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Himal Southasian Volume 20, Number 1, January 2007 Dixit, Kanak Mani 2007-01

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 January 2007
Vol 20      No 1
Lodi Gyari
Open Prison
Ammu Joseph
Roots of Dalit
Sukumar Muralidharan
. Bangladesh BDT 80 ■ Bhutan BTN 60 ■ India INR 50 ■ Ne
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Democracy in South Asia
"Liberty Leading the People" was painted by Eugene Delacroix in
1830 to commemorate the July uprising of that year in Paris, which
brought to an end the rule of Charles X. Artist Subhas Rai's
adaptation of Delacroix's work first appeared on Himal Southasian's,
cover a decade ago, as part of an issue titled "Goodbye Nation State"
(July 1996). This time, we use a slightly altered image to highlight
the commitment of Southasia's people to popular self-rule -
democracy - and their willingness to protect and to fight for this
system of government against all odds. Where democracy is denied,
the desire for it does not die, even after decades of autocratic rule.
This and the added truth that the more people experience democracy,
the more they are willing to fight for it, are confirmed by the report
excerpted in this issue. State of Democracy in South Asia was brought
out by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. The
five larger countries of the region which were the subjects of this
study are represented by the flags held aloft by Subhas Rai's Liberty.
Time and a place
Tashi delek, old man!
The need to be 'unpatriotic'
Living with the bomb
Contested elections
His Majesty the Son
Nationalist brinkmanship
Tsering Namgyal
'Seeking unity through equality'
Lodi Gyari
'Ashiq, bhor, faqir tay kutay'
Somftasian Briefs 12
Cover story 48
Democracy: Object of desire
A CSDS report
The roots of Dalit rage
Sukumar Muralidharan 20
Arriving at the Women Protection Act
Miranda Husain 25
The judicial activist
Shylashri Shankar 49
Life in an open prison
Ammu Joseph 17
Bai, Raj and Uddhav
Atul Mishra 23
A tear in Pakistani textiles
Imran Ayub 28
Counting Parsis
Tanaz K Noble 35
Special report 31
Finding Manipur's hidden war
V K Shashikumar
RS?[scUflBS 36
The trouble with Panchayati Raj
Hartosh Singh Bai
Breaking the chains of Muslim un-freedom
Aasim Khan
Fftofo feature
The waters have risen in Tehri
Harsh Dobhal
Excerpts from Blood Brothers
M J Akbar
SsutftasiasBiiere: 6 K ial
A republic and two kingdoms
Theatre serves the nation
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
Politics of resource patriotism
Kekhriesituo Yhome
Don't let the light go out
Vijay Prashad
Fluid dynamics for the 24th century
Siddharth Anand
Or tfte wav (to
Imagining pickle
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 Vol 20   Nol
January 2007  |
Kanak Mani Dixit
Assistant Editors
Prashant Jha
Himali Dixit
Desk Editor
Carey.L Biron
Business Advisor
Monica 13hatia
Marketing Manager
Komal More
Editorial Assistance
Ashmina Bhattarai
Prakfiti Mishra
Contributing Editors
Calcutta Rajashri Dasgupta
Colombo      Jehan Perera
Delhi Mitu Varma
Dhaka Afsan Chowdhury
Karachi Beena Sarwar
Kathmandu   Deepak Thapa
Manisha Aryal
Creative Director
Bilash Rai
Roshan Tamang
Rupendra Kayastha
Sunita Silwal
Santosh Aryal
Shahadev Koirala
liazar international
Himal Southasian is published by
The Southasia Trust, Lalitpur, Nepal
Office address
Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Mailing address
GPO Box: 24393, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 5547279
Fax: +977 1 5552141
info@h i
ISSN 10129804
Library of Congress Control number
SB 912882
Image setting: ScanPro
Printed at: Jagadaimba Press, Lalitpur, Nepal
Contributors   to   this   issue
Aasim Khan is a Delhi-based journalist with CNN-IBN.
Ammu Joseph is an independent journalist and media-watcher based in
Bangalore. Among her publications is Whose Wews? The Media and Women's tesues
(Sage, 1994/2006), co-authored with Kaipana Sharma.
Atul Mishra is a research scholar at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal
Nehru University, Delhi.
C K Lai is a columnist for this magazine and for the Nepali Times.
Hartosh Singh Bai is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, and co-author of A
Certain Ambiguity, to be released by Princeton University Press.
Harsh Dobhal is the editor of Combat Law.
Imran Ayub is a journalist with Karachi's The News.
Kekhriesituo Yhome is a research scholar in the Department of History at the
University of Hyderabad.
Miranda Husain is a Lahore-based journalist with the Daily Times.
Sabir Nazar is a Lahore-based cartoonist with The Friday Times and the Daily Times.
Shylashri Shankar is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
Siddharth Anand is a Delhi-based journalist.
Sukumar Muralidharan is a visiting professor at the Nehru Centre, Jamia Millia
Islamia, Delhi.
Tanaz K Noble a freelance journalist presently based in New Delhi.
Tsering Namgyal is currently based in Taiwan. His collection of essays Little Lhasa:
Reflections on Exiled Tibet was published.this winter.
Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta is in the Indian Administrative Service and based in
Bombay. Her writings can be found at
V K Shashlkumar is editor, 'special investigations', CNN-IBN.
Vijay Prashad teaches History and is director of the International Studies Program at
Trinity College in the US. His most recent book is The Darker Nations: A People's
History ofthe Third World, Leftword.
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January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 A break in the
M Hussanan's "Feet across the
frontier" (Himal December 2006) was
a poignant reminder of the traumatic
experiences of an audaciotis 20th
century experiment to carve out
borders between nation-states in the
region we call Southasia. As citizens
of different countries in the region,
we have become schooled in seeing
our world, neighbours, friends,
allies and antagonists from the
vantage point of centres of states that
were created less than a hundred
years ago.
The story is also a reminder
of how the transformation of
temporal and spatial frontiers
No part of it
I don't even know where to begin. I
want to congratulate Prashant Jha,
the waiter of the recent Guja rat cover
story, for a piece of great work. To
begin with, 1 am only talking about
the quality of writing. The
presentation of facts and research
are both first-rate. My hat's off to
you, and God bless you. Evil,
immorality, extremism and
illegality exist among us and
around us, no matter the country or
society. Tlie only thing to do at the
individual level is to absolutely
refuse to have any part of it. Therein
lies the secret to peace and self-
preservation for the people of the
Subcontinent. May enlightened
minds like the ones which grace
your pages prosper and prevail.
Syed Kamal
Houston, USA
fundamentally altered hundreds of
years of social and cultural
interactions between peoples
who live in a familiar landscape
of mountains, valleys, meadows,
forests and rivers. Hussanan's
story is an important reminder
of how modern techniques
of creating borders have affected
the lives and livelihoods of
people who have traditionally
been      moving      across      our
Put it behind
Your article "Gujarat as another
country" (Himal October 2006)
belongs in the garbage bin. People
like you are more dangerous than
those Islamic terrorists. With your
poison pen, you bring society to its
lowest level. First of all, look at your
reference to 'fascism' in Gujarat -
if it is that bad, why don't you live
in Saudi Arabia? If you publish an
article like this, do you know what
they would do there? They
wouldn't react very well.
I do not believe one bit of the
thrash you printed - if it were true,
Narendra Modi would not be
winning in the Muslim wards.
People are having a field day
making hay out of the Gujarat riots,
calling it a genocide. But have you
seen the pictures of burnt babies
on the Godhra train? This was
never mentioned once in the
article, nor condemned. I condemn
any riot or killing of anyone. A few
years ago in one of India's
southern states there were caste
region's frontiers, and have evolved
rich cultures and traditions based
on mutual exchange.
Himal Southasian would help
foster critical thinking on
borderlands by publishing more
such pieces, and thereby create
a much-needed break from
state-centric approaches to understanding the history of modern
state-building efforts in the region.
Sanjay Barbora
riots, along with significant
property damage and killings. Who
was killed? Only the people of the
chief minister's caste. Did people
call it a genocide? No.
Stop spreading lies and hate. All
of this took place years ago. No
decent human being likes it. Put it
behind you, and write articles that
can bring harmony between
Hindus and Muslims. Otherwise,
should Hindus keep people
aroused about the biggest holocaust
of all time - the killing of 80 million
Hindus during Islamic rule?
Himal nominees-:
The editors of Himal Southasian
would like to congratulate three of
our contributors from this past year,
for their nominations for the
Lorenzo Natali Prize 2006. Dolly
Kikon's "Divergent memories in
Manipur", Gabriele Kohler's
"Paradox of the Southasian welfare
state" and Wasbir Hussain's "The
Prasad Yalamanchi
(By email)
. ;■;•'-• ■■•■• ;■..•■•-■■■*■■■ ■■'--
Naga talks move along" all appeared
in the September 2006 issue of
Himal. The Lorenzo IMataii Prize is
administered by the European
Commission, and is awarded for
excellence in reporting on issues of
human rights, democracy and;;
development. We only wonder if:
the selector missed some of our
other issues!
- Editors.';
Send your comments, questions and corrections to
Himal Southasian
January 2007
The need to be 'unpatriotic'
With the hoopla over the imminent rise of India on the
world stage consuming large sections of national
and international media, the underbelly ofthe Indian state
remains hidden. Comfortably ensconced in the
establishment consensus, urban middle classes either
support or find it convenient to ignore some of the darkest
manifestations of the current politico-security set-up.
Recent reports suggest that Delhi has not learned its
lessons, and continues a morally questionable and
politically unwise strategy in 'disturbed areas' - i.e.,
Kashmir and the Northeast.
Despite a string of non-violent protests - ranging from
an on-going six-year-long protest by activist Irom Sharmila,
to a nude demonstration by middle-aged women in front
ofthe army headquarters in Manipur, to myriad civil-society
demonstrations - Manmohan Singh has not agreed to
repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act
(AFSPA). The Act gives even non-commissioned officers
the right to shoot to kill, on the basis of nothing more than
the mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to
"maintain public order". The AFSPA has resulted in gross
human-rights violations, among the starkest being the
rape and murder of Manorama Devi in 2004. Two years
after he said that the Act would be made "more humane",
Prime Minister Singh merely repeated the promise to
amend AFSPA on his recent visit to Imphal. .
Such indifference to popular outcry and willingness to
countenance the killing of innocents is not only unethical,
but also results in the generation of perceptions extremely
dangerous to a democracy - that non-violent protest does
not yield effective policy change. Delhi's myopic, military-
centred solutions have repeatedly resulted in alienation,
which, in turn, feeds militancy. The AFSPA has been in
force since 1958; clearly it has not been able to tackle
insurgency in the region. Would it not be more astute for
the Delhi durbar to think more innovativeiy - in its own
self-interest, if not in the interest of its citizens - rather
than persist with an act that only exacerbates conflict?
Imagine the political message that would be conveyed,
and the goodwill the Indian state would earn, if it were to
decide to unilaterally repeal the Act.
Pending parliamentary questions
The security forces and intelligence agencies have a lot to
answer for in another realm as well. Exactly five years
after the Indian Parliament was attacked on 13
December 2001, extremely disturbing questions have
emerged about the conspiracy behind the attack, the
manner in which a select few have been victimised, the
investigation process, the nature of the trial and the role
of the state agencies.
Take professor S AR Geelani, who was branded a
terrorist by a special cell ofthe Delhi police, and has now
been acquitted only due to a sustained and arduous legal
battle supported by leading academics and activists (See
Himal, September 2005). But co-accused Mohammed
Afzal has been held as guilty and sentenced to capital
punishment. This has provoked an outcry in Kashmir due
to the perception of yet another instance ofthe persecution
of a Kashmiri Muslim by the Indian establishment.
Interestingly, the Afzal judgement has been welcomed by
large sections ofthe political class in Delhi, regardless of
the fact that he had inadequate legal representation at
the trial stage. There is indeed evidence that points to
Afzal's involvement in the case, but the nature of this
involvement remains ambiguous. Afzal, after all, was a
surrendered militant, who claims that he was
introduced to one of the attackers by a person he
had met at a Special Task Force (STF) camp
in Jammu & Kashmir. This throws up
nteresting questions about the
role of the STF and other
agencies in the run-up to the
Parliament attack.
As claims are verified and
more testimonials recorded,
the case details get murkier, ft
has become clear that al!
players are hiding something,
and that the truth has not yet
....been fully brought into the
open. In the work ethic of
opacity that characterises the
functioning of India's security
agencies, we have still not
been told the answers to
some burning questions: Who
were the five militants shot
when the attack was foiled?
17 | Himal Southasian
 What led the police to Afzal in the first place? What was
the evidence to link the attack to Lashkar-e-Toiba and
Jaish-e-Mohammed? What was the basis on which a
connection was drawn to the involvement of the Pakistani
state, which led to a military stand-off between the two
countries? What is needed now is an inquiry demanded
by Parliament that will look at all of these questions.
Instead, all that has been done is the creation of
an atmosphere wherein to question official statements
and to defend the rights of the accused are seen as
somehow unpatriotic.
By their very nature, security agencies become
accustomed to and comfortable with the idioms of
subversion, violence, impunity, militarism and
manufacturing evidence. An innocent life is seen as
expendable in the larger 'national interest', which of course
is defined on the populist platform, while protest is seen
as an inconvenience that must be ignored or suppressed.
But citizens - and in this instance, the citizens of India -
must be ever vigilant. They must keep a check on these
tendencies within the establishment and insist on a
humanist approach by the state mechanism, India prides
itself on being a democracy - and indeed, it has shown
remarkable resilience in accommodating diverse interests
within a pluralistic framework. But its actions in the
Northeast and Kashmir, which have an alienated
populace, rob the system of a good deal of political
legitimacy. New Delhi must pay heed to popular aspirations
in both these regions. If it is to retain systemic credibility,
it must repeal the AFSPA in toto, and come clean on the
investigations in the case of the 2001 attacks on the
Indian Parliament. ^
Living with the bomb
With George W Bush all set to sign the Indo-US nuclear
deal after its recent ratification by the US Congress,
it is time for the Southasian peace lobby to engage in
some deep introspection. The doomsday scenario
projected by the anti-nuclear discourse has not come to
pass, and in hindsight the strategy experts in favour of the
Indian tests seem to have played their cards well. While
morality and the threat of mass destruction remain more
powerful than any other argument against nuclearisation,
it is crucial that the peace constituency is candid about its
failures and comes up with a more effective case against
the bomb.
Let's look at arguments made by both sides in India, in
the run-up to and the aftermath ofthe tests. The peaceniks
said that nuclearisation would wreak complete
devastation and would ruin relations between New Delhi
and Islamabad. Those in favour of the tests responded
with the theory of deterrence, and claimed that rational
actors would not use the bomb. Instead, they argued that
overt announcement of nuclear programmes would
compel all actors in the region to build a semblance of
cordial ties. The jury is still out on this particular point.
Southasia came close to a nuclear holocaust, during both
the Kargil war and 'Operation Parakram' after the attack
on the Indian Parliament. The threat of destruction looms
large, and all it will take is a single spark or streak of
irrationality to set events off in a chain of madness.
But the fact remains that a full-fledged conflict has not
taken place between India and Pakistan since the tests;
at present, bilateral relations, despite obstacles, are more
intimate than ever in the last few decades. This can be
attributed to a range of factors, from the change in the
geo-political environment to the nature of the
current leadership in both countries - a liberal economist
in New Delhi and a PR-friendly autocrat in Islamabad.
Irrespective of the causes, however, what is true is that
relations between India and Pakistan, contrary to what
was predicted, have not hit rock bottom due to the
nuclear tests.
Leaders of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and
Peace also said that it did not make economic sense for
India to test the bomb, and that Delhi would not be able
to withstand the sanctions that would come its way after
the tests. Irrespective of whether we agree with the growth-
based model India is currently pursuing, it is clear that the
sanctions had little impact on the economy. The economic
problems that remain, including the lack of equitable
distribution of resources and the persistence of poverty,
must be attributed mainly to neo-liberal strategies adopted
by the state.
The most potent argument unleashed by the peace
lobby was that going for the bomb would lead to a slump
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 in relations with China and international ostracisation.
On both counts, the lobby has been proven wrong. After a
brief period of tension - when India pointed to the Chinese
threat as justification for the tests, and Beijing insisted
on a UN resolution asking New Delhi to cap, roll back and
eliminate the nuclear programme - relations between
the two sides have reached a level of normalcy. Bilateral
trade is booming, and both sides are trying hard to ensure
that their simultaneous rise in the international order does
not lead to conflict. The nuclear deal with the US and the
apparent willingness of almost all members of the Nuclear
Suppliers Group, including China, to treat India as an
exception have all but cleared the way for India's
comfortable accommodation in the nuclear club.
Of course, there is no direct and immediate cause-
and-effect relationship between the nuclear tests and
developments that have subsequently taken place in
these diverse spheres. But the point is that, morality aside,
the strategic arguments deployed by the anti-nuclear lobby
have all but collapsed over the past eight years. This may
have happened because of the lack of a coherent
argument, the absence of party political support, or the
sheer power of a militarist ideology. But let us be honest
enough to recognise that battling the hawks on their own
turf has not been an astute move if the aim is to stop the
spread of nuclear weapons in the Subcontinent.
This magazine has consistently and vociferously spoken
out against the Pokhran and Chagai explosions. Indeed,
in a special issue we carried articles from various
perspectives in an attempt to build a powerful discourse
for a nuclear-free Southasia. And it remains that it would
take only one irrational hand on the trigger during a run of
spiralling tension to bring devastation to Southasia. Given
that we live in a region in which time from take-off to
strike is under ten minutes, the two main protagonists
moving to nuclear-tip their missiles would do well to pull
back and jettison their acquired warheads.
