmandu.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra is a civil engineer based in Jamshedpur and convenor of the Barh Mukti
Abhiyan (Freedom From Floods Movement).
Gomathy Venkateswar is an educationist and principal of Malpi School, Kabhre District, Nepai.
Himanshu Thakkar is with the New Delhi-based South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers and People.
Jayati Ghosh is a Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru
University. New Delhi.
Itty Abraham is the author of The Making ot the Indian Atomic Bomb (Zed Books, 1998).
Lubna Marium is an Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholar from Bangladesh,
Yoginder Sikand is a student of Islamic history and freelance writer based in Bangalore.
*A longer version of the article, "How not to do a South Asian Treaty", can be found in the Centre for
Nepal and South Asian Studies' publication, Domestic Conflict and Crisis of Govemability in Nepal.
edited by Dhruba Kumar.
Cover picture by Mohan Mainali shows Mahakali Border River from the Nepal side just after a
monsoon shower. Designed by Bilash Rai.
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NOW THAT the Buddhas of Bamiyan have been
reduced to dust, Afghanistan finds itself all the
more isolated from the rest of the world. As if the
sanctions imposed on the country and the seemingly endless civil strife were not enough for the
hapless Afghans to bear, the sharp international
condemnation of the destruction of the Buddhas
has further diminished whatever little hope there
remained for the people of the country, among
the most forsaken in the world.
The Taliban regime's effort to rally world
Muslim opinion behind it by projecting the vandalism at Bamiyan and the large-scale destruction of artefacts in other parts of the country as
being in consonance with Islamic tenets, did not
fetch the expected support. Barring a few shrill
voices from the fringe, extremist quarters, most
Muslim countries as well as leading Islamic
scholars have voiced their strong disagreement
with the Taliban. They insist that Islam does not
allow the destruction of the places of worship of
others. "There is no compulsion in religion," says
the Holy Quran, and in destroying the Buddhas,
the Taliban are guilty of a heinous violation of
the very religion that they claim to so passionately uphold.
Those familiar with Buddhism know that idol
worship is quite foreign to the original teachings
of the Buddha, and in this, they come very close
to the Islamic position on the matter. Orthodox
Hinayana Buddhism had no place for idols of
the Buddha, depicting him in the form of symbols, instead, such as, a lotus or the wheel of the
law. Yet, over the centuries, particularly owing to
the influence of Hinduism and various Tantric
traditions, the Buddha's simple creed was turned
into an institutionalised religion, the Mahayana
or the Great Vehicle, complete with its own priesthood and deities, who came to be represented, of
which the 'historical' Buddha, became but one,
in the form of idols. An indication of the impact
of Mahayanist idolatry is that the Persian and
Urdu term for idol, but, is derived from 'Buddha'.
That idols and idol-worship are foreign to the
actual teachings of the Buddha does not, of-
course, condone what talibs have done. Since they
have invoked Islam in justifying the destruction
of the Buddhas, one must judge their actions in
the light of the teachings of Islam, and, in particular, early Islamic tradition as it evolved in South
Asia. When Islam first made its presence felt in
2001 April 14/4   HIMAL
Afghanistan and India, soon after the death of
the Prophet, the schools of Islamic law (mazaluh)
had not as yet developed. At that time, Afghanistan and India were largely Buddhist and Hindu. The Muslim armies which had taken control
of Afghanistan and parts of western India, including Sindh and Multan, were faced with a
new situation, about which the Quran and the
Traditions of the Prophet (hadith) were silent, for
the Islamic scriptures referred only to the Jews,
Christians and idol-worshipping pagans of Arabia, laying down rules for Muslims to follow in
their dealings with them.
When Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sindh
from the seaward side in 711 CE, the country was
wracked by a civil war, with the Buddhist majority labouring under the oppressive rule of Brahmins. The Chachnama, the principal extant source
on the history of Sindh in this period, says that
the Buddhists welcomed the Arab Muslims with
open arms as deliverers from the Brahminical
tyranny. Several Sindhi Buddhist tribes went
over to Islam, and in this Sindh was not alone.
It is interesting to note that those areas of South
Asia where Muslims are in considerable majority today, including the whole of Pakistan and
Afghanistan, Kashmir, parts of Bihar and the
entire eastern Bengal, were strongholds of Buddhism at the time of Islam's advent in the Subcontinent. Scores of Buddhists in these areas seem
to have willingly converted to Islam in order to
tackle the Brahminical revivalism.
Once Muhammad Bin Qasim had established
himself in Sindh he sent a letter to the Muslim
Caliph in Damascus, seeking instruction as to
how he should deal with the Hindus and Buddhists of the conquered area. The reply came that
they be treated in accordance with the Quranic
commandments relating to the People of the
Book (Ahl-i-Kitab), the Jews and the Christians.
 Accordingly, the Buddhists and the Hindus of
Sindh were to be given full freedom to practise
their faiths, and their lives and property, including temples, were to be protected. In return, they
were to pay a tax, the jizya. The old, the sick,
children and priests were to be exempted from
the tax. The non-Muslims were not obliged to
perform military service, unlike the Muslims.
Following these dictates, Muhammad Bin Qasim
thus set a precedent which several other Muslim
rulers after him followed.
By the 10th century or so, four schools of Sunni Islamic law (mazahib or maslak) had evolved,
based on the Quran, the hadith and the interpretations of the ulama. Most Muslims came to be
associated with one or the other school of jurisprudence. In South Asia, including Afghanistan,
almost all Sunnis considered themselves Hanafis,
following, in matters of fiqh (jurisprudence), the
school established by Imam Abu Hanifa. The
Hanafi jurists of the Subcontinent seemed to have
come to some sort of consensus that the Hindus
and Buddhists could be considered to be Ahl-i-
Kitab or at least as similar to it, and hence are
'protected people' or zimmis. In other words, they
believed that it was incumbent on the Muslim
rulers to protect the lives and property of their
Hindu and Buddhist subjects, and guarantee
them freedom of worship and religion. This is
clearly reflected in the voluminous fatawa literature of the Turk, Afghan and Mughal periods in
India, produced by a leading Hanafi ulama.
The Fatawa-i-Qurrakhani, one of the earliest
collections of fatawa of the Hanafi school to be
put together in India, deals in considerable detail with the question of the status of the non-
Muslim subjects under the Delhi Sultans. Compiled by Maulana Imam Yaqub Muzaffar Kirmani, this compendium was intended as a
manual for the then reigning sultan, Jalaluddin
Khilji. In response to a query as to what should
be done with the places of worship of non-Muslims in a territory ruled by a Muslim king, he
answered, "If there were any temples of the zim-
mis in their cities which have now come under
Muslim rule, then, according to the Islamic
shari'at, they should be left untouched, and the
non-Muslims should not be stopped from worshipping therein. Neither should their properties and lands be interfered with".
Likewise, the 14th century Fatazua-i-Feroze Shahi, compiled in the reign of Feroze Shah Tughlaq,
lays down that the places of worship of the non-
Muslim subjects of a Muslim sultan should not
be demolished. Moreover, the compiler of this
collection suggested, on the basis of his own reading of the shari'at, that Muslims may dine with
Hindus and may assist non-Muslims in need.
Another compilation of fatawa made in the reign
of Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the Fatawa-i-Tatar
Khamya, by the noted Hanafi scholar Alam bin
Ala, also categorically states that it is not lawful
for Muslims to destroy pre-existing places of
worship belonging to non-Muslims in lands that
have come under Muslim rule.
The story is told of a leading Islamic scholar,
Maulana Abdullah Thaneswari, who, when he
learnt that Sultan Sikander Lodhi had been
pressed by some maulvis to destroy the temples
of Thanes war, confronted the king, telling him
that to do so would be a gross violation of the
teachings of the Quran. When the sultan retorted
that the Maulana was taking the side of the Hindus, and warned him that if he did not desist he
would be killed, he replied, "Death is inevitable.
Without God's permission no one ever tastes
death. Whenever one appears before a tyrant one
does so prepared for death. I have simply told
you what the Islamic law has laid down."
The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan
completely lacks the religious sanction that the
Taliban authorities have sought to bestow on it.
Rather than helping Islam in any way, it has only
further reinforced misleading stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant marauders that are today so
distressingly widespread among many non-Muslims. The grave damage that this has caused to
the cause of Islamic mission (tabligh) can easily
be imagined. Islamic scholars insist that conveying the message of Islam to others is the divine
duty of all Muslims, and the Quran itself says
that this must be done "through gentle words".
But not for the Taliban.
The pulling down of the Buddhas has done
the greatest harm to Islam and the Muslim cause,
despite Taliban protestations to the contrary,   b
-Yoginder Sikand
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
THE UNCIVIL war being waged by the Maoists
of Nepal just claimed more lives. In four attacks
on police posts in the hills districts of Rukum,
Dolakha, Palpa and Dailekh on 1, 2 and 6 April,
altogether 67 policemen were done to death. An
unknown number of the attacking insurgents also
fell to the bullet. Quite a few of the policemen in
Rukum are known to have been killed execution-
style. The scale and style of this carnage, unprecedented in Nepal's history, is distressing even in
comparison to the violence-ridden regions such
as the Indian Northeast or Kashmir. Even the
Maoists' fellow travellers, the People's War group
in Andhra Pradesh or others in central Bihar, have
not managed quite this level of 'war'.
Ironically, the demographic profile of the dead
policemen match those of the Maoist cadres that
killed them, coming as they do from the same
rural peasantry of hill and the tarai.
Such is the indifference of Kathmandu's educated—the political class, the 'intelligentsia' and
the media—that the modest ripple of concern
exhibited was hardly proportional to the scale of
the massacre. The leader of the main opposition
party—the Communist Party of Nepal (UML)—
lacking any suggestion for an immediate solution, demanded the prime minister's resignation,
forgetting in the process to address words of concern to the families of the deceased policemen.
For their part, Prime Minister Girija Prasad
Koirala and his government are unequal to the
challenge of confronting the mysterious forces
that seem intent on dragging the country towards
the precipice. The prime minister's feckless conduct in the face of the Maoist challenge is sufficient reason to demand his resignation, using
appropriate parliamentary and democratic methods. Instead, the main opposition party has abandoned the Pratinidhi Sabha and taken to the
streets to force Koirala's ouster on an aircraft leasing scam.
In stark contrast to the lack of focus and the
disunity of Nepal's main political parries, and
the factions within them, is the Maoist cadres'
motivation and military organisation that was
so evident in the attack on the Rukumkot police
post, following on the heels of their seige, last
September, of the Dunai district headquarters.
But, at a time when the government has indicated its willingness to come to the table for talks
and made conciliatory gestures, why did the
Maoist supremo, Comrade Prachanda and his
increasingly violent militia, feel the need to kill
policemen closeted in barracks, who at the
present moment cannot even be regarded as instruments of state-terror? Indeed, the scenario
today is reversed, with the Maoists' killing spree
resembling the conduct of the Nepal Police's
some two years ago during the infamous 'Kilo
Seira Two'.
Clearly, the Maoists, ideologically refurbished
following their adoption of the true-to-the-soil
"Prachanda Path", are supremely confident because of the human and material resources that
they now command. Their confidence is bolstered
by the knowledge that the proposed special
armed police intended to counter their firepower
will be delayed by the partisan calculations
which overwhelm Nepali politics. Further, the
monarchy's unwillingness to 'release' the Royal
Nepal Army to combat the insurgency has, doubtless, also emboldened the the Maoists.
Under the circirmstances, the Maoist strategy
seems to be to gain maximum ground and have
the upper hand when the talks really happen. In
achieving this objective, cowering and inactive
policemen, stationed at posts that are merely
meant to register the government's presence, are
evidently no more than so much dispensable
fodder to be sacrificed for the cause of the revolution. Apparently, fhe weaker the government at
the centre, the more brutal are the attacks by insurgents in the districts.
It is in the nature of feudal society that those
who cannot make others obey are seldom obeyed.
When the government is perceived to be weak,
the belief that it does not pay to antagonise the
strong only grows. This explains the fear psychosis that has gripped the elite sections of Nepali society. Indeed, it has become so intense that
pressmen are afraid to denounce militant violence; lawyers find it safer to talk about human
rights; politicians are ambivalent towards the insurgents; custodians of justice have learnt to be
lenient towards those who break the law; and
flown in to
replace the
dead ones;
look on
(next page).
2001 April 14/4  HIMAL
 ,  i    777   "Iff
the army is reluctant to dirty its hands in what
is by now effectively a civil war. Meanwhile
the policemen, abandoned 'representatives' of
a state that the Maoists abhor, are left to fend
for themselves in the insurgents' line of fire.
Nepal cannot afford such social apathy for
long. Fighting insurgency and combating terrorism (some of the militant activities are beginning to take on that flavour) require much
more than what a weak government alone can
do. A strong political agenda that has the backing of society at large is needed to control armed
rebellion. Since political parties represent the
public, it is primarily their responsibility to try
and forge this broad-based consensus on the
aims and methods of combating the insurgency. In the face of escalating Maoist violence, the
ruling Nepali Congress cannot wallow in the
luxury of the faction-fights that it seems to revel in. Nor can the Left opposition carry on in
cyincal disregard of the Maoist advance.
Once a political understanding on common
objectives is arrived at, the necessary steps can
be taken without delay. This includes effective
administrative coordination between the civil
police, the proposed armed police and the army,
to ensure internal security. It is time the realisation dawned on all concerned that playing politics vvith the two proposals for appointing regional administrators (at a step higher than central district officers) and establishing an armed
police, will be counter-productive. It does
sound strange that even after so many lives
have been lost in vain, there are pusillanimous
politicians who will not utter a word against
the Maoists, but do not hesitate to drone endlessly on the importance of restraint by the
But it is the the failure of the media in arousing public opinion against the violent tactics
of the militants that stands out. Obsessed with
running down politicians and championing
fashionable causes, the Nepali media has to
learn that more important than the jargons of
liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation,
transparency,   accountability   and   good
governance, is the right of the people to live in
a society where political scores are not settled
by the gun. The free media must at least now
wake up to its responsibilities.
The fact is that everyone is indulging in disingenuous political correctness in how they
propose to see the Maoists' and the state's responses to each other. Violent insurgencies tend
to be the response to a police state's extreme
actions against innocent citizenry. In Nepal,
however, the state is in such disarray that, especially at present, the police can hardly be
blamed for terror of the kind that invites the
intensity of retaliation they are being subjected
to. True, even three years ago, the police was
guilty of terrorising villages in parts of the mid-
western hills, an action which helped fan the
Maoist insurrection. But the present phase of
Maoist violence cannot be attributed to police
excess of that variety.
If Nepal Police is to be better motivated to
counter what by the Maoist's own declaration
is war, it should be given proper weaponry.
However, this is not to suggest that the Nepal
Police should embrace the policy of bullet for
bullet and go on a counter-killing spree. In fact,
it is the danger of such an eventuality that
should make Nepali opinion leaders careful
about what they say, and civil society organisations and the media more watchful against
any move of the polity in that direction. For,
when the public outcry against Maoist detenus becomes too high, embattled policemen
may be prompted to adopt a "take no prisoners" policy, of the kind that the Subcontinent
has been witness to in Punjab, Kashmir, the
Indian Northeast and elsewhere. Once the police gets into the habit of extra-judicial killings,
there will be no escape from the vicious circle
of brutal violence and counter violence.
At the moment such an outcome seems to
be a distant prospect but there is no saying what
will happen if Kathmandu's elite sections,
neighbouring India (which is surely watching
the happenings in the Nepali hills with a worried eye) and the royal palace agree on a policy
of squelching the Maoists. Bloodshed and the
killing of innocents will follow inevitably. It is
for the Maoists more than it is for the government to realise what may be in store. Will Maoist violence come to an end only when national
sovereignty has been compromised, or the democratic gains of the 1990 People's Movement
have all been lost? A frightening question, but
it is time Nepalis started facing it. Apathy and
political correctness do not provide an escape
from the mess. b
—C.K.  Lai
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 Vajra (literally-flash
of lightning), is an
artists' condominium,
a transit home for
many, providing a
base during months
of hibernation and
creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and
peaceful ambience,
make an ideal retreat
from the clock of
Ketaki Sheth
Inside Outside.
I stayed a week at the
Vajra, by which time
I had become so fond
of it that I stayed
John Collee
TIx London Observer.
Vajra,    a    serene
assembly of brick
buildings, grassy
ivycovered walls and
Hindu statuary is a
calm oasis over
looking, chaotic
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
Swayambhu, Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone: 977 1 271545, 272719 Fax: 977 1 271695 E-mail:
How not to do a
South Asian Treaty...
A 'forensic' deconstruction ofthe Mahakali Treaty of 1996 between Nepal and
India reveals the larger neighbour as bulldozer and the smaller one as hapless
and internally divided. Just how not to do an agreement for the sharing of a
common resource...
by Dipak Gyawali and Ajaya Dixit
On 29 January 1996, after three days of deliberations in Kathmandu, India's external affairs
minister Pranab Mukherjee and Nepal's foreign
minister Prakash Chandra Lohani initialled the
Mahakali Treaty, known formally as the Treaty between
His Majesty's Government of Nepal and the Government of
India Concerning the Integrated Developtnent of the Mahakali River Including Sarada Barrage, Tanakpur Barrage
and Pancheswar Project. Immediately, Nepali politicians
scrambled to take credit for the treaty. From the former
Speaker of Parliament to the General Secretary of the
Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist),
then in opposition, from hard-line Panchayat politicos
of yesteryears to hard-boiled bureaucrats, all rushed to
claim a share in the glory. But in less than a year, the
treaty had fallen into disrepute, and, today, except for
those whose names have been directly involved in the
preparation of the document, there is scarcely a defender
of the Mahakali treaty.
The initialling of the treaty, the circumstances that
preceded, attended and followed it, its ratification followed by nearly immediate descent into disgrace and
the limbo it has since lapsed into are part of a larger
saga that has its roots in history. This saga spans several regime changes in Nepal, beginning with the Rana
dispensation, followed by the brief democratic interlude that gave way to monarchic control through the
Panchayat institutions and culminating eventually in
multi-party democracy. It has ramifications that extend
beyond hydraulic technicalities. It embraces political
economy, diplomatic relations between India and Nepal, as well as larger questions of governance in South
Asia. It concerns a riparian border and is therefore enmeshed as much in the skewed 'bilateral geo-politics'
of India and Nepal as it is in the calculus of the hydro-
technological establishments of both countries.
This being so, the ratification process of the Mahakali
Treaty inevitably raises questions about the sociology
of political and technical decision-making. It touches
on the paradigms of development that dominate in both
countries. It also points to the infirmities of the political
arena, the subversion of stated principles and instituted protocols. In the case of Nepal, it draws attention to
the gap between Parliament as the putative repository
*j--— Afea shewn tn Map
Llinptyi CUtof* Pait
KWarw.' Camp awning
Otound cJ lr>di aft *'h6op*
H*fd f*cwnrt>ousS
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India   x-(
Mahakali river and Nepal's western boundary where the
disputed projects are located.	
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 and guardian of the sovereign will, and Parliament
as the venue for the final surrender of the sovereign
will, through a forced consensus achieved by institutionalised corruption. It is above all a saga of gross
dereliction by those invested with responsible office
and a capitulation to the pressures of a more powerful
Because of its multiple implications, a forensic scrutiny of the Mahakali episode will yield lessons of
import not just to India and Nepal, but to South Asia
and indeed to the entire developing world that has been
subjected to 'maldevelopment' behind the smokescreen
of 'development'. These lessons can be usefully applied
to settling resource sharing disputes, to critiquing
growth and development choices that unleash distor-
tionary effects, to evolving appropriate principles of cooperative bilateralism and multilateralism, to deepening the basis of democracy in the interest of greater
transparency in matters that impinge on the lives of
large numbers of people, and to the exercise of reducing the institutional and economic imbalances that
enable an oligarchy of interests to seize a nation and
its assets. This narration of the events that went into
the making of the impasse is intended to spur such
forensic studies.
Chronology of events
The story begins with a border river. In 1816, by the
Sugauli Treaty with which the British brought Nepal
literally down to size following the 1814-16 war, the
Mahakali River (called Sarada in India) was fixed as
the western boundary between Nepal and British India. But the braided southern reaches of the river as it
debouches onto the plains do not lend themselves to
such neat demarcations. Neither the thalweg (the line of
maximum depth in a meandering flow) nor the centreline (the line of equidistance from both banks) principle could be satisfactorily used to define the boundary.
Eventually the mid-stream of the river was taken as the
boundary with reference pillars on either side. The shifting nature of the river's course led to a realignment of
the boundary in 1912.
A border constituted bv a commonly shared resource
Girija Prasad Koirala and Narasimha Rao in
Kathmandu, October 1992.
is one whose use must necessarily be based
on bilateral agreement. But bilateralism by itself does not ensure an equitable arrangement.
The Sarada Barrage, irrigating the western
United Provinces (today's Uttar Pradesh),
was based on the 1920 Sarada Treaty between
the Rana regime and the British India government. This treaty transferred 4000 acres
on the eastern bank of the Mahakali to India
to build the Sarada Barrage in exchange for
4000 acres of forested land in areas further to
the east as well as Rs. 50,000 compensation for Nepal.
Furthermore, the treaty allowed Nepal to withdraw 4.25
cumecs (cubic metres per second) of water in the dry
season and 13 cumecs in the wet season; the wet season flow could be increased to 28.34 cumecs if water
were available. What India could withdraw out of the
approximately 650 cumecs average annual flow of the
Mahakali was not specified. In effect, it was limited
only by the scale of the technology it was able to employ. Quite apart from the under-valuation of the Sarada Barrage's left (Nepali) bank, the question of where
exactly the 4000 acres of land received from the British
were located has not been satisfactorily answered at
the public level in Nepal.
This inability to defend Nepal's interests adequately was to manifest itself in the post-Rana democratic
interlude of the 1950s. After a major flood in the Mahakali in 1953, India, between 1954 and 1958, extended the left afflux bund (embankment) of the Sarada Barrage about 100 m beyond the border pillar BP 6A into
Nepali territory. It is not known if the Nepali government gave permission for this activity in any form. If it
was an incursion, however, there is no record of a
protest by the government in Kathmandu then or
The 1950s were also the period when, to further its
irrigation initiatives in the north Ganga plain, India
entered into two major river treaties with Nepal's characteristically unstable and short-term governments.