The fact that the nuclear Armageddon has not hit
Southasia may be making the pro-bomb argument seem
retrospectively coherent. But the threat posed by these
weapons remains. Nuclear weapons need to be opposed
for the simple fact that they are dangerous weapons,
unethical in both intent and in action, that take lives of
huge numbers of innocents - and pose the threat of taking
infinitely more. It is important not to get caught up in the
debate of whether they serve the interests of a national-
security state, for that is a distraction from the moral and
humanist high ground that peace activists do and must
occupy. As soon as we cede ground to the 'strategists',
who have the support of the powerful political and military
set-up, by accepting their posing of the nuclear question
in terms of inter-state conflict, war, power and deterrence,
we will lose the argument. Exactly like the well-intentioned
peace lobby in India did. Instead of a techno-activist
campaign, what is needed is a political campaign rejecting
nuclearisation on moral grounds from the grassroots.  |>
■ ■MMiltil
Contested elections
There is much good news to celebrate in Bangladesh.
Professor Yunus's Nobel Prize has greatly restored a
sense of national esteem to a people used to being
trashed. And then there is cricket. Bangladesh
whitewashed fellow minnow Zimbabwe 5-0 and then blew
away ICC Associate team Scotland 2-0, All would be great
except that the political situation has never been as bad
as it is now, dateline December 2006.
Several reasons may be proffered, but the root of it all
It is more fun wathdng
cricket, Bangladesh
thrashes: Zimbabwe 5-ti
is the absurd - or is it insane -conflict between the Awami
League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The AL has
vowed that elections will not be held under the present
electoral schedule, while the BNP has declared that
elections must be held under the same. Neither side is
budging as of this writing, yet both parties are keen to go
to the polls. The Awami has accused the BNP of having
rigged the entire system, including the Election
Commission, to ensure a return to power. The BNP says
that the AL is trying to scuttle the elections because it
knows it has no chance of victory.
The two hostile political alliances are now on the
streets, engaged in violent agitation. Bodies have fallen
and regular bloodletting is reported every day from all over
the country - it is as common as the stones that fly when
the partisans face each other.
The BNP of Begum Khaleda Zia, which has just left
power to contest in the polls, heads a four-party alliance.
The alliance includes the Jammat-e-lslami, considered
condemnable for having opposed the nationalist war of
1971. The Jammat's core group of loyal voters helped the
BNP come to power'in 2001 - the alliance now holds
tight because it knows the benefits of the embrace. The
Awami leads a 14-party alliance and has been further
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 strengthened by the presence of the Jatiyo Party of ex-
President Hussain Mohammed Ershad - a dictator ofthe
past but now a useful ally- and the recently formed Liberal
Democratic Party, made up of ex-BNP veterans opposed
to that party's leadership by Begum Zia and her family.
Of course, nothing is more contested in Bangladesh
than the issue of elections. Contesting elections is a
matter that comes up only afterwards. There is a curious
and total lack of political trust among the players.
Elections are held under a 'non-partisan caretaker
government' (NCG) that sits for 90 days to see the polls
through, because it is taken for granted that the party in
power will cheat in the elections. This year even that was
not enough.
Sheikh Hasina's AL had demanded that the system be
reformed for various reasons, but the BNP was not keen.
When the time came to choose the head ofthe caretaker
government, the former refused the person who would
have been the Chief Advisor, as the head of the NCG is
titled. As the crisis continued, and one person after
another was turned down by each of the parties, the seat
stood vacant.
Then President Professor lyazuddin Ahmed, a BNP
nominee to the high office, took everyone by surprise, and
nominated himself Chief Advisor, while remaining
president. He also took for himself the crucial Home and
Defence portfolios. President Prof lyazuddin, a retired
university don, has not exactly passed the test of being
non-partisan, though the BNP of course vehemently
disagrees. Meanwhile, the AL-led movement now has a
one point demand: the resignation of the professor as
the Chief Advisor.
The diplomatic community has been busy counseling
transparency and accommodation to both sides, but not
much of either is evident. Meanwhile, the army was called
in, called back, introduced on the street, and then told to
stay put in the barracks, ready to help should an emergency
hit the civilian government.
Latest reports are unfortunately dire. Once the Chief
Justice refused to hear a writ challenging the president's
self appointment as Chief Advisor, not only were the High
Court premises and the judges' chambers ransacked, but
the streets have once again become the final arbiter of
Bangladeshi politics. And that so even as the deadlock
remains: the BNP wants elections on January 22 at all
costs, the Awami League wants to prevent that at all costs.
With the cricket season over, there is nothing that can
guarantee any kind of a result or even a conclusion. No
matter what happens, the political system has taken a lot
of water and a future voyage of democracy in the Padma-
Jamuna delta does not look too smooth. The coming
weeks should show just how off-course it will end up.  A'
His Majesty the Son
Even as Crown Prince Wangchuk
was being proclaimed king in
Thimphu after the abdication of his
father Jigme Singye Wangchuk, in
Kathmandu the Bhutani human rights
activist Tek Nath Rizal was being
admitted to hospital. The ailments of
Rizal, 59, are said to be related to ill
treatment meted out to him during
nearly a decade spent in Bhutanese
jails, often in shackles and handcuffs.
So on the one hand we have an
Oxford-trained, smartly outfitted King
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk,
representing a Druk regime
responsible for terrible excesses,
receiving greetings from high
personages the world over. On the
other we have a sick man in poor
health in a Kathmandu hospital,
representing a dispirited lot of
refugees, discarded 16 years ago by
Thimphu and disregarded by
Kathmandu (which has plenty of
problems of its own) and New Delhi
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:'   flK
(whose motto on Bhutan reads 'If it aint
broke, don't fix it').
There is no need to doubt father
Jigme's intention of bringing democracy
to Bhutan by the year 2008. The task
for the new king - fresh with an
education we are sure emphasised all
the values of the classical Western
liberal philosophy - is to ensure that
fundamental freedoms are available to
all citizens of Druk Yul regardless of
faith, language or origin. At the very
least, the new king represents an
opportunity for change, because his
coronation brings to an end the formal
rule of the man known to be the
progenitor ofthe depopulation policy -
the ministers Dawa Tshering and Dago
Tsering were but King Jigme's
accomplices at the time of the great
Lhotshampa exodus a decade and half
ago. To an extent we are concerned for
Kingjigme as he goes into retirement,
for he has done so with the burden and
blame of depopulation resting squarely
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 on his shoulders.
The new king should, if he can, try to battle the racist,
exclusivist noises coming out of the Tsongdu, the Druk
Parliament. But he will swim against the tide only if he
understands that a new Bhutan will never be democratic
if it has been built on the ruination of the lives of a
seventh the country's population. The Bhutani citizens in
the refugee camps of Jhapa and Morang must be
allowed back.
Meanwhile, the United States' offer to take in 60,000
of the refugees can be read at two levels. At one level,
third-country resettlement is a humanitarian response to
the plight of individual refugees rendered stateless for an
inconsolably long time, and stark proof of the failure of
the international community (and most importantly India)
in redressing a wrong. At another level, the US initiative
punctures the refugees' legitimate campaign for return
with dignity.
The Bhutanese refugees who are offered third-country
settlement in the Untied States, like members of any other
Southasian community, are likely to take it up. Half of the
refugee lot will thus be headed across the Atlantic, and
some others to other Western countries allegedly willing
to host the Lhotshampa. That will leave only a few to
continue the fight for the right of return.
If third-country resettlement does take place, the happy
Ngalong power elites of Thimphu might want to consider
the fact that, in a roundabout twist, the refugee problem
might suddenly get more prominence than ever before
as members of this expanded diaspora find their voices.
But, if cruel fate does bring the disappearance of
the Bhutani refugees, it wili be doubly important for
the international and regional community to look
out for the interests of the Lhotshampa remaining
within Bhutan.
For all that it did not do during the Lhotshampa
refugees' continuing travails in exile, let the New Delhi
government commit itself now to looking out for the
interests of the Lhotshampa population that remains
within Druk Yul - the members of which are already
second-class citizens and will now feel more beleagured
than ever before. i
Nationalist brinkmanship
The report ofthe Expert Panel appointed by President
Mahinda Rajapakse to advise the All Party Conference
on a political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka is in deep
limbo. The nationalist outcry against its recommendations,
adopted by a majority of 11 out of 17 members of the
panel, has been so strongthatthe government has publicly
dissociated itself from the report, and even the president
may distance himself from it.
The report makes proposals that could form the basis
for a reasonable political solution on the island, by seeking
to balance the competing interests of the main ethnic
communities. While it does not go as far as to explicitly
propose a federal solution, the report is clear that a
solution lies in going beyond the present unitary
constitutional framework.
The report also calls for the merger of the Northern
and Eastern provinces for a period of ten years, to be
followed by a referendum to ensure that the will of the
people ofthe east is being served. Interestingly, the report
came at a time when the Supreme Court had just ordered
the two provinces, which had been temporarily merged
for over 18 years, to be de-merged - a decision welcomed
by the nationalist parties.
Truth be told, there is no reason why the report should
not be acceptable to the ruling party of President
Rajapakse, for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has in the
past adopted a liberal and progressive attitude on power-
sharing as the solution to the ethnic conflict. Unfortunately,
the report seems likely to fall victim to the heightened
nationalist sentiment in Colombo, which has been fuelled
by the ongoing military conflict.
The government seems bent on eliminating the LTTE
presence in the east, regardless of civilian and military
losses. After the split the LTTE suffered in that part ofthe
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 country in 2004, its strength there has been
severely reduced. The rebels have been ousted from
Batticaloa town, and the area of Vakarai is their last
remaining stronghold.
The general feeling in Colombo is that the government
has got the LTTE pinned to the ropes, even as the
organisation is internationally ostracised. The media has
played its part to harden popular sentiment against any
compromise with the Tamil Tigers. Meanwhile, this
increase in nationalist sentiment makes it more difficult
for the government to engage in, and for civil society to
advocate, political reform that could lead to a realistic
resolution. The fate that seems to await the majority report
of the Expert Panel is a stark example of this. The
Rajapakse government risks losing the support of
the nationalist parties if it prepares to implement the
panel report.
The rise in popular sentiment in favour of a military
response to the LTTE has also received a boost from the
LTTE's political intransigence and suicide bomb tactics.
Faced with the Tigers' own attitude, those who call for an
end to the fighting and a restarting of negotiations find
themselves vilified and intimidated. In times like these,
those who are anti-war are ipso facto considered pro-
LTTE separatist. For the foreseeable future, those who
stand for a peaceful, negotiated and power-sharing
settlement of the ethnic conflict will have a thankless
task. That is the report from Sri Lanka. £
'Ashiq, bhor, faqir tay kutay'
In Heer Ranjha, the popular tragic
romance of Punjab, Ranjha leaves his
worldly belongings behind and sets off
to join his lover Heer. He tries to spend
the night at a mosque near the river he
must cross in order to get to her, but is
thrown out by the mullah, who tells him
that lovers, bees, beggars and dogs
[ashiq, bhor, faqir tay kutay) are not
allowed there. Ranjha tries to get the
boatsman Luddon to take him across the
river, but he is again refused as he has
no money. Ranjha then plays his flute,
and at its sound Luddon's wives refuse
to leave without him. Waris Shah's
version of this tale of spiritual pleasures
and the rejection of worldly acceptability
ends in tragedy when both Heer and
Ranjha die at the hands of a society that
will not allow them their happiness.
In this painting by Sabir Nazar,
whose work appeared on Himal's
December 2006 cover, one figure of
Ranjha walks away from the mosque, his
flute under his arm and his hands in his
pockets, followed by a brown dog. Neither
seems to mind being placed in the same
undesirable category as they turn their
backs on the building, symbolic of
conventional morality and social
hierarchy. In the doorway of
the mosque the mullah stands
disapprovingly. Painted as the building's
farpade in dull pastels of beige and blue,
the frowning man is indistinguishable
from the intolerant institution he
has built. >
24nX18" Watercolor
Himal Southasian | January 2007
India onto the Iron Silk Road
Although India did not
sign the so-called
Trans-Asia Railway
Network (TARN)
agreement on 10
November, within a few
weeks New Delhi seems to
have changed its mind.
Rail India Technical and
Economical Services, a
public enterprise under
India's Ministry of
Railways, has been asked
to conduct a feasibility
study ofthe project. The
sudden re-think seems to
be linked to worries that,
while India stood watching,
China would be
successfully improving its
own regional relations and
connections, particularly
given its recent
agreements to build
rail tracks in Burma
and Thailand.
The TARN agreement
was signed by 17
countries, including China,
under the auspices ofthe
United Nations' Economic
and Social Commission for
Asia and the Pacific
(ESCAP). Although currently
hampered by a great
disparity in gauge sizes, the
ultimate plan for TARN,
sometimes called the 'Iron
Going global
According to a World Bank report, globalisation could
spur rapid growth in average incomes around the
world over the next 25 years, growth faster than during
the previous quarter century. This income boom is
expected to be led by developing countries, particularly
in Southasia. The gross domestic product of the region is
■    ■■ .    ..  .
already estimated to have expanded by 8.2 percent in
2006 - twice the rate of developed countries.
India saw the most expansion, with non-agricultural
growth in excess of 10 percent backing an overall growth
of 8.7 percent. Bangladesh, because of stronger
remittance inflows and flourishing services and
manufacturing sector output, saw growth rebound to a
high 6.7 percent. In Sri Lanka, growth rose to an estimated
7 percent due to a good harvest and post-tsunami
reconstruction activities. Ofthe Southasian countries the
Bank looked at, only Nepal posted a sluggish economy,
having grown at under two percent over the past year.
The report, "Managing the Next Wave of
Globalisation", also suggests that the number of people
around the globe living on less than a dollar per,day
: could be cut to half by 2030 - from 1.1 billion to 550
million - by which time global trade is projected to rise
more than threefold oyer its current levels. ,4
Silk Road', will be a linking
of Europe with Chinese
ports, and the inclusion of
several branch routes.
Alongside a great
number of West, East and
Southeast Asian states,
Nepal and Sri Lanka are
for the moment the only
Southasian countries that
have signed up. The
remaining countries have
until the end of 2007 to
enter into the agreement.A
No on Iran gas, then maybe
Here is where India and Pakistan agreed to something
- the rejection of the final report of a consultant
mutually appointed with Iran to find a way out of the
gas-pricing impasse. Agreement would have revived the
chances of the Iranian pipeline, but now the project
appeared dead in the water. Initial reports stated that
both Islamabad and New Delhi had rejected Singapore-
based Gaffney Cline's conclusion out of hand, with India's
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora saying that the pricing
recommendation was "not acceptable" to the Indian and
Pakistani governments.
Days later, however, Pakistan said that this was untrue.
A spokesman for the petroleum ministry in Islamabad
said that the new conclusions were still being examined.
Although all details are currently being kept secret, the
ministry spokesman said that the matter would be
addressed at a meeting in Tehran scheduled for January.
Deora himself also subsequently backtracked, saying
that New Delhi was still very serious about the USD 7.2
billion project, and that a new proposal was due "very
soon". By the middle of December, New Delhi had raised
its previous offer for Iran's gas by a full 50 percent.      A
What's up, BRO?
New Delhi recently unveiled a far-reaching plan to
extend its road network into Bhutan and Burma,
as well as into Jammu & Kashmir. After a board
meeting of the state-run Border Roads Organisation
(BRO), Minister of State for Defence M Pa I lam Raju
announced that India was
planning on building more
than 7600 km of roads
into all areas ofthe
Northeast - in an
attempt, among other
things, to both strengthen
its relations with China
and assert its control over
the area.
To facilitate this        .
increase, the BRO's staff will be increased by 75
percent over the next three years, to almost 45,000.
Raju also announced an increase in road-building in
states thai,:hav§-;experienced: ultra-left political
violence in recent years.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
Wal-Mart seeks entry
Just a day after Wal-Mart,
the massive low-end US
! retail chain, announced its
; intention to enter the
! Indfan market, Indian
1 trade officials threw on the
brakes, saying that they
would have to study the
plan some more. Wal-
Mart, which is the US's
largest retailer, had
entered into a deal with
India's Bhartia Enterprises,
known for its mobile-
phone service. Sunil Mittal,
the Bhartia chairman, said
that the plan was to open
"several hundred"
Wal-Mart stores across
the country.
Currently, companies
such as Wal-Mart are only
allowed to operate as
wholesalers in India. They
cannot yet legally operate
as retailers. Especially
following the experience of
the US and other places,
many in India worry about
the effect of the sudden
presence of big-box
retailers on local and
small-scale shops. Left
parties have long been
asking the New Delhi
government to keep Wal-
Mart out of the Indian
market, and are still
emphasising that the new
deal would contravene
regulations on foreign
direct investment. By
joining with Bhartia,
Wal-Mart is gaining access
Human-rights failures
fhe SAARC Human Rights Violators Index, released in
mid-December by the Asian Centre for Human Rights
(ACHR), has named Bangladesh as the worst regional
violator of human rights. In 2005, Bangladesh
experienced the most organised political killings, the
highest number of extrajudicial executions in countries
with no active insurgency - a whopping total of 396 -
and was deemed the most dangerous placed in
Southasia for journalists.
Bangladesh was followed by Bhutan at number two,
then the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.