These were the Kosi Agreement signed in 1954, subsequently revised in 1966, and the Gandak Treaty concluded in 1959 and amended in 1964. These treaties,
and the associated projects, have had their own less
than salubrious impact on Nepali polity and popular
perceptions in Nepal of India as the 'big brother'.
In December 1960, King Mahendra's royal military
take-over replaced parliamentary democracy with
Panchayat institutions controlled by the Royal Palace.
In 1971, Nepal began the Mahakali Irrigation Project
with a loan from the World Bank to utilise its share of
the waters of the Mahakali as allowed under the Sarada Treaty of 1920. Nepal's water resource development
activities had by now begun to acquire a donor-led,
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
Sarada Barrage with the Sarada canal heading westward to
water the UP plains.	
statist bias, precluding other private or community-
based institutional possibilities. From 1985 onwards,
the ministry of water resources was preoccupied with
the 402 MW Arun3 project (which was later scaled
down to 201 MW, and finally abandoned in August
1995 after the World Bank pulled out of it because the
project was criticised for its excessive cost). The exclusive preoccupation with Arun3 had serious consequences, for it made Nepal's water and power establishment oblivious to what was happening at Tanakpur on the Mahakali.
In 1983, India completed the technical study of a
120 MW hydroelectric project on the Mahakali River
near the town of Tanakpur in Nainital District of Uttar
Pradesh. Nepal raised its concerns with India regarding possible damage to Nepali land and territory, especially its Mahakali Irrigation Project. India's planned
120 MW Tanakpur power plant would use all the waters of the Mahakali during the dry season, and empty-
its tailwater into the Sarada canal feeding the UP system and not into the river upstream, from which Nepal's Mahakali Irrigation Project receives its water as
per the 1920 treaty. India agreed to redesign its project
and release the Mahakali water back into the river so
that Nepal's existing irrigation project would not be
left high and dry. It also agreed to, and did construct,
some river abutments to ameliorate bank-cutting on the
Nepali side that resulted from the project's construction. The statist bias in all of this, both in Nepal and
India, is evident in the fact that amelioration measures
were limited to civil engineering structures: during the
construction of the barrage, the bank-cutting in Nepal
from India's diversion works affected about 80
families, which were never compensated.
The Tanakpur Barrage and powerhouse were completed in 1988, with the exception of the left afflux bund
required to tie the barrage to the high ground on the left
bank in Nepal. India went ahead with this project on a
shared river unilaterally. But now, despite its earlier
insistence that this was an Indian project on Indian
territory and of no concern to Nepal, it became necessary for India to request Nepal for 577m of Nepali land
for this purpose. However, at this time, relations between the two countries had deteriorated to the point of
India imposing a peacetime economic blockade of Nepal in March 1989. This matter was, therefore, not pursued further.
In November 1989, with a change of government in
New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the two countries
were able to meet in New Delhi in January 1990. The
royal regime in Kathmandu, faced with a rapidly accelerating anti-Panchayat agitation, toned down its opposition to the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship
with India, and agreed to India preparing a new draft
treaty on mutual cooperation. To extract maximum benefit out of the political turmoil in Nepal, India put forth
a draft text on 31 March 1990, which included more
stringent demands on Nepal vis-n-vi$ Indian security-
concerns than did the 1950 Treaty. The new draft included Article III of Part VI "Economic, Industrial and
Water Resources Co-opera tion", which states:
The two Contracting Parties being equally desirous
of attending complete and satisfactory utilisation of the
waters of the commonly shared rivers, undertake to:
(i) plan new uses or projects subject to the protection of the
existing uses on the rivers; ami (ii) co-operate with each other
to formulate and modify the planned new uses or project-
taking into consideration the water requirement of the
"Pervasive and long term"
On 9 April 1990, multi-party democracy was restored
in Nepal even as speculation persisted that had the
King acquiesced to India's proposals of 31 March 1990
regarding the proffered Indian security umbrella, India
would have helped smother the anti-Panchayat agitations. Whatever may have been the case, the fact remains that the Indian proposal was rejected and a week
later the King ended the Panchayat system by royal
fiat. The Tanakpur issue, till now wrapped in bureaucratic secrecy, began to unfold slowly in the public arena. The restoration of democracy furnished a new context and introduced a new set of equations. The post-
Panchayat interim government, headed by Krishna
Prasad Bhattarai and consisting of the Nepali Congress
and the United Left Front, came under pressure from
the Indian government on the construction of the
left afflux bund of the Tanakpur barrage, particularly
since the economic blockade had now been relaxed.
Nepal's new Constitution, promulgated on 9 November 1990, significantly, required, under Article 126,
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
parliamentary ratification, by a two-thirds majority,
of any resource-sharing agreement of "pervasive,
serious and long-term nature".
Krishna Prasad Bhattarai visited New Delhi on the
invitation of Indian prime minister, V P Singh. The entourage included Sahana Pradhan, then chairperson
of the United Left Front and a minister in the government. On 10 June 1990, at the conclusion of his visit, a
joint communique that included the phrase "common
rivers" and the need to expedite their development was
issued. The agreement was to become an election issue
in the first polls of May 1991 as an alleged example of
Nepali Congress's 'sell-out' to India.
Soon thereafter, the interim government did try to
find a way out of the problems created by India's unilateral construction of a barrage on a common border
river. Because of the geometry of the land swapped in
1920, if India tied the afflux bund to the high ground in
its territory, a significant portion of Brahmadeo Mandi
in Nepal would be submerged. A technical team of Kathmandu's water resources ministry in February 1991,
recommended the variant that would cause least submergence and specified Nepal's needs for additional
irrigation in Kanchanpur District as well as for a highway connection to the Mahakali Barrage, which is the
only A A class bridge over the river in that area. On 15
April 1991, the interim government authorised its negotiating team to conduct discussions with Tndia within certain parameters, including the least harmful afflux bund variant, and provision of 1000 cusecs (cubic
feet per second) of irrigation water and "some electricity" for Nepal in return for the use of 577 m of Nepali
Soon after, on 27 May 1991, the first general election
of the post-Panchayat era led to a Nepali Congress government headed by Girija Prasad Koirala. The tempo of
events quickened and the plot began to get more intricate as the decision-making complex expanded to include new, more volatile factors. Vacillations of stance
and rhetoric marked the conduct of the political establishment. And through it all, the only constant factor
was the steady drift towards capitulation and the acceptance of compensatory terms about which successive governments had no clarity whatsoever. The speed
of the capitulation is surprising and shocking.
In June 1991, responding to the renewed Indian request for permission, the prime minister insisted that
this could be granted only after a detailed study and an
agreement between the two governments. In December,
the prime minister visited India. Possibly because of
inadequate preparation, discussion of Tanakpur seems
not to have been on the agenda. Neither the water resources minister and the secretary of water resources
nor any water resource experts were included in the
72-member delegation. But this absence notwithstanding and despite the prime minister's stated position of
June, expressed in the letter to his Indian counterpart, a
set of last-minute agreements was in fact entered into.
Naimtal Dis-icc of u-lii Pfades
Kancri-anpui Dislnr-i
_, Left AfflL-K Bufid Ol Tanakpur Barrage gn-rj the
Controversial 577 m aflrux bund e*lertlifln in;o
'     31 territory
4Q MW Lohiya Hea-rJ /
Pgwerri(H,&e ■
Lower section of the Mahakali river.
Apart from trade and transit and development issues,
they included plans to develop major high dams in the
Nepal Himalaya. This agreement, described as an 'understanding' and not a treaty, also allowed India the
use of the requested 577 m of Nepali territory. Nepal
was to receive 'free of cost' 10 million units of electricity
as well as 150 cusecs of water for irrigation. The other
water projects included in the MoU were studies of the
proposed high dams of Pancheswar, Karnali Chisapa-
ni, Burhi Gandaki and Sapta Kosi. The linking of
Pancheswar to Tanakpur was to be the cause of much
heartburn in the days to come.
On 24 December 1991, to counter allegations of any
'secret treaty', the details of the agreement were published in the official Nepal Gazette. Instead of settling
the matter, this raised a lot of suspicion and hackles.
India had been allowed to hastily start the construction of the left afflux bund by 15 December, before the
details of the 'understanding' had even been made
public. Construction of flood protection works was stated, in what obviously was a hasty 'typo', to start in
November 1991 even before the 'understanding' was
initialled in Delhi. And the newspaper reports and
gazetted notices continued to confuse 10 million units
(Kilowatt hours) of electricity with 10 Megawatts of
power, confusing further the debate about what Nepal
had actually received for allowing its left bank to be
used for the Tanakpur project.
Treaty or understanding
In December 1991, a writ filed in the Supreme Court
pleaded for the 'understanding' to be declared a treaty
requiring ratification by a two-thirds majority in
Parliament. On 28 February 1991, during the winter
2001 April 14/4   HIMAL
session of Parliament, the opposition United Marxist
Leninist (UML) gheraoed the rostrum of the Lower House
for eight hours and obstructed proceedings in a bid to
force the government to table before the House all documents related to the Tanakpur 'treaty'- The treasury
bench, on the other hand, maintained that what had
been reached was only an 'understanding' and that all
related materials had already been published. A 19-
member all-party special committee of Parliament was
formed to try and find a consensus. Street agitation
against the treaty dominated national politics and newspapers for months.
Despite extensive meetings and consultations with
government and external specialists, the committee was
unable to reach a consensus. It eventually presented
three different reports to the Lower House in September
1992. In a memorandum submitted to the chairman of
the Upper House dated 9 September 1992, eight communist factions (including the UML, Unity Centre, United and the Masai) stated that the Tanakpur 'understanding' was a treaty requiring parliamentary ratification
by special majority. They argued that it was wrong to
link the Pancheswar Project with Tanakpur, since the
former was a separate project requiring a separate
The 1991 'understanding' was ambiguous about the
150 cusecs of water that Nepal was to receive from the
Tanakpur barrage. This provision seemed to limit Nepal's share of water from the Mahakali River to a maximum of 1000 cusecs, inclusive of the replacement flow
that Nepal would receive if the Sarada Barrage were to
become non-functional. It was interpreted that this flow
would be made available after the modification of
the Mahakali's flow on the completion of the Pancheswar project. This was seen as an imposition of unilateral solutions on a resource having features of shared
In October 1992, India's prime minister Narasimha
Rao, on a state visit to Nepal, renegotiated the Tanakpur 'understanding'. The quantum of electricity that
Nepal was to receive from the project "free of cost" was
raised from 10 to 20 million units. Future upstream water
developments, such as the Pancheswar Multipurpose
Project, were disassociated from the agreement on
Tanakpur with the provision that both countries were
free to negotiate upstream projects independent of whatever was agreed to at Tanakpur.
On 15 December 1992, the Supreme Court of Nepal
decided that the Tanakpur agreement was indeed a treaty and not just an 'understanding', and hence required
parliamentary ratification. The Court, however, refrained from specifying whether the ratification required a simple or special majority. This matter was left
for Parliament to decide.
A month after the Supreme Court decision, the government constituted the Baral Commission to evaluate
the impact of the agreement. The committee fixed
six criteria to define whether the agreement and the
associated river development initiatives constituted
"pervasive, serious and long-term" issues. The definition would apply if:
(a) a single treaty were made regarding the use of several
different river basins of Nepal;
(b) a treaty were made for an entire river basin;
(c) storage projects have capacity greater than 1,000 MW
or a capacity factor less than 03 (capacity factor is the
real time operation of a plant in a given period as a
proportion of its projected potential capacity);
(d) projects costs are large compared to economic indicators such as annual GDP, or involve sovereign loans
which would have to be paid back not just by the
generation making the decision but by future generations or which would be difficult to pay given the
state of the economy; and
(e) projects entail large reservoirs requiring resettlement
which are difficult to handle within Nepal's finances,
land availability, etc.
But would not apply for
if) nm-of-river hydroelectric projects (with no water storage).
Based on these criteria, the Baral Commission
concluded that the Tanakpur Agreement was of a simple nature and not a "pervasive, serious and long-
term" one.
Tanakpur fatigue
The government then mewed to present what was by
then the 'Tanakpur Treaty' to Parliament as one requiring ratification by simple majority. Parliament was not
consulted for the purpose of building a 'national consensus', nor had it approved any criteria. A meeting of
the parliamentary committee of the Nepali Congress
was called just before the matter was to come before
Parliament. The Nepali Congress 'supreme leader'
Ganesh Man Singh refused to attend the meeting and
wrote a letter to the chairman of the party on 8 March
1992, declaring, "Passing the Tanakpur Treaty by a simple majority of the Lower House would be the equivalent of signing a death warrant."
Like the Supreme Court's decision, Ganesh Man
Singh's letter, which came popularly to be called a "letter bomb", skirted the difficult but germane issue of
defining the criteria for calling Tanakpur Treaty a "pervasive, serious and long-term" matter. Given the play
of factional politics in the Nepali Congress, the letter
effectively derailed any chance of the issue being resolved politically in Parliament through an initiative
from the prime minister. It was thus left to hang in
In December 1993, the Indian water resources minister, V C Shukla visited Nepal and secured from the
government an 'action plan' for proceeding with the
implementation of the Tanakpur agreement even though
the main treaty had yet to be approved by Parliament.
One of the principles enunciated on this visit, that the
"water needs of Nepal will be given primacy", was to
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
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find itself invoked in the national consensus document
signed by senior functionaries of major Nepali political parties just before the signing of the Mahakali
Treaty, and in subsequent discussions about Nepal's
benefits from the Treaty.
In July 1994, the Koirala government fell and the
mid-term general elections held in November 1994 resulted in a hung Parliament. The United Marxist and
Leninist (UML), which had vociferously opposed the
Tanakpur Agreement, emerged as the single largest
party and formed, on 9 December, a minority government. In the heat of the election campaign, the UML had
called for renegotiating the Tanakpur Agreement, but
India saw no reason why it should respond to the hype
generated by the Nepali opposition leaders. To resolve
the impasse, the UML government, ostensibly after receiving signals from the Communist Party of India
(Marxist), put forward a 'package deal' in April 1995.
This plan proposed increasing the quantum of electricity and water to be made available to Nepal, but Nepal
would concede to the construction of a massive (315-
metre-high, 6,480 MW) storage dam at Pancheswar in
the mountains upstream of the Tanakpur Barrage on
the Mahakali River. It was this very linkage of the Tanakpur Barrage with the Pancheswar that the UML had
previously opposed, and whose disassociation was
secured with so much effort during prime minister
Narasimha Rao's visit to Nepal in October 1992.
Pancheswar was a dam that India had wanted for
over two decades but in which Nepal had not shown
much interest because of its smaller requirement of water
and power. There was also a lack of clarity from the
Indian side regarding the purchase price of power as
well as the valuation of irrigation benefits and India's
security concerns over the control of the dam that would
have compromised Nepal's sovereignty. The minority
UML government, however, was not able to push its
'package deal' through because of internal differences
about its implications, the details of which were not
made public.
The nine-month-old minority UML government was
unable to continue in office and was replaced by a three-
party coalition of the Nepali Congress, the Rashtriya
Prajatantra Party (made up of Panchayat-period politicians) and the Tarai-based Sadbhawana Party. The coalition was headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress. By now, "Tanakpur fatigue" had overtaken all parties and Nepali politicians were too embroiled in infighting among parties and groups for perks
and privileges to worry about long-term interests.
During November and December 1995, in what came
to be known as the "Pajero scandal", the Deuba government allowed MPs initially, and later senior bureaucrats and judges, the privilege of importing luxury vehicles duty-free without declaring their source of income. Only a handful of MPs did not avail this privilege, and an even smaller number openly criticised the
government's move, which was seen as institutionalis-
Madhav Kumar
ing corruption and as buying parliamentary votes. This
institutionalisation of corruption among senior state
functionaries may or may not have had something to
do with what was to transpire.
Soon thereafter, on 26 January 1996, just before the
arrival of Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, at
a meeting called with two representatives each of the
three major parties—the Nepali Congress, the UML and
the RPP—a document called the "National Consensus
on the Use of the Waters of the Mahakali River" was signed. This so-
called consensus by-passed parliament and its committees. Smaller parties and dissenting factions within the
major parties were excluded. The document basically furthered the earlier
UML-proposed 'package deal' on the
Mahakali. The members who put their
signature on the so-called 'national
_     _  consensus' were Madhav Kumar Ne
pal and Khadga Prasad Oli of the UML, Prakash Chandra Lohani (then foreign minister) and Pashupati Shumshere Rana (then water resources minister) of the RPP,
and Chiranjivi Wagle and Bimalendra Nidhi of the
Nepali Congress. The consensus document specified
the following provisions:
Regarding Tanakpur Barrage:
a) make efforts to secure additional water (more than
the existing 150 cusecs) from the Tanakpur Barrage; and
b) secure free of cost up to 50 percent of electricity
generated per year by the Tanakpur Barrage.
Regarding Sarada Canal:
If the Sarada Canal becomes non-operational, the
quantity of water to be made available to Nepal to be
supplied from the Tanakpur Barrage. India should
provide water from Sarada Canal to irrigate the
Dodhara-Chandani area in Nepal, west of the Mahakali
Regarding Pancheswar Project:
Secure the national interest of both countries in terms
of utilising the border river water. In consonance with
this fact, the project will be based on the following principles:
a) establish equal capacity power houses in both
b) arrange equal utilisation of water by both countries to operate these powerhouses;
c) arrange to bear the cost in proportion to the benefit acquired from the project;
d) apply the principle of maximum net benefit while
implementing other projects that use the border
river water, including Pancheswar; and
e) ensure that both countries seek consensus on
using the water of the Mahakali River.
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 Prakash Chandra
a) accord priority to Nepal's needs in the utilisation of water; and
b) analyse the available benefits in terms of electricity and energy, irrigation and flood control to
both countries and bear the cost of the project in
proportion to the benefit acquired.
The treaty is signed
On 29 January 1996, the Foreign Ministers of Nepal and India, Prakash
Chandra    Lohani    and    Pranab
Mukherjee, respectively, signed the
"Treaty concerning the Integrated
Development of the Mahakali River,
including Sarada Barrage, Tanakpur
Barrage and Pancheswar Project".
The Indian foreign minister had
reached Nepal on 27 January and
flew home with the agreement on the
30th. History had repeated itself. Three decades earlier,
Indian minister Gulzarilal Nanda too had managed to
walk away with the Kosi treaty in all of three days.
The Mahakali Treaty extracts Nepal's consent for
the Pancheswar High Dam, which would generate nine
billion units of electricity, to be consumed mostly by-
India. It provides 50 million units of electricity to Nepal
from the Tanakpur Powerhouse over and above the 20
million agreed in October 1992. It provides water for
irrigation from the Tanakpur Barrage as well as protects the environmental needs below the Sarada Barrage. The real problem arose after the implications of its
clauses began to sink in. Clause 3 of the Treaty states
that "... both the parties agree that they have equal entitlement in the utilisation of the waters of the Mahakali
rivers without prejudice to their respective existing consumptive uses of the waters of the Mahakali river." The
water-sharing provision was further qualified by
Clause 3 of the letters exchanged with the Treaty, which
said, "It is understood that Paragraph 3 of Clause 3 of
the Treaty precludes the claim, in any form, by either
party on the unutilised portion of the shares of the waters of the Mahakali River of that Party without affecting the provision of the withdrawal of the respective
shares of the waters of the Mahakali River by each party under this Treaty." In terms of benefit-sharing, Paragraph 3 of Clause 3 of the Treaty made the following
provision, "The cost of the project shall be borne by the
Parties in proportion to the benefits accruing to them..."
The treaty, significantly, does not mention India's water share.
The agreement was clearly and without doubt of a
"pervasive, serious and long-term" nature and needed
ratification by two-thirds majority of Parliament. It also
became clear that Article 3 of the treaty, as well as Clause
3 of the accompanying Lohani-Mukherjee exchange of
letters, had compromised Nepal's rights to a 50 percent
share of the waters of a border river. The wording of the
clause is such that if Nepal does not use its equal entitlement of water of the border river and allows it to flow-
downstream, she cannot trade or claim financial or other
benefits from this unused portion of its rights.
During the visit to India of prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on 12 February 1996, the prime ministers
of Nepal and India re-initialled the treaty. A day later,
on 13 February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal
(Maoist) led by Puspa Kamal Dahal (Comrade Prachanda) and the United Peoples' Front led by Baburam Bhattarai declared the Maoist 'people's war', which has by
now taken more lives than most past revolutions in
Nepal. Among their many demands was, and is, the
abrogation of the unequal treaty on the Mahakali.
On 17 February, India and Nepal signed an umbrella 'agreement' concerning the electric power trade
which allows any governmental,
semi-governmental or private enterprise in Nepal or India to develop
hydropower sites and to buy and sell
power to each other. It thereby essentially marginalises the role of governments, especially Nepal's government. Simultaneously, in Bombay,
Nepal's minister of water resources,
Pashupati Shumshere Rana, solicited foreign investment to develop the
counhy's water resources thus: "In a range of 100 identified projects, you can take your pick from the shelf
whether you want a 10 MW or a 10,000 MW project."
Public debate in Nepal began to heat up in the days
leading up to the parliamentary vote on the Mahakali
Treaty. The left and right parties were particularly strident. There was, however, practically no debate or discussion within the centrist Nepali Congress that had,
since coming to power in 1991, jettisoned the principles of 'democratic socialism' in favour of economic
liberalism. There was, instead, only a high profile defence of the treaty by foreign minister Prakash Chandra
Lohani, of the RPP. According to him, "there was some
disagreement on the saving that would be achieved
when hydropower displaced coal. Agreeing to share
the profit on a 50-50 basis solved the disagreement."
He went on to add, "it is for the first time in historyr that
pricing has been fixed on the principle of saving in
Two weeks after the treaty was initialled, the Central Committee of the UML formed a working group,
_^   called the Oli Commission, to study
"~"    the treaty and its implications. On 2
September, the Oli Commission presented its report to UML's secretary
general. Among the flaws reported
(for the first time) was the presence
of Indian troops at Kalapani in Nepal near the headwaters of the Mahakali. In terms of the seriousness of
Khadga Prasad Oli     matters pertaining to Nepal-India
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
 Film South Asia '01
The third edition ofthe Festival of South Asian Documentaries
4 to 7 October 2001
Film South Asia, the competitive festival of documentary
films, invites entries from filmmakers ofthe subcontinet
and the world. The biennial event brings together the best
non-fiction films of South Asia. It provides a visibleplatform
for new works and helps promote a sense of community
among independent filmmakers. Film South Asia'O I is also
committed to developing a largi
market for South Asian documentaries with]
the region.