Thus, it beat out the quasi-military dictatorship: in
Pakistan, the period of royal coup in Nepal, the
authoritarianism of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the
Maldives and the absolute monarchy of the recently
abdicated King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in Bhutan.:
Criteria used to produce the index include political
freedom, torture, right to life, and violence against
women. Although the ACHR acknowledges the
controversial aspect of their ranking exercise, they
emphasise that the index is based on systematic analysis
of incidents and patterns of human-rights violations in
the region. &
to the Indian market
through a backdoor
loophole, they claim.
announcement of its
Bhartia tie-up came just
ahead ofthe Indian-US
Business Summit in
Bombay. The event
brought to India the
largest trade mission from
the US to any country in the
world - the US firms that
came to Bombay to inspect
business opportunities
numbered over 250. With
the promise of an imminent
clinching ofthe Indo-US
civilian nuclear deal, at least
25 of those firms were
reportedly from the US's
civilian nuclear sector.       $
Indians happiest, and most
Two new surveys have revealed that Indian youths are
both the happiest young people in the world, and the
most likely to leave their homeland.
The first survey, conducted by MTV, has found that young
people in developing countries are twice as likely to feel
"happy" abouttheir lives as are those in first-world countries.
Indian youth, it was found, are by and large the most happy,
while Japanese youth turn out to be the most despondent.
But a second survey, conducted by the BBC, deduced
that Indian youths were among the most likely to emigrate
to other countries in search of a better future. The report
polled 3000 teenagers, aged 15 to 17, in ten major cities
around the world. Respondents in New Delhi tied with
Nairobi for those who would most like to emigrate out of
their respective countries - 81 percent.
MTV's survey, which focused on 16- to 34-year-olds,
concluded that although only around 43 percent of the
world's youth claimed to be happy with their lives, this low
number was caused mainly due to respondents in richer
countries. In the US and Britain, for instance, only 30 percent
ofthe survey sample reported being happy. It was also found
that the happiest youth in the developing countries were
by and large the individuals who claimed to be the
more religious.
Interestingly, the BBC survey received the largest negative
response to its question on emigration from Baghdad,
where 50 percent said that they would remain in war-torn
Iraq. The survey did find outstanding agreement on one
issue, however: that the US-led 'war on terror' was not
making the world a safer place. Just 14 percent of
participants in the poll disagreed with that contention.   A
Himal Southasian | January 2007
A neutral' Afghanistan
Amidst dreary
assessments of
Afghanistan's progress
five years after the ouster
of the Taliban, two US
experts on Southasia
recently published a five-
point proposal for the
country's development.
These included asking the
United Nations to call a
conference that would
declare the country
a "neutral state ...
like Switzerland".
The proposal was
drawn up by former
Assistant Secretary of
State Karl Inderfurth and
former ambassador
Dennis Kux. The two also
urged the Kabul
government to accept the
so-called Durand Line as
the official frontier
between Afghanistan
and Pakistan. Although
Hamid Karzai reportedly
is in favour of
designating the Durand
Line as the border, it has
long been a political hot
potato in Kabul.
Hopes for a neutral
Afghanistan appeared far
off, however, and the
indeterminate border
seems more vulnerable
than before. The same
week the Inderfurth report
appeared, Pakistani
Interior Minister Aftab
Ahmed Khan Sherpao
noted that Islamabad was
seriously debating mining
its long border with
Afghanistan. The move
would come in the wake of
Accept Taliban, NATO told
On the eve of a crucial meeting
of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation (NATO) in late
November in Latvia, Pakistani
Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri
told the gathered foreign ministers
that NATO forces were losing the
war against the Taliban in
Afghanistan. Kasuri not only said
      that NATO was bound to fail in the
endeavour, but also warned the organisation against
sending any more troops into the region. One miffed
Western diplomat noted that Kasuri was "basically asking
NATO to surrender and negotiate with the Taliban".
Indeed, an effort seemed to be afoot to convince
Western powers to attempt to come to a deal with the
Taliban, and also to set up a new government in Kabul -
one that would certainly undermine or sideline Hamid
Karzai, the apple of the American eye. Recent 'peace
deals' the Pakistani government has struck with Taliban
militants in areas of the NWFP have been widely criticised
for allowing the rebels a free hand to strike across the
international frontier at NATO forces posted in Afghanistan.
Afghans who fear that the Islamabad government is now
actively attempting to undermine President Karzai's
government may not be far from the truth. A
a rejection by Kabul of
General Pervez
Musharraf's proposal of
fencing the shared frontier,
and would be aimed in
particular at stemming
the flow of weapons
from Afghanistan to
Pakistani militants.
During a simultaneous
trip to
Kabul by
Foreign Minister
Khurshid Kasuri,
Hamid Karzai stated that
militants infiltrating
Afghanistan from Pakistan
were severely affecting
relations between the two
neighbours. Kasuri's main
priority in Kabul was to
solidify plans to hold a
large crossborder jirga,
in an attempt to stop
the crossborder
movement of insurgents. £
Sagging trade
An 18-member trade
mission from India
headed over the border
into Burma in late
November to try to
understand why
crossborder trade was not
happening at any greater
level. Despite having
started more than 11
years ago, Indo-Burmese
trade is currently totalling
less than INR 73 million
per year, and has fallen
rapidly in recent years.
This includes less than
INR 33 million worth of
Burmese exports into
India, a decrease of more
than 50 percent from
2003-04 levels.
Meanwhile, some of
the states of Northeast
India are attempting to
take the situation into
their own hands.
Following the example of   j
Manipur, Nagaland has
recently joined the push
to increase direct trade
with Burma. The
Nagaland government
wants to promote trade
through the village of
Pangsa where, although
there has been a grandly
named International
Trade Centre since 1996,
till now all crossborder
trade from this point has
been done by barter only.
When the Nagaland
transport minister,
Imtilemba Sangtam,
recently visited the
Pangsa trade centre, he
urged the locals to
approach the Rangoon
government regarding the
building of roadways into
the area. Currently all
official trade must come
through Manipur's Moreh
trade point. Meanwhile,
Manipur Governors S
Sidhu in early December
said that a new
international bus service
from Imphal to Mandalay
is being seriously
considered on both sides
of the border. Jb
January 2007 ] Himal Southasian
 Karen villagers cleaning up in
the army's wake, April 2006
India versus Burmese
The international pressure group Human Rights Watch
has called on the Indian government to rethink its recent
decision to offer a military aid package to Rangoon. When
Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi visited the new Burmese
capital in the jungles at Nay Pyi Taw on 22 November, he
offered a multimillion-dollar package that HRW says
included helicopters, naval surveillance planes and
upgrades to Burma's current fighter-plane fleet. Earlier in
the month, the head of the Indian Army announced a new
cooperative training project between the two militaries.
Human  Rights Watch warns that any weapons
or training aid will
inevitably be used by
the Burmese government
against its civilian
population, including in
relation to the various
ongoing ethnic conflicts.
The country's military is
currently in the process of
building up its largest
mobilisation in more than
a decade, with more
than 50 battalions
reportedly going into operation against separatists in
Karen state alone.
New Delhi did call a halt to military aid to the autocratic
regime of King Gyanendra in Nepal during his 15-month
takeover, but has shown no proclivity to do so in the case
ofthe Burmese junta. "India may think it has to compete
with China to cultivate good relations in the region," noted
one HRW researcher, "but this is going too far." A
A Northeast merger
In Sri Lanka, the president-appointed 'experts panel' of
the All Party Conference submitted a report to
Mahinda Rajapakse in early December, recommending
a measure of power devolution to the country's northern
and eastern provinces, as well as a 'merger' between
those two areas over the course of a decade.
The report came after two weeks of continuous
debate and the collation of hundreds of suggestions,
including those collected from the general public. Its
conclusions will now form the basis of debate for the All
Party Representative Committee, which until now has
been unable to tackle the issue of power-sharing. Ofthe
panel's 17 members, six Sinhalese, four Tamils and the
one Muslim representative ultimately endorsed the final
report. Dissenting reports came from members of the
nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). A
Himal Southasian | January 2007
No Lhasa consulate
Despite the floating of
another proposal prior
to Hu Jintao's recent
Southasia visit, Beijing has
turned down New Delhi's
request to open a consulate
in Lhasa. The reason given
for the denial was that
China does not allow any
country to operate
consulates in Lhasa.
Of course, that is with the
exception of Nepal, whose
consulate has been in
operation since long before
the Dalai Lama's escape in
1959. In fact, at that time
there were two countries
with consulates in Lhasa -
India's outpost was forced
to close after the war in
1962. New Delhi has been
keen to reopen its
diplomatic office in Tibet
since 2003, when India
formally acknowledged
the Tibet Autonomous
Region as being part of
China. Subsequently,
China recognised Sikkim
as part of India.
Despite Beijing's
anxiety over Tibet,
however, closer regional
integration is becoming
increasingly inevitable. It
was recently decided that
India would open a
consulate in Guangzhou,
while China will open an
office in Calcutta. As the
road through Nathula is
upgraded, revitalisation of
the old Calcutta-Lhasa
route cannot be too
far behind. Then, India
will most likely have its
Lhasa consulate. A
Beijing boilerplate
When there is little on the ground but soft-mouthed
diplomacy, look to the opposition. BJP leader L K
Advani became an instant star among the Tibetan
community-in-exile during Chinese President Hu Jintao's
three-day visit to India in late November. During a meeting
with President Hu, Advani urged him to allow the Dalai
La ma to visit Ti bet and push for a reso! utio n to the stagna nt
Tibetan situation.
The BJP leader's query reportedly took the
Chinese dignitary by surprise, as it was the first
time in long while that an Indian leader had
brought up the topic with a top Chinese
official. President Hu responded with
Beijing boilerplate, reiterating that
before any such visit could take place
the Dalai Lama must publicly accept that
Tibet is an integral part of the Chinese state
- quite unmindful of the fact that the Dalai j
Lama has been shouting himself hoarse
saying that he accepts that formulation.
Just broaching the subject, however,
brought Advani many thanks from the
Tibetan population in India. If India
were made up of a Tibetan majority, is there
any doubt that the BJP would sweep the
next elections? A
Advani targets
A SEZ for Nepal
Five new dams
New Delhi has decided to help the Kathmandu
government to develop a special economic zone
(SEZ) in the southern border town of Birgunj. The move
constitutes the first such assistance that India has ever
offered to another country, and comes on the heels of
another controversial SEZ-creating spree in India.
The decision also represents another step in the
ongoing competition for influence over regional countries
between India and China. The news of Indo-Nepali
collaboration came amidst reports of the Nepali
government having been actively looking for Chinese
assistance to build an SEZ along its northern border with
Tibet. China's SEZ programme is significantly
more advanced than its nascent counterpart in India,
although New Delhi is currently seen as pulling out all
stops in attempting to catch up. As of now Nepal
does not even have legislation allowing for the
presence of special economic zones, something that
would have to be passed now by an interim Parliament
with Maoist presence. All indications are thatthe comrades
will not scupper any deal in the making, however, with
India or China. A
a o
Encaged in enclaves
Here's some data on Indo-Bangla relations. India has
111 'enclaves' surrounded by Bangladeshi territory,
covering about 17,160 acres, while Bangladesh's 51
enclaves within India cover 7110 acres.
The Indian Parliament has recently been told that
New Delhi has no real control over its Bangladeshi
enclaves. Although 1974 bilateral
a    legislation agreed on an
-:t_h   exchange of enclaves, an article in
the agreement stipulated that those
citizens living on the enclaves could,
if they desired, remain citizens of
their respective countries. Either
way, little action has taken place in
the interceding three decades,
although bilateral talks did resume in
2001. Enclave citizens, meanwhile,
continue to live caged lives, with neither
water nor electricity, schools nor doctors
- despite the
existence of all of these amenities in
the enclaves' immediate surroundings.
While New Delhi now wants to
conduct a joint survey and census of the
two countries' respective enclaves,
Bangladesh is maintaining that
doing so is not a prerequisite to
exchanging enclaves as set forth in the
1974 agreement. A
Anti-Kalabagh protest, Karachi
General Pervez
Musharraf and his
Cabinet in late
November decided that
Pakistan would forge
ahead with plans to
build five major dams by
2016. These will
include the highly
contentious Kalabagh
dam (on the Indus River}, and others in Akhori (Haro
River), Munda (Swat River), Kurram Tangi (Kurram River)
and Diamer-Bhasha (also on the Indus).
Although Gen Musharraf has in the past said that
building mega-dams was of personal importance to him,
as elsewhere dam projects in Pakistan have been
controversial. Conflicts have arisen not only over
displacement and rehabilitation, but also due to larger
worries that traditionally marginalised provinces, such
as NWFP, will have their waters diverted for the benefit
of richer regions, primarily Punjab. Perhaps in reference
to the ongoing controversy, in announcing the decision
Deputy Chairman ofthe Planning Commission Akram
Sheikh pointedly emphasised that it was now
incumbent upon all organs of the state to implement
the plans. A
India's land ports
In what observers have
dubbed a "breakthrough
in the trade versus security
debate", the Indian
Cabinet in early December
agreed to create 13 new
integrated checkposts
(ICPs) on the country's
borders with Pakistan,
Nepal, Bangladesh and
Burma. In addition, a new
body wil! be created to
oversee such matters, to
be called the Land Ports
Authority of India. The
project is slated to cost
around INR 8.5 billion.
ICPs are currently
planned for Wagah (on the
Pakistan frontier), Moreh
(Burma), Raxaul (Nepal)
and Petrapole
(Bangladesh). During the
next stage, more land
ports will be set up in
Bangladesh and Nepal -
at Hili, Chandrabandha,
Sutarkhandi, Dawki,
Akhaura and
Kawarpuchiah in the
former, and Jogbani,
Sunauli and Rupaidiha in
the latter. Additional
points are expected
between India and China,
to expand beyond the
current one at Nathula.
Officials have also
stated that in the near
future India's border trade
would undergo a process
of redefinition. This will do
away with 'positive lists',
which stipulate what can
be traded - as are in use
with Pakistan and at
Nathula - and towards
more inclusive 'negative
lists', which simply denote
what cannot be traded.   A
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
Life in an open prison
For those who have been stuck in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula since
hostiiities on the island heated up in August, the past few months have been a
relentless descent into deprivation, chaos and fear.
After citizens from Sri Lanka's Trincomalee and
Batticaloa districts fled their homes in early
December to escape the renewed war between
the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Army, thousands ended
up in the east-coast region of Vaharai - and found
they had nowhere else to go. On 15 December, seven
internally displaced persons, including a young child,
died and many more went missing as they attempted
to flee Vaharai in overloaded boats, braving the rough
seas during the stormy season.
The fresh crisis on the east coast may well eclipse
the sustained crisis that has crippled the northern
district of Jaffna since August, when a major offensive
by the LTTE provoked retaliation by the army, and led
to the partial closure of the A9 Highway connecting
Jaffna to the rest of the island. The consequent and
continuing siege of Jaffna has left civilians feeling like
they are inside a drum being beaten at both ends,
according to A Kumaravadivel, the Vice-Chancellor of
Jaffna University.
At first glance, Jaffna looks like a charming little
town, refreshingly free of the urban blight that has
defaced comparable urban spaces elsewhere in
Southasia. But the first signs of the extraordinary
circumstances of life in Jaffna appear on arrival at
Palaly Airport. The bus that transports passengers
from the aircraft to the rudimentary terminal buildings
has blackened windows, as well as a partially painted
windshield that offers only the driver a narrow view
of the road ahead. Armed escorts on motorcycles
accompany vehicles out of the extensive Mgh-security
zone within which the airport is located. The landscape
is dotted with bombed out, long-abandoned homes.
Outside the zone, vans and buses transporting
civilians to the town of Jaffna tend to avoid the main
road, which is used by military convoys and where
there are dangers of various kinds - including
landmines. Within the town, many corner plots and
buildings have been taken over and fortified to serve
as security outposts, manned by soldiers.
A map at the Jaffna office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals
that, since August, at least 37,000 people living near
tlie army's high-security zones and artillery points have
fled their homes to escape daily shelling between the
warring sides. They have joined the ranks of more
longstanding internally displaced persons in Jaffna,
this geographically isolated part of northern Sri
Lanka that, unlike its neighbouring districts, is
technically under government control. Of these latest
additions to the sizeable population displaced by the
long, drawn-out war, about 8000 are living in
temporary camps, while the rest have sought refuge
with relatives and friends.
The blocking of the A9 Highway - the only land
route connecting the peninsula with the rest of the
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 .Jaffna residents are coping with the difficult situation with varying levels ol
resilience, resignation and resentment.
island, and the lifeline on which the northern district
depends for its sustenance - has not onlv trapped
residents within the embattled area, but also prevented
people and goods from coming in. Travel aind
transport by sea and air have also been affected bv the
renewed conflict, with commercial flights between
Jaffna and Colombo having been reintroduced onlv
during the last week of November. Mobile phone
services have also been suspended since August,
adding to the sense of isolation.
According to residents, the period since August has
boon the worst thev have faced in over two decades of
war. The biggest problem is the acute sc.ircitv of food,
which has made Jaffna residents almost entirely
dependent on the limited rations distributed through
cooperative stores. Citizens are forced to spend long
hours queuing for the meagre provisions available at
these stores, with staples such as rice and flour in one
shop and other basic necessities at another. Not onlv
are the quantities inadequate, but various essential
items, including infant food, aire unavailable from time
to time.
The prices of the few commodities available in the
open market, including vegetables, have tripled or even
quadrupled since August, placing them out of reach
of most citizens. In any case, as Kumaravadivel points
out, human beings do not live bv bread alone - they
need a variety of other items to lead anything
resembling a normal life, and manv such products are
unavailable. While gasoline and diesel are slowlv
re-entering the market, kerosene, for example, which
is much more important for running households, is
still in short supply.
Towards the end of his visit to India in \ov ember,
President Mahinda Rajapakse announced that his
government would buy food and other essentials in
Jamil Nadu, and transport the goods directly from
there across the water to Jaffna. He pointed tint that
this would be the easiest and fastest way to get the
commodities to the population there. As ol mid-
December, however, these supplies still had
not readied Jaffna, although on 16 December
local newspapers did report that food from India was
on its way.
Judith Bruno, head of the Jaffna office of the child-
support organisation LXTCEF, estimates that the
district's population of roughly 600,000 requires a
minimum of 10,000 metric tonnes ol' food everv month.
There is clearly a limit to how much food can be
brought in by ship, especially during the rainy season.
The bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundaranayagam, has
been consistently highlighting the urgent need to
reopen the A1' Highway in order to dispel the feeling
among the people that "thev are liv ing and suffering
in an open prison." His appeals have fallen on deaf
ears, however, with both the Tamil Tigers and the army
sticking to their rigid stances on the issue.
vVMite vans
Another casualty of the renewed conllict is public
health. With the scarcity of affordable, balanced food,
malnutrition has become a significant, and growing,
problem. Local pharmacies have run out of commonly
needed  medicines. Although  the hospitals in the
A role for India?
A recurring theme in conversations with peace
advocates and activists - both In Colombo and in
Jaffna - is the apparently widespread feeling that India
has a crucial and urgent role to play in brokering peace
in the island nation. While acknowledging the unhappy
history of India's involvement, particularly regarding
the IPKF and Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, many
activists now believe that the time has come for New
Delhi to move on for the sake of the people
of Sri Lanka. This view seems to indicate some
loss of hope in the intermediary efforts, led by
the Norwegians.
According to Bishop Savundaranayagam. "As our
closest neighbour, India has a moral responsibility to
bring this long-standing war, which has been bleeding
the people, to an end." Citing geographical proximity
and cultural links between India and Sri Lanka, he
said that the Indians are best placed to "understand
the situation" and to play "an effective role." Apart from
the fact that the Tamil people have a special affinity for
India on account of cultural, linguistic and religious ties.
the bishop continued, the Colombo government is
sensitive to India's opinion - and would think twice
before rejecting Indian intervention.
Vice-Chancellor Kumaravadivel agrees, noting that
"Indian influence has been in Sri Lanka since the days of
the Ramayana, whether we like it or not... Peace will be
stable only if India plays a role in bringing about an
agreement and ensuring the implementation of the
agreement." This plea for Indian involvement, a shedding
ofthe present hands-off approach, is especially poignant
because it is made from Jaffna, where the issue is
primarily humanitarian. From the distance of Colombo
and Delhi, geo-strategic issues may play a greater role in
policy decisions. The worry is that the suffering of the
people of Jaffna may figure less so.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 peninsula have been able to continue functioning
with essential drugs and materials provided bv both
the government and international agencies - thev still
face a shortage of equipment, as well as power cuts
and a scarcity of fuel to run generators. Consequently,
seriously ill patients need to be transported to
Colombo on chartered flights bv the Red Cross.
Fducation in Jaffna has also suffered. Schools,
which were closed for two months, were recently
reopened to enable children to prepare for their exams.
Fven so, in November children could be seen
standing in food queues during school hours, fhe
once-famous University of Jaffna, though not officially
closed, had to "suspend all teaching activities" and
"function without students", according to the vice-
chancellor. A third of the student body comes from
outside the peninsula. After the troubles began in
.August, the university had to house and feed the
marooned students for two months before they could
be repatriated home with the cooperation of the armed
forces. Kumaravadivel savs he is trying to ensure that
classes can be resumed in January. "Arrangements
are being made to bring back students from the
outlying districts, and to ensure that thev are safe
and have accommodation and food," he says.
The problems faced by Jaffna's residents are
...impounded by the fact that the new hostilities have
led to widespread unemployment. The prohibition
of fishing in the name of security has left whole
communities of fisherfolk without any source of
livelihood. A shortage of materials has meant no work
for a wide range of skilled and unskilled workers
alike, including masons, carpenters and other
artisans. With a variety of shops unable to replenish
supplies, many have downed shutters. With thefuel
shortage that prevailed until recently, auto drivers
and others in the transport sector had a limited scope
to earn a living. An estimated 2000 people employed
bv the relatively small number of private-sector
businesses in the peninsula have lost their jobs.
Despite the heavy presence of security personnel
and the dusk-to-dawn curfew, forced disappearances
and extra-judicial killings have increased in Jaffna.
People in the area speak in hushed tones about the
unmarked 'white vans' carrying masked, armed men
who take individuals awav from their homes at night.
Many are later found dead, while others are simply
not seen or heard from again. A white van without a
A white van without a license plate
has long heen a symbol of terror in Sri
Lanka, associated with
disappearances tha! have occurred
across the country since the 1980s.
license plate has long been a symbol of terror in Sri
l.anka, associated with disappearances that have
occurred across the country since the 1980s. According
to residents, these dreaded vehicles have now-
reappeared. Most of tbe time, families are unable to
trace missing relatives, let alone secure justice for
murdered ones.
Jaffna's local press, which now comprises three
Tamil newspapers, has been a target of intimidation
and violence, in November, the papers' editors were
reportedly told bv the armed forces not to carry any
news about the LTTE, including messages and
speeches related to the group's 'Heroes Day' events
during the last week of that month. This put them in a
difficult situation, where thev would necessarily
antagonise one side or the other no matter what
thev did.
One newspaper, Utlitn/nn, has been under direct
attack for several months. In May, on the eve of World
Press Freedom Day, two employees were killed and
three others seriously injured when six armed men
attacked the office. The attackers had come looking
for two journalists, but not finding them, assaulted
the non-editorial staff. In August,, a driver working for
lHhiiyuit was also killed, and warehouses containing
the paper's printing equipment were burned to the
ground, in September, two armed men again forced
their way into the offices, threatening the paper's staff
if thev did not print their statement. In December, a
policeman standing guard outside the office was shot
dead. According to local journalists, self-censorship
has become a survival strategy.
laffna residents are coping with the difficult
situation with varying lev els ot resilience, resignation
and resentment. Witness to the turmoil of war for more
than 2t) years, thev enjoved a brief respite from their
troubles after the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. But now,
with the renewal aind escalation of conflict, they are
once again haunted bv tear and anxiety. Civilians in
laffna are paving a heavy price for the fact
that both tlie Kajapakse government and Velupillai
I'rabhakaran's l.TTF have, over tbe past
several months, deviated from the admittedly thorny
path to peace.
On 24 November, with tensions running high in
anticipation of the 'Heroes Day' speech by
Prabhakaran, Bishop Sayundaranav agam said, "I
hope and pray that thev will not opt for a military
solution." lie pointed out that attempts to solve the
country's political problems through military means
have been tried again and again, and have invariably
failed. During Prabhakaran's subsequent speech, the
l.TTF: head asserted that there was "no other option
but an independent state for the people of Tamil
I.elam". Ihis development, coupled with the
anticipation of the government's likely response on
the ground, has left people in Jaffna feeling more
vulnerable than ever. i>
Himal Southasian | January 2007
roots of
Dalit rage
The symbolism of Dalit politics is a tactical response to the threat of violence lurking
beneath the surface of Indian democracy. The benevolent tolerance that caste Hindu
society affects may well be misplaced.
In January 2006, Bant Singh, a Dalit peasant and
community organiser, was assaulted near his
home village in Mansa District of Punjab state.
Left for dead by his assailants, he was denied
attention at the district hospital, except on payment
of an inducement that was plainly beyond his means.
His condition deteriorated badly and three of his
limbs had to be amputated when he was finally
placed under competent medical care. Even as news
ofthe shocking crime filtered out, there was little hint
that the perpetrators, known to be two former
headmen of Bant Singh's village, would ever be
brought to justice. In a zone where the liberties
guaranteed by the Indian Constitution are little more
than a phantasm, and the hierarchical privileges of
caste and class the reality, Bant Singh had been
punished for being found guilty of an unforgivable
crime. He had shown faith in the rule of law, and
sufficient persistence to fight a prolonged legal battle
to bring to justice three men guilty of the sexual
assault of his young daughter (See Himal October
2006, "The Dalit sword of Mansa").
In September, as Surekha Bhotmange prepared
an evening meal for her family in Kherlanji village of
Bhandara District in Maharashtra, a mob of local
thugs broke into her house. She was dragged outside,
along with her daughter Priyanka and two sons,
Roshan and Sudhir, one of whom is visually
handicapped. The women were lashed to a bullock
cart and brutally gang-raped, before all four were
murdered. Witnesses to the grisly carnage were
sworn to secrecy. Their assent was easily secured,
since they had just witnessed a crime that left few
boundaries intact between observation and
participation. Surekha's husband Bhaiyyalal lived to
tell the story, but his complaints at the local police
station went unrecorded until the four charred bodies
of the victims were discovered the following day.
The Bhotmanges belonged to the Mahar caste of
B R Ambedkar, and saw themselves as heirs to the
great tradition of cultural rebellion that he
represented. Their faith in the social mobility that
education could bring, and their resistance to ail
efforts to snatch away part of their property for a
water scheme that would bring them no conceivable
benefit, was seen as a challenge to the casteist
status quo. Like Bant Singh, they too fell victim to the
alternative system of conflict resolution that prevails
as the final bulwark of an ascriptive, hierarchical
social order.
When atrocities against the living remain
unrequited, it might occasion some shock that
supposed outrages against idols should provoke
violence and calls for retribution. On 30 November,
when news broke of a statue of B R Ambedkar being
vandalised in Kanpur District of Uttar Pradesh, Dalit
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 organisations mobilised for a day of protests.
Violence was reported from diverse parts of the
country, but the most demonstrative incidents were in
Maharashtra, where one ofthe Indian Railways' most
prestigious commuter trains was set aflame between
Bombay and Pune. Nobody was killed in the incident,
though sporadic clashes elsewhere in the state did
claim two lives.
Symbolism over substance?
The realities of a world where little is achieved
without conflict compel the new Dalit movements to
make certain tactical choices. The hazards of
pursuing their interests with necessary zeal cannot be
discounted, since violence lurks just beneath the
surface of India's democratic order. But the pursuit of
accommodation is not a sufficient answer, since that
entails the risk of yielding on core Dalit interests.
Partly in response, a delicate compromise has
been fashioned which places symbolism above
substance. A statue of B R Ambedkar, installed at a
prominent vantage point in the smallest town or
village, is often regarded as a sufficient triumph -
one that would sustain the solidarity of the
movement, even as substantive gains remain
elusive. It is this precise phenomenon that has led to
a proliferation of statues ofthe man revered today as
one of the great Indians of the 20th century. These
rather hastily fashioned icons have proven offensive
to the sensibilities of some, especially those with an
ideological predilection towards the Hindutva strain
of politics. What they fail to realise is that the
iconography of Ambedkarism is a safety valve for the
long-accumulated grievances of Dalit politics. Were
this symbolism not available, the reaction of caste
Hindu orthodoxy to the new Dalit assertion would go
far beyond mere aesthetic distaste.
The months just passed witnessed two significant
anniversaries connected with the man whose life-
story has become a part of the lives and struggles of
the Dalits of India. October 2006
saw the 50th
anniversary of
Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. This
conversion was a climactic act of cultural rebellion,
and the fulfilment of a vow made in 1927 after a
Satyagraha he led to assert Dalit rights to a water
source invited the furious reprisals of upper-caste
orthodoxy. A few weeks later, 6 December was the
50th anniversary of Ambedkar's death.
As journalist Jyoti Punwani wrote in a recent
opinion piece, for all the significance of these
anniversaries for the Dalits, it was as if they did not
exist for the mainstream press. On 5 December,
Punwani observes, a prominent newspaper in
Bombay "carried on page one, pictures of two
residents who live near Mumbai's Shivaji Park, ready
to leave home with bags packed". They were leaving
their homes temporarily because of the compelling
need to "avoid the influx of Dalits to Shivaji Park on 6
December, Dr Ambedkar's death anniversary". It was
not as if the residents of the area were strangers to
large and disorderly gatherings. The Shiv Sena had
been laying waste to their neighbourhood for at least
40 years during the Dussehra observances, charged
by their leader Bai Thackeray's oratory, in
comparison, the annual assembly of Dalits on the
occasion of Ambedkar's death anniversary had
invariably been a model of sobriety and
civic responsibility.
In the media narration again, the Kherlanji atrocity
existed not as a brutal crime that called out for
punitive sanctions, but as a looming presence that
somehow enhanced the aura of menace hovering
over the Ambedkar death anniversary observance.
The media, Punwani argued,
had shown admirable
tenacity and
commitment in
holding the rather
negligent system of
justice to account for
the deaths of
Priyadarshini Mattoo
and Jessica Lai - two
young women ofthe
The Dalit compact has led to a
peculiar brand of politics, where substantive
interests and the pursuit of equality have often
been subordinated to identity.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 urban middle class murdered by men who believed
they enjoyed absolute impunity on account of their
social circumstances. Priyanka Bhotmange's was no
less poignant a case, demanding as much if not more
commitment on the part of the press.
The reasons why Priyanka Bhotmange did not merit
the same treatment as someone like Priyadarshini
Mattoo are fairly clear. Shortly after the violent affrays
over the vandalisation of an Ambedkar
statue, a prominent English-language news channel
ran an hour-long programme of debate and discussion
centred on a single question: Are Dalits becoming
pawns in a larger political game? Of the invited
audience in the studio, 85 percent voted affirmatively,
and among those who phoned in their responses, a
still larger proportion concurred.
it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that elite
opinion - even in the upper- and middle-class strata
that do not have reason to feel directly threatened by
the assertive new strains in Dalit politics - tends to
view the Dalits as a people who have not yet
attained the political maturity to act on their own
behalf. This perception, it seems, is derived from the
elaborate symbolism of Dalit politics, particularly in
relation to the iconography of Ambedkar. But in
drawing the facile conclusion that Dalit politics is yet
to attain maturity, elite opinion may well have
mistaken contingent tactical adjustments with
nherent characteristics.
A recent report on the status of India's Muslims.
prepared by a commission headed by the eminent
jurist Rajinder Sachar. pointed out that on several vital
counts, India's principal religious minority is perhaps
as poorly off as the Dalits. But Dalit assertion, even if
t has been met with violent reprisals every so often,
has a legitimacy that the Muslim struggle for
recognition has lacked, on account of the complex
history of India's nationalist movement. This is a
narrative that includes, among other things.
Ambedkar's historic pact with Mahatma Gandhi and
the Congress party in 1932, when the Muslim League
and its leadership seemingly remained intent on
underlining differences rather than shared interests.
In later years. Ambedkar came to regret having
yielded to Gandhi's magnificent paternalism, but there
is little question that the terms of the reconciliation
between Dalits and caste Hinduism that he authored
have provided a stable underpinning for the politics of
independent India. It is also true that by making the
assertion of identity an object in itself and
consecrating the principle of unequal treatment under
the law as a means of redressing centuries of
nstitutionalised inequality, the Dalit compact has led
to a peculiar brand of politics, where substantive
interests and the pursuit of equality have often been
subordinated to identity. It is unsurprising then, that
the established order is able to respond to Dalit
assertions of identity with a variety of tolerant
benevolence, while the pursuit of substantive equality
has been known to call forth extreme violence.
Coercsve teis
It would be evident that identity has been the main
concern ofthe Dalit party that has. in three recent
episodes, exercised power in India's largest state of
Uttar Pradesh. These intervals in power were
invariably terminated due to the fickleness of the
parties with which that main vehicle of Dalit politics in
UP - the Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP - was
compelled to enter into coalitions. But running through
all the BSP's efforts was an agenda that was followed
to the point of obsession: to pack the administration
with trusted functionaries, from the state capital on
down. Particular attention was placed on the police
forces, to ensure that functionaries of the law at the
local level were amenable to the diktat of the party.
This is a rather chastening reality. Under a political
dispensation in which welfare commitments are
professedly strong, the most powerful incentive in
contesting elections should be to gam control over the
welfare mechanisms - like health and education -
rather than the apparatus of coercion. Substantive
economic progress for the Dalits would presumably
come from enhanced welfare expenditures,
channelled through the social infrastructure. The
reality in India, as manifest in the administrative
actions of the BSP. seems the opposite. The
overwhelming concern of a party of the oppressed,
during its brief interludes in power in the largest state
in the country, is not to augment welfare, but to
capture the instruments of coercion.
This seems to suggest two rather significant points
about the Dalits' social situation. The first is that under
globalisation, the space for manoeuvre available - to
increase welfare expenditure, for one - is becoming
dangerously constricted. The second is that
substantive progress through increased public
spending on welfare sectors would only be possible if
the instruments of coercion were to be taken over, or
at the very least neutralised. Failing this, the coercive
mechanisms of tradition would come into play, to
overwhelm the Dalit pursuit of substantive equality.
To be critical of the Dalits' seeming disdain for
constitutionalism and liberal democratic principles
would be easy. But the experience of Uttar
Pradesh - and indeed other parts ofthe country - is
testimony to an undeniable fact. The rights of the
oppressed may verbally be championed by various
political formations eager to harvest their votes. But in
a situation of direct confrontation between Dalit rights
and entrenched privilege, the machinery of the state
becomes an accessory of power and wealth. The
ongoing litany of atrocities against Dalits, not to
mention the failure of the apparatus of law and
justice to provide them restitution, is a continuing
reminder of this.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
There is something about
conflict among kin that
keeps history engaged, and
often bitter. The Mahabharata, for
example, is nothing if not a story of
epic battle between cousins. Egos
-h. drive such conflicts, but their
spoils have always been political. In
Bombay today, two cousins. Raj and
Uddhav Thackeray, have their horns
locked in combat. At stake is the
militant legacy of Bai Thackeray -
Raj's uncle, Uddhav's father, and
the founder of the Hindu-nationalist
Shiv Sena. Inevitably, the politics will
be titillating; but what about the
battlefield, the heart of Bombay? Is
the Shiv Sena losing its grip over
Dadar, the area of the city that has
been its stronghold for years? And is
■ -e Marathi urban middle class
rmaiiy shifting loyalties? The
answers to these questions may
well define the trajectory of
Maharashtra's politics, and
Bombay's future.