Dates and Venue ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
FSA '01 will be held in Kathmandu for four i
from 4 to 7 October 200I (Thrusday-Sunday). Films will
be secreened back-to-back, and a thn
will announce awards at the ciosin
Time will be set aside for discussions following all
screenings. Talk programmes and symposiums will be held
Entries have to be on South Asian subjects, broadly
understood. They may cover any subject in .the range
available to filmmakers, from people, culture* lifestyle and
adventure to deyjjMtegg^nwronment, politics, education,
history and so on. Entries must be dubbed in English or
have English subtitles. Entr gat have not been released
publicly will receive priority. Filmmakers need not be South
itionofafiim is not a bar. Preference will be given
to full-length documentaries.
tive and Non-Competitive Categories
Films completed after I August 1999, if selected, will be
admitted to the competetive category, (Entrants may ask
not be be included in competition.) Films made before the
>ff date wil join the non-competitive category.
Submission Deadline
festival Secretariat in Kathmandu
by 30 June 2001. Entry is free of cost
Entry Forms
Pleasecontact the festival office for entry forms, or download
from <http^/wv^,himaiasscdatiQn.or^fsa>.
For more inforrnation7contact
lesh Shrestha, Festival Director
PO Box 166, Lalitpur, Nepal
TeL: +977-1-542544
I       Fax: +977-1-541156
Eamil: fsa@mos.cqrn,np
Film South Asia '01 is organised by Himal South Ashnaxii Himai Association.
 relations, the issue of Kalapani subsequently overshadowed the Pancheswar High Dam issue. The report virtually split this main opposition party (without whose
votes the treaty would not muster the required two-
thirds majority in Parliament) into two—the majority
'Bolsheviks' who felt that the treaty should be ratified
first and the negative points taken care of during the
preparation of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the
high dam project, and the minority Mensheviks who
= :gued the treaty should not be ratified until all the
flaws had been cleared up with India. The "Mensheviks" later broke away to form the Marxist-Leninist (ML)
On 20 August 1996, Pashupati Shumshere Rana
tabled the Mahakali Treaty for parliamentary discussion and ratification. In what was widely seen as an
effort to pressurise the UML into ratifying the Mahakali
Treaty, the British minister of State for Parliamentary
Affairs, Liam Fox and the US assistant secretary of State
for South Asia, Robin Raphael hinted during their visits to Nepal around 26 August 1996, that non-ratification of the Mahakali Treaty would send a wrong signal, and drive away private international investments
in Nepal.
The distress sale
At the penultimate moment before the
parliamentary vote for ratification, the
central committee of the UML approved by 17 votes to 16 to ratify the
treaty. The chairman of the party,
former prime minister Man Mohan
Adhikari, who had spoken out
against the treaty, claimed indisposition, and a temporary replacement
chosen by the General Secretary
Madhav Kumar Nepal, voted in
favour of ratification. The party's
"Mensheviks" called this a "counterfeit majority". Students ransacked the UML parliamentary party office and
locked up the leaders, who had to be rescued by the
police. There was an attempt bv small parties opposed
to the treaty to encircle Parliament but police action,
and the arrest of some opposition politicians, including the Panchayat-period prime minister, Kirti Nidhi
Bista, prevented this from happening.
The drama outside Parliament was matched by the
drama inside. Discussions in Parliament mainly focussed on the status of the river, the presence of Indian
troops in the disputed upstream territory of Kalapani,
the issue of water rights, and the selling price of electricity. Differences also persisted on the interpretation
of the clauses of the treaty, particularly Clause 3. According to the government's interpretation, "Clause 3
means that both countries have equal rights to the water of the Mahakali and not equal rights to the water
remaining after accounting for existing uses." On 20
September 1996, the Mahakali Treaty was ratified close
Man Mohan
to midnight by a majority of more than two-thirds of
the joint Upper and Lower houses of the Nepali
But that was not all. Before the Treaty was ratified,
Parliament unanimously passed a stricture (snnkalpa
prastav) on the Treaty, which is binding on the Nepali
government. The four elements of the stricture are:
(1) Nepal's electricity bought by India will be sold
as per the 'avoided cost' principle;
(2) When the Mahakali Commission is constituted,
it will be done only upon agreement by the main
opposition partv in Parliament as well as by parties recognised as national parties;
(3) "Equal entitlement in the utilisation of the waters of the Mahakali River without prejudice to
their respective existing consumptive uses of the
Mahakali River" means equal rights to all the
waters of the Mahakali; and
(4) Saying that "Mahakali is a boundary river on
major stretches between the two countries" is the
same as saying it is "basically a border river".
The unanimous passage of this stricture essentially
meant that the treaty had been given conditional ratification. According to those who favoured ratification,
the provisions of the parliamentary strictures and the
defects of the treaty, would be taken care of during the
preparation of the detailed project report (DPR) of the
Pancheswar High Dam Project, which was to be prepared within six months of the treaty coming into force.
But what exactly the DPR is and when and how it
should be completed were and still are points of intense debate.
Because the treaty had been passed with a unanimous parliamentary stricture, Parliament on 10 October 1996 constituted a joint parliamentary committee to
monitor the Mahakali Treaty. There were 10 members
from different parties in the committee, which was
chaired by the speaker. Like the previous all-party parliamentary committee on Tanakpur, this committee too,
was unable to provide any guidance. The members visited the site and came back as confused as before. To
add to their worries, India's Joint Secretary of Water
Resources, responding to questions from Nepali journalists regarding the snnkalpa prastav, said that India
was not concerned with what such prastavs say. Instead,
India was concerned with only the wording of the treaty itself. The much heralded statements by political leaders that all defects in the treaty would be taken care of
during the preparation of the DPR and that India had
agreed to do so were thus proved wrong.
Even as the two governments remained unable to
prepare the DPR of the Pancheswar Project, an Indian
team visited Nepal from 7 to 9 January 1997. During
the visit, the Deuba government signed a memorandum
of understanding with India to study the Kosi High
Dam and Sunkosi Kamala diversion projects. This
agreement allowed for the establishment of liaison offices in Nepal by India for the purpose of preparing
2001 April 14/4   HIMAL
Sher Bahadur Deuba
these projects, and committed Nepal
to providing data to India on its water projects within the area from Bir-
ganj to Biratnagar inside of a month
without India reciprocating along
the same lines.
The MoU also included provisions that were included in the Mahakali Treaty and Clause 3(4) stated
that "power benefits shall be assessed on the basis of, inter alia, saving in cost to the beneficiaries as compared with relevant alternative available". The signing of this MoU to
build a high dam was regarded by the Nepali Congress
MPs representing constituencies from the regions involved, as heralding a new era of Green Revolution in
the region lying east of Birganj and west of the Kosi, It
gradually became clear later that the MoU was signed
at Indian behest more to placate Bihari grievances following the signing of the Farakka Treaty to share Ganga water whose provisions had greatly upset the establishment there.
The response of the Nepali government, indulging
in the indiscriminate signing of agreements and MoUs,
has to be understood in terms of the hype of water-led
development in the mainstream political parties. Nepali party functionaries fear political allegations that a
project, any project, is not moving forward due to their
action or inaction regardless of the technical, economic
or developmental demerits of such projects. Hence they
prefer to be seen 'for' projects rather than against
them even if they have little to do with Nepal's development requirements. In Hue with this kind of thinking
and in order to be seen as promoting water resources
development, the Deuba government continued its
'distress sale' approach to large-scale water resources
At the end of February 1997, the centre-right Deuba
government collapsed and was replaced by an incongruous right-left coalition. Lokendra Bahadur Chand
of the RPP became prime minister on 3 March 1997, leading a coalition of ex-Panchas and the communist UML.
This government exchanged the instruments of ratification of the Mahakali Treaty with the Indian government on 4 June 1997, during the visit of prime minister
Indra Kumar Gujral to Kathmandu. The exchanged instrument did not include the provisions of the snnkalpa
prastav. The last prime minister of the Panchayat period, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, broke his long silence
and accused the government of caving in before India,
and claimed that his government had rejected the Mahakali Project proposed by India because of the border
problem at the headwaters. He further claimed India
had imposed the economic blockade of 1989 because of
his government's nationalistic stance regarding Tinkar
(Kalapani) and the Mahakali river.
The treaty's troubles were to continue. By September 1997, the preparation ofthe DPR for the Pancheswar
Multipurpose Project ran into deep trouble after the
proposal for water-sharing put forth by an Indian technical team became known. Highly placed government
sources who participated in the meeting of a joint group
of experts reported that during the talks, India came
forward with an altogether new and unheard of proposal which stunned the Nepali technicians. Their proposal was that the Mahakali waters should be shared
only after ensuring that the flow of water to the canal of
the lower Sarada Project, situated about 160 km downstream from the Sarada Barrage at the Nepal-India border, was assured prior use. In fact, India made prior
rights claims based on the size of its canals (built without Nepal's co-operation or concurrence), which
amounts to more water than there is in the river itself.
The 1994 report by Electricity Development Centre
of Nepal had presented a schedule of existing consumptive use in Sarada Command. The average of these uses
would be 449 cumec. The water use claimed injanuary,
February, March and April is more than the actual flow
available in the river. India thus used Clause 3 of the
Mahakali Treaty to its advantage as had been expected
by many when the treaty was first initialled.
What the likely existing consumptive use India
would claim under the treaty remained unanswered
when the treaty was signed and remains so even today.
Because the treaty was signed hastily before a scientific
DPR had been prepared, several scenarios depending
upon use and assumption are plausible, each of which
would present a different regime of sharing (see Table).
Nepal could be receiving anywhere from 4 to 40
percent of the share, depending on which interpretation is invoked. Had a thorough scientific study first
been done before the treaty was concluded, such ambiguities would not have surfaced to bedevil bilateral
The way forward
The result of the convoluted trajectory of events and the
accumulated misgivings of Nepal is that the euphoria
that existed at the time of the signing of the Mahakali
Treaty in 1996 has completely evaporated. Impasse it
is, and the issue of Tanakpur Barrage and Mahakali
Treaty is dramatically bracketed between the first visit
of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in December
1991 which saw furious opposition in Nepal and his
second visit of July 2000, which raised no hackles. What
learning curve has or has not been traversed, by all
concerned, in these 10 years is worth reflecting upon.
But that is a separate exercise.
At a more immediate, prescriptive level, the resolution of the Mahakali impasse requires initiatives that
manage to rise above partisan interests. If Nepal is to
realise that objective, there are certain fundamentals
that must be addressed. To begin with, Nepalis should
stop reflexively blaming the Indians, who are only taking advantage of an attractive bargain offered by Nepalis who do not do the necessary homework.
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 Table: Possible Water Sharing Scenarios as per 1996 Mahakali Treaty (m3/s)
Scenario     Season
according to Treaty
Nepal India's
to be allocated
50% of previous column
Nepal     India
Nepal   India
D 22.75
V» 66.7
D 22.75
^ 22-75
66 7
prior use
:  520
.;: jv; 23i;-;
W 66.7 383
'-D:ftft|    ft#i75K. ;ftv::     !:.vB4":
W 66.7 84
J 96
Source: Ajaya Dixit (1997) Mulyankan, No 42
Note: (D) - Dry season flow: October 15 to May 15; (W) Wet season flow: May 14 to October 16. The Mahakali Treaty has allocated
10 rrrVs below Sarada Barrage as environmental flow and 5% of the average as that for local uses. The regulated flow considered in
the calculation is 582 nrVs. which makes the local flow to be 29 1 rrfOs. Together, the local and environmental flow is 39 rrf/s which
would be 7% of the regulated flow. In the table the latter two flows are not shown.
Ironically, the homework that should have been
done before the treaty was formalised, has not been done
even five year after it was signed and ratified. Unless
this is done there is little scope for taking advantage of
Clause 12(3) of the treaty, which allows for a review of
the treaty: "This treaty shall be reviewed by both the
parties at 10 years interval or earlier as required by either party and make amendment thereto if necessary."
As part of this exercise Nepal must first arrive at a
consensus on the criteria for defining what is a "pervasive, serious and long-term" issue as per its Constitution, since all resource-sharing agreements, whether
bilateral or multilateral will require clarity on this matter. Otherwise, the Tanakpur-Mahakali kind of unworkable formula will merely be exported into future projects
of a similar nature.
But there cannot be a way out unless there is also a
change of perspective in India's approach. India's victory in wresting the Mahakali Treaty from the cantankerous Nepali political class has been pyrrhic. Agreements wrested under duress from a small country may
possibly fetch some short-term gain, but, as Mahakali
has shown, nothing will really move forward in the
long term. And even if it does, the social and political
costs may make the victory too expensive.
There must also be a more sagacious recognition of
the realities of the water situation in the region where
requirements on the ground in India and Nepal are
quite different from those projected by the construction-
oriented water bureaucracies. Inevitably, this calls for
an urgent and credible review of past projects, a task
that is made more difficult by the colossal vested interests built into the political economy of development-
construction in India. This calls for greater effort on the
part of Indian activists who question the very paradigm of development that gives rise to such interests
which hijack the developmental agenda. But in the case
of the Mahakali, even such activists have been found
wanting, for what they explicitly reject as a developmental choice for India, they either endorse or are indifferent to when it comes to Nepal.
The situation can be redeemed only through far-
sighted statesmanship and that clearly is something
that has to be learned by all concerned—in both countries—be they of the bureaucracy, the political establishment or civil society. b
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
 THE WORLD loves Hindi movies. So you have in
Malaysia a situation where the government is planning to ban them. These movies, said a spokesman of
an Islamic body, expose viewers to excessively passionate scenes, which lead to, now prepare yourself,
incest. That's a new one. The majority Malays and ethnic Indians who love their Shahrukhs and Aiswaryas
must surely be incensed.
INDIA USED to be the land of fakirs, snake charmers
and the like for Western media. Now they have discovered monkeys. Yes, suddenly, the Monkey Menace
of New Delhi is all the rage in the newspapers of the
West, and BBC World (television) flogged the monkey-
story in the third week of March as if its ratings depended on it. The report (seriously) presented the "only
monkey catcher of New Delhi" who tells the lady reporter that there is one particular male monkey who
smokes cigarettes and harasses women in ConnaLight
Place. "Even when I take him and drop him 200
kilometres away, he catches a bus and comes back to
Connaught Place to continue his activities." And only
the BBC, newly having to compete with all kinds of
commercial satellite media, would believe that.
EVEN GOOD old populous India, with its newly ideologically recharged Maha Kumbh, cannot beat this
sight of a Bangladesh train overflowing with devotees
headed for the Bisvva Ijtema festival.
I HAVE heard all the arguments on the ethics of investigations with regard to the expose, mostly
supportive of the Tarun Tejpal team, but only on BBC
Radio was there a cautionary note from a London prof.
which coincides with Chhetria Patrakar's own view
on the matter. If Tehelka had decided to go for the likes
of Bangaru Laxman or Jaya Jaitly on the basis of prior
information regarding their venality and bribe taking,
then there would be a strong basis for their sting operation. However, if this was a scattershot investigation ready to nab whoever falls in the net prepared for
them, then I believe there is a strong basis to call this
entrapment. Other than the fact that these particular politicians were definitely caught with their pants and shirts
down, what about the two other questions: that of party
finance reform and of the bigger fry that go for billions in
graft rather than for a lakh or two.
THIS IS a poll by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI): Would you eat rice that has been genetically modified? (Yes, No, Don't Know). You can caste your vote by
going to <>. The latest poll results show 37 percent saying yes they would
certainly eat genetically modified rice, which indicates
a rather low level of sensitivity to the issue among rice-
eaters of Asia. However, since this was an Internet-based
poll, let me sav "rich rice eaters".
OTHER THAN the usual
dose of political violence
and rape that you read
about in Bangladeshi newspapers, one permanent item
is the seizure of Phensidyl
cough syrup bottles, such
as the jacket-laden haul
shown in this photograph.
While Phensidyl addiction
is a problem all over, it seems to be of special concern for
the Dhaka police. Amidst all the South Asian seminars
and workshops of relevance and irrelevance, 1 wonder if
anyone has thought of calling a South Asian conference
on Phensidyl use. Certainly, it would be important.
LETTER WRITER Khan-E-Alam from Dhaka seems to
have it all sewn up as to why Bangladesh is a poor country. It is because no courtesy is shown on Dhaka's roads,
he notes in The Independent. Unlike in the developed countries where vehicles slow down to allow pedestrians to
cross, in Bangladesh such a thing never happens. Alam-
mian is particularly concerned about "lady garment
workers" finding it difficult to cross the road. And
so, you may ask, "Why did
the lady garment worker
cross the road?" To make
Bangladesh more sonarl
AS BHUTAN welcomed
the Iron Snake year,
Kuensel came up with predictions on what lies in
store. While there are two
inauspicious months (22
June-20 July and 29 De-
cember-30 January), the
good news is that, overall,
the year will be "good for
older people" and "more
relaxing" for women. For
^Gffiia ii
men, it is going to get busier, and uncertainties will
abound. Now, what males all over want to know is
whether this Iron Snake jinx is going to be restricted to
Druk Yul or whether the tribal chieftain in Balochistan
and the Asamiya college professor in Dibrugar are both
equally going to come under the spell of the negative
ether? A fine subject for a letter to Kuensel's editor.
LOOK AT Islamic Pakistan, land of the pure, going all
aflutter about Valentine's day. So did Hindutva-laden
India and Bangladesh. Again, I will repeat what I do
every year. With attitudes and expectations changing
all over, and boys meeting girls and girls meeting boys
in new situations and settings, and satellite television
beaming down salacious invites all the time, something
has to give. Unless South Asia's adult prudes have
something else to offer in its place, at least Valentine's
Day serves the purpose, to express affection chastefully
in society just coming up to middle-class morality-. Some
social scientist, please study this phenomenon, and send
in an article to the editor of Himal.
IN KARACHI, an Islamic scholar has issued a fatwa on
all 'Jewish' and American products, in view of the
"atrocities unleashed on the Palestinians by Israel".
And one such Israeli
product happens to be
the mosque loudspeaker,
A correspondent from
Peshawar thinks it is a
helluva good idea, if Israel-bashing will bring
some peace and quiet
to his muezzin-on-the-
ridden city. He wrote to
Dawn, "No doubt, Jews played mischief with Muslims
by conniving to invent and present the loudspeaker to
the Muslim maulvis, who in their misconstrued favOLir
for the spread of Islam, are never bothered about disturbing the peace of the ailing, study hours of the student or a person trying to catch some sleep after a hard
day's labour..."
THE BANGLADESHERSamajtantrik Dal (BSD) recently-
held a month-long campaign against obscenity. And
as is the custom with such campaigns, film posters were
blackened. The next target was the censor board, which
was asked not to release "vulgar" films. Chettria
Patrakar would, of course, want to know what BSD is
doing about child labour, violence against women, acid
attacks and wife-beating in the name of combating
MAMA MIA! A presidential mansion is to be built in
Colombo at the cost of USD 550 for each and every
square foot. The total 'acreage' is 12,897 sq ft, so get out
your calculator and key in the numbers. I refuse to even
do that, in protest of this profligacy when government
employee salaries have been frozen for a year as an
austerity measure.
THE ASIAN Age Delhi daily evokes contrasting responses. Many hate it for its flaunting of White skin
and Western glamour in its backpage Newsmakers section, while many more love it, and would have nothing
to do with the front page till they have finished ogling
at celebrity and non-celebrity bodies. Well, White skin
or no White skin, the newspaper is reader-friendly because of its layout, lack of stodginess, and, oh yes, lack
of advertisement! Wonder how editor sahab M.J. Akbar
THE GRAFFITI cartoonist in Th
News comes up with some special ones. Here's one such that
says better than words.
SRI LANKA tops the world's
chart in suicides and mental
illness. On an average, 23
Lankans commit suicide every day, while an estimated
70,000 men and women in the
15-35 age group suffer from
schizophrenia. The survey by
an aid agency gives the causes
as: war-related stress, family
discord and marriages between close relatives. Lots of
tears in the teardrop island.
AND IN another tragic corner of South Asia, Kashmir,
the mothers are still wailing for their sons. This AFP
photo shows a mother and relatives pleading for the
son's release. And then there is one another tragic corner of South Asia where similar tragedies actually occur with even greater regularity, but you will not see the
pictures—and that is Assam and the rest of the
—Chhetria Patrakar
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
 Back to the futu
Womanising by Pakistan's top military officers
played its part in the defeat of 1971.
by Adnan Rehmat
The 1971 war with India and the
military action in what was
then East Pakistan is regarded by many as one of the darkest
events in Pakistan's short and chequered history. Defeat in the war led
to the loss of its eastern wing, which
became independent Bangladesh.
Nearly 90,000 Pakistani soldiers
were taken prisoner by India. Those
in the western wing, which is what
remains of the country today, were
simply shocked.
Public demand for an inquiry led
to the instituting of the judicial Commission under Hamoodur Rehman
to investigate the political and military causes of the defeat. Hamoodur
Rehman, who hailed from East
Pakistan was the then chief justice
of the Supreme Court. The other
members of the Commission were
Justice Shaikh Anwar-ul-Haq of the
Punjab High Court and Justice Tu-
fail Ali Abdul Rehman of the Sindh
High Court. The Commission took
just over two years to prepare its report, but successive civilian and
military authorities in Pakistan
suppressed its publication because
of the sensitivity of the subject.
The report has now been declassified, after portions were leaked to
an Indian magazine last year. It is
not difficult to understand why the
authorities were opposed to its
publication for it spares no one,
including the man who ordered the
inquiry—the charismatic prime
minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report cites professional
incompetence, defective defence
strategy, lack of co-ordination between the army, navy and air force,
and moral degeneration of the military high command as the major reasons for the 1971 debacle. The report
observes that military planning was
"hopelessly defective and there was
no plan at all for the defence of Dhaka, nor any concerted effort to stem
the enemy onslaught..."
Analysing the military dimension of the crisis, the Commission
concludes that senior army commanders were guilty of "serious
dereliction of duty" in formulating
defence plans and "some are even
guilty of shamefully abandoning the
fortresses which it was their duty to
defend." East Pakistan military commander Gen A K Niazi and his deputy attract special censure for their
"wilful neglect".