But first, a brief foray into the
past. In the late 1960s. Bai
Thackeray built his political party.
the Shiv Sena, out of a rabble-
■ousing lot of disgruntled
vianarastrian youth. As the appeal
of Maratha parochialism weakened,
the party moved towards militant
Hindu nationalism. After a lacklustre
performance in electoral politics
and a base confined to Bombay
during the 1970s and early 1980s,
in the following decade Thackeray's
eadership saw some gains in civic
elections. The Sena expanded its
political base to the Konkan,
Vidarbha and Marathwada regions
of Maharashtra. In 1995, it formed
the state government with the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Audacious Raj
With Thackeray at the helm, his son
Uddhav and nephew Raj emerged
as the younger voices of the party,
as well as possible heirs to the
patriarch's legacy. While a reclusive
Uddhav kept away from the public
eye. the fiery, elegant and popular
Raj fast came to be seen as his
uncle's fitting successor. But Ba
Thackeray silenced popular
Bai, Raj and Uddhav
in the Shiv Sena's traditional stronghold, many are
excited about the breakaway formation headed fay Bai
Thackeray's nephew Raj - even if thev don't know
exactiy what fhe new parly stands for
speculation by anointing his son
Uddhav the party's working
president in 2004, decidedly
settling the issue of succession.
This ended Raj's chances of
heading the Shiv Sena and discord
developed rapidly between the
two. In December 2005. Raj quit
the Shiv Sena, claiming he had
"suffered" in the party.
After a state-wide tour, in March
2006, Raj announced the
formation of a new political party.
the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena
(MNS). The new party is pledged to
the building of a vibrant, dynamic
Maharashtra. At age 38, Raj is
busy cultivating the image of a
thinking young politician, open to
the changing times and
considerate towards Dalits and
Muslim minorities, quite unlike the
firebrand Hindu parochialism of
Bai Thackeray's party. While Raj
has publicly maintained that he
does not want to break the Shiv
Sena, that is precisely what he
seems to be
'.^^££Wt|lif    aiming at.
$7. "a^!^3Hfc Bombay's
are due in
first week of
and for Raj
and the
MNS they
will the first
crucial test.
Till a year ago, one could fee
the Shiv Sena's unchallenged
supremacy as one stood under the
shade of Sena Bhavan. the party
headquarters located on Dadar's
N C Kelkar Road. The rebel Raj
has begun his assault by
establishing his headquarters on
the same street, just a few metres
away. He has called his offices
Rajgadh, 'Raj's fort'. Furthermore,
directly facing Sena Bhavan is a
4.8-acre piece of prime real estate
bought by Raj and his associates
for a whopping INR 4.2 billion prior
to the creation of MNS. Some Shiv
Sainiks. the old party activists, feel
that the awe that Sena Bhavan
has inspired is now diluted by
Raj's audacity. "Raj is surrounding
us. His office is right here, this
massive property in the front, and
he lives next door," complains
Shambhu Panchal, a Sena activist
who lives in the tenements close
to the nearby Plaza Cinema.
MNS's presence is imposing -
symbolically as well as on the
ground. Activists of the two parties
clashed this past October, leading
to a number of injuries. Explains
Nitin Gujar. an MNS supporter who
participated in the clash: "We
wanted to show [the Shiv Sena]
that though we are different from
them, we are not cowards. Apna
gaand mein bhi dum hai boss
[Hey, we too have guts]." Plenty of
guts - that is something the two
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 if politics in the Subcontinent is an affair nf biding one's time. Raj Thackeray has
time on his side; the question is whether he has the
aft -ft ^
Senas seem to have in common,
requring police barricades to
separate the two headquarters.
The Shiv Sainiks have long taken
pride in flexing their muscles
for their "Supremo" Bai Thackeray.
And with Raj's youngsters
equally adventurous, the
barricades appear to be nothing
more than a gesture.
^osikf't mnnev
Dadar residents have been
traditional Shiv Sena supporters.
and it is from here that the party
expanded its base to spread
across Maharashtra. With the
MNS on the scene, there is now
palpable excitement in the area.
The Kamble family has been living
near Swaminarayan temple for
over four decades. Swati Kamble
feels Raj's party will get jobs for
the youth, and hopes that it will do
so for her son, who will graduate
soon. But the son just shrugs.
Manse (pronounced mans-ay), he
says, using the Marathi acronym
for the MNS, "is no different from
Sena. Same violence, same old
populist rhetoric." One gets the
same response from a lot of
people in the area.
And yet, there is also an
optimism that reason cannot
explain. It does not matter if they
do not know what exactly Raj's
vision is - if indeed he has one -
or what the MNS has done in the
nine months since its
establishment. The important
thing seems to be that the MNS is
new. while the Sena is old. Bai
Thackeray seems to be almost a
spent force. And Uddhav? Too
arrogant to approach the people;
too arrogant for politics. Raj, on
the other hand, is accessible. The
MNS does not act like the moral
police. Raj has encouraged
Western-style ballroom dancing
during inter-collegiate cultural
festivals, organised cricket and
body-building competitions. Some
students - gathered at the Canepy
restaurant near Ruparel College -
agree that Raj will "make it big".
Just exactly what that means
remains unclear. A party functionary
informs this writer that each young
activist of the MNS gets INR 5000
a month. The claim is loftier than
the actual amount, but it appears
to be working for now. The hope of
something new, and pocket money,
is attracting young followers,
Bombay's political analysts differ
in their views on the MNS's
prospects. The lack of a coherent
ideological position seems to be
the biggest obstacle. "Raj
Thackeray doesn't know what his
party stands for," says one
observer, "He shuns the Ba
Thackeray brand of militant
Hindutva, but uses the old legacy.
His past record makes Muslims
sceptical. And there is little in him
to appeal to Dalits." In the months
following the formation of the party,
many disgruntled Shiv Sena leaders
and activists did join the MNS. But
a substantial reverse-switch has
undermined Raj's momentum.
Meanwhile, the old guard has
tended to stick to the old party,
even as many of the youth are
attracted to Raj's outfit.
Raj Thackeray's politics is
struggling to emerge from the
shadow of what is not a principled
departure but a personal feud, and
to acquire a niche of its own. At the
same time, the clash of
personalities is also an asset for
Raj over the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena.
"If Uddhav and Raj were to make a
speech from the same dais, people
would see Bai Thackeray in his
nephew and not in his son.
Between the two. Raj wins
handsomely," the political observer
adds. Perhaps that will ensure that
Raj makes a substantial dent in the
Shiv Sena's vote bank, although it
does not necessarily mean that it
will be the MNS which will receive
the resulting votes. Some say that
he is definitely harming the Sena,
but is doing greater harm to himself
because the votes are likely to land
in the Congress and the Nationalist
Congress Party's bags.
Whatever the differences, all
agree that the 1 February 2007
civic elections will decide the future
of Raj and the MNS. In Raj's favour-
is that, unlike Narayan Rane and
Sanjay Nirupam, senior leaders
who quit the Shiv Sena to join the
Congress Party, he has floated his
own party and appears determined
to see it through. Also to his
advantage is the absence of any
credible competitor of his age in
the entire platform of Maharashtra
politics. If politics in the
Subcontinent is an affair of biding
one's time. Raj Thackeray has time
on his side: the question is whether
he has the patience.
'Bombay' is an uncomfortable
noun to encompass this jazzy,
global city. Here, parochial politics
coexist with cosmopolitan
economics. Dadar remains the
playfield of this politics, its people
now busily anticipating the twists
that the conflict between cousins
will take. In the end, one cannot
really gauge whether the middle-
class Maharashtnan of Dadar is
shifting loyalties. But there is
definitely flux, and it is visible.
Raj Thackeray has posed an
impressive challenge to the Shiv
Sena's dominance, and recent
speeches at Shivaji Park have
changed the state's political
equations. Although there has
never been a more influential
orator at the park than Bai
Thackeray, that is now in the past.
Raj has crossed the street from his
house, walked away from his
uncle's shadow, and taken the
centre stage. He has displaced the
patriarch. Whether the people have
replaced the Bai with Raj remains
to be seen.
Some names in this article have
been changed on request.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
'Rape to riches' to the
Women Protection Act
Mukhtaran Mai leads an anti-Hudood protest, Muitan
Pakistan's new pro-women legislation is a significant
step. Pervez Musharraf should be credited for a bold
move, and held accountable for his pledges.
Many critics of President
General Pervez Musharraf
have been dismissive of
his Protection of Women (Criminal
Laws Amendment) Bill 2006, which
was passed unchanged by both the
National Assembly and Senate, and
enacted into law on 1 December.
The new bill has been attacked as
being little more than the grande
finale of the president's latest
political reinvention tour, and for
addressing just two of the
five aspects of the country's
oppressive Hudood Ordinances -
adultery and rape.
Opponents insist that the
principle purpose of the
new legislation remains the
consolidation of Gen Musharraf's
'enlightened moderation' credentials on the international stage.
Indeed, even the bill's
much-awaited parliamentary debut
before the National Assembly in
mid-November appeared to have
been timed for maximum impact. It
w7as on the same day that In the Name
of Honor, the ghost-written memoir
of Mukhtaran Mai - the gang-rape
victim w7ho has since become
an international icon against
female subjugation - went on sale
in Pakistan.
Many have felt that this
coincidence was orchestrated to
dilute memories of the general's
infamous 'rape-to-riches' faux pas
at the 2005 United Nations General
Assembly in New York, when he
suggested that Pakistani women
often alleged rape to secure either
financial compensation or fast-
track resident status to Western
countries. It may also have been
designed to erase memories of the
president's placing of Mai, also in
2005, on the country's 'exit-control'
list, which barred her from
attending a conference in the US to
share her ordeal.
But while Gen Musharraf's
critics continue to insist that any
change in his approach to the
plight of Pakistani women is merely
cosmetic, it must nevertheless be
noted that no political party in tire
country voted against his women's
bill, Phus, the general has secured
his place in history as the only
Pakistani leader to have ever
successfully challenged any aspect
of the Hudood laws (See Himal
December 2006, "Fighting Hudood,
protecting women").
Firewall protection
Tlie Women Protection Act (WPA)
addresses the most controversial
aspects of the Hudood Ordinances,
a group of laws that date back to
1979 and Zia-ul Huq's rule - those
pertaining to adultery and rape,
which the new bill categorises as
two separate offences. While
adultery remains within the
purview of Islamic law, the WPA
abolishes the death penalty and
flogging for those accused of this
crime and also reverses its non-
bailable status.
Phc WPA's most significant
achievement, however, is the
removal of rape from the jurisdiction
of Islamic law, under the rationale
that the Koran makes no specific
mention of this crime. Instead, rape
is now in the ambit of Pakistan's
criminal legal system, under the
Pakistan Penal Code. Phat this
inclusion abolishes the Hudood
prerequisite of four male witnesses
is also a significant accomplishment. Phe Hudood provisions
pertaining to adultery and rape
made no distinction between
consensual and non-consensual
unlawful sex. As such, any woman
filing a rape charge would
automatically find herself open to
adultery charges if she wTere unable
to fulfil the eyewitness criterion,
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 since she would have inadvertently Ideology had already determined support of Benazir Bhutto's secular
admitted to having hiid unlawful that none of the bill's provisions liberal partv, despite the last minute
sexual relations. Thus Pakistanis violated Islamic injunctions. MMA-friendh amendments to the
must also welcome the introduction Ihe    image   of   the    general bill, has further fuelled rumours tit
of safeguards to prevent a woman 'kowtowing' to mullah pressure a secret deal between the former
from   being   liable  on   adultery was further reinforced bv the fact prime  minister  and   the   ruling
charges when, for whatever reason, that the version of the bill passed Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as
she fails to prove her case before bv the National Assembly included well as of Bhutto's possible return
the courts. a last-minute provision, in the form to   the   political   scene   in   the
Yet even before il entered into of three amendments, to appease run-up to the elections.  Indeed,
law, the bill's presentation before the religious alliance. The criminal Gen Musharraf must be aware
the National Assembly succeeded offence of 'lewdness' (later termed tliat any inclusion of Bhutto in a
in upsetting the political applecart, as 'fornication') was inserted into future government would further
with various parties fearing that the the   Pakistan   Penal   Code,   and enhance his reformist image in the
government    had    deliberately defined   as   consensual   sexual eyes of Washington DC, especially
manoeuvred  to shape possible intercourse between any man and at    a    time    when    the    US    is
alignments ahead of the forth- woman not married to each other, becoming increasingly sceptical of
coming  genera]   elections.   The However,   before   a   charge   of Islamabad's claims of reigning-in
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a fornication   can   be   made',   two pro-Taliban elements in its tribal
government coalition partner, was eyewitnesses     must     now     be areas and  curbing  crossborder
the most vociferous in protesting produced; furthermore, anyone militant attacks into Afghanistan,
the bill. Indeed, although the six- found   guilty of  levelling  false An added bonus of PPP support
partv  religious alliance, which allegations is liable to the same for the bill was the proverbial slap
heads the provincial governments punishment - up to five vears in in the face it gave to the Pakistan
in both NWFP and Balochistan, did prison  and  a   PKR  10,000  fine. Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
not vote against the bill, it did While it did cave in to fhe MMA This partv, overseen by Nawaz
boycott the assembly proceedings, bv    including    the    fornication Sharif, co-signed  the Charter ot
Vehemently    opposed    to    any offence, however, the government Democracy with the PPP in Mav
changes to the Hudood Ordinances, simultaneously     introduced    a 200b, formalising the two parties'
the MMA leadership accused the 'firewall'     to    protect    women commitment to use the power of the
government of tabling a bill in from     false     accusations,     bv ballot to oust Gen Musharraf's
violation of Islamic injunctions stipulating that no allegation of military regime. Sharif's party had
set    out    by    the    Koran    and rape can be converted  into an long slammed the women's bill as
Sunnah,  simplv  to  appease  its allegation of fornication. a government tool calculated  to
Western allies on the 'enlightened _ divide    a     united     opposition,
moderation' front. Bffjkttfi   dllloOCl*; That   PPP   support   for   the   bill
This was to be expected. Hv en The VIMA's refusal to back the vindicated the PML-N charges was
during the bill's review process, the Women Protection Act, along with of   little   satisfaction,   however,
MMA refused to participate in the its subsequent threats to resign from since      it      became      apparent
meetings of the parliamentary- the National Assembly, will likely that       Benazir       Bhutto       had
approved committee appointed to be     taken     in     stride    bv     the readily     ditched     her    alliance
ensure that the bill's provisions in government, since it appears that partner   in   service  of  her  own
no      wav      violated       Koranic Gen Musharraf bad, to a certain political interests,
injunctions. When the government extent, already been seeking to Like the PPP, when the PML-N
subsequently responded bv setting distance himself from the religious was in power it had  unsuccess-
up a parallel body comprised of parties. Perhaps believing that the fullv    challenged    the   Hudood
nine religious scholars outside of clipping of his enlightened wings Ordinances.  But while the  PPP
the parliamentary framework, Gen is too high a price to pav for their has     seized     the     opportunity
Musharraf's critics were quick to support, he had begun looking to support the current leadership -
point   to   his   unwillingness   to bevond 'traditional' allies to keep thereby claiming the moral high
jeopardise a parliamentary alliance his options open. ground by  publicly  placing the
with religious elements st> close to Lnter  the   Pakistan   People's safeguarding of women's rights
the general elections, despite the Partv  (PPP).  That the general- above    and    beyond     political
fact that the Council of Islamic president managed to secure the rivalries - the PML-N' decided "on
The general has secured hrs place in history as the only Pakistani leader to have ever
successfully challenged any aspect of the Hudood laws.
26 January 2007 | Himal Southasian
v/iany educated Pakistani women, including those committed to promoting women's
-ignis, believe that there is too much coverage m rape in the country.
principle" to abstain from voting on leadership in Islamabad. Pakistan's   'soft   side     on    the
the bill, proudly boasting that it international   stage,   for   which
would never do business with a LUStOGidnS   Ol   nOOOuf women     are     made     to     bear
'usurper's government", The issues raised by the passing of exclusive responsibility.
Perhaps realising that he had the     women's     bill     and      its This state of affairs needs to be
dev astatingly misplayed his cards, enforcement      into      law      go reversed     it     any     new     legal
however, Sharif soon engaged in a bevond   questions   of   political Iramework to protect women is to
rather clumsy political about-face, manoeuvrings and the quest for be   truly   effective.   Unless   we
Thus, soon after the women's bill power. Rather, they highlight the recognise   the   safeguarding   ol
.;s approved, the PML-N decided ongoing   power   struggle   over women's rights as an a goal in itself
to  throw   its  weight behind   an Pakistan's   verv   identity   as   a - central to the development ot the
additional bill, the Prevention of country.   Gen    Musharraf    has country, and of great moral value-
.Anti-Women Practices {Criminal correctly noted that this struggle is we  will   continue   to  exist  in  a
Law)   Amendment   Bill,   tabled being conducted by "religious twilight zone where we qualify the
bv    PML    Presideni    Chaudhry extremists" on the one side and plight  and   position   of  women
Shujaat Hussain. This legislation "liberal fundamentalists" on the according     to     the     particular
addressed such issues as women's other - both of whom show no audience to whom we are playing,
inheritance and divorce rights, as hesitation    in    exploiting    the Pakistanis    saw    this    in    1974,
well as the marrying of women to plight of women  to serve their when   Pakistan  simultaneously
the  Koran,  a   principally  tribal respective agendas. introduced the Hudood Ordinances
custom   whereby   families   and          It   is   unfortunate   that   it   is and   ratified   the   international
'-"a. coerce their daughters into becoming increasingly difficult to Convention on the elimination of
not marrying. differentiate between the two sides. All    forms    of    Discrimination
Yet the Anti-Women Practices On the one hand, the MMA charges against Women.  And  Pakistanis
Bill throws up another intriguing the Women Protection Act with have seen this again in 2006, with
political  fact.  From the outset, promoting a "free-sex zone" in the passing of both the Hasba and
Shujaat    had    reportedly    been Pakistan, as well as encouraging the women's bills, albeit that the
recommending that these additio- "promiscuity     among     voung central government is trying to
nai clauses be incorporated into the girls". On the other, manv educated challenge the  Hasba  Bill  in  the
women's bill, and was taken aback Pakistani     women,     including Supreme Court.
that the draft presented before the those committed  to promoting The answer, therefore, lies mil in
National    .Assembly    made    no women's   rights,   believe criticising any reformist moves
mention of them. One explanation there is too much coverage of rape (however tentative) bv the current
tor  their  exclusion   is   that   the in  the country.  The  fallout  of leadership for the simple reasoning
government did not wish to further this,   thev   fear,   is   that   "the that they are coming from a military
delay    the    bill's    approval    by international    community    has regime. Rather, we must give the
Parliament,     especially     given the   wrong   image   of   women government the benefit of the doubt,
that on  14 November the ruling in Pakistan." and then strive towards holding it
MMA    government    in    NWFP         Thus,     both     the     political accountable    to     fulfilling    its
had successfully passed the Hasba establishment and certain sectors commitments. Gen Musharraf must
Bill, legislating tire rule of Islamic of civil society are complicit in be pressured to honour his pledge
law in that province - although this positioning   Pakistani    women to   introduce   more   legislative
was subsequently blocked by the as   the   un-elected    custodians safeguards      to      protect      the
Supreme Court in mid-December, of     national     honour.     When fundamental rights of the women
Thus,   if  the  government  were a     woman's     right     to     self- of Pakistan.  Finally, Pakistanis
made to further postpone its much- determination is thus negated, any must  care  less  about  what  the
touted      reformist      bill,      this move aimed at transferring the international community  thinks
would   have   indicated   to   Gen burden of responsibility for sexual about  the  plight  of  women   in
Musharraf's     critics     and     the violence  against   women   from Pakistan, and  start caring more
international community that the victim to perpetrator ceases to be about what the country's citizens
mullahs    were    more    efficient limited     to     the     domain     of themselves     think     about    the
and     committed     to     pushing fundamental   human   rights.   It situation. Gen Musharraf has taken
through their mandate than was instead becomes linked to notions the first step. It is up to the country
the      moderately      enlightened of morality and the promotion of to complete that journey.
Himal Southasian | January 2007 27
A tear in Pakistani textiles
A spate of textile-production
units shifting from
Pakistan to Bangladesh
has alarm bells ringing in
Islamabad. Since the translocations
began all of a sudden a year ago,
Pakistani trade and textile
authorities have become frantically
engaged in talks with local industry
representatives,  attempting  to
or completely shifted their
businesses to Bangladesh, citing
rising business costs and declining
returns within Pakistan. Worried
industrialists arc not optimistic that
the situation could change
significantly under the Islamabad
government's existing trade
rules. Tbe latest data released by the
Federal    Bureau    of    Statistics
industry, as is done in India
and Bangladesh. "In India there
is a government-backed TUFS
[Technical Upgradation Funding
Scheme], which subsidises the
textile industry with loans from
commercial banks/' says garment
exporter Zalar Lalani. He notes that
New Delhi launched the scheme in
1999, and is now extending it to
convince them to stay in the
countrv. Pakistan's textile ministrv,
first formed in Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz's Cabinet in 2004,
appears convinced that time is
running out for the country's
textile exporters, largely due to
an increased cost of doing
business. Many worry that a
continuation of the situation could
trigger capital flight, and cause
massive unemployment.
"There is an offer of a tax-free
investment environment from
Bangladesh for our industrialists to
set up production units," admits
Federal Textile Secretary Syed
Masood Alam Rizvi. "We have not
found anyone taking up the offer,
but obviously it's a wakeup call for
all of us."
Despite Rizvi's claim, however,
industry sources reveal that at least
a half-dozen Pakistani textile
companies have already partially
reports that Pakistani textile
exports declined by 10.3 percent,
to less than USD 2.5 billion, during
the first quarter of this fiscal year,
which ended in September. Over the
same period last year, that figure
was more than USD 2.7 billion.
"We are challenged by a double-
edged sword," says Shafqat Elahi,
chairman of the All Pakistan Textile
Mills Association (APTMA), the
largest trade body in the country.
"On one hand, we face tough
competition, mainly from China as
well as India and Bangladesh. On
the other, our industry is bearing
the highest production cost in the
region." Things are looking so
gloomy that there are even fears of
losing the domestic Pakistani
market to Chinese, Thai and
Indonesian competitors.
The APTMA is particularly
angry that Islamabad has not
done   enough   to   cushion   the
2010. This translates as a
continuing threat to the Pakistani
competitors. Like Lalani, many
industry players see power tariffs
in Pakistan as the most critical
reason for high cost of doing
business. The free gas that Dhaka
has offered the industry in
Bangladesh has led to similar
demands in Pakistan.
Along with prohibitive energy
prices, higher interest rates on bank
loans, which have witnessed a
more than "140 percent jump in the
last two years, are adding to the
industry's problems. While the
industry seeks access to European
and US markets, there is a growing
sense of discrimination. While a
large number of other textile-
producing countries have gained
relatively easy access due to
their being less developed, or for
other considerations, Pakistani
producers find themselves having
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 to compete with all the handicaps
back home. Nor has textile
production remained free of
geopolitical considerations. The US
used to receive more than 85 percent
of Pakistani textile exports, but those
levels have dropped bv 68
percent since the attacks of 11
September 2001.
Some exporters claim the failure
as a diplomatic one, with Pakistani
authorities unable to win
concessions from Western countries
lor Pakistani calico. "In fact we are
more eligible for LU concessions as
a reward for our role in the 'war on
terror," suggests Lalani. While the
LU offers zero-percent tariffs on
Bangladeshi garment imports, if
charges what is referred to as an 'antidumping' duty on some Pakistani
products. This 13.1 percent duty was
added in 2004 to bed-linen imports
from Pakistan, claiming that cheap
products from the country were
causing injurv to the Furopean textile
industry. The decision hit Pakistan
hard, as bed-linen exports to the FU
countries had previously earned
more than USD 400 million per year.
This move, coupled with stiff
competition amidst rising
production costs, may push textile
exports down even further by the end
of this fiscal vear. Last year, textile
products accounted for more than 60
percent of the USD 18 billion worth
of total Pakistani exports, which
gives an indication of the industry's
"It is the total of these pressures
ihat have pushed local investors to
look at tbe Bangladesh option,"
savs Shabbir Ahmed, a bed-wear
exporter. "Some have really
capitalised on the opportunity."
Poor incentives
When local industry representatives
first visited Bangladesh in October
of 2005, the Islamabad government
was criticised for having not taken
the initiative to offer the sector a
better incentives package. "There is
a need to determine priorities first,"
says Faisal Shaji, a financial
analyst. "Expansion of industrial
operations is a worldwide pheno-
He says that the cost of doing textiles business in
Pakistan is much higher than in other Southasian
countries, mainly rfue to exorbitant and unbalanced
energy costs.
mena, but the case in Pakistani
textiles is different. Being a
developing economy, the country
can't afford the shifting of business
units of the core industry."
While the government did oiler
the textile sector a PKR 40 billion
relief package through export
rebates and concessions on loan
mark-ups, textile businesses are
desperate for more. "We will lose
our export orders, which we find
difficult to comply with because of
a rise in production cost," warns
Aziz Memon, chairman of Kings
Croup, a large garment exporter.
"Once we lose a market after having
failed to service our booked orders,
it is next to impossible to get back
there again."
Textile exports in Pakistan are
projected to earn USD 11.5 billion
this fiscal year, up from USD 10.1
billion last year. But Shaji feels the
sector mav miss that target
specifically due to issues of
incentives, which are still unsettled
between the industry and the
government. He savs that the cost
of doing textiles business in
Pakistan is much higher than in
other Southasian countries, mainlv
due to exorbitant and unbalanced
energy costs. "The fertiliser
industry pavs PKR 81 per million
BTUs [British thermal units], while
the textile sector pays PKR 246 for
the same," he savs.
Pakistan's textile problems can
also be traced to outdated and
obsolete management practices
within the industry, however. Shaji
blames the industry for not taking
modern managerial practice
seriously enough back when it
could have afforded to do so. In the
meantime, competing countries
such as China, India and
Bangladesh did invest in this area,
thereby better equipping themselves
for the challenges ahead. "In our
industry," he notes, "there is almost
no attention placed on human-
resource training. Plus, there is
hardly one operation in the whole
country that avoids wastages."
While Islamabad promises that
it will address the issue, it is
insisting on long-term policy
changes rather than short-term
relief. Textile Secretary Rizvi savs
that a national committee is slated
to submit its recommendations bv
the end of December. While he
speaks optimistically of the
committee's current interaction
with a spectrum of textile bodies,
Rizvi also expresses some helplessness amidst the current
scenario: "In the free environment,
one can't stop anyone Irom
shifting his or her business and
production unit. But the government
is concerned that it could cause
unemployment, and that's why we
are here with an incentives plan."
And it is not as though
Islamabad has sat on its haunches.
The current slowdown comes on
the heels of a USD 6 billion
investment by the government in the
sector over the past five vears.
Hxperts see the textile ministry's
new strategy as a last-ditch
attempt by Islamabad to keep
local industries in the country, and
to keep the sector competitive.
Textile manufacturers are also
pinning their hopes on the
government's actions. But there is a
strong feeling among both industry-
players and government officials
that if the new approach fails to
attract local industry, Pakistan
may witness desperate - and
potentially catastrophic - moves
from the industry.
"The government will have to
take all proposals into account
before finalising the strategy," savs
analyst Shaji. "If it doesn't work, i
fear we will miss the last boat."   &
Himal Southasian | January 2007
In the Kathmandu Valley.
Summit Hotel
Summit Hotel, Kopundol Height,
P.O. Box 1406, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel: 5521810. Fax; 55 23737
. Website:
;, A; the Summit is the preferred hotel for visitors who want to get away
3 8t from the packaged environment and the noise of downtown
Kafhmandij! This is where a wide range of travelers come to rest
and recuperate. A popular bar and spacious gardens make the Summit a
favoured base for many who came to Kathmartdu to work. The diplomat, the
scholar and the development expert alike, enjoy the:
ambience and our friendly service.; Our Friday evening
barbecue is the talk of the Valley. The Summit Apartments cater
to aitthe needs of long-term visitors. If you want a breakeven
: from all of this; theft a walk to the cafe which we run, at the i
Museum in Patan Durbar Square/is recommended.
 S  P  C  I  A  L
Armed ethnic groups have parcelled Manipur
into tribal fiefdoms, and are now holding the
state's economy for ransom. Two groups - the
Meitei-dominated United National Liberation Front
(UNLF) and a faction of Naga insurgents, the National
Socialist Council for Nagalim-lsak Muivah group
(NSCN-IM) - are at constant loggerheads, jeopardising
the state's growth potential. "There are many armed
groups in Manipur because arms are easily available.
If you have two pistols, you can form a group and start
collecting money from the people, from the state
government departments," explains R K Meghen,
alias Sanayaima, the reclusive 65-year old leader of
the UNLF.'
National Highway 39 passes through Senapati
District of Manipur, an area that particularly illustrates
the complexities of a region where tribal hostilities
have assumed layer upon layer of competing
influences. Rival histories, competitive jostling for
identity and geographic location, and other such
dynamics have combined to make the hidden war in
this area almost intractable. Senapati District is a
stronghold of the NSCN-IM, and the Naga
underground elements here virtually run a parallel
administration. "I have to collect tax, and you will have
to give it to me voluntarily," says Brigadier Ph untiring
of the NSCN-IM.
In addition to the Senapati and Ukhrul hill districts
in Manipur, the NSCN-IM also lays claim to the state's
southern hill districts of Tamenglong, Churchandapur
and Chandel. Tire group is demanding the integration
of these districts to form a state called Greater
Nagaland. But this goal is in direct competition with
the UNLF's agenda of an independent Manipur,
Caught in the crossfire is the Kuki tribe, which hope to
claim the hill districts for a separate Kuki state. "In
Manipur there are three communities: Kukis, Nagas
and Meiteis. So you can't have a solution for one and
ignore the others, if you want the entire region to be in
a situation where there is peace, stability and
tranquillity," says Seilen Haokip, a spokeasperson for
the Kuki National Organisation.
The Kukis, primarily hill tribals, say the British
divided their traditional lands of Zale'n-gam, between
India and Burma. Modern Zale'n-gam runs from the
Sagaing Division in Burma in the east, to the Nantalit
River in the north, to the Burmese Chin state in the
south. The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) agitates
for statehood for Kuki-dominated areas in Manipur
within the Indian Constitution. "If India wants us to
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 be part of the Indian union, we are happy to do that.
Then recognise our territory by way of statehood," says
Haokip. "The KNO's objective is to find solutions
within the framework of the Indian Constitution, We
firmly believe in being Indian."
Divided by the Indo-Burmese border, the Kuki
community wants New Delhi to constitute the state of
Kukiland, culled from the Manipuri hill districts. They
also claim to have petitioned Rangoon to delineate a
similar state in Burma. This writer recently visited the
jungle camps of the Kuki Nabonal Army in southeast
Manipur, and saw armed Kukis training close to the
India-Burma border, near Moreh. The Kukis have eight
armed factions, which are all united under the KNO.
Currently the Kukis are maintaining a ceasefire with
the Indian Army in accordance with an agreement
signed in August 2005. The pro-India stance of the
Kuki National Army (KNA) allows them to carry arms
and keep training despite the ceasefire.
The KNA is tiny but tough. Recruits who fall out of
line invite harsh punishment. The medical facilities at
KNA camps are basic, and simple infections can claim
lives. This tough existence is rationalised by the
language and spirituality left behind by American
Baptist missionaries, who worked to convert the Kuki
and Naga tribes to Christianity during the first half of
the 20th century. Visitors to Kuki camps can still hear
the English refrains of gospel songs:
He gives me love and happiness.
To give me comfort while I am on earth.
There is nobody else besides Christ who can make
me happy...
KNA recruits are young, many just 15 years old. To
motivate them, a strong sense of faith is crucial.
At all KNA camps, the Bible and the gun lay side-by-
side. Similar sights can be seen at NSCN-IM camps
in Nagaland.
The Kuki children's army prays, then loudly takes
an oath. "Hallelujah, I have
finished all sins. I am done
with my past life, I am going to
reach for the everlasting life. In
everything you do rejoice in
God. Thank You." Their small
chests bulge outwards. "I will
always work for my God and
my nation. For the sake of my
nation 1 will undergo every
suffering. For the sake of my
nation I will stick to my path.
For the sake of my nation I will
wage war." Ironically, Nagas |
and Kukis are adherents of the §
same faith, yet they continue to £
engage in a brutal ethnic clash, a
including with each other,        §
Manipur Intifada
The NSCN-IM claimed nearly 900 Kuki lives during
the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s. The Kuki militia does
what the army cannot - it protects Kuki villages from
both the UNLF and the NSCN-IM. Its force is 1500
men strong, and is armed with an array of weapons.
"At present, we use AK-47s, Ml6s, DC and 60mm
mortars," says Major D ] Haokip of the Kuki National
Army. Like the Nagas, the Kukis are deeply suspicious
of the Meiteis. "When the NSCN-IM aggressed on us,
and from 1992 to 1997 slaughtered us, where was the
UNLF?" asks spokesman Seilen Haokip. "Did they
ever prevent the NSCN-IM from killing Kukis? Were
they able to protect them if they did? 900 would not
have died - 350 villages were uprooted, more than
50,000 have been displaced.''
Ten years ago, Ngamkholien was a victim of the
Naga-Kuki conflict. He is now a committed Kuki
militant. "I love my land and my nation. And 1 cannot
tolerate it being oppressed and violated. That's why I
have sacrificed my life to take up arms," he says. But
UNLF leader Sanayaima says that the Indian Army's
ceasefire with the KNO's armed wing is nothing but a
strategy by New7 Delhi to keep the ethnic cauldron
simmering. "India is very much trying to keep us
divided on ethnic lines, pitching one ethnic group
against another - the same old divide-and-rule policy.
The colonial game still going on," he says.
The failure of India's quasi-federal constitutional
arrangement to accommodate regional aspirations and
assertions of ethnic identity is evident in Manipur's
restive existence. Tire UNLF's secessionist agenda is
to spark an Utop Lan, a Manipuri Uprising, and the
inspiration is the Maoist movement in Nepal. "The
Nepal experience is very inspiring," Sanayaima said
during an interview at the India-Burma border. "We'll
come to see some sort of Intifada ... That is part of the
strategy, and part of the strategy is to tell the world
that something is happening here, and you are morally
obliged to come to our help. India should notbe allowed
to simply massacre our people."