By far the most sensational part
of the report dwells on the 'moral
corruption' of senior military officers. While Pakistan was on the brink
of break-up, "the military elite was
busy in womanising". Interestingly,
the report traces this moral degeneration to their involvement in martial law duties under Ayub Khan in
1958. These tendencies reappeared
and were intensified, it adds, with
Gen Yahya Khan's martial law
in 1969.
The report finds substance "in
the allegation that a large number
of senior army officers had not only
indulged in large-scale acquisition
of lands and houses and other commercial activities but also adopted
highly immoral and licentious
ways of life, which seriously affected their professional capabilities
and their qualities of leadership".
The report describes Gen Yahya
as a womaniser and a drunkard and
actually mentions over 200 women
who used to visit the military ruler.
"The most damaging allegation
against the ex-President and commander-in-chief is that he was leading an extremely licentious life,
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 devoting most of his time to wine
and women. During the fateful days
of the war, the General even stopped
attending the President's Office and
did not visit the operation room in
the GHQ [military headquarters] on
more than two to three occasions. He
was addicted to heavy drinking and
was extremely friendly with a number of ladies of indifferent repute
who took lot of his time even during the critical days of the war and
during the period immediately preceding the war."
Among the women who are reported to have visited the President
House were Begum Shamim, the
wife of the East Pakistan police chief;
the Begum of Junagadh; the famous
singer Noor Jehan (see Obituary, Himal, February 2001); and society ladies of Dhaka such as Lily Khan and
Laila Muzammil. During November
1971, when things were taking a serious turn in East Pakistan, the report says, Gen Yahya spent three
days at Governor House in Lahore,
where Noor Jehan (who passed
away in late December 2000) "used
to visit him two or three times daily
and would also come to him at
about 8 every night".
About Gen Yayha's deputy, Gen
Abdul Hamid, the Commission
says, "It is indeed a national tragedy that he was a frequent partner
with Yahya in many of these adventures. Frequently the two would slip
out to Gen Yahya's house in Harley
Street, Rawalpindi, for the purpose
of meeting some of their female
Senorita Home
Of East Pakistan Commander Gen
Niazi, the report says that while
posted at Sialkot and Lahore, he
made "lakhs of rupees in various
transactions affecting the disposal of
criminal cases brought under the
martial law against smugglers and
other criminals." The General was
also "on intimate terms with one
Saeeda Bokhari of Gulberg, Lahore,
who was running a brothel under
the name of 'Senorita Home' where
young women were residing in
independent rooms. Another woman, Shamim Firdaus of Sialkot,
also playing the same role, was
associated with Niazi."
Says the Commission, "Saeeda
used to visit Niazi even in East Pakistan. It was known all over the
town that Niazi was having a jolly
good time late in the night. He used
to visit some bungalows in Dhan
Mandi, Dhaka. Even during Ramadan, dancing girls were brought
to a home for the pleasure of the
Generals and corps commander.
Niazi used to go to the houses of
the dancing girls in his car bearing
three stars and the official flags and
with all his paraphernalia," says the
While the Commission is harsh
on the military high command, undivided Pakistan's civilian leadership also comes in for its share of
The insight into
dangers of involving
the military in civilian
administration is
perhaps what Pakistan
can benefit from the
most in reading the
Commission report.
criticism. The report identifies
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as one of the
main culprits responsible for the upheaval of 1971. It is particularly critical of his demand that the inaugural session of the National Assembly be postponed, which was what
started the unravelling process.
This assembly was constituted by
the 1970 elections which brought
Bhutto a majority in West Pakistan
and won Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
a majority in East Pakistan. It was
this divided mandate which precipitated the political crisis and the
break with Dhaka.
Bhutto's insistence that Mujib
soften his Six-Point Programme
(SPP), which demanded autonomy
for East Pakistan in various matters,
before Parliament could be convened, finds adverse mention in the
document: "It has to be remembered
that, rightly or wrongly, the Awami
League had won a mandate from the
people in East Pakistan in favour of
SPP, and could not be expected to
announce a deviation therefrom
without discussion and give and
take on the floor of the House."
The report goes on to charge
Mujib with inciting separatist tendencies by hoisting the Bangladesh
flag atop his house on 23 March. At
his bidding, flags also appeared on
government buildings and private
houses on that day in East Pakistan.
On the Pakistan Army action
against the Mukti Bahini, the separatist militia, the Commission says
that at midnight on 26 March, 1971,
"Dhaka awakened to the noise of
thunderous gunfire. The military
action, which has since become so
well known, had started." It adds,
"Quite obviously such an action
could not have been taken without
some previous preparations. Indeed
no secret has been made of the fact
that a contingency plan known as
'Operation Blitz' had been in readiness for a long time and it has been
on that account suggested that the
negotiations [between the military
government and Mujib's Awami
League] which were carried on from
about the middle of March up to the
date were no more than a camouflage, it being all along the intention
of Gen Yahya and his military advisors to cow down the Awami League
with a heavy hand."
The planning and higher direction of war is discussed in a separate section. "Some have even suggested that our strategy was so
vague, our tactical objectives so obscure and OLir decisions so hesitant
and faulty that the ignominy of the
disaster lay more in disorganised
activity and absence of co-ordinated effort rather than the lack of men
and material during the closing
phases of the war."
Break a leg
Political failure is the other key element that the document dwells on.
This failure had much to do with
Gen Yahya's own ambitions. Intelligence estimates had informed him
before the 1970 elections that a split
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
 mandate would be the most likely
result. He felt that such an outcome
would allow him to manipulate the
new National Assembly and retain
ultimate power.
In the event, the result was not
quite what the military junta had
hoped for. Mujib's Awami League
swept all but two National Assembly seats in East Pakistan. In West
Pakistan, Bhutto's Peoples Party-
took a majority of the seats, not only
in Bhutto's native province Sindh,
but also in Punjab. It failed, however, to command a majority in
Balochistan or the Frontier province,
where the nationalist parties, National Awami Party and the Jamiat
Ulema Islam in coalition held sway.
In this stalemate, Bhutto joined
hands with the military junta to deny
the Awami League its right to form
the government. His threat to "break
the legs" of any member who went
to Dhaka for the National Assembly
session called in early March provided the excuse for Yahya to post
pone the session. Many historians
feel that this was the decision that
let loose the chain of events that
culminated in the surrender at
Dhaka on 16 December and the
ceasefire on the western front on 17
December 1971.
The insight into dangers of involving the military in civilian administration is perhaps what Pakistan can benefit from the most in
reading the Hamood-ur-Rehman
Commission report. This involvement, which has recurred periodically in Pakistan's history, is what
has obstructed the emergence of a
stable democratic establishment.
However, this is a lesson that
even the most astute politicians of
Pakistan have ignored. Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto, for instance, redefined the
mission of the armed forces to include the suppression of internal
dissent. Less than two years after the
East Pakistan debacle, Bhutto unleashed the army on the province of
Balochistan to resolve a purely
political issue within the province.
Predictably, this enabled the army
to eventually overthrow Bhutto
when he himseLf was at his weakest.
Had the Commission's report
been declassified earlier, perhaps
subsequent political leaders could
have benefited (though, on second
thought, this seems unlikely) from
its insight and made them more alert
to limiting the army to its appropriate functions. Prime minister
Nawaz Sharif involved the army in
various economic and administrative tasks of strategic significance,
such as in running the power unit
Wapda. This was the thin end of the
wedge that not only prematurely
aborted his rule through a military
coup, but also laid the foundations
for a process that has been gathering pace under Gen. Pervez Musharraf's present regime: the steady
and unremitting militarisation of
most civilian institutions through
the induction of serving or retired
armed forces personnel. l>
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HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
Large dams under
the microscope
Equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making,
sustainability and accountability are the core issues
to be addressed in building new large dams,
according to a surprisingly refreshing consensus
report of the World Commission on Dams.
by Himanshu Thakkar
Investments in large dams over
the last century total over USD 2
trillion. But in recent times these
investment decisions are increasingly being called into question as the
opposition to large dams has grown
both in intensity and scale. Today,
there exists a global anti-dam community that commands considerable influence and attention. As a
consequence, large dams have
become controversial almost everywhere in the world.
This mounting challenge prompted the formation of the World
Commission on Dams (WCD) in
1998 to bring together the various
perspectives of the debate to decide
if big dams have been really effective as development instruments.
The Commission was set up by The
World Conservation Union and the
The World Bank's James Wolfensohn
flips through the WCD's report, while
member L.C. Jain watches warily.
World Bank, which has been the single most influential institution responsible for promoting large dams
across the world over the last five
decades. The WCD report, released
in London last November by Nelson Mandela, was expected to trigger negative reactions, as it sought
to judge something on which such
huge investments have already
been made. But surprisingly, barring
some exceptions, the responses have
been mostly positive.
Even more surprising was the
fact that a consensus report did
emerge from a 12-member commission that had such a diverse spectrum of opinion vis-a-vis the value
of big dams. The Commission consisted of people like Jan Veltrop,
former president of International
Committee on Large Dams, Goran
Lindahl, the then CEO of Asea
Brown Baveri, one of the world's
largest equipment suppliers for
large dams, and Medha Patkar, one
of the most vehement activists
against big dams. The Commission
was chaired by Kader Asmal, who
had sanctioned one of the largest
dams in South Africa while he
was that country's water resources
Compromise document
What did the report have to say
which elicited such a positive response? One of its conclusions is
that while dams have indeed contributed to development, in too
many cases "an unacceptable and
often unnecessary price" was paid
to secure those benefits—especially
in social and environmental terms,
by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers, and
by the natural environment. Another of its findings is even more pointed: "Lack of equity in the distribution of benefits has called into question the value of many dams in meeting water and energy development
needs when compared with the alternatives."
The WCD report notes that dams
2001 April 14/4  HIMAL
 typically have cost over-runs, time
over-runs, under-performance in
terms of benefits, and limited success in efforts to counter eco-system
impacts. The report also says that
the social groups which bear the
costs and the ones who receive the
benefits are often not the same. It
also states that alternatives n
to large dams exist, but are q >*-
rarely explored. It con- ,'v
eludes by saying that the
failure to assess and mitigate potential negative
impacts has been "pervasive and systematic", and
that the true profitability of
these schemes remains elusive. In
some sense the report vindicates the
criticisms that large dams have been
facing from activists all over.
The Commission's most significant recommendation is that before
a project is taken up, it must be
shown that there has been a "demonstrable acceptance" of the key decisions. The projects must be guided
by free, prior and informed consent
of the indigenous and tribal people
when they are among the affected
groups. Decisions ought to start
with needs assessment, and a transparent and participatory as well as
comprehensive options assessment.
Before taking up any new project,
options of optimisation of benefits
from existing infrastructure must be
exhausted, and outstanding social
and environmental issues ought to
be settled. The WCD has accepted equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making, sustainability and accountability as core values that
should inform the understanding of
relevant issues.
Some of the leading organisations that have welcomed the WCD
exercise include the World Bank,
the Asian Development Bank, the
African Development Bank, the
World Water Council (whose members include the International Commission on Large Dams, the International Commission on Irrigation
and Drainage, the International Hydropower Association, and the Internationa! Water Resources Association), the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, and
the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature.
From within the dam industry,
the response of Skanska AB, one of
the world's leading dam building
company, was prompt and positive.
In November 2000, it said: "We find
the Commission's work to be extremely valuable. Skanska intends to apply the guidelines
for major hydropower
projects recommended by
the World Commission on
Dams in their final report."
The World Bank, which
once was practically forced to
set up the Commission, now is
more than happy with the outcome.
Its President, James Wolfensohn
said the report "is a milestone, not
just for dams but a reassertion of the
way you should go about development generally". He says the report
is of fundamental importance,
and has implications for operations
by the Bank's commercial wing, as
well as the Bank's core soft loan
There have
been a few exceptions to such enthu-
siastic responses.
1COLD, a known
pro-dam lobby,
has expressed fears
that the report may
be seen as anti-
development. At
the other end of
the dam debate,
Medha Patkar,
known for her committed stance
against big dams,
was cautious and
conditional in her
endorsement of the
report. As a member of the commission, Patkar has
this brief note in
the report: "While
signing the report
because of its
many positive aspects, I still feel
I must put forth
this opinion on
some fundamental issues that are
missing or not given the central
place they deserve... Even with
rights recognised, risks assessed
and stakeholders identified, existing iniquitous power relations
would too easily allow developers
to dominate and distort such processes." Patkar's comment clearly
shows the difficulties that critics of
large dams would have faced in accepting a report that can at best be
called a compromise document.
Since critics of large dams have
welcomed the report and demanded that its recommendations be followed, then the minimum that one
expects is that dam supporters from
across the world, including governments, UN bodies, multi-lateral
banks, bilateral institutions, dam-
building companies, equipment
suppliers, export credit agencies, international bodies like the ICOLD, ICID
and IHA, as well as investors
will honestly try to implement this
consensus report. h
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the valley. Come feel the warmth of TIBETAN
Lakeside, Pardi
P.O. Box No. 101
Pokhara, Nepal
Tel: +977-61-20853, 24553
Fax: +077-61-25206
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
An officer and a middleman
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge: round up the usual gang of
suspects. What the arms middlemen fear the most is peace
breaking out in the region.
by Itty Abraham 	
ome of the responses to the scandal, present
ly consuming New Delhi,
bring to mind the tongue-in-cheek
comment of Captain Renaud, the
venal police chief from the movie
Casablanca, as he walked into
Rick's Cafe: "There is gambling going on here? Shocking!" Perhaps
the scandal will end with another
of the movie's famous lines: "Round
up the usual suspects..." Wink,
wink, nudge, nudge.
journalists, scholars and regular defence commentators, indeed
most people within New Delhi's
inner circles, have nothing to be surprised about with the recent revelations. They have known, indeed
could hardly have ignored, the scale
of corruption in the Indian defence
establishment over the last two decades. Huge fortunes have been
made on Indian defence purchases,
the most notorious being the Bofors
scandal which brought down a government and tarnished Rajiv Gandhi's name forever. And even in that
scandal, now over a decade old, very
little has been made public yet. No
one has been sent to jai) for it, no
one has recovered the money.
There have been other revelations of corruption in the Indian
defence establishment. When the
grandson of retired Admiral SM
Nanda was eventually arrested for
running over and killing a policeman in Delhi with his BMW in the
dead of night, scores of stories
emerged about the Nanda family,
the biggest arms dealers in India. It
was reported that Admiral Nanda
had decommissioned a number of
destroyers on his last day in office
as Chief of Naval Staff and on the
very next day bought them back for
one rupee each. When Admiral
Vishnu Bhagwat was sacked by defence minister George Fernandes,
one of the charges the former Chief
of Naval Staff made was that this
was punishment for his opposition
to foreign arms purchases. But the operation is the first
time the public has seen an expose
of this kind.
But India is hardly an exception
in the international defence corruption game. From the beginning of the
20th century, the image ofthe "merchants of death" who were assumed to be lurking behind any
major deal, and actively pushing
countries to war in order to profit
further, has had wide currency Armament exporting countries actively encouraged such arms transactions. Until very recently, the tax
laws of France and Germany included write-offs for bribes since these
were treated as part of the cost of
doing business overseas. Now,
thanks to pressure from the European Union, this tax shelter has
been officially closed.
But the United States is in a class by
itself when it comes to passing the
government's money to private
hands. The laws in that country
make most activities, that elsewhere
would be illegal, completely above
board. Think of the revolving door
system that allows lobbying firms
to hire retired government officials
to lobby their former colleagues,
think of the huge campaign contribution system, so-called 'soft money' that channels money from corporations to the political parties in
order to get legal exceptions for the
corporations, think of the endless
cost overruns and faulty equipment
that the US armed forces—and
hence the American public—have
had to pay for in order to keep the
within-the-Beltway nexus of political parties, lobbyists, defence contractors and the Congress happy.
Since the network is global, investigation and punishment become all the more difficult. Bribery,
like any commercial transaction,
involves both the seller and the buyer, and so if we are to get to all the
details of corruption in India, or
anywhere else, it will need investigations in Israel, Russia, South Africa, UK and other places from
where there have been sales to India. Indeed, these foreign arms dealers are important players in a well
developed system of espionage that
lets countries knowr what their enemies are buying so that they can buy
the same product. The obvious result—profits are doubled.
Field trial
Defence deals are deemed to be atypical in one sense. Unlike the generalised corruption that is part of the
functioning of the political system
in most countries, when it comes to
defence a different set of criteria is
meant to operate, at least in princi-
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 pie. This is because what is being
purchased has an enormous emotional as w-ell as material impact on
the affairs of the state. At stake here
is the security of the country. Thus,
it was interesting to see, over and
over in the transcripts,
the emphasis on field trials. The one
line that apparently cannot be
crossed is the one of actual perfor-
which trainer to buy.
Behind the delayed decision
were competing arms merchants
and their political networks, each
peddling a different brand. The
choice back then was between the
Alpha and the Hawk. Today, a decade later, the choice is still between
the same two jets, with the addition
of a third—the MiG trainer. In the
mance. The equipment being sold
had to, at a minimum, work as
claimed. This might convey the
impression that there is some honour even among thieves. Well, not
About a decade ago, while researching a project on India's defence production industry, I talked
to a retired Indian air vice marshal
about his experiences in service. We
discussed the inordinately high casualties among 1AF pilots, especially those flying the most advanced
aircraft. At one point in the conversation he turned to me with tears in
his eyes and anger in his voice, and
said, "Those Ministry bastards, they
killed them." He went on to explain
that the reason why there w-ere so
many crashes among India's pilots
was simple—the 1AF did not have
an advanced jet trainer. These pilots
were expected to fly an extremely
advanced aircraft, wTorth millions of
dollars, without the flying experience that an advanced jet trainer
would provide, because the "Ministry bastards" could not decide
years since my research, nothing
has changed. A final decision on the
advanced jet trainer has still not
been made, and India's fighter pilots are still in danger because of the
lack of proper training. Hence, the
emphasis on performance in
the transcripts must be measured
against the costs of inaction, equally a part of the system.
The transcripts make interesting
reading for the very reason that they
are incredibly banal. If one reads
them not to see which political figure or bureaucrat is named but just
to get a worm's eye view of how the
system works, they are amazingly
revealing. One realises, for instance,
that you do not have to know anything about defence matters to sell
defence equipment. Over and over,
the journalists show
their ignorance of even the most basic facts of the defence industry.
That they do not know the names of
firms like Sagem or MTR was perhaps not surprising, but not to have
heard of Daimler Chrysler was.
They were not even sure who Ab
dul Kalam, the well-known scientist and scientific adviser to the Indian prime minister, was. More important, the people they were trying
to get close to do not seem to be surprised by this at all, which is indicative of how deep the rot is. Indeed,
at one point in the discussions, a
senior military official explains to a
senior civilian of the defence ministry that the Tehelka journalist is not
a technical person, and hence does
not know the details of what he is
selling. Both then proceed to advise
the journalist on what his name
card should say if he is to be taken
more seriously.
The day ofthe fixer
The transcripts make clear that the
arms dealers, armed forces officials
and bureaucrats caught on video
tape seem to have absolutely no
anxiety about getting caught. They
are intensely aware of the rules of
personal security that surround the
offices and residence of important
figures, hence, the journalists are advised to carry their
bribes in paper or plastic 'packets',
not in briefcases, as these are often
not allowed into inner rooms. But
this is different from questioning the
bona fides of these representatives
of the mysterious "West End" company, based in England, which sells
"many things" and wants to break
into the Indian market.
Middlemen spend a lot of time
on the tapes talking about the deals
they have done in the past, by way
of showing how well-connected
they are, as a kind of resume. And
this leads us to the troubling realisation that they are not in the least
bit wary about getting caught because of the frequency of these encounters. They have clearly done
them so often that this kind of meeting is devoid of any concern other
than the amount of money that is
at stake-
But it does not mean that no
rules apply. In fact, the greatest asset of the fixer is the knowledge of
how the system works—to explain
to the potential client what exactly
the procedures are and who is the
key decision-maker at every stage
in the process. This is privileged
2001 April 14/4   HIMAL
information (though it should not
be), and hence, people who have
worked in the system are particularly useful as employees for the
arms dealers. The system seems so
rule-bound that even the percentages of commission are well known—
as a number of people explain in the
transcript, roughly five percent for
the politicians, two percent for the
Raksha Mantralaya (Defence Ministry) bureaucrats, and one percent
for the users (the armed forces). Over
md above this, the brokers expect
about five percent for themselves; in
other words, the typical defence deal
involves costs of 13 percent added
on to the actual asking price of the
product. In a deal like the ongoing
Barak missile deal worth INR 560
crores—USD 1200 million—(according to the person identified
in the transcript as the Samata Party treasurer, R. K. Jain), that would
be INR 72.8 crores (USD 162 million).
The system is not foolproof, of
course. There are a number of peo-
rle in the decision-making chain
who could act as "nuisances", the
journalists are told, but all that really means in the end is that the
spread of illicit gains has to be a little wider. Even a weapons system
that has been rejected once can be
resurrected again with a push in the
right place.
Obviously, the result of such a
system of graft is that it affects domestic defence production. With
domestic defence industries—largely public sector units—the opportunities for bribery on this scale
largely disappears. This had led, in
some cases, to the armed forces purposely asking for weapons systems
with technical specifications well
beyond anything any corporation in
the world can meet, let alone a technologically weak domestic industry. Once the DRDO (Defence and
Research Development Organisation) expresses its inability to meet
the user's needs, the floodgates are
open to the world's arms merchants.
It is then of little surprise that the
DRDO's greatest successes have
come in sectors where there is an
arms embargo or where other countries are reluctant to sell advanced
equipment to India for strategic
All this begs the question of who
is the real threat to India's national
security. The next time you hear
someone talk about the ISI and its
sinister penetration of India, recall
how easily' the system will accommodate outsiders, provided they
come well armed with cash and
contacts. After all, it was not so long
ago that defence secrets were being
The system is
rule-bound: roughly
five percent for the
politicians, two
percent for the
Defence Ministry
bureaucrats* and
one percent for the
users (the armed
sold from a xerox shop for a bottle
of Scotch whisky. The present system will not change, notwithstanding the fall of defence minister
George Fernandes and a few token
bureaucrats and officers. Too many-
powerful people have invested in it
National security red herring.
In the weeks to come, we will hear
about changes that need to be made.