The UNLF's rebellion has
been ongoing against the Indian
state since 1964. Now it plans to
take the war out of the jungles
and into the streets of Manipur,
by sparking civil unrest. "One of
the biggest factors in our strategy
is that we're fighting with the
people, not just the armed
cadres. We're fighting along
with our people," Sanayaima
said. "Take our population into
consideration, and then take
India's deployment - about fifty
to fifty-five thousand. Pitted
against two million people,
55,000 is nothing."
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Sanayaima, who happens to be a descendent of
Manipur's royal family, plans to mobilise the state's
citizens by proposing a solution that he knows Delhi
will not accept. "We've made a four-point proposal,"
he explains. "Number one is to hold a plebiscite under
the UN. Number two, that UN peacekeeping forces are
deployed in Manipur. Number three, UNLF will
deposit all its arms to the UN authority on a date fixed
by the UN prior to the date of the plebiscite. And india
should also reciprocate by withdrawing all its forces
from Manipur. Number four, the UN is to hand over
power according to the result of the plebiscite."
In order to earn the goodwill of the Manipuris,
Sanayaima says that the UNLF has flagged off
development projects in rural areas. "If you go to rural
areas you'll find many projects being implemented by
us - irrigation systems, water-supply streams, even
roads in interior areas," he notes. "Otherwise, these
would have gone to the pockets of the authorities."
Local politicians and officials are also 'persuaded' to
allot funds to the UNLF's projects, using threats if
needed. "We ask MLAs, ministers, bureaucrats to do
what is beneficial for the people. We want to tell them
that one day they will have to join the people when the
people rise up. Otherwise, they don't have any future."
For 26 years, Manipur has been ostensibly run by
the Indian Army under the Armed Forces Special
Powers Act. Human-rights violations fuel the
secessionist fire, one of the most recent and notorious
being the 2004 rape and murder of activist Manorama
Devi, allegedly by soldiers from the Assam Rifles. For
Meitei insurgents, this tragic incident was not an
accident. Rather, they see it as an inevitable product of
the conflict. "It is this conflict situation that will push
the people forward, to rise up against the system
that represses them. And ultimately, they will rise up,"
said Sanayaima.
The rebel chief is particularly sure of this last point.
For more than 10 years, the UNLF's armed force, the
Manipur People's Army, has fought a hidden,
protracted war against tlie Indian Army. Now it wants
to take this war aboveground, in the form of a popular
uprising such as the Palestinian Intifada. Doing so
just might take the Indian government by surprise.
Unwilling annexation
From the last Indian Army post at Hengshi, this writer
trekked for five days along the Indo-Burmese border of
southeast Manipur, to reach the operational
headquarters of the 293rd battalion of the Manipur
People's Army, the MPA. It was a long, difficult trek
through densely forested hills and bamboo jungles,
escorted the whole way by MPA cadres.
The Manipur People's Army is a well-oiled guerrilla
force. Wireless radios, intimate familiarity with the
terrain, and local intelligence have helped them to
successfully take on the Indian Army over the past
decade. The force's cadres walk the mountains with
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practiced ease, even though most of them are not hill
people, but rather Meiteis from the Imphal Valley. For
these rebels, war with the Indian Army is all about
fighting for their "freedom". The UNLF contends that
the Merger Agreement, signed in 1949 between
Maharaja Bodh Chandra Singh and then-Home
Secretary V P Menon, was flawed. It soon became the
bone of contention between the Meitei secessionists
and the Indian government. According to the UNLF,
from 1947 to 15 October 1949, the day Manipur
officially merged with India, Manipur was in fact an
independent country. Manipuri secessionists say that
any accession was actually the annexation of an
unwilling people, and herein lies the genesis of the
Manipur-India conflict.
WTiat is worrying is that the conflict shows no signs
of letting up. Instead, it continues to draw youngsters
such as Chinjacha, a national sports champion, into
a bloody battle with the Indian Army. "\ was a good
martial-arts player," Chinjacha recalled. "I was a
kickboxer, and I won three or four medals at the state
level, and also at the national level." Alienation is
what drives these young guerrillas. The Manipur
People's Army does not pay its fighters, but it has
high morale and could fight on for years.
Clearly, the root of the conflict is political; there can
be no military solution to the hidden wars of Manipur.
Indeed, Sanayaima, the man who leads Manipur's
violent secessionist movement, was once a student of
international relations and political science at
Calcutta's Jadavpur University. Sanayaima says that
when very young, he did believe in the idea of 'India'.
"I grew up and I thought that I'm an Indian. When I
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 was in school, I thought of myself in that environment.
But when I began to grow and reach the level of college,
1 gradually realised that Tndia is something different
from what we are."
Nonetheless, without a creative political and
administrative strategy in place, the central
government is preparing for a new phase of military
operations. In fact, India has begun transferring
military equipment to Rangoon in advance of a major
joint military operation against Indian separatists
based in the Burmese frontier. Reports suggest that
New Delhi has given Burma an unspecified number
of T-55 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, 105mm
light artillery pieces and mortars. The India-Burma
joint military action is intended to search and destroy
camps of insurgent groups such as the National
Socialist Council of Nagalim-Khaplang faction
(NSCN-K), the United Liberation Front of Assam
(ULFA) and the UNLF.
Tire NSCN-K, located just across the India-Burma
border, says that about 3500 Burmese soldiers have
been deployed to Burma's northern Saga ing Division.
But the Manipur People's Army says it is equipped
and ready for an extended guerrilla war. The MPA
told this writer that its plan is to hit the Indian Army
and political institutions in a series of strategic
manoeuvres, which Sanayaima says is aimed at
sparking a mass uprising against the government.
"We'll always try to give a surprise to the Indian forces.
Even Pranab Mukherjee, India's [then-] Defence
Minister, admitted in Parliament that it was difficult
to get to our base areas," the UNLF leader said.
He also indicated that the MPA's 2000 fighters are
prepared for an urban guerrilla war. "We have always
avoided direct confrontation, and that is part of
our strategy. We fight when we want We fight when
we can."
Conflicting ethnic aspirations have brought tribal
formations in Manipur to the edge of all-out civil war.
And the troubled Northeast continues to hamper New
Delhi's broader vision of plugging into the economies
of its eastern neighbours. The current reality is that
India's much-discussed integration with Southeast
Asia actually comes to a sudden halt on the Indian
side of the Moreh bridge in Manipur, at the main link
between Burma and India. This bridge, painted yellow
in Burma and white in India, stands witness to
Manipur's deepening ethnic conflicts, and to
opportunities that continue to be lost for this region in
a fast-globalising world. The Moreh bridge is actually
the entry point of the much-ballybooed Asian highway
project, for which the Indian Border Roads
Organisation has already built the first 100 km in
Burma. Yet New Delhi continues to fail to tap the
potential of this highway, either to reduce ethnic
tensions or to enable the growth of trade - to the
detriment of many, in and out of Manipur and the rest
of the Northeast. A
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January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Counting Parsis
Trie Parsi community, the most
highly educated demographic
in India, currently comprises
0.0069 percent of the country's
population - less than 70,000 in
2001 - and is shrinking quickly. The
community's negative growth rate is
setting off alarm bells about its
possible extinction. If census
projections are anything to go by. the
Parsis - descendents from Persian
exiles who landed in Sanjan, Gujarat,
duringthe 8th century - might not last
until the end of this century. "At the
rate we're declining, we should be
extinct in 100 years," says Ava
Khuller, head of the demographics
department at the Parzor Foundation,
a UNESCO-funded organisation
dedicated to the preservation of
Parsi culture.
The Parsi community's last positive
population growth rate was recorded
during 1931-41. While census figures
for 1881 gave a count of 85,400
Parsis in India, the 1941 census
reported nearly 114,900. Since then,
the population has decreased by
about 10 percent per decade,
compared to 21 percent growth for
India as a whole. By 2001, the national
census recorded only 69,600 Parsis.
While India's under-six age group
makes up about 15 percent of the
country's population, only 4.7 percent
of the Parsi community falls into this
category. More than 30 percent of
Parsis are over 60 years old,
compared to just seven percent for
the country as a whole. The Parsi birth
rate is as low as six per 1000 per
annum, while the death rate is as high
as 18 per 1000. Given this
imbalance, says Ava Khuller, "We are
losing about 6900 Parsis every year."
Other statistics show a community
that would appear to be doing
extremely well. Both literacy rates -
98 percent - and the sex ratio - 1050
girls for every 1000 boys - are among
the highest in India. Given the
decline in numbers, such figures
have perplexed demographers,
sociologists and doctors.
No conversions
The Parsi population count is no
doubt affected by a tradition that does
not allow for mixed marriages. Of late,
there has been abandonment of that
tradition. A1978 study of Delhi's Parsi
community found that 33 percent of
Parsi marriages were to non-Parsis,
genetic diversity and impacts the
health of offspring. An inbred
individual is likely to possess several
physical and health-related
problems, including reduced fertility.
A newly discovered, untreatable
defect known as G6PD (Glucose
6-hosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency has also become prominent
within the Parsi community, causing
blood-related problems such as
anaemia. Other ailments conspiring
against  Parsi  girls and  women
The commiintiy not only doesn't allow conversions, bu
expels a woman who marries out. This tradition does
not bode well for a community that has only around
1075 girls under four years of age.
and that that number had doubled to
66 percent just a decade later. Despite
this trend, Ava Khuller points out, "Our
community not only doesn't allow
conversions, but expels a woman
who marries out." This tradition does
not bode well for a community that
has only around 1075 girls under four
years of age.
If a Parsi woman does marry within
the religion, this only increases what
is already a widespread problem in
the community - inbreeding. Cousin
marriages are allowed, confirms
Khuller. and refers to a practice that
dates back to when the Parsis first
left Persia. "They brought their
womenfolk, and inbreeding continued
in India with the same religious zeal
that made them leave their
motherland - to protect their
religion," wrote pathologist Dr P K
Antia in a paper entitled "Parsis and
Blood Diseases".
The consequences of centuries of
inbreeding are taking a harsh toll on
Parsi children. If practiced repeatedly,
inbreeding leads to a reduction in
include breast cancer and diseases
of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian
tubes, each of which (as well as the
treatment of which, in the case
of breast cancer) can directly
mpact fertility.
On top of all of this, a Parsi woman
is likely to marry too late to have
children, if she marries at all. Astudy
conducted by the Parzor Foundation
revealed that, since 1980, roughly
25 percent of women aged 40-49
were unmarried. Taken together. Ava
Khuller notes, "In order to merely
meet the replacement ratio, every
Parsi woman who does reproduce
must have at least three to five
children each, or the community will
still have a negative growth rate."
Such a solution, according to fertility
specialist Dr Faram Irani, would
require an interesting inversion on
modern trends: marrying young and
having more babies. From issues of
health to fertility, inbreeding and
social mores, it seems that the Parsis
of India are bound to shrink until a
community, sadly, disappears.       *
Himal Southasian | January 2007
The imperfect pure democracy of
Panchayati Raj
It may sound like a
good idea, but at least
in one corner of
Madhya Pradesh the
system of Panchayati
Raj is not all that it is
made out to be.
The State shall take steps to organise village panchayats
and endow them with such powers and nutlioriti/ its nun/ be
necessary to enable them to function as units of self-
- The Indian Constitution
The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive,
and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or
many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective,
may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny ...
it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean
a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who
assemble and administer the government in person, can
admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.
- }ames Madison, The Tederalist Papers
This reporter arrived in Madhya Pradesh in 2002,
when the Congress party Chief Minister Digvijay
Singh had a high reputation in MP for being an
effective leader. In Bhopal (so went the view from
Delhi), groundbreaking innovations were taking place in
government policy on health, education, Dalits, tribals
and, most importantly. Panchayati Raj. No doubt,
decentralisation and the devolution of power to the
villages was an admirable step, designed to empower
the people. But throughout the course of reporting form
Madhya Pradesh, it became clear to this reporter that
the reality was something else.
The first time I had to face up to the contrary facts
surrounding Panchayati Raj was when starvation deaths
began to be reported from Baran, a Rajasthani district
adjacent to Madhya Pradesh. As I traveled to the
affected villages, it became obvious that deaths were
the result not of a shortage of foodgrains in the state,
nor even of such a lack in individual villages. The failure
instead took place at the lowest level - the sarpanch
had failed to shift the grain the final 500 metres.
People were dying in sight of food stocks that could
have saved their lives.
The two worst-hit villages were Suans and Bilkheda
Mai. In Suans, the five quintals of wheat required to be
stocked by the government were available with the
sarpanch. His name was Gopal Gujjar, and he admitted:
"We gave wheat only to those who had no one to look
after them. I don't know the names, the patwari has a
list. Not one of those who lost relatives where given
wheat. This would have meant going around the village to
check the condition of each person or household, and
this was never done."
To a lay observer, this situation might have seemed
the consequence ofthe nature ofthe panchayats in
Madhya Pradesh, each consisting of at least six widely
dispersed villages. It would have been difficult to gather
information from each. But further investigation showed
that this was not why people were dying. The reason was
not distance but neglect. When starvation deaths started
taking place in Shivpuri, a district bordering Rajasthan, I
found that sarpanches had never even bothered to find
out the condition of Dalits who lived and died just a few
hundred yards from them.
What this episode exposed was the weakness of the
much-talked-about Panchayati Raj system. My belief was
shaken that the panchayat system would function better
than any alternative that would involve the district
administration and its bureaucrats. The sarpanch, who
heads the system of village government, turns out to be
the weak link, because of his proximity to and
participation in local prejudices.
Sarpanch autocrats
When the Digvijay government, in a limited but still
substantial manner, decided to redistribute village
grazing land to Dalits, high castes across the state
suddenly drove their cattle through the standing crops
planted by the Dalits. The sarpanches lent their full
support to the action. As in the case of the starvation
deaths, the sarpanches did not consider themselves
accountable in any fashion for wrongdoing, and
there was nothing at the lowest level that could make
them accountable.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 It is necessary to stress the role of the sarpanch time
and again, because in practice that is what Panchayati
Raj reduces to. The other panches rarely if ever exercise
any power, and the institution ofthe Gram Sabha, or
village assembly, tends to be mostly defunct. In the
absence of an active NGO working in an area, I have
never come across villages where the Gram Sabha
convenes. Thus, the entire process of administering
accountability in Panchayati Raj is based on a fiction. As
a result, the sarpanch is an autocrat, at the moment
constrained only because a complete devolution of
power has not taken place.
None of these conclusions should come as a
surprise. The Greeks, used to the idea of small city
states, had often been sceptical of democracy. The
founders ofthe American republic have put on record
many of their apprehensions about pure democracy,
while arguing for the division of power that
exists between the executive, legislative and judicial
branches in any republic.
At the level of a village panchayat, what is missing is
precisely this division of power. Any other source of
authority is found tens of kilometres away. In the
confines of the village, there is no media to scrutinise
the aberrations that take place. The sarpanch himself
embodies the caste dynamics that have always run
village politics in India. In such a setting, to think ofthe
panchayat as a positive force is to be led by belief rather
than observation.
Devolution trap
Reservation is one of the few instruments that work
against the misguided pure democracy of the panchayat.
For all the problems in implementation, the reservation
of seats for Dalits and women does somewhat remedy
the situation. But in nine out of ten cases, a woman
sarpanch is merely a proxy for the sarpanchpati. in which
case things remain little changed. Nonetheless, the rare
exception is worth promoting. In highlighting the lack of
enlightened Panchayat leadership, it becomes clear
that this system can offer no check on current
problems, and that these issues would only worsen with
any further devolution.
There seems to be no easy solution available. Any
attempt to make the Gram Sabha a functional body
would require external verification, and the vesting of
the district administration with the power to act against
a sarpanch who fails to convene the Sabha. Such power
already exists in theory, but a more stringent use is
anathema to proponents of Panchayati Raj. Neither do
they look favourably upon the possibility of a division of
powers between the panchayat and the representatives
of the executive. Various states have come up with
differing administrative mechanisms, but the inherent
problems continue.
At the time, much of the criticism levelled against
Digvijay Singh dealt with his failure to devolve real power
to the people, or to provide enough funds to the
panchayats. But the fact was that the panchayats were
failing to perform in the very cases in which powers
had been devolved to them, and it was difficult to see
how this would be rectified by devolving more powers.
In the form of the sarpanch, the system continues to
embody the power imbalances and prejudices that
have always existed in village society. In such a
situation, to be carried away by dogma because the
work of a handful of dedicated outsiders has
made the system work in a few places is to fail to face
up to reality.
Writing before the State Assembly elections in
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2003, the
current Union Minister for Panchayati Raj, Mani
Shankar Aiyar, claimed: "Curiously (but reassuringly),
however, it is not so much on the achievements of the
past three years as on his plans for the next five that
[Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit] Jogi is taking his
campaign to the people. And his single most important
prescription for the future is what, in my view, has
given Digvijay Singh in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh
his two terms in office and the imminent promise of a
third - Panchayati Raj."
Digvijay was subsequently wiped out at the polls,
while Jogi was also forced to make an exit from
government. The people themselves do not
seem to have the faith in the benefits of Panchayati
Raj, even though the proponents hold it out as an
article of faith.
Now Available at Bookstands
The struggle continues.,.
For more info
URL: www.nepalstruggleforeiistence.coiTi.iip
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 "V L A
K»fe   '»
I jumped into a bus in Dehra Dun. The rickety
vehicle pulled out of the crowded market along
Rajpur Road, past the leafy residential buildings
and the Sakya Monastery, before zigzagging upwards
towards Mussoorie. It was an easy ride, and I got there
within 45 minutes. Upon arrival, I decided to share a
cab with a group of people heading further up the
mountain, towards Happy Valley. Today, most of
Mussoorie's roughly 5000-strong Tibetan community
lives in Happy Valley. In April of 1959, the Dalai Lama
established the first Tibetan government-in-exile here,
before it was shifted westward to Dharamsala in
Himachal Pradesh. In Happy Valley was also located
the Tibetan School which I had attended for two years.
I was returning after having been gone for two decades.
"I watched the movie English, August last night,"
said the driver, who bore a moustache so auburn-
coloured that I almost mistook him for a European. "A
good movie about English-obsessed IAS officers. I move
a lot of them to the academy every day," he said,
referring to the Lai Bahadur Shastri National Academy
for Administration, which produces the men and
women of the Indian Administrative Service. We all
lumbered on towards Happy Valley. The driver said
he did this trip at least ten times a day, and that he
knew almost everyone who showed up on the road.
Just a few minutes later, he screeched to a halt and
waved to a guy in a thick jacket who was walking
along. "Arre, Jai Singh, come yaar, there is always a
seat in my taxi. Five rupees, only."
That we were already four people in the front and
six in the back did not seem to deter our voluble man at
the wheel. "j4rre, no problem yaar. Sit upon him," he
said, pointing towards me, by the door. "Don't forget,
the luggage hold is still empty!" The guy in the jacket
was quite big, and he proceeded to sit right on my lap.
1 tried to squeeze my neighbours to make space for this
Two decades away
doesn't change all
that much in
Mussoorie's Tibetan
*■    %   '■' W ■'■-,
old man! 7
intruder, but met with little success. They looked
passively ahead but refused to give a centimetre. 1 was
relieved when we finally reached Happy Valley. I got
unsteadily off, paid the driver, and continued on foot.
I walked past the Lai Bahadur Shastri Academy, and
then on towards the Tibetan School.
The Academy itself did not appear to have changed
much since I was here last. Its grounds looked well
taken care of - the shooting range, the equestrian
grounds, the gym and the tennis courts gleamed in the
afternoon sun. But new buildings seemed to have
cropped up all over the valley, which now struck me
as more congested, narrower somehow. I walked past
the Birla House and-towards the Tibetan School.
I ambled along the road by the deserted-looking
football ground, and arrived behind the main school
building. An abscessed dog was scrounging for his
lunch at a garbage bin near the school gate. Some
Tibetans were walking aimlessly about. A couple of
old colonial-era houses stood below the road, looking
quite untended. Abandoned shoes and plastic bags
littered their slanting red roofs.
Apple cheeks
Recognising an old haunt, I stopped by a tea shack
nearby. The owner, who I had last seen during the
1980s, had aged significantly - only his smile (now
toothless) remained intact behind the jars of sweets on
the counter. But he was somehow withdrawn, and
when I came in he shied away into the kitchen. A
woman came to take my order and I asked for a cup of
tea. She replied to my efforts at conversation, "The
school has not changed much at all. But most of the
older teachers have either retired or immigrated."
A black-and-white framed picture of the Dalai Lama
(almost teenage-looking) hung above the table. Two
students were eating noodle soup, shy and reticent
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 with their faces almost touching their bowls. Outside,
a couple more students were eating, equally wordless.
1 wanted to talk to them, to see how their experiences
at the school compared to my own, but they would not
be drawn in. An odd air of despondency hung inside
and outside that little shop. "Co visit the monastery, it
has not changed a bit in 40 vears," the lady suggested.
I paid for my tea and left. Two tiny, apple-cheeked
boys in immaculately clean uniforms emerged from
the gate, greeting me w7ith heart-warming reverence.
After reciprocating happily, I proceeded into the
playground, where some kids were playing on a small
grassy lawn on the forecourt. Some teachers were
standing and talking on the side.
1 walked into the huge, rambling building that had
housed the boy's dormitory, another leftover from the
colonial past. As 1 reached the portico at the top of the
steps, hundreds of uniformed boys swarmed out of
the dining room, having just finished lunch. They came
out singing songs and chatting loudly along the high-
ceilinged, nearly pitch-black corridor. I remember there
used to be lights.
The girl students, I noticed, were already out of the
dining room. Outside, they lay scattered about in the
warm afternoon sun, all of them holding books under
their arms. 1 was gratified to note that nearly all looked
happy and healthy. Above the football grounds, a
couple of teachers and some kids were drinking tea
and relaxing. Nearby, students were shopping at a
store that also housed an antique flour mill -
established, a sign proudly declared, in 1905, It
remained busily in operation, steadily releasing a
pungent mustard smell out into the roadway.
As I sat there in the sun, prayer flags fluttered in
front of one of the school's dormitories. A couple of
labourers were busily pouring the concrete of a
new construction. Tall banshee trees were
silhouetted against the sky, and flakes of white clouds
gathered above.
Pala and Bond
My solitary homecoming almost oyer, 1 began walking
back down towards Mussoorie town. Upon reaching
the main thoroughfare, I went to the bookshop situated
along the road that led to the picnic spot known as
Company Carden. For some reason, the bookstore was
busy with immaculately dressed men purchasing thick
works by Salman Rushdie. I decided to continue a bit
in the direction of Company Carden, and came upon a
Tibetan elder leaning against the roadside railing,
trembling faintly with infirmity. He also took the
support of a walking cane, and was vigorously reciting
mantras. 1 greeted him and asked his age. He said he
was 77 years old.
He wore a cowboy hat, the kind preferred hy
Tibetans for ceremonial occasions, and had on brown
trousers and several grey sweaters, one on top of
another. He said he lived in the old people's home just
below the road, where he had arrived in 1996. One of
his eves stayed perpetually closed, and the other eye
"You look like you go to Bodhgaya a lot,"
she said, as if Bihar owned the Buddha.
was evidently not providing him much vision. But his
mind remained sharp, and he spoke to me with some
warmth. He used to work in a monastery in northern
Tibet, but that was long, long ago. I lo described to me
in detail how he had escaped into India from Tibet.
A young Tibetan student walked past, greeting the old
man, "Pala, tashi delek" (Pala means 'old man'). After a
while, I bade goodbye to the old man, although
my thoughts remained with him for quite a
while afterwards.
From there, I walked until 1 arrived at the Cambridge
Bookshop, on Mall Road. Outside the shop was a large
announcement, Mr Ruskin Bond will be here at 4 PM.
Books by the famous local author - he lives in nearby
Landour - were piled high in the shopfront windows,
competing with those of Zadie Smith's. 1 hung about
the neighbourhood for ten minutes or so, and when 1
went back in Mr Bond had already arrived. "So are
you the famous Bond?" 1 asked. "Not James Bond," he
responded. We talked for a few minutes. He said he-
was feeling a little tired that dav. For someone like
myself, who had enjoyed his writings in the past, the
meeting was a happy coincidence. 1 took some pictures
and left.
Down at the Mussoorie bus stand, the five o'clock
bus had already left, so 1 decided to share another cab.
This time, there were onlv five of us. I struck up a
conversation with an amazingly handsome man with
an immaculately trimmed moustache, who was sitting
next to me. He told me he made ice cream in Lucknow,
and had just decided to come over for a day trip to
Dehra Dun and Mussoorie.
A cheerful couple from Bihar sat in the front. They
were in a very exuberant mood, particularly the
woman; a holiday seemed to give everyone a new bout
of energy. The husband was at times somewhat
taciturn, but the lady sent us into fits of giggles every
time she started to talk. "Do come to visit us when you
come down to Bihar. You look like you go to Bodhgaya
a tot," she said, as if Bihar owned the Buddha.
I asked the ice-cream executive what kind of ice
cream he specialised in - Vanilla? Strawberry?
Chocolate? He had no idea what I was talking about.
"1 sell only one type of ice cream," he said. "What
kind?" 1 enquired again. "Just one kind, but quite well-
known," he responded, mysteriously. All of this in
Hindi. He said it was too warm inside, and wrestled
his jacket off.
As we arrived in Dehra Dun, the Lucknow ice-cream
manufacturer said he wanted to alight at Rajpur Road.
As he jumped out of the car, he remembered  to
lpliment the driver, "A beautiful taxi, by the
He handed me his card. "Do give me a ring it
you happen to come to Lucknow," he said as he turned
away. The card said Managing Director, Merry
Ice Creams.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
/ / Pakistan must hold the record for overthrowing
■ ft the maximum number of military regimes, while
Nepal could claim the record for having the shortest
period of autocratic rule;" remarked political psychologist
Ashis Handy, deploying his characteristic playfulness to
emphasise the widespread support for democracy
among the people of Southasia, He was referring to the
Pakistanis' continuous challenge to dictatorship and King
Gyanendra's 14 months of adventurism, which ended
in April of this year.
ii: The aptness of Nandy's comment, made at the launch
ofthe report on the State of Democracy in South Asia, is
confirmed by the findings of this substantive study
conducted over three years in the five larger countries of
the region. The survey data provides ample proof that
Southasians, across demographic categories, appreciate
democracy and want it for themselves and their
societies. People may be denied the practice of pluralism
for years, even decades, but they do not let the yearning
for it die in their hearts.,And the more a public
experiences democracy, the more it is willing to
protect it.
The report, released in the first week of December,
Was brought out by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study
of Developing Societies (CSDS), Its results map people's
perceptions about democracy: its meaning and
desirability, its institutions, and its relationship to diversity,
security, and economic outcomes of governance. In
essence, this is an attempt to deliberately complicate- ■
the existing discourse on democracy, which has tended
to revolve around a unilinear model of democratic
evolution. Rather than use a hand-me-down formula to
try to understand pluralism, the study seeks to locate
democracy in the region - to discover not only what
Southasians think about democracy, but how they havej
adapted its very idea.
The report's findings confirm that the region's citizens
have a healthy regard for popular self-rule even as, of;;
course, they understand its weaknesses. Not only 66b'
Southasians associate the term 'democracy' with popular '
governance and political freedoms, they also attach to it
the values of liberty in the fullest sense: equality, justice «
/.and dignity. Given that the democratic value of equality
is understood in the Southasian context in terms not ot :
formal political equality but in a fuller sense of socio- .
economic parity^ the challenge remains as to how to ..
make democratic systems sensitive to that aspiration^
To highlight just one of the complexities found by the
study, the finding that democracy can survive in conditions »*■
of mass.poverty has a flip side: democracy is no '"
guarantee for the removal of poverty.
, It is in the intellectual honesty of the exercise, and the;:
willingness of the authors to face up to precisely such;;
"inconvenient facts" that lies the strength of State df£-
Democracy in South As/a. Indeed, there could have been
no  other  way to   approach   this   research,   for-
there are myriad and paradoxical manners in which
democracy has affected bur societies. But the
answer to democracy's problems is more democracy,
not less. - that is what the people tell us through the  ;
survey questionnaire.
It is the truth that many Southasians suffer in un;-:;;
democracy. The message of State of Democracy in South
Asia is that though our institutions may be weak for now,
the guarantee for the future lies in the fact that the
population is attuned to the self-evident, simple, yet
powerful offerings of democracy. In the following pages,.
Himal Southasian presents key extracts from the report,
in the belief that the results of this rigorous and at times
daring exercise must be shared with as large an audience
as possible. The details, of course, are to be found in the
finely produced original 220-page study. We thank
CSDS for the permission to present our readers with
these excerpts. ■ • *•«**»
:. - Editorsc;
The image by Dhaka photographer Shahidul Alam that appears on
the cover ofthe CSDS report says it all. After the popular uprising
that brought down the dictator Hossain Mohammad Ershad in
December 1990, in a booth created behind a burlap curtain, a
woman casts her vote. Her deep concentration,
evident even in the unclear silhouette, speaks for the high value
placed by the people in democracy, which for them is not at all a
nebulous concept.
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Object of desire
Southasia's tryst with democracy is studied for its deeper meanings by a team of
scholars from Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Lahore and Pune. The effort is to
examine the scope of the promise of democracy; to trace institutional slippages in
that promise; to catalogue the blockages in democracy's functioning; and to
evaluate the outcomes of the democratic enterprise in
Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,
The experience of South Asia demolishes any
remaining excuse for not adopting democracy.
This is the essence of a study of democracy in
the region conducted as a collaborative effort by
academics from five of South Asia's larger countries.
This is a region marked by a bewildering array of
diversities, multiple and overlapping structures of
social hierarchy, widespread poverty and inequality,
and intolerably high levels of illiteracy.
Conventionally, each of these features is understood
to be a source of concern and justification for not
adopting a democratic system. Not just when they
gained independence, but even subsequently, not
many expected South Asia's countries to choose
democracy, much less remain democratic. Even many
of the region's scholars were sceptical about the
possibility of popular self-rule taking root. Yet
democracy continues to be the reigning ideology and
aspiration of the peoples of the region, by far the
preferred arrangement.
Not only is democracy becoming a fact of life in
South Asia, but each of the countries of the region also
has crucial lessons to offer, to its neighbours and to
the rest of the world. If India shows depth in its support
for democracy and pro-diversity policies, Bangladesh
reflects much deeper levels of political identification
and participation. Pakistan has a high sense of
national pride and Nepal confirms the vitality of
people's aspirations and their ability to struggle for a
republican and democratic order. And Sri Lanka,
amidst a civil war, has a civil society wedded to
peace. The South Asian story is, in this sense, truly a
story of democracy.
South Asia's experience of democracy defies
conventional wisdom by offering its own, unique
scenarios. South Asia not only witnesses the continued
relevance of political parties; there is also deep interest
in participation in politics, both for self-fulfilment and
for the pursuit of collective interests. Alongside
influencing public policy, party politics here has the
capacity to shape and articulate social identities and
is the vehicle of these identities. Clearly, the South
Asian experience has valuable lessons for Western
democracies grappling with the challenges of diversity.
In a nutshell, the idea of democracy has transformed
South Asia as much as South Asia has transformed
democracy itself.
Aspiration for democracy
The survey, conducted among nearly 20,000
respondents across the five countries, provides
evidence to suggest widespread support for democracy
across the area studied. When asked to spell out what
the term 'democracy' meant to them, nearly everyone
who responded offered positive descriptions. In all the
countries surveyed, less than one out of ten had
immediate negative associations. This support for
democracy goes beyond a mere liking of the term, to an
approval of the institutional form of democratic
government. People in the region favour the rule of
"the leaders elected by the people". All but a handful
of those who responded took issue with the idea of
representative democracy. Doubt or uncertainty with
regard to the suitability of democracy surfaced in the
form of a lack of response. Nearly a third of the persons
interviewed - much more in Bangladesh and Pakistan
- declined to answer this question.
The citizens of South Asia do not simply like
democracy, they prefer it over authoritarian rule. With
the exception of those in Pakistan, about two-thirds of
those who responded preferred democracy to any other
form of government. Only one out of ten responses
supported the idea outright that "sometimes
dictatorship is better than democracy". But there is a
significant number who are either indifferent or claim
ignorance about this choice. About a quarter in other
countries and half the respondents in Pakistan said
that it made no difference to them if government took a
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 When people living under non-democratic regimes pay even lip-service to the idea of
democracy, they must be understood to be making a significant statement.
Nearly everyone thinks of democracy in positive terms
Those who describe
'democracy' in negative terms
Sri Lanka
South Asia
^Non-response excluded
democratic or non-democraric form.
The results of the survey permit a limited
conclusion: democracy has become an object of desire,
something that is viewed positively, is considered
suitable, and whose presence is generally preferred
over its absence. This is not a trivial finding in a region
often believed not to be conducive for the development
of democratic practice. During the time that the survey
was taken, moreover, the region had some of the few
surviving military dictatorships and executive
monarchies of our time. When people living under
non-democratic regimes pay even lip-service to the
idea of democracy, they must be understood to be
making a significant statement.
The meaning of 'democracy'
Tf the concept of democracy has transformed political
imagination in South Asia, this region too has left its
imprint on the idea of democracy. Departing from its
received textbook meaning, democracy has come to
bear a new set of significances. The textbook
understanding, itself drawn from a high theory
developed from the experience of democracy in
Europe and North America, privileges certain
elements. These include popular control over rulers,
availability of equal rights and liberties for citizens,
Overwhelming support for democracy
Those who agree with the rule of leaders elected by the people (%age)
the idea of rule of law and of protection against the
tyranny of the majority. In its South Asian version,
democracy is associated principally with the ideas of
people's rule, political freedom, equality of outcomes,
and community rights. Tlie South a^sian version of
the idea of democracy, as seen in the mirror of public
opinion, does not accord equal centrality to the idea
of rule of law and the institutional-procedural
dimensions of democratic governance.
The most common association citizens have with
the idea of democracy is 'freedom'. A closer look,
however, brings out the differences between the
dominant understandings of democracy as freedom.
For one, the language of freedom is not used equally
by all sections of society: the elite, the more educated
and the better-off tend to be more enthusiastic about
'freedom' than those at the lower end of the social
hierarchy. Also, while people associate democracy
with freedom, they do not necessarily emphasise
freedom over democracy's other attributes. When
forced to choose the most salient feature of democracy,
only six percent of respondents region-wide picked
up the classical virtue of freedom of expression. But
most significantly, those who did mention freedom
rarelv understood it in the classical, negative sense of
the absence of constraints imposed by the state or
society. They would rather the state play a greater
role in the provision of public goods than view it as a
source of threat to their liberty. Freedom is understood
by ordinary citizens in a wider and positive sense
that includes political freedom but extends to freedom
from want.
The idea of equality undergoes a similar
transformation. Democracy in its classical sense
presupposes formal political equality. But in the
South Asian context, the idea is expanded to include
socio