Clearly, there is need for greater
transparency^ at India's Defence
Ministry and the government generally: If the Indian public cannot
find out about the inner workings
of the government, if decisions are
always hidden from public scrutiny for "national security" reasons,
if scholars cannot have access to
public records, if the Central Vigilance Commission is kept toothless
and dependent on public outrage
for results, if the government always
relies on a handful of cronies to evaluate the system, cronies who inevi
tably return reports recommending
the smallest of minor changes, then
nothing will change.
For a real transformation to happen, we need a sea change in attitude, and most particularly, the
elimination of the culture of secrecy
that allows the mandarins of New
Delhi's South and North Block to
get away with everything because
no one knows what they have done.
This is no small task, for it involves
taking on the ingrained culture of
New Delhi, one which reeks of money and sleaze, and where only money and more money is respected.
Decentralisation of as many government functions as possible is a start.
Moving away from the capital city
will help change the culture of government in a wayr that few other
things will. A real Freedom of Information Bill needs to be passed, and
more important, government officials and politicians need to be held
accountable to it. Corrupt officials
at the highest levels need to serve
jail time if their culpability in the
current scam is proven.
Above all, we must note that
these individuals will not change
their workings as long as political
parties need huge amounts of money to run their election campaigns
and keep their supporters happy.
Donations to political parties need
to be public and open, and regularly audited byr an independent body.
Journalists need to free themselves
from the sycophantic culture of New
Delhi and take on Tehelka.corn's
kinds of investigations with greater
frequency and sophistication.
if there was ever an argument for
why India and Pakistan, especially, and South Asian countries more
generally, need to resolve their outstanding political and military differences, this is it. Given the enormous difficulties in making these
changes outlined above, it is actually far easier to imagine changing
the conditions which lead to greater expenditures on defence. All the
parties involved in this system fear,
more than anything else, peace
breaking out across the region.     £>
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 Refugees of the Kosi
- ■■:.. ft -;-W-"    •'   •
: ft        .'      -   -ft
•'     -. •
Four decades ago, going against scientific wisdom, the dam builders of
India decided to construct embankments on the Kosi river in north Bihar.
This is the untold story ofthe misery of this decision made by faceless
technocrats and unthinking politicians.
by Dinesh Kumar Mishra _	
The British had in 1855 embanked the river Damo-
dar in Bengal as an experiment in flood control.
They were to regret the consequences. In the following years, the flood levels rose and the water
breached the embankments at many points. Compounding matters, the embankments impeded the natural
drainage channels of rainwater, leading to extensive
waterlogging that both reduced the arable and abetted
epidemics. This experience was sufficient to dissuade
the British from embanking other flood-prone rivers.
But what restrained the colonial government was not
enough to curb those who followed. Embankments returned with a vengeance in the political and engineering arenas after the colonialists departed in the mid-
20th century . The Kosi river was one of the first to be
straitjacketed within embankments, and those living
in its vicinity were eventually to suffer the consequences. The process that gave rise to the embankments is as
instructive as its outcome is poignant in a South Asia
where politicians and government engineers continue
to put up embankments as the quick and easy fix .
Silted Kosi
The Kosi is a lively and turbulent river of north Bihar
that originates in the Tibetan highlands. It penetrates
the Himalayan barrier between Kanchendzanga
and Mt. Everest and descends from the mid-hills near
Chatra in Nepal and joins the Ganga near Kursela in
Katihar district of Bihar. The Kosi has a catchment area
of about 59,000 sq-km above Triveni in Nepal, where
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 three of its major streams converge to give it the name
Kosi. In the plains, the river has changed its course
many times and in the past 200 years alone, it shifted
from Purnea to Saharsa, a distance of about 160 kilometres. Its length in the plains is 307 km, of which 254
km is in Bihar. The river carries a large sediment load in
its flow, whose accumulation on the bed causes it to
The shifting course of the river and its perennial
tendency to flood posed a serious challenge to engineers
attempting to control its flow. But the experience of past
follies in the Damodar and elsewhere, did not restrain
the independent Indian state from embarking on a
grandiose plan to tame the Kosi in the 1950s by confining its flow within embankments.
The idea of embankments as a solution to the Kosi
floods had been proposed even before Independence,
In 1941, the Congress leader from Bihar, Anugrah
Xarain Singh, advocated a relocation of the population of the Kosi belt to the hilly areas of Ramgarh, in
Hazaribagh district. This provoked a fierce debate, and
the vehement opposition of those likely to be affected
led to the proposal being shelved.
As an alternative, in the year 1945, the Bihar
Government proposed to the Delhi government that the
Kosi be embanked from Chatra in Nepal, where the river descends to the plains, to Kursela in Bihar, where it
joins the Ganga. The cost of such an exercise was estimated at 100 million Indian rupees.
The proposal was rejected by Delhi on the ground
that controlling floods through embankments was an
outdated technique. It argued, reasonably, that this
would cause the sediments carried by the river to be
trapped within the embankments, thereby raising the
bed level of the river The embankments would then
have to be raised to accommodate this rise, and then
again some. In addition to the known problem of water
stagnation outside the embankment because of the
blockage, the central government also drew attention
to the inefficacy of embankment sluice gates during the
monsoon, because if these were kept open, there would
always be a possibility of the main river's water spilling
into the tributaries. This would necessitate the
construction of embankments along the tributaries as
well and so compound the problem of waterlogging.
Besides, if any of the embankments burst, it would spell
another round of disaster, as was happening then on
both the Hwang Ho and the Mississippi.
Instead, in April 1947, the central government proposed a multi-purpose 289-metre concrete dam on the
Kosi at Barahchetra in Nepal at an estimated cost of
one billion rupees. By the time the detailed plans of this
dam were ready, in 1952, the cost of the construction
had shot up to INR 1.8 billion. The government lacked
the resources and was looking for some cheaper
scheme. Taking the line of least effort, it appointed a
committee to 'examine' the Barahchetra proposal, with
a view to having it rejected.
The Kosi 'command area' including the embankment and basin
highlighted. Note the location of Madhepur, where the original
western embankment was to have been.	
Consistent with the purpose of its existence, the committee calculated that INR 600 million of the total investment would in effect be blocked, since the dam
would be producing 3300 MW of hydro-electricity,
when aggregate power production in the country, in
1952, was only 1750 MW. Besides, the benefits of flood
control would be available only after the fifth phase of
the project. It proposed a new 25-metre-high earthen
dam at Belka, downstream of Chatra, whose irrigation
and flood benefits would be similar to that promised by
the Barahchetra dam, but which would produce only
68 MW of power, deemed to be more in tune with the
requirements of the time. The scheme was estimated to
cost INR 555 million. The government, however, was
not in a position to spare even this sum.
Political embankment
The floods of 1953 resolved the issue. With the British
now departed, politically it was felt that something
immediate should be done to mitigate the effects of the
Kosi floods. Embankments were seen to be the obvious
solution and in December 1953, the Kosi embankment
was sanctioned. Since this decision was political, it
now needed to be invested with technical legitimacy,
especially because the engineering orthodoxy in the
post-Damodar period had been unequivocally opposed
to the embanking of rivers.
In May 1954, two veteran engineers, Kanwar Sain,
chairman of Central Water and Power Commission
(CWPC) and K.L. Rao, director in the CWPC, were sent to
study the performance of the Hwang Ho embankments
in China so that they could make appropriate recommendations for the Kosi Project. They knew that they
not only had to legitimise the embanking of the Kosi, by
reference to the Hwang Ho embankments, but also infuse confidence among the people that this was the
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
aged to alter the embankment alignment, they felt the
same thing could be done on the eastern side. The residents of Dharahara Thana in Saharsa demanded that
the eastern embankment be pushed two kilometres
westward, downstream of Barahi, with arrangements
made to protect the villages of Barahara, Partaha and
Govindpur. It did not take much time for the idea to
spread to Mahishi and Bangaon in Saharsa district,
where a successful agitation was launched to remain
outside the eastern embankment.
With the squeezing of the embankments on either
side, those still left within the Kosi embankments
were seething with discontent as their interests collided
directly with those outside. The narrower the space
within, the greater would be force of the flood which
would trap them. Towards the end of 1956, the within-
embankment population started organising themselves
to ensure rehabilitation, compensation and widening of
the space between the embankments to the extent possible to reduce the impact of the floods. There were even
plans to cut the western Kosi embankment at Aloula but
they eventually dropped the idea so as to give the government another chance to decide things afresh.
A meeting of representatives of 87 villages held in
the village Kusamaul on 12 February 1957 resolved that
the government should be pressed to follow the original embankment alignment that was supposed to have
passed through Madhepur. They felt that in order to
save 14 villages, the interests of 79 villages trapped
within the Kosi embankments had been most unfairly-
sacrificed. As resentment mounted, work was suspended at most places. Bihar chief minister, Shri Krishna Sinha affirmed that once adequate security forces
were available to the state, the embankment work would
Following the chief minister's statement, the engineers began taking a tough line. The Additional Chief
Engineer of the Kosi Project declared that no more changes in the alignment would be entertained. Thirty-six
Villagers from within the Kosi basin in temporary shelters along
the high ground of the western embankment.
villages were issued notice and BSS units returned to
resume work. However, they were prevented from doing so as protesting villagers from Karahara to Bheja
and from Bheja to Jamalpur and Bhanthi, kept vigil all
along the area of work. They uprooted pegs and flags of
the engineers, snatched their equipment, and chased
them away. Similar incidents took place in the Dharahara Thana on the eastern embankment. A project
spokesperson said in March that the government
retained the option of stopping work, and warned
the people to face the floods on their own as the government would not come to their rescue.
Soon thereafter, armed police was dispatched to the
construction sites and work resumed. The resistance to
the project, however, became even fiercer between
Chunni and Tekunatol, Bheja and Tarahi, and Tarahi
and Jamalpur. Stiff resistance was put up at Karahara,
Dwalakh, Tengaraha, Bariyarawa, Darah, Kharik,
Bhakharain, Rahua, Sangram, Musahana and Bag-
hawa. The workers of the Bharat Sevak Samaj were
chased away by the agitators. Their offices and the huts
of labourers were set on fire. The situation at Agargarha
Dhar was tense and an uneasy calm prevailed between
Jhagarua and Nima. Hundreds of agitators were put
behind bars. No amount of persuasion by officials was
going to dissuade the people within the embankments
from obstructing work. The contractors were forced to
vacate the construction sites and the engineers could
not get them to resume work.
Planning by opinion poll
The setting was, thus, complete. There were those who
wanted the western embankment shifted eastward.
There were those who wanted the eastern embankment
pushed westward. Meeting both these demands would
leave very little space between the two embankments
for the floodwaters to pass through. Those living in
this zone did not want the embankments constructed
in the first place. But if this could not be averted, thev
wanted the spacing increased to the extent possible,
which could only be achieved if the first two demands
of those who wanted to remain outside the western and
eastern levees were rejected. And then there were those
people further afield who were simply not interested
which way the embankments were aligned. They only-
wanted these embankments to be built so that the flood
would be contained. And then there were those who
looked forward to getting some employment, and their
numbers were not insignificant.
Each group thus had its own interest in the project,
and was at odds with the rest. This served the government's purpose for it could thus do whatever it wanted
in the name of a technical propriety which had actually been thrown to the winds much earlier. The matter
was allowed to reach such a pass because instead of
allowing engineers to decide the height, width and spacing of the embankments, the issue was decided through
a process that resembled an opinion poll.
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
For the executors of the project, rehabilitation was a
non-issue in the Kosi Project, to start with. There was
no arrangement for resettling the people trapped between the two embankments of the Kosi. There was confusion about who should be compensated and w-ho
should not, because total chaos prevailed over the alignment of the embankments. However, as work progressed, it became clear to the engineers and politicians
that issues of compensation and rehabilitation would
have to be addressed.
Reportedly, the Central Water and Power Commission was opposed to anyr compensation being paid to
the embankment victims. The chairman of the Commission w-as of the view that compensation paid in one
project would set a wrong precedence for all the future
projects. But the commission was prevailed upon by
the Bihar Irrigation Minister and the administrator of the
Kosi Project to endorse compensation.
By 1956, there were others taking up the cause of
rehabilitation. In June, a meeting of the BSS, wThieh
was of course prominently involved in the construction of the embankments, adopted a resolution which
".. invites the attention of the Government of India and
the Government of Bihar towards the sad plight of the
people trapped between the river and the two embankments. The villages of Charier, Loukahi, Dhanchhoa,
Bagewa, Aloula, Hatni, Nidhma, Shatrupatti, Sahara-
wa, Naua Bakhar (Phul Paras Thana) and Bishunpur,
Tardiha, Sikaria, Mahisam and Mataras along the western Kosi embankment have been distressed greatly. The
villages located within two to three kilometres of the
embankment would essentially face the wrath of the
river-waters. These villages will be the first to get submerged and their crops will be lost. Their future is bleak
and there is no hope that they will ever get a respite
from the floods of the Kosi."
The BSS also demanded that wherever possible, villages should be protected by
ring bunds, resettlement of .
the flood victims be taken up,
proper arrangements for employment of the victims be
made, and certificates be issued to such persons for
waiver of land revenue and
loan recovery. Ironically, the
resolution w-as proposed by
Lalit Narayan Mishra, who
in 1954 had referred to the
Pune Laboratory tests to
claim that the rehabilitation
problem was not a very serious one. As popular pressure for rehabilitation
mounted, officials kept harping on further results being
awaited from the Pune Laboratory. It did not seem to oc
cur to them that the findings of the Pune Laboratory
had by now lost all credibility. Surely, those who knew
the lay of the land between the embankments knew that
the Kosi would not contrive to distribute its waters over
undulating terrain at a uniform depth of 10 cm as the
earlier model study had predicted.
However, despite evidence to the contrary; officials
continued to extol the project. T.P. Singh, Administrator
of the Kosi Project, claimed that a vast tract of Saharsa
district was now protected by embankments and an
area that used to resemble an ocean was now covered
with lush green fields. But he also conceded that it was
not possible to protect people living within the embankments from floods, and that arrangements were being
made to shift them to safer places. In the face of such
responses, popular dissatisfaction was mounting as
the impact of the embankments made itself felt in more
and more obvious w-ays. A movement for rehabilitation
was launched in the middle of 1956.
By July 1957, a bitter harvest was being reaped. There
was water everywhere, both inside and outside the
embankments. It was inside the embankments because
that was the route of the water. It stagnated outside the
embankments because the tributaries could not discharge their waters into the main river. Pressure mounted on the government to ensure relocation of the entire
affected population, but no land was available for such
a total rehabilitation. The government had come to the
realisation that if the total value of all assets had to be
compensated, the cost would be in the region of INR
100 million to 115 million, leading to a disproportionate increase in project cost. Hence a rehabilitation package of INR 21.2 million, which was deemed proportionate to the cost of the project, was sanctioned.
In December 1958, the Bihar government extended
the assurance that it would provide for an equivalent
area of homestead land at a reasonable distance from
Kosi's boat people commute to their fields across various channels of the river.
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
the embankments on the landside to ensure that the
villagers could live as close as possible to their cultivable land within the embankment basin. It also promised additional land for community services, water supply in the rehabilitation sites, housing grants, and boats
for commuting to their agricultural land within the embankments.
Evaluating the rehabilitation
By 1970, some 6650 families were relocated outside the
embankments, which mean that around 35,000 families were still living inside the embankments. While the
government faced problems in land acquisition, the relocated people were experiencing another set of difficulties. The rehabilitation sites were far away from their
fields. Commuting to the field was difficult because
various channels of the Kosi had to be crossed and the
boats which had been promised, were not made
available. Another major problem was that people were
too attached to the lands of their ancestors, and were
not willing to stay away. To make matters worse, the
land provided by way of rehabilitation was slowly
getting waterlogged as a result of embankment building and became unfit for habitation.
"There is nothing that has not been
provided under the Kosi Pirit Vikas
Pradhikar. But where is the Kosi
Pirit Vikas Pradhikar?"
Recalls Ram Sagar of Belwara in Simri Bakhtiyarpur
block of Saharsa district, "...We were provided housing
sites in Belwara Punarwas. Ninety percent of the people are now back in the original village because of waterlogging at the rehabilitation site. The government
settles this land annually to those who can do some
farming. It does not belong to us. The original village is
now exposed to the onslaughts of floods and erosion.
Our village has been eroded 14 times in the past 42
years and each time we build a new house. There is no
option left for us because our agricultural land is located inside the embankments. We shift on to eastern embankment during the rains and go back after the floods
subside." (See pictures.)
Even the Public Accounts Committee of the Bihar
Legislature was constrained to admit in its report that
the "rehabilitation scheme that is in progress is totally
inadequate. The farmers and labourers are given only
homestead land. They are not given any land for their
livelihood nor is any industry being started in the area.
All that they get is... some grant to build thatched houses
for themselves. Most of this money is spent on collecting the grant." According to the report, till 1972-73, a
sum of INR 1.75 crores had been spent on rehabilitation against an allocation of INR 2.12 crore. Till then,
32,540 families had been given grants of which only
10,580 were given the second installment and nobody
qualified for the third and final grant since none of the
houses was complete. A major constraint to building
houses was that the rehabilitation was looked after by
the Rehabilitation Department while the measurements
were carried out by the Kosi Project. People had to repeatedly run after the officials at two places.
Most people who were given rehabilitation land
outside the embankments are now back in their old
villages within the embankments. They are closer to
their fields but farther from any civic amenity, trapped
as they are within the two embankments. The block,
sub-division and district collector's offices, are all
located outside the embankments. So are education and
health services, legal aid, banking and postal facilities
and employrment opportunities. Bindeshwari Paswan
of Pachbhinda of Mahishi block in Saharsa district
points out, "It costs 17 rupees to get to the block head
quarters at Mahishi by boat and an equal amount to get
back. It is not possible to return the same day and so
one must be prepared to spend further.
The Vikas Pradhikar
in December 1954, T.P. Singh, administrator of the Kosi
Project, emphasised that the government was well
aware of its obligations towards those affected by the
embankments, and it would neither dilute the demands
for compensation nor shirk its responsibilities towards
the people. In November 1986, chief minister Bindeshwari Dubey reiterated the pledge. The state government
established the Kosi Pirit Vikas Pradhikar (Kosi Victims Development Authority) in April 1987. This is all
the progress that had been achieved three decades after
work commenced on the Kosi embankments. A pledge
that needed to be reiterated 32 years after it was first
made could hardly be taken seriously. At least certainly not by the couple of generations of displaced people.
Says Kedar Mishra of Mahishi, "We were promised
land for land, house for house, and a link road to the
embankment and free boats. Where is all that now?
Nobody knows where the people from Devan Ban or
Bhakua have gone. There is nothing that has not been
provided under the Kosi Pirit Vikas Pradhikar. But
where is the Kosi Pirit Vikas Pradhikar? Will somebody tell us the address? The villagers of LHja got their
settlement in jalle, which can be reached only after crossing five streams and paying Rs. 25 per boat trip. The
people are naturally back in their villages. The literacy
rate within the embankments may not be more than 10
percent and we have no medical facilities. That is the
rehabilitation we have got."
The Pradhikar is by now a defunct body from which
some politicians and bureaucrats draw salaries,
allowances and other perks, but the people are not
helped in anyway. It has become a political issue now,
and politicians, in every election, promise that if they
are voted to power they will revive the Pradhikar. But
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 for an organisation which has never been active the
question of revival does not arise.
Says Ram Prasad Roshan of village Telwa in the
Mahishi Block of Saharsa district, "We were given rehabilitation sites in Jalle, 4 kilometres west of the western embankment. My village was 1.5 kilometres inside
the embankment. The Kosi embankment terminated at
Ghonghe Pur and the backwaters of the Kosi used to
hit Jalle. We demanded protection from the waters of
the Kosi and they constructed a T-spur to prevent the
back-flow of the Kosi. This spur did the job but it prevented the Balan waters from going into the Kosi. Thus
we were saved from the Kosi but were drowned in the
Balan waters. We then shifted from Jalle on to the western Kosi embankment. This embankment breached in
1968 and we were forced to shift to our original village.
Now nobody lives in Jalle. There was 10 hectares of
rehabilitation land in Jalle and 35 hectares in Sahara-
.-. a where people from Chora, Jhakhara, Jhara, Karahara, Sugaroul, Lachhminia and Majarahi were resettled.
They are all back in their original villages. We are living in primitive conditions which are hard to believe.
Kosi Pirit Vikas Pradhikar was started for us and I do
not know what it does. All tall promises..."
These people are also denied relief, at times, by the
whimsical district administration of Saharsa on the
plea that they are living in places they are not supposed to occupy. The administration claims that it can
provide relief only if they stay in their rehabilitation
sites. That so many people live within the Kosi embankments and they bear the brunt of the floodwaters does
not concern anybody now. The authorities also seem
oblivious to the water-logging at the rehabilitation sites.
No political party or ngo ever raises this question.
Let the Kosi go to Purnea
When the decision to embank was taken, an engineering escape route was kept open. The embankments
were projected as a temporary solution. The dam on the
Kosi at Barahchetra in Nepal was to be the final solution. This enabled the engineers to take refuge behind
the non-existent dam plan every time the Kosi flooded.
They also maintained that the embankments would
work best in combination with the dam at Barahchetra.
This thus became yet another artifice to mislead the
people living in the floodplain.
It is not clear when this dam will be built, if at all, for
negotiations have been going on for the past 54 years
with Nepal. Its cost, its location in a seismic zone, strategic defence, high sedimentation and sharing of benefits and cost between India and Nepal, etc, are matters
still pending. Will this dam be able to prevent flooding
in the Kosi area?
The Second Irrigation Commission (1994) of Bihar,
suggested that the Kosi has a catchment area of 59,550
sq-kms above site number 13, where the Kosi High Dam
(KHD) is proposed to be built. Below site number 13, the
Kosi has an additional catchment area of 2266 sq-kms
up to Bhimnagar barrage and 11,410 sq-kms between
Bhimnagar and Kursela where the river joins the Ganga. Therefore, the aggregate catchment area below the
dam is 13,676 sq-kms. This is only slightly less than the
catchment area of the Bagmati and nearly double that
of the Kamla.
Hence the area below the dam will always produce
a quantum of water equivalent to the Bagmati, which
will try to enter the Kosi. Those who have seen the Bagmati and the Kamla in spate can well imagine the quantity of water that will attempt to drain into the Kosi. But
the existing embankments will prevent this water from
draining into the river, as is happening at the moment.
Hence waterlogging outside the embankments will continue at the current level. And, since all the water cannot be held behind the dam in the monsoons, the release from the dam will always keep the population
within the embankments in the distress they are accustomed to. The existing embankments are shaky even
when the discharge in the river is as low as 8000 cumecs.
The reality thus clearly is just the opposite of the
claim made for the Kosi High Dam as the panacea. If
the Barahchetra proposal is taken up seriously, these
questions must be asked and a satisfactory answer given. Whether the dam is built or not, so long as the embankments on the Kosi remain, there will be no let-up
in the floods within the embankments and waterlogging outside the embankments. The dam, at best, will
reduce the peak flow in the river, but will allow only a
reduced flow over a longer period. This will mean prolonged seepage through the embankments into the
The Kosi Project has perpetrated injustice on the affected people, who have lost the will to assert themselves and fight for justice four decades on. They have
chosen to migrate to other states in search of the most
menial of jobs. The government has virtually closed the
rehabilitation files. The injustice done is not on anyone's agenda today. Those who struggled once against
the embankments have long given up.
Says 78-year-old Parameshwar Kunwar of the village Tarahi: "I was arrested for participating in a black
flag demonstration against Rajendra Prasad in 1955
when he had come to lay the foundation stone for the
eastern embankment. These embankments were going
to ruin our lives and, in fact, they have done so. We submitted a 20-page memorandum against the Kosi Project
in 1957 to the chief minister of Bihar. The rejoinder came
from T.P. Singh in English. We demonstrated with 15
to 20 thousand people...went to jail several times. But
you cannot fight a determined state, which has all the
power to crush a movement. I am now an old man and
don't have that energy in mc.but still feel that the embankment should be demolished in the dry season. And
let the Kosi go to Purnea, if it so wishes." £.
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
 A Rabindrapremi in Bundelkhand
by Lubna Marium
Saugor, Madhya Pradesh.
IS February 2001
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed
shelter, I forget that there abides the old in the new, and that
there also thou abidest.
— Rabindranath Tagore
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How do I describe myself? I was born a Pakistani, in
the plateaus of the North West Frontier Province,
to parents who had bid, during the Partition, a heartrending adieu to their childhood playgrounds in the
cosmopolitan city of Calcutta to build life anew in the
deltaic plains of East Bengal. My childhood I spent in
the young city of Dhaka, imbibing from my parents their
immense passion for Truth and Beauty. Music and
Rabindranath were a part of our lives. Adolescence is
stark memories ablaze with our fiery uprising to build
a dream that was called Sonar Bangla. Then came our
encounters with harsh reality, and the arduous task of
building our lives and our nation.
Today, I sit in this faraway land set in the hills of
Bundelkhand, among people who speak in a slightly
unfamiliar but lilting, musical tongue who look askance
at my preference for chawal, day in and day out, to their
staple of rcti. To their slightly bewildered questions, I
answer, "I'm here on a quest, looking for answers."
They look on fondly whenever I sing out aloud to my-
self, and say, "Madamko Rabindrasangeet bawhot hi so-
hani lagat hai, Rabindrapremi hai." They listen to my
Rabindrasangeet and I am thrilled with the deliciously
rhythmic Bundeli geets that they themselves so love.
That then is what I am to them, and they to me, A Rabin
drapremi among the music-loving Bundelis.
In this picturesque campus of Harisinghgour
Visvavidyalaya set on a hill-top that overlooks a lake,
I arouse a lot of curiosity. Almost the first question I
am asked is, "Why Saugor?" I wanted to study the
Natyasastra, but away from the fumes of a polluted
city, someplace near books, not too large, not too
small. Saugor fitted all my requirements; I fell in love
with the peace and quiet of the HSGVV campus, and
its well-stocked and well-maintained library. All
along, inevitably, it is assumed by one and all that my
mother tongue is Urdu. "Bangla? Are you a Hindu?"
"No, but all Bangladeshis speak Bangla. No one even
knows Urdu." I inform them that Urdu, in fact, is one
of the state languages of India. That also evokes a lot
of surprise among the students.
Of course they have all heard of Bangladesh —
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Taslima Nasreen-but
the rest of the picture is hazy. I show them pictures of
my daughter's wedding. They see the Ial bindi, the
chandan decorations on her forehead, her mehendi-
dyed hands and the Ial ghooghat, and say, "Arre,
sajavat to ikdam hamate jaisehi hai!"
I enjoy telling my new friends all about our land of
rivers. In this gravelly drought-stricken land, they
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 , ^
smile in sympathy whenever my eyes turn wistful
while I try to describe the wide, wide rivers that you
encounter every few miles in Bangladesh. "Yes, it's
the truth, we have great big ferry-boats which carry a
dozen trucks at a time, to and fro, across the rivers."
Here they know all about the Bengali's penchant
for machli. However, Munna Bhaiya refuses to entertain such profane thoughts in his strictly vegetarian
I have a lot to write home about. My letters were
brightened by descriptions of the enchanting Ramlilas
which provide colourful entertainment on the streets
of Saugor during Deepavali. Dhakaites love to eat
panipuri, which we call phuchka, but the chat mixture
that's the favourite fast-food in the streets of Saugor,
they are not familiar with.
So what else do I want to tell you about Bangladesh?
These last few decades my heart would shrink
every time the papers reported on the growing aggression of Islamic jehadis. I could never correlate this
brand of Islam with what I see being practised in all
our private and public spheres of life. The family says
its namaz, attends the Friday jamaat or congregation at
the Masjid, and organises milad-mahfils for religious
occasions. I myself have always enjoyed keeping the
one-month roza or fast-this bit of austerity cannot but
serve a worthy purpose. Yet, this is so far removed
from pictures of gun-wielding jehadis that the word
itself seems alien. Then, a friend lent me Richard
Eaton's Rise of Islam in the Frontiers of Bengal. It seems,
Islam in the Deltaic regions of Bengal was spread not
through the conquering armies but by the mystic Sufi
saints who had dared to make homes for themselves
in the jungles of the Sunderban. A gentler Islam... Now
I understood myself a bit better. Ours is a land which
gave birth to Lalon who sang:
"Shawb lake kawye Lalon kijat shawngshare..."
(Everyone asks what birth-group (jat) has Lalan in
this worldly life.
Fakir Lalon says, what form has jat? I have never
seen it with my eyes...)
These mystic minstrels of Bengal will still begin
their songs with a vandana to Allah, Rasul and Saraswati, all in one breath.
In spite of recent concerns of extraneous threats of
religious activism and militancy, I believe that Bangladesh's most remarkable achievement has been our
successful non-political popular movement against
religion in politics. This has been the most effective in
2001 April 14/4   HIMAL
marginalising religious fundamentalists in electoral
politics. Of course, we have our share of fatwabaazes
but they are emphatically a minority. Taslima Nasreen is a much-admired writer in Bangladesh, and
has evoked a great deal of spontaneous support for
herself, against the insignificant group which announced a fatwa against her. However, Taslima's has
been an individual's fight for feminist rights and she
has never been a part of the grassroots women's move
ment which has played a significant role in Bangladesh. It is this movement that has given our women
an electoral voice.
Then there have been programmes like micro-credit, immunisation and contraception, that have
gained popularity through the combined efforts of ngo's, the public and
private sector. This same cooperation helped us to competently handle the floods of 1998. Of course, we've nad enough
experience with calamities.
Yet, let me not flinch from admitting that we have a
long, long way to go. Illegal migrations, cross-border
smuggling, the porous border with our neighbours,
especially India — which, by the way, works both
ways— are a reality. But we'll talk about regional
cooperation another day. Time we have plenty —to get
to know each other, to learn from each other, to build
Saugor, Madhya Pradesh
27 February 2001
Having erected walls around my playground, I remained immersed in my solitary thoughts.
It was only when you broke those boundaries and came
in that my inhibitions dispersed.
— Rabindranath Tagore
A group of us, in Dhaka, intermittently, run an
organisation called Shadhona which we describe
as a Centre for Advancement of Subcontinental Music,
and my friend in Kathmandu runs Himal which is a
South-Asian magazine. These
are the little games we play ; gxCUSe  me, I
with nomenclature. Well, the       \-r~■; i.        V^,,:.;:': £;:.;;
first thing I do when I start one       BangladeSnlS   S
of my lecture-demonstrations , ,
on classical music, for our
young Bangladeshi participants, is to get them to identiify themselves as South
Asian. I tell them that 'India' is not just a specific
country, but a shared heritage that belongs to everyone living all
the way from Pakistan to Bangladesh and from the
Himalaya to Sri Lanka. Then wTe talk about Indian
music, the Indian audience, the Indian aesthetic experience, etc.
Now to the Questions. Was the Buddha born in
Nepal or India? Are the archaeological remains of
Mohenjodaro in Pakistan, Dholavira in India and
Shortugai in Afghanistan, part of the Indus Valley or
the Saraswati Civilisation? Is the bandish, "fago Mohana
pyare" in Raga Bhairo, sung by almost all young slias-
triya sangeet students across the Subcontinent, part of
the Bangladeshi or Indian classical music? Did the
great rebel Bengali poet Nazrul
Islam belong to Bangladesh? Is
Urdu a Pakistani language?
These questions are in themselves delimiting, and make losers
of all of us, South Asians, just by the
Last May, by a quirk of fate, I
spent 21 days with the RSS, participating in an Akhil
Bharatiya Sanskrit Sarnbhashan-Shibir. Suffice it to say
that it was an extremely interesting experience which I
would certainly repeat given a chance, for various
reasons not pertinent here. I must admit, though, that
the overweening reaction on my part was one of deepest respect for the organisational capacity of the Sangh.
The only time I felt compelled to put in a word, was
when a senior RSS member from Delhi addressed the
gathering at the penultimate session, and went on and
on about Sanskrit being the heritage of the Hindus,
and how it was the means for the renaissance of the
Bharatiya Rashtra. After his address, quite admirably, I
was granted permission to voice my opinion.
So, there was I among a 1000-strong crowd of RSS
supporters, and going up to the mike to declare firmly: "Aham Bangladeshtaha agatavati. Aham mussalman
asmi tathaiva. Sanskrit-bhasha mama eva paramparaya
angsha asti." Then I proceeded to ask if the gentleman
didn't think Muslims were part of this new swadeshi
Indian state that they planned to build? I wracked my
brain to ensure that I spoke each word in my newly
acquired spoken Sanskrit. There was pin-drop silence, even while my heart was pounding loudly
enough for everyone to hear, I thought. To his credit,
however, the honourable gentlemen merely hesitated
a second to clear his throat, before replying, "Behenji,
mai jab Hindu sama] keh raha tha...
(when I was saying Hindu samaj,
I didn't just mean people of
Hindu religion but everyone
belonging to the Hindu param-
para). What remains etched in my
memory is the congratulatory
smiles of my young fellow participants who had come
from varied destinations like Pondicherry, Shimla,
Ahmedabad, Ujjam and so on. After all, wTe had dismantled walls and became friends, hadn't we? If
humans share an incredible 99.99 percent of genetic
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
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 material, then these differences, potent as they are, are
all in the mind, aren't they? But then how does one
remove these barriers?
My father, whom I've always admired for his
capacity for objectivity, writes and asks, "Has your
search within the Hindu shastras shown you tolerance in their thoughts?" As I sit pensively, watching
the sun setting over these gentle Bundelkhand hills, I
am reminded of the Bauls of Bengal singing:
"fe thake shawmaj bondhone chalte hawy taake pawrer
"Whoever remains within the confines of society
has to proceed according to the judgement of others...
You will not be liberated by others' knowledge; rather
your own knowledge will be eroded...Raaj says, cast
off the bonds of society, (and) the bonds of the world
will (also) be severed."
But this is not only about tolerance. It is also about
being able to exclude the subjective ethos in each
other's beliefs to try and reach the wisdom within the
conceptual structure of thoughts. It is about identifying the Truth inherent in all. Most of all, it is about
making a sincere effort to break the barriers and build
bridges. In a fine sentence, Tagore says, "Man is
defeated when the authority inside him is curbed;"
curbed by the externals of religion, by tradition and
custom, by scripture and ritual. The onus today is on
each one of us to take this one crucial step across an
imagined takshmanrekha, and participate in the exciting macrocosmic advance of human civilisation.
Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kirn ca jagatyam jagat
Tena tyaktena bhunjitha, ma grdhah kasyasvid dhanam
— Isa Upanisad 1.1
(Know that) all this, sentient and insentient, whatever
moves in this moving world is enveloped by God.
Therefore find your enjoyment in renunciation; do not
covet what belongs to others.
If what is in you is also in me, in the countless
little street-children shivering in the cold, and in the
sky and the ocean, and yet again in a wisp of grass or
in the bird frying into the sunset, aren't we all then an
equal part of the whole? Equals enjoined. Can we
consciously ignore the shivering poverty
of the child in the street? When
we deface the Narmada
or the Bamiyan Buddhas, do we not
then deface a part
of ourselves too?
The next line of
the sloka, however, has one of the
most pragmatic
pieces of advise.
A beautiful commentary' by
Tagore reads as follows:
When our egos concentrate on the insignificant, it
serves only to destroy unity. The part revolts thence
against the whole. Thus has renunciation been advocated. However, this renunciation far from taking us towards
an emptiness, is assuredly for the purpose of fulfillment.
Renounce then the part to gain the whole, renounce the
ephemeral for the eternal, ego for love, renounce worldly
happiness for eternal bliss.
— Tawpobon; Santiniketan Essays
A vibrant political culture needs public fora for
cross-cultural dialogues, and a meaningful citizenry
requires that people feel a connection to their fellow
citizens. Today, forces inimical to such a people's
participation in policy-making are constantly endeavouring to create conscious and sub-conscious
barriers between the various strata of society.
Has South Asia not bled enough from this aapon-
pawr, we-they, dichotomy? Have we not yet paid the
price for this, several times over, with the blood of our
loved ones? Will we let these deaths —each death —go
in vain? Can we not join hands to renounce the part to
gain the whole?
Saugor. Madhya Pradesh
7 March 2001
Did you think Vasanta was merely a festival of blooming
Haven't you seen the drama of dry leaves and fallen blossoms?
— Rabindranath Tagore
Yes, it is official. With the hills ablaze with paw-
lash and shimul blooms, it is officially Spring now. So,
today at dawn I took the morning off and walked
around the hills. This, take my word for it, is absolutely astounding countryside. Of course, not the lush
greenery of our
Bengal, yet strikingly stunning. I
love watching the
horizon stretch all
the way across
these gentle hills
surrounding the
serene Saugor
Lake. My heart
brimmeth, as I
revel in the soft
dakshini vayu, the
new leaves peeping out of bare
branches, the
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 pawlash trees, and the chirping of the birds. Let me
share it with you. Just close your eyes and try and
think of a vast canvas of sloping browns and bronzes
interspersed with the ochre and crimsons of the
blooms and then add the hesitant, youthful green of
spring just arrived. Now I'll whiff a little bit of this
fresh invigorating breeze towards you.
Drinking deeply off this fresh air, I think of myself
sitting in my cramped room, among my dusty tomes
trying to reach the Truth, while my garden lies unattended. Even amongst all this neglect, amused as if by
such childish scorn, Vasanta brazenly beckons yet
again, with the melody of its magic. For aeons together, every Phalgun at exactly this time, at exactly this
hour, Vasanta brings its renewed offering of love. But
do I hear? I am so full of myself that it behooves me
not to submit. The pity is that I delude myself by
presuming to think that I have not even the time to
glance at it all.
At night as the y: ;;
bustle of the day .j ft :      :
subsides, I can :!.
hear the distant
sounds of the
dholak accompanying some ,:_,;..,
crooner in the
nearby village
singing, "Sir bane ' ;
mukut khele hori
Radha-Krshna ki
pyan jordi..."
(Having dressed
in their mukuts
the loving pair of
Radha and Krsh- 1 wsm
na play Holi...)
My heart too wants to join in this revelry. But the
sorrow is that my nagarik soul has long abandoned
its primal instincts, and has forgotten how to celebrate. Entertainment has long sidelined my celebrations. Today, instead of joining hands in festivity with
my brethren, I am part of an atomised society of disengaged individuals who get their joys from honing
their competitive skills in the dreams of becoming a
And so just a hundred years ago, the visionary
that he was, Rabindranath literally taught the young
girls and boys in his newly formed academy to shed
inhibitions, to dress in all their Vasanta finery and
dance to the melodies of spring. Thus, till date, on the
day of Holi, the young students in Santiniketan,
normally stultified by their unnatural urban restraints, dance to the rhythm of nature, as man was in
all intents and purposes made to-as does the peacock dance in the joy of a rainy day, and cuckoos coo
on spring moms. On such a festival of colours, even
St. Valentine would scom at a six-by-four-inch piece
of cardboard to declare one's love. Love itself is the
presiding deity of Utsavs.
What after all is a 'Utsav?'
Rabindranath writes:
Truth that is daily fragmented into bits by the barrage
of egotistical desires is resurrected in its entirety on
these specials days of celebrations, or Utsavs —and so
we need union on such days. Utsavs have no meaning
in isolation. As long as we view this world as unrelated
pieces, we fail to see the entire picture - then does each
event, each part separately pound at our consciousness.
We struggle within our limited perspectives, futilcly
intensifying our efforts and thus too our pains, devoid
of joy. Titus we lack a sense of fulfilment in our daily
endeavours, find no lasting satisfaction in them, cannot
discern their ultimate worth, and lose track ofthe
ragini or melody - Truth remains hidden. It is only in
that auspicious moment, when we see the parts united
into their whole, in that union only do we then realise
Truth. And so, I say,
Utsavs have no meaning in isolation. It is
only in union that
If" Truth is revealed —and
b realising Truth in the
f midst of this union is
the true worth of an
Utsav. The Truth that I
try to understand
rationally in my soli-
77.7" ■ tary meditations, is
IF fully realised by me
only when I stand in the
midst, a part in the
whole, of this wide
Can we unlearn age-old habits? Can Eid-ul-Azha
again become a declaration of our willingness to
sacrifice, and not a contest of who has led the largest
offering to the slaughter? Can Dashhera be once
again a celebration of Good against Evil and not
about which neighbourhood has the biggest and
finest Durga pratima? Can Christmas be about the
observance of the wisdom which dawned that day on
Earth in a shepherd's hut, and not about impoverishing oneself to buy gifts?
To Love and to celebrate this Love is what is the
essence of Man; and Spring, they say, is the time to
shed the dead and the dried. So, on one such spring
morning, that ardent bard from Bengal beseeched
As rhythm arises from the heart ofthe Cosmic Dance,
Just so, before TOltee leaves!, bestir me and fare me well
on my journey onwards,
Destroying the chains of my inhibitions. b
2001  April 14/4  HIMAL
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'  -  ■
 The Public Intellectual
MOST PUBLIC intellectuals function as quote-suppliers to legitimise the media. Two or three times a week, 1
get called by journalists and asked whether 1 will deliver myself of a sociological quote to accompany his or
her article, to legitimate, in a sense, the generalisations
that journalists make and have to make, because they've
got two-hour deadlines. Which means that while there
are few public intellectuals who are self-selected, most
of us get selected anyway. You know, if no journalist
calls for a quote, then I'm not a public intellectual; 1 just
sit there writing my books and teaching classes.
1 did a book on the news media and hung out at
Newsweek and the other magazines. And at Newsweek,
they had something they called an island, right in the
main editorial room. On the island were names of people who would now be called public intellectuals, the
people whom Newsweek quoted. And the rules were—
and this is a bit like Survivor—every so often people
would be kicked off the island. Because the editors
thought, and probably rightly, that we as readers were
' going to get tired of this group of public intellectuals.
So a new group was brought in to provide the quotes.
And then they were kicked off.
From "The Future of the Public Intellectual" by
Herbert Cans in The Nation, New York,
No thank you
... THE British government has, in proscribing the LTTE
and 21 other organisations, acted fairly and squarely
within the provisions of its law, that is, the Terrorism
Act of July 2000, which came into force on 19 February
2001. That Act has a very broad definition of terrorism.
In brief, under the Act, any act done in furtherance of
any cause of any kind, political, religious, ethnic, philosophical or whatever, is terrorism if it involves violence.
In other words, the British Act does not focus on the
worthiness of the cause; it merely declares that, in legal
terms, an organisation is a terrorist organisation if it
conducts activities-rof a violent kind. Therefore, Ladies
and Gentlemen, 1 would say respectfully that the British Government has taken the only decision it could
possibly have taken as a responsible, law-abiding member of the international community, within the terms of
its own law, and also in terms of the two international
conventions, the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings of 1997 and the Convention on the
Suppression of Terrorist Financing of 1999, both of
which the British Government has signed. The British
Government, together with a number of other governments, including the Government of Sri Lanka, was in
the forefront of the campaign to have international legislative measures put in place to combat international
terrorism. The Government of the United Kingdom has
made, within its purview, a sovereign decision, lt is not
for me, or for anybody, to thank the British Government
for what it has done. One sovereign does not thank
another sovereign for acting in terms of its own law.
In this connection, I wish to say, Ladies and Gentlemen, that a news report which was brought to my notice this morning in our own media, that I was going
shortly to the United Kingdom to thank the British government for proscribing the LTTE is utterly and totally
unfounded. 1 have absolutely no intention of doing any
such thing. In fact, it would be inappropriate, unnecessary, undignified, indeed foolish, for me to go on a venture of that kind. The British government has not given
us a gift or granted us a favour.
Having said that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to
say that there is one aspect of this matter on which all
the governments of the world would applaud what the
British Government has done. And that is that it has
shown that even with the pressures to which a democratic society and a democratic government are subject,
the British Government was able to apply its law fairly,
correctly and objectively and not be deterred or deflected from the correct path by domestic considerations or
by considerations such as whether its decision would
interfere or not with some peace process in which the
British Government has no part. Whenever a sovereign
government acts in that principled manner it is a matter of great satisfaction for the entire international community. Therefore, 1 salute the British Government for
having acted wisely and fairly in that manner in respect of its own law. .
From a press statement of Sri Lankan Foreign .
Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Colombo.
Was that net you
Mr Vajpayee?
WE ALL appreciate your appeal to world leaders asking them to condemn the Taliban for vandalising and
destroying historic Buddhist monuments an archaeological sites in Afghanistan. It is an act of incredible
But was it not you sir, who less than two months
ago defended the destroyers of the Babri Mosque in
Ayodhya and described their intentions of building a
Ram temple in its place as being "in the national interest"? Does the similarity in the thought process of you,
your party and the dreaded, hated, Taliban, not strike
you? Granted, perhaps the Babri Masjid was perhaps
not as valued an object of art or even of archaeology as
the monuments in Afghanistan. But is it not indisputable that demolishing it hurt the sentiments of a religious minority as well as the sentiments of a secular
(though unfortunately largely silent) majority that had
been nurtured on the belief that this country is proud of
the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and that it believes in
intolerance and humanity?
At the time of the Masjid demolition, the destroyers
openly stated that they were driven by their sense of
intense piety; that they were the children of God ("Bac-
cha, baccha Ram ka fanmabhoomi ke kaam ka"). The Taliban says the same. Their god has told them to destroy
all idols. Is their intolerance really very different from
2001  Aprif 14/4   HIMAL
yours? Will the world stand by and reward them for
this intolerance as the people of this nation stood by
and rewarded you for yours? Your party had two seats
in Parliament before it started the campaign to demolish the Masjid. The campaign brought you to power
and from time to time, whenever necessary, you revive
these very sentiments of intolerance, to keep yourself in
power. But you are of course not as crude as the Taliban. You sit in an office under a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who was killed in 1948 by the gurus
of your own ideology, a man whom you murdered once
more on 6 December 1992 and then again for the third
time on 11 May 1998 when you exploded once and for
all, India's claims to pacifism. Yes, you can take refuge
in the fact that you were not alone in your madness. At
least five other nations preceded you. Should I be consoled by this? That my nation is no worse than an America that bombed Hiroshima? Than a Pakistan that invokes Jehad? Than an Afghanistan?
I do not wish to neutralise the horror I feel at the
destruction of Buddhist monuments with the thought
that my national leaders did the same thing a decade
ago. But I do believe that if this act sparks in us the-
dtjsire to fight intolerance of all kinds, then surely the
Buddha will not have lived and taught in vain.
A letter (3 March, 2000) by Indian documentary
film-maker Anand Patwardhan to Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee.
Spare a prayer...
SIR, IN response to your Notice regarding a Memorial
Service for the recently demolished statues of The Enlightened One, may I, Sir, kindly be excused from attending the same. You see, Sir, I dare not leave my lonely vigil for the return of my young fidayeen brother, who
left our penurious hearth after having attended just such
a Service as yours—called for the destruction at the
hands of a mob of 'kaffirs' of another such a place of
worship, in a land far, far away from ours.
Kind Sir, I entreat you though to think not harshly
of him, my foolish brother, who had but recently entered the portals of manhood, for he knew no better. On
that last Memorial, the scholarly clergyman had spoken much worthy words about 'crusades', "the taking
up of arms for the salvation of the Almighty" and "our
duty to do so" which I do agree, Learned Sir, is the only
means of deliverance for baser souls like us.
However, worthless that I am, my feeble heart, Sir,
knows not of grand monuments and edifices, and
would just have my one brother, my childhood playmate, back with me. In your wanderings, Sir, if you do
meet that silly lad from this our little village in the plains
of the Jhelum, wil] you tell him that his sister awaits
him yet, as does every mother for every son? Tell him
that if he does return, we will pray to the Allah who
resides in our hearts and if He so wishes He will then
grant us redemption, for such as us cannot afford to
hanker after the glory of being saviours.
In your Memorial for those grand shrines of stone,
can I plead you, Sir, to spare a prayer or two for him, my
brother, who lives and breathes in my heart?
An Unknown Sister.
Email to Himal's Editor, who had organised a
'memorial service' to the Bamiyan Buddhas,
Gurkha activism
WE, THE participants of the International Human
Rights Conference on Discriminatory Treatment against
British Army Gurkhas, held in Kathmandu from March
9-11, 2001, organised by Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's
Organisation (GAESO), make the following declaration
of concerns and plan of action regarding human rights
violations against the British Army Gurkhas and their
families... We call upon, the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland to:
1. Fulfill the four-point demands of GAESO in the interest of all British Gurkha soldiers and their families (adequate compensation for those who were
returned to Nepal under redundancy following the
end of wars; residential visas for British Gurkhas
and their families, including citizenship to their
children by birth; proper education and employment opportunity for the children of British
4 Gurkhas; and an end to discriminatory treatment
against British Gurkhas vis-a-vis their British counterparts);
2.,' Review the 1947 Tri-Partite Agreement on the Recruitment of Gurkhas to test its compliance with
UK's discrimination-related laws and international human rights obligations;
3. Disclose all information about the employment,
deployment and the status of British Gurkhas, particularly those who were wounded, "disappeared"
and killed during World War I and II and other
regional wars;
4. Provide compensation to British Gurkha World
,   War II Japanese prisoners of war equal to their British counterparts;
5. Review the case of the victims of Hawaii (1986)
-"'   and other incidents of unjust and controversial dismissal of British Gurkhas with legal and administrative remedies and provide them adequate compensation and/or pension;
6. Release information about the Gurkhas abandoned
abroad after various conflicts, provide adequate
compensation and guarantee their reunion with
their families back home;
7. Take responsibility for the sufferings of British
Gurkhas of the British Burma Regiments who were
left without proper arrangements and, help negotiate for their pension and other retirement benefits in foreign currency from Burma to their home
country, Nepal;
8. Conduct an independent investigation of the current social and economic status of all the ex-British Army Gurkhas and their families in Nepal and
guarantee their adequate living standards through
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 compensation, rehabilitation and other appropri-
 ate measures;
9. Stop interference with the independent trade union
activities of GAESO members and supporters as
well as other British Gurkha soldiers in Nepal and
abroad; and
10. Initiate negotiation with GAESO and the Government of Nepal for the immediate solution to these
problems in a just and appropriate manner.
A part of the GAESO declaration
adopted on 11 March in Kathmandu.
The prolapsed uterus
A medical team organised by the German organisation,
GTZ, recently set up a 10-day medical clinic at a hospital (in Achham, west Nepal). The team of six doctors included four gynaecologists, and was there to treat the
never-treated and the mis-treated women of this remote
and neglected area of western Nepal. The clinic at the
15-bed Mangalsain District Hospital was a resounding
success... It attracted long queues of women who had
never before had a medical checkup, some from as far
as three days' walk away...
In 10 days, the doctors examined 1,700 women as
part of a reproductive health project carried out in conjunction with the government health services and the
Achham district authorities. The most shocking condition treated in Mangalsain, and which doctors are still
discussing with incredulity, were the 200 cases of "prolapsed uterus". This is a condition in which the uterus,
often weakened at childbirth and the lack of rest soon
after, falls outside the body hanging infected between
the woman's legs affecting her movement, her ability to
work, and her marital life.
Photographs of these coconut-sized red, rubbed and
infected appendages reminded me of the horrors of Indian railway stations, and the sight in 1960 of a desperately poor woman sleeping near the tracks with that
huge infected uterus hanging out for passersby to see.
The image haunted me for years. At that time, young
and jusT arrived in Asia, I had no idea of the condition
from which the women were suffering: horror and ignorance often overwhelms compassion. I am ashamed
to admit that was the case then.
Forty years later, I now know what I had seen, and I
know that a prolapsed uterus is one of the most tragic
manifestations of poverty and abuse of women in this
part of the world. The mistreatment of women in western Nepal is legendary: in many villages women have
to spend four to seven days during their menstrual period in a tiny enclosed, airless building known as a
chaupadi goth because they are considered unclean during those times. They also give birth in the same stifling
surroundings, and often have to return to heavy manual work immediately afterwards.
One woman told doctors she had been ordered to
move a heavy container of grain by her mother-in-law,
and the strain caused something to drop from inside
her lower abdomen. Another woman was forced back
to work in the fields a day after giving birth, while her
husband played cowrie with cronies: she vividly remembers the sensation of her falling uterus. Her husband
was appalled by her deformity, so her suffering was
two-fold. Many husbands immediately take another
At the Mangalsain clinic, 113 women with prolapsed uteruses were referred to Nepalgunj for surgery.
The uteruses of the other 88 were coaxed back into place
and held there with a plastic ring. Other cases were
more familiar, and more easily treated like sexually
transmitted diseases.
And so the two wars continue: The "People's War"
has directed attention to the government's neglect of,
and discrimination against, the citizens of poor remote
areas of Nepal, but it is increasingly taking a toll among
those same poor it is supposed to be helping. Then there
is the mostly still foreign-funded war against poverty,
and here health clinics like the ones carried out by GTZ
are proving to be surprisingiy effective.
A lot of recent inflow of aid dollars into Nepal from
organisations like DFID and the ADB are intended to
"alleviate" Nepal's poverty so that people do not fall
into the arms of the Maoists. But most donors fail to
realise that the corrupt government that they so lavishly prop with aid are the very reason the Maoists have
been so successful.
And whether we like it or not, we have to admit that
the Maoists' "war" has woken up this slumbering nation and donors about festering social ills and inequities like nothing before. The whole country should joirt
in a "people's war" against poverty and discrimination, and especially against the kind of cruelty to women and dalits still rampant in western Nepal.
From "A Tale of Two Wars" by columnist Barbara
Adams in the Nepali Times.
Six Seasons Review
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2001 Aprit 14/4   HIMAL
 Kerala's economic democracy
For those who have even a passing acquaintance with the movement for decentralised planning
in Kerala, the relative absence of
mainstream media discussion on it
has been a source of surprise. It is
true that progressive mass movements or social tendencies tend to
get very little space in media that
are increasingly oriented towards
sensationalism and quick sound-
byte reaction. But this neglect by the
media, and the consequent lack of
greater public awareness about the
Kerala plan, is of immense concern
because this is surely one of the most
significant democratic social experiments of our times. It is also an ongoing process which could serve as
a source of both inspiration and
optimism in these rather dark times;
for this reason alone it deserves wider recognition.
Local Democracy and Development
is a mid-stream account of the Kerala people's campaign for decentralised planning, co-authored by one
(T.M. Thomas Isaac) who has been
closely involved with the movement
since its inception. It is a remarkable exercise: a combination of objective appraisal, personal involvement and honest self-criticism. And
because the process it describes is
at once complex and still unfolding,
the book touches on practically all
the issues of direct interest to those
concerned with both the theory
and the practice of economic
Decentralisation of one variety
or another is of course the flavour of
the times, and has become the chosen buzzword not only for governments North and South, but also for
donor agencies and inter-national
financial institutions. It is therefore
important to distinguish Kerala's
attempt at genuine parti-cipatory
economic planning from the more
top-down approaches of the World
Bank and, indeed, of governments
which are on the offensive to downsize the state apparatus and transfer its activities to a range of ngo's
and private organisations not directly accountable to the people. By
contrast, far from a reduction of
state economic activities, in Kerala
the movement is oriented towards
greater public participation m state
expenditures and in the design and
implementation of public planning.
The stress is on both more public
involvement and greater accountability.
Local Democracy and
Development: People's
campaign for decentralised
planning in Kerala
by T. M. Thomas Isaac with Richard Franke;
Leftword Books, August 2000, New Delhi.
ISBN 81 87496 11 8
hardback, pp 359, INR 400.
reviewed by Jayati Ghosh
Democratic decentralisation
It is interesting that the attempts at
decentralisation of public economic decision-making in India, have
mostly been associated with Left
Front governments in West Bengal
and Kerala, led bv the Communist
Party of India (Marxist), a party
known to emphasise democratic
centralism. Isaac and Franke point
out that there is no real contradiction here, since a party organised
on the principle of democratic centralism, which imposes a degree of
discipline and allows for greater
power to the leadership, can still
believe in democratic decentra-lisa-
tion as a principle of governance
and in planning as an instrument
of social mobilisation.
lt has been recognised in India
for some time now that some degree
of decentralisation of political and
economic authority is absolutely
necessary, and there have been legal and constitutional changes
which are supposed to further this
objective. However, the authors argue that this is not enough, and that
there can be no effective decentralisation without a major social mobilisation of the kind that actua-lly
ensures the involvement of or-di-
nary people. They also reiterate two important principles first
brought forward by EMS Namboodiripad, the doyen of Indian communism who died in 1998, which
go beyond the official Indian government position on the matter: first,
that developmental and regulatory
functions should not be distinguished; and second, that full-
fledged democratic decentralisation
requires not only devolution down
to 'panchayat' level but also a radical restructuring of Centre-state
There have been state governments that have emphasised "panchayati raj" and conducted local
body elections. But in the absence
of any real fiscal and economic devolution, the attempt at decentralisation has remained relatively ineffective. The crucial difference in the
Kerala experiment was the decision
to devolve 35-to-40 percent of the
State's plan funds directly to the local bodies, to be allocated according to local plans drawn up by local people. This has given real teeth
to the process of decentralisation,
and has made the social mobilisation that accompanied it that much
more meaningful.
The authors provide a useful
summary of earlier micro-experiments in social mobilisation and
transformation in Kerala, which,
in their view, made the people's
campaign possible. But the bulk
of the book, and by far the most instructive and fascinating part of it,
is the account of the actual process
so far and its various phases, struggles, failures and successes. This is
a movement with a very self-aware
and constantly self-critical leadership, which recog-nises the limitations and challen-ges, and does not
seem to leave much room for self-
congratulation or complacency.
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 While prior conditions are important, they are not all-determining. An important point made by the
authors, is that it does not serve
much purpose to put too much emphasis on appropriate initial conditions, such as local absorptive
capacity and the ability of the people to engage in genuine participation, before actually getting into fiscal and economic devolution. This
can only serve to delay indefinitely
the process of decentralisation and
popular involvement. Instead, Isaac
and Franke advocate a more pragmatic approach, whereby the initiation of decentralised planning itself is a catalyst for the emergence
of necessary conditions for its success, and where the involvement of
people itself becomes a means for
empowering them and giving them
the capabilities to prepare and
implement their own local plans.
Nevertheless, it must be stated that
Kerala did have certain special conditions which made it especially
suited to this type of social mobilisation: a high rate of literacy, a high
level of political consciousness, the
past land reforms, as well as other
social and cultural features. The
book also discusses the strengths
and limitations of the much-talked-
about Kerala Model. This model,
which consciously delinked economic growth from social and human development, promoted phenomenal advances in social indicators like literacy, health care, education, life expectancy, birth rate and
so on despite a low per capita income, low employment growth and
indifferent economic performance.
They suggest that the movement for
decentralised planning could also
be seen as a response to limited
growth within the Kerala Model,
and as an attempt to improve the
economic growth trajectory, while
retaining all the positive features of
social development.
The current social mobilisation
associated with the people's plan
has its roots in earlier efforts, such
as the People's Science Movement
in Kerala (KSSF) and the Total Literacy Movement. But it formally be
gan with a focus on the vitalisation
of the gram sabha (village assembly) as an instrument of participatory local government. It was only
to be expected that the success
of these would vary across panchayats, but what is important, as
the authors note, is that these gram
sabhas have become part of the political landscape in the South Indian state. Gram sabhas were important to identify local needs and to
give basic direction to the subsequent plan formulation. They were
also vital at a later stage for the identification of beneficiaries. In the second phase, development seminars
and preparation of development reports were undertaken to develop
medium-term perspectives for development, based on local understanding and experience, but with the
assistance of some resource persons.
Already by this stage, the difference between the northern districts
where the campaign was surging
ahead, and the southern districts
were it was lagging, was manifest.
This discrepancy became even more
acute in the third crucial phase,
which was also the one most riddled with problems—in which task
forces were to prepare the actual
projects. This phase was characterised by delays, incomplete delivery
and inadequate integration with
the overall plan in some districts,
especially in the south, while it
was much more successful in some
The authors' candid assessment
of this phase suggests that there has
been much learning from the experience at all levels. They point out
that despite the difficulties, there
have been considerable methodological and practical successes in
terms of actual plan formulation at
the local level in the fifth phase,
during which the elected bodies
played an important role. Of course,
there still remains the problem of
institutionalising the decentralised
planning process, especially in
terms of the effective integration of
the government machinery, the bureaucracy (which ofcourse would
have major pockets of resistance)
and the legislature, into the process.
The entire plan is over three
years old, and it is certainly too early to make definitive judgements
about it. Also, as the authors recognise, new challenges are likely to
emerge along the way. Apart from
some of the problems already mentioned, there are inadequacies in the
'gender component' of the process,
and in the participation of 'weaker
sections'. But there are also some
unambiguous successes of this
movement, quite distinct from the
tangible achievements in the social
and infrastructure sectors. For one,
there is definitely greater transparency and therefore less potential for
corruption in government spending
and allocation patterns, while the
nepotism in beneficiary selection
has been reduced, and the quality
of projects and programmes has
improved, especially in terms of relevance and desirability for the local
The most important success so
far, however, is not physically tangible, and it is to be hoped even more
irreversible. This relates to the positive transformation in the quality of
public participation in the planning
process. Across the state in every
village, citizens are not only aware
of the planning process, but also see
it as something that they can hope
to influence and shape, in ways that
will benefit their communities. This
awareness, and the recognition of
the potential of direct participation,
extends beyond the local plan to
the larger question of public resource raising and resource allocation, allowing the people of Kerala
to become more effective citizens
in assessing more aggregate state
planning endeavours and other
economic policies.
It is this process of greater awareness and people's participation that
is the basic aim of such a movement,
and one that hopefully cannot be
altered by a change in government.
It is also this aspect which can be
the greatest source of inspiration to
people across South Asia, which is
why knowledge about this major
social experiment is important in its
own right. b
2001  April 14/4   HIMAL
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Tor years, I have wanted to write this episode from my
childhood, as the growing years have finally dispelled
whatever mystery shrouded it: a mystery, which as a child,
I could not find the courage to question my parents about or
clarify on my own. Now, thinking about it, the scenario
would seem to be lifted straight from a Hindi movie plot.
This is how I recall it..,
Father was transferred from Delhi and we moved
to Bombay late in 1946. We were accommodated for
the first few months by a good friend of the family in
their spacious rented bungalow in the far off suburb
of Andheri. For me, everything about Bombay seemed
strange and unreal. Father commuted to office and
back by the local train, leaving very early in the
morning even before the children got up, and mostly
returning well after my sister and I were put to bed.
Within a few months the strain began to tell on him,
and that's when mother started to nag him about
finding our own flat in the city. It was absolutely
necessary to get us two girls admitted to a good
school. In mid-January 1947, Father was allotted a
requisitioned Government flat in a five-storied block
off a beautiful sea-front, within walking distance to
his office, and above all, so close to the school where
we found admission without any fuss.
I would stand for hours in the verandah facing the
sea, and watch the changing hues of the waves as
they dashed on the rocks, sending spumes of foam.
For someone from Delhi where the houses were all
bungalows and havelis on one level, this five-storied
tower was quite awesome. These blocks, all forming a
semi-circle on the sea-front were quite unlike anything I had ever seen.
Father told me that twenty families lived in each of
these buildings, four on each floor. On the first day
after moving in, my younger sister and I helped
Mother put everything in place and by evening the
house looked neat and tidy with the fragrant smell of
agarbatti which Mother loved to light in the evenings.
She sent us downstairs to make friends with the other
children in the compound and play with them, saying
we should be able to find some friends our age in
such a big building. Sure enough at the end of the
evening I had made friends with four or five girls
about my age, who spoke in a Gujarati-Hindi mixture,
while mv four-year-old sister had made friends with
boys, who picked her up in their arms as if she were a
doll, which she seemed to enjoy immensely. As it grew
dark, we heard our mother call out our names from
the verandah, and as we all moved towards the lift
that took the group of children up to their flats, a tall
girl who seemed to have kept her distance all along
yet seeming very much a part of the group, took my
hand and said, "I like you, will you be my friend? My
name is Sheela and I live on the same floor as you do.
short flcflcn by gomrihy venktfawcr
 I saw you move in yesterday, and I am glad you speak
such good Hindustani; here in this building everyone
only speaks in Marathi and Gujarati, neither of which
I know."
I had never been up in a lift ever before. It was our
turn now, and there was a funny feeling as it moved
swiftly up; my sister crept close to me and held my
hand. The boys started making mischief. They would
not allow the lift to stop on any floor and kept pressing the button from one floor to another till, quite close
to tears I shouted, "Stop, I want to get off!" Sheela got
off too, and she whispered cryptically in my ear, "You
can enter my house through your kitchen door." She
waved at me and disappeared around a turn in the
I rang the doorbell to our flat twice, impatient to
try to get into Sheela's house as quickly as possible.
Father opened the door with a smile and said, "Ah,
that's my code for the bell, now you can you make
your own bell code, so that all of us will know who is
at the door". This too was something new to us here
in Bombay: in Delhi, people called out our names as
they entered the house as the front doors were never
shut. I did not wait to hear half of what Father said as
I rushed to the kitchen where Mother was cooking. I
quickly unlatched  the big heavy door. Mother
watched me quizzically and said that there was onlv a
spiral staircase out there which was dangerous for
little children; but I kept pulling at the bolt till it
swung open... I stopped. There was a metal landing
place ahead for just about two people to stand on and
the stairs spiralled above dizzily and plunged down
The next minute the door across the landing
opened, and there was Sheela smiling and beckoning
me. I ran across, and Sheela closed the door behind
her. What a frightful smell it was that assailed my
nose as I entered her kitchen. I almost threw up! lt
was unfamiliar and at the same time, terribly unpleasant. As I looked about me, I saw dirty pots and pans
piled up in the sink, and in the corner a mess of
chicken feathers and blood. I was about to run back,
when Sheela dragged me into the interior of her flat. I
just stood and was startled again. There were lovely
soft carpets all over the floor, rich velvet drapes,
leather sofas that looked more like beds and glass
shelves from wall to wall filled with dolls of all sizes
in different costumes. The flat seemed so different
from ours, there was a heavy perfume hanging in the
air, all the windows were shut and as Sheela
switched on the lights, I saw a twinkling from cande-
labras all around the walls. Sheela said her mother was
sleeping, and her father would only be back at night. I
could only stare around me.
And then suddenly, there was a gruff voice from
behind that gave me quite a fright: "Baba, you must
now go back to your house." It was a bearded man
with a strange cap that covered his head at an angle.
(Later I found out that such a cap with black tassels
hanging at its side was called a fez). His hair was
reddish and he had kajal-lined eyes. His appearance
frightened me and I scurried back through the kitchen
and the spiral staircase landing into my own house,
glad to be back in safety or so I thought for some
unknown reason.
The next morning, my mother was pleasantly
surprised to find a vegetable vendor knocking at the
kitchen door. She found this very convenient. I was
with her picking out fresh beans and tomatoes, when
the same bearded man came out of his kitchen door,
salaamed my mother and, quite surprisingly, spoke to
her in Tamil. He introduced himself as the
"khansamah" of his master, Mr. 1. M. Lai. He continued with his introduction with a description of his
master who he said was a very big textile magnate,
who had recently entered the world of films as a
producer. As for himself, he had worked in Bangalore
for a British colonel who had left for England when
he realised that India's Independence was imminent.
He was rather apologetic and said that knowing we
were vegetarians and South Indian Brahmins at that,
the smells that would emanate from his kitchen could
be rather offensive, but his master liked chicken and
meat every night, and many other things as well. After
buying some onions and potatoes from the vendor, he
departed with these words to Mother, "Maaji, do not
send your daughter to our house, it's not a proper
Mother was rather tight-lipped all day, not mentioning the conversation even once. 1 had listened to
the whole thing but could not quite understand the
last few lines—"It's not a proper house." I hastened to
describe to Mother the fantastic decor of the room I
had seen. Mother listened silently but as the evening
drew closer and it was time to go down and play, she
only told me: "You are to come straight up to study in
an hour's time."
My sister and I had missed three months of school
since our transfer to Bombay, and being so far away in
the suburbs we had to stay at home till father obtained our admission into this big Convent school in
the city after we moved into the new house. Yes, I had
much to cover in class and mother would sit with me
in the evenings and supervise every bit of my study; I
would go to bed tired but happy that homework was
done with and lessons understood. I did not go to
Sheela's house for almost a month till I discovered
that Sheela had an Anglo-Indian teacher who came to
help her with her studies in the evenings. One day
Sheela called me to her house but this time from her
front door and not the kitchen entrance.
It was like entering Ali Baba's cave—there were
mirrors in the hall and transparent white curtains
that fluttered in the breeze; Sheela had a small desk in
the verandah where the teacher sat and 'taught' her.
Miss Gonsalves, as she was called, took out Sheela's
home-work diary, read through the work allotted for
the next day, worked out the Maths and the English
workbook herself, and then asked Sheela to copy it
out in the school exercise books. And whilst Sheela
2001   April 14/4   HIMAL
 wrote, Miss Gonsalves took out a silver cigarette case
lying on the centre table, lit a match and started
smoking. I could not take my eyes off her, and noticing
me she brusquely asked me which school I went to,
and when I mentioned the name, her eyes lit up and
she exclaimed, "O really! My sister teaches there in
Standard Eight. She is soon going to take the veil." Of
course that made no sense to me.
Just then, I saw a woman enter the hall from inside
the house. My eyes widened at her appearance. She
looked as if she had just got out of bed, for her hair
was untidy and her dress crumpled. She was wearing
a satm Gharara suit, and of her face I could only notice
the scarlet streak across her lips and her eyes heavily
lined with kajal, and heavy-lidded too, almost as if
they were half-closed. Her voice was hoarse and
cracked as she called out, "Mumtaz come here."
I looked around for Mumtaz, but it was only Sheela
who got up slowly and went to her as she gave me a
look and smiled. The woman put her hands into the
front of her dress and took out some money counted it
and said in broken English as she gave it to Miss
Gonsalves—"The rest will come later."
I guessed this must be Sheela's mother. The teacher
left soon after and I followed her out of the house,
eager to tell my mother what I had seen, especially
about the teacher who helped with the homework and
how easy it was to have one's lessons taken care of,
when suddenly I realised  that Mother had very firmlv
asked me not to go to Sheela's house without giving
any explanation for the ban; and when Mother's
voice had that bit of steel in it I dared never question
her. So how could I now tell her all that I wished to
spill out, even the strange fact that Sheela's name     -
was actually Mumtaz, and perhaps whether I too
could have a secret name known only to people I
wanted to reveal to!
I rang the doorbell and went in quietly, took
out my books and started working at my
Maths whilst Mother hummed and sang in
the kitchen as she made dinner.
In the weeks that followed, Father and
Mother would discuss in the early morning
over coffee the terrible sounds of breaking
glass and much shouting that came through from the
adjacent flat till very late at night. One day Father said
with great irritation, "I am going to the landlord just
now to lodge a complaint. It's days since I have had a
good night's sleep". We had never seen Mr. Lai as he
was wont to return late at nights and again leave very
early m the morning to play badminton at the
Gymkhana Club: all these bits and pieces of news the
other neighbours in the building would come and tell
my mother in the afternoons as they visited one by
one to make friends with her, the new neighbour.
It so happened that as a senior Government
Officer, Father had been allotted a telephone from the
very first day of our moving into the flat. It was the
only flat on the first two floors of the building that
had a telephone, and the neighbours, who soon came
to know of this facility, would drop in on these
neighbourly calls and stay on to make a phone call or
two before they left. This continued through odd
hours of the day into the evenings much to the
annoyance of Father, who had a regular routine of
spinning the charkha for an hour before dinner.
Besides, he complained to Mother, there was no
privacy left in the house. The neighbours would now
sit down next to Father, watch him spin and ask
sweetly whether they could try too. It looked so easy,
they would say, and then they would mess up the
yarn before they left unconcernedly.
Mother solved the impending crisis by fixing a
small lock on the dial of the phone, explaining to the
neighbours that since it was a government official's
phone it could only be used by Father for his office
purposes. The neighbours would now go back
disappointed, but not before they gave some juicy bits
of news about their favourite neighbour "Khursheed,
that woman who lives in Flat Number 8." •
I was all ears but Mother's admonition to go.
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 make me drag my feet away.
At this time all of Bombay was agog with the
"Kishori Court" murder case and newspapers carried
front page columns on the development of the investigations of the murder of Police Inspector Kulkarni,
who had been thrown out of the balcony of Kishori
Court, a rather large house on Worli Sea Face. The
police had arrested Kishori, the owner of the house,
and sealed the three-storied luxury apartment building. 1 would listen to all this as Father read out the
newspaper to Mother. The story continued, stating
that the "other inmates" had taken up residence in
other apartments and hotels in the city.
I distinctly recall Mother muttering one morning
as she plaited my hair while Father described some
further leads that the police had found in the murder
case, "Khursheed must be from Kishori Court."
■ ' ■* ■
Then something totally unexpected happened...
This was during the summer holidays of 1947. In the
hot afternoons, Mother, who I thought was getting
rather fat, would lie down under the fan on the cool
floor and watch my sister and I play carrom. On other
days she would join us in a round of Monopoly.
One such afternoon at about 3.00, the door-bell
rang and I got up to answer it. On opening the door, I
saw two women standing there, perspiring profusely.
One was rather old and dressed in white cotton,
while the other was young, but both seemed quite out
of breath after climbing the stairs instead of using the
lift. The younger woman, I noticed, had a lovely face,
with a dazzling diamond nose-ring and was immensely fat, and she spoke rather hesitantly in a
Punjabi accent "Does a a a..." then she stopped and
turned to the other lady as if
for help. The older woman
then spoke up in such a thick
accent that I began to giggle.
Mother called out as to who
was at the door, and then
came to see for herself. The - V.v*,!   .fjt 7 '
old woman took hold of
Mother's hand and said in
Hindi, "Behenji, please help
us and say where Jugal
Kishore Mehta lives in this
building." I do not remember
Mother ever calling strangers
inside the house, but all I do
know was Mother being very
kind to them and offering
thein both cold water to
drink, and asking them to
cool off under the fan.
However, she did tell them,
that no Mr. Jugal Kishore
Mehta lived in the building.
The older woman thanked
my mother and looking at her
very intently said, "May God
bless you with what you want." Mother smiled and
saw them to the door, as I impatiently waited to ask
her why she let them in. Mother said, "They seemed to
be in trouble." But that was not the last of the two. A
couple of weeks later, they again climbed all the five
floors of the building, ringing all the doorbells of the
flats, and asking the same question, "Does Jugal
Kishore Mehta live in any of these floors?" This time
no one offered any sympathy, but shooed them off.
Then came a new visitor to our house that was a
surprise, and took my mind away from everything
else—a baby sister, and no one had time for anything
else. But late one night after we had all gone to bed,
there was a loud knocking on the kitchen door at the
back, rudely waking us up, especially the baby who
started to whimper. Father went angrily to open the
door, ready to give a piece of his mind to whoever it
was, and I crept behind curiously to see if I could
catch a glimpse of Sheela, who somehow was never to
be found playing downstairs anymore. It was the old
Khansamah who salaamed at my father, and very
politely he requested if the telephone could be used
for an emergency—the doctor had to be called for
immediately- A chicken bone had got stuck in his
master's throat and he was in considerable pain. My
father asked rather brusquely, "Who is going to
telephone?" The Khansamah lowered his head and
said, "Begumsahiba". Father almost banged the door
on his face, but the lady in question, rushed out of the
kitchen door, crossed into ours, and holding father's
hand pleaded, "Bhaisahab, please call the doctor at
this number, and ask him to come at once! Lai Saheb
is gasping for breath, and I am so frightened."
Her appearance was so sudden and unexpected,
that it took my father by
surprise, and he just backed
away and went to the
phone followed by
Khursheed who I saw in all
her glory that night. She
was wearing a red chiffon
saree worked all over in
sequins, her hair was piled
up with diamond pins in
her coiffure, and a long
sleeved lace blouse in black.
A heavy perfume accompanied her as she walked into
our drawing room where
the telephone was, Father
asked her for the doctor's
number, and dialed it, and
spoke to the doctor saying
that he was urgently
required to attend to a
patient of his, Mr. I.M. Lai
who had a chicken bone
lodged in his throat. Before
he could put the receiver
down, Khursheed had
2001   April 14/4   HIMAL
 taken it out of his hand and in her hoarse voice
begged the doctor to hurry saying in Hindustani, "He
is dying." I couldn't take my eyes off Khursheed and
just asked her, "How is Sheela"? She laughed and
chucked me under my chin and said "Not Sheela, but
Mumtaz; why don't you come and play with her in
our house, she does not go downstairs anymore, there
are too many boys playing around here, and moreover
she has to study her Urdu, I have kept a master for
her." She turned around to thank my father, who had
a scowl on his face, and went through our kitchen
into hers, shutting the door behind her. Mother had
not come out of the bedroom at all, and waited for
Father to relate everything. Afterwards, she just
snorted and went back to sleep.
I couldn't sleep that night, I kept seeing
Khursheed, and next morning I was up early to find
our from the Khansamah what had happened:
whether the doctor had come, if Mr. Lai was alright—
but the kitchen door remained shut, and I was
■ * ■* ■
A week later as we were sitting down for dinner,
the bell rang and a strange man stood at the door, as I
opened it, and asked to see my father. I asked him in
and made him take a seat while 1 went in to call father
saying, "A very handsome man in an evening suit
wants to see you." Father got up, and as he entered
the drawing room he stretched out his hand, and said,
"Hullo I don't think I know you." This man said, "1 am
sorry sir. Let me introduce myself, I am Mr. Lai, your
next-door neighbour. I have come to personally
thank you for saving my life the other night." Father
was taken aback by his obvious sincerity, and he said
"I don't think I understand." Mr. Lai took hold of my
father's hand, and said, "That telephone call to the
doctor that night was what saved me, the doctor
extricated the bone stuck in my throat and 1 should
thank you for calling the doctor in the nick of time. I
am sorry for the great inconvenience caused to your
family so late that night."
My father said, "Next time chew your chicken well
before you swallow it." Both laughed, and Mr. Lai left
after that. Father returned to the dining-table and
resumed his dinner and, turning to Mother, said "The
blighter looks and talks like a film actor!"
A strange twist to this tale followed shortly
afterwards. Mr. Lai had a bright red Mercury car
which he drove himself, and its presence at the
entrance to the building meant that he was in. After
the chicken bone episode, Mr. Lai felt he owed a
thanksgiving to the Presiding Goddess in Bombay—
the Mahalakshmi, housed in a temple high up on the
rocks on the sea. He chose an auspicious day and
drove with Khursheed and Sheela to the temple. It
was at the temple that the strange drama unfolded.
Khursheed and her daughter, being Muslim, did
not know the simple procedures normal within the
precincts of a Hindu temple—that of buying flowers
and sweetmeats as offerings to the deity, and so were
rather lost in the crowd, and as for Mr. Lai he was
perfectly unconcerned and he hurried up the steps
to the temple without looking to see whether they
followed behind. The two women did the most
natural thing then. Instead of following him up, they
came down to the car and waited for Mr. Lai's return-
He offered his prayers, and with a substantial
donation put into the offerings box he climbed down
the stairs feeling very happy and pleased with
himself. Just then, he came face to face with two
women who called out his name loudly, but he ran
down the remaining steps, and in a rush without
saying a word to Khursheed, started the car and
drove at a furious speed back to the building, asked
Khursheed and her daughter to get off and drove
away leaving the bewildered two women standing
on the kerb.
A little distance away, a taxi stopped, and two
women got off and walked into the building and at
the entrance they studied the names of all the tenants
on the five floors, but could not find the one they
were looking for. They trudged up every floor and as
before, came and rang our doorbell. Father opened it
and the two women seeing him, started sobbing and
the older woman spoke, "Bhai Saheb help us, I am
looking for my son Jugal Kishore Mehta who we
know surely stays in this building. We have just seen
him in his red Mercury car. Father asked them in, and
that was the second time these two women had been
asked into the house, and as I switched on the fan for
them, Father went inside and spoke in a low tone to
mother who was feeding my little sister. He came out
and said in a very encouraging voice, "1 think you
will find your son living in the flat behind ours—in
Flat Number 8, go and ring the bell."
The older woman requested my father to allow me
to go along with them and show them the flat and to
ring the doorbell as well. I felt something exciting
was going to happen and ran ahead of them to ring
the bell. The door was opened by my friend Sheela
who welcomed me like a long-lost friend, and asked
me in. I looked behind to see if the two women were
following me and said to Sheela "1 have brought
some visitors who want to see your father." Sheela
blinked and said with a stammer, "That's not actually my father, I call him Uncle." Meanwhile the two
women had entered the flat without any politeness,
and stood staring all around them but what caught
their gaze was a photograph mounted on a silver
frame of a smiling Mr. 1. M. Lai. They could not take
their eyes off it, and were rooted to the spot.
Khursheed came out of her bedroom to enquire
who had come, stared at the two women and did
something quite unexpected—she screamed as if she
had seen a ghost, ran back to her bedroom and
locked herself in. I looked at Sheela who was now
crying and knocking at the bedroom door to let her
in. The two ladies meanwhile, had sat down on one
of the sofas, and looked most comfortable and quite
unconcerned, as we started to hear objects being
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
 thrown about within the closed bedroom and of
splintering glass. The old woman caught sight of me
standing next to Sheela, and trying to comfort her,
and said, "Beti, you can go home now. I have found
my son Jugal Kishore Mehta."
A week later, coming home from school, I found the
name-plate board at the entrance being changed, I
watched to see whose name was bring changed, and
found the brass-plate of Mr. I.M. Lai being replaced by
that of Mr. Jugal Kishore Mehta.
The sweet-faced fat woman had settled in Flat
Number 8, and the kitchen doors at the back now
remained open. There were exchanges of dishes of
cooked food across the kitchens, and Mother would
treat us to surprise meals which she said she had
learned to make up from Savitri, the wife of Mr. Jugal
Kishore Mehta! Khursheed and her daughter left
quietly for Karachi (Pakistan) and I was unhappy that
Sheela had not said goodbye. A couple of years later I
received a letter, it was brief and almost childish in its
scrawl, it read thus:
"My dear friend, I am getting married, and going
away to Lahore. Your old friend Sheela (Mumtaz)."
Thus ends my recollection, but in writing it after
all these years, the memory of those years, with all its
flavours, images, sounds and smells, rises up. a
Second Orientation Course in South Asian Peace Studies
The Second South Asian Human Rights and Peace
Studies Orientation Course of the South Asia Forum
for Human Rights (SAFHR) will be held in Kathmandu,
Nepal from 1 September to 15 September 2001, The
course is intended for peace and human rights activists,
media persons, academics, and diplomats involved in
policy making in conflict resolution. The course will
include examination of themes related to Justice,
Reconciliation, Peace and the Practices of Nonviolence. The course will draw on the experiences of
human rights and peace activism in the conflict zones
of South Asia and elsewhere and will deal with the
long history of moral resistance in the pursuit of justice
and reconciliation in the region since the colonial days.
The course will take into account various forms of
violence including state violence, structural violence,
hate speech, intolerance, and the gendered nature of
violence. Issues of legality, non-violent mobilization,
forms of justice, and the ethics of reconciliation will be
included in the course syllabus.
Participants will have to support their own travel.
Registration fee for South Asian participants is US $
100 (or its equivalent in Nepali rupee) and participants
from outside the region US $ 250 (or its equivalent in
Nepali rupee). Board, lodging and other expenses for
the selected candidates will be provided by SAFHR.
Travel grant is available for limited number of candidates
for which they will have to apply separately. The age
limit for participation is 35 years. Women activists and
human rights and peace activists from conflict areas
are particularly encouraged to apply.
Applications must reach Peace Studies Desk in the
South Asia Forum for Human Rights by 30 April 2001.
Applications by fax or e-mail will be valid. Applications
will have to be supported by full particulars, 1000-word
summary of the relevance of the course to the work of
the participant, and names of two referees whose
recommendations should reach peace studies desk
of SAFHR independently. The application must include
all necessary details such as language skill, experience
and nature of current work. The summary has to include
candidate's own idea of peace and human rights
activism, and the relation of the applicant's work with
SAFHR's peace studies programme. In selection of
candidates the 1000-word summary will be accorded
The course will be participatory, and will involve intense
course and fieldwork. Audio-visual studies will be part
of the course. Frontline activists and researchers on
human rights, peace and reconciliation will be sharing
their knowledge and experience with participants
towards developing an enriched collective
understanding of issues of justice and peace in South
South Asia Forum for Human Rights
GPO Box 12855, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: 977-1-541026; Fax: 977-1-527852 E-mail
2001   April 14/4   HIMAL
 placing pubbJjass
*j j t was in the northern plains of present-day 'Is
ii lamic' Bangladesh that Buddhism had its first
,*SL* flowering, in viharas that extended all the way
here from Nalanda. And amidst Dhaka's educated
classes today, one can sense a genuine attachment to
the Sakyamuni and his teachings. This being a flood-
plain, however, there is almost nothing other than a
couple of overgrown brick mounds to prove that historical link to the Buddha. And because this is rockless
deltaic country, in terms of statuary, you do not get
more than a few terracotta relics.
In complete contrast, across the Subcontinental expanse in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, there
is (or was) Buddhistic art and statuary in abundance
but hardly any sensitivity for the Buddha. Unlike a
Bangladesh made up of silt thousands of feet deep,
northern Punjab and Afghanistan are all rock—schist
and conglomerate. No wonder, the
art of statuary flourished here, after
kings like Kanishka of the Kushana
dynasty, coming in from the north
and east, took to the Buddha's teachings at the very start of the first millennium. It was in this region, just a
few centuries after the passing of the
Sakyamuni, that his image was for
the first time locked into human
form. What emerged in and around
the centre of Taxila came to be known
as the Gandhara shaili.
Unlike the snub-nosed, round-
faced, Mongoloid images of the more
oriental Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
of Nepal, Tibet and elsewhere, the
'original Buddhas' of Gandhara were
decidedly occidental. They took after Greco-Roman and Persian traditions of statuary, wearing thick togas, and sporting aquiline features
on an oval lace, most prominently a straight nose and
occasionally even a moustache.
Northern Punjab and Afghanistan have been the
inheritors of the relics of that long-ago Buddhistic epoch on the headwaters of the Indus, and since British
times it is the Lahore Museum which has been the institutional repository of much of the art from that period, including the 'Starving Buddha'. But the state
ideology of Pakistan, geared to Islamic nation-building alone, makes it difficult for Pakistanis to proudly
call this Buddhist iconography their own. This, too,
has been the reason why the loot of Gandharan period
statuary continues today from crude excavations in
Pakistan headed for Western museums and private
collections, with little concern among the citizenry.
The Pakistani's absence of consideration for
Gandhara period-pieces expresses itself as indifference
to excavated loot. Tragically in Talibanised Afghanistan,
it was hostility rather than indifference, and it allowed
the Gandhara statuary to be hacked, blasted, destroyed
in March 2001, after standing for two millennia.
With the Bamiyan Buddhas and, who knows, thousands of other statuary and frescoes similarly destroyed,
the only thing that remains to be done is to try and learn
from the monumental desecration. And certainly, any
kind of sectarian reaction against the musalman is totally misplaced. The main reason to be angered by what
the Taliban mullahs and ulema have done should not
even be purely religious—how many Buddhists around
the world even knew of Afghanistan's Buddhistic heritage before March 2001? Instead, the Taliban are to be
condemned for their anti-intellectual lack of empathy,
for present-day Buddhists, certainly, but more so for the
people of the upper Indus region, long dead, who once
lived and created great art.
n 1977, as a student in Delhi, I headed for Bamiyan
overland. Making it through the Atari-Wagah
border checkpoint after reassuring the Pakistan
immigration officer that I was born Buddhist (there was
trouble then if you said Hindu), I headed up to Peshawar,
and past Torkham and Jalalabad. Kabul's Chicken
Street, much like Kathmandu's own Freak Street of the
time, was populated by Western hippies. From Kabul I
took a packed local bus to Bamiyan, sitting on the floor
next to the driver's gearshift and the roaring engine.
However, this gave me vantage to look out of the
And there, out of the desert terrain marked by a long
cliffside, emerged two gigantic Buddhas. Silent sentinels in rock conglomerate, one larger than the other, they
looked out over the oasis of Bamiyan Valley as they had
since the Kushan age. It was possible to climb through
the tunnels that honeycombed the statues and outlying
caves, and I remember going up and looking from the
overhang down at the larger Buddha.
This Bamiyan Buddha's sides were pockmarked
with arrow-heads and pellets, as Indian archaeologists
discovered when they restored large parts of his gigantic girth back in the 1970s. These were the projectiles of
anti-idolators of the past, including the cavalry of
Genghis Khan. But modern methods bring a modern
scale of devastation to the heritage of humankind.
Ghengis Khan did not have gelignite, nor howitzers, to
convert the Bamiyan Buddhas into rubble. The Taliban
did. And who was it that trained them and gave them
the guns in the first place? .    ~Jf—
HIMAL   14/4 April 2001
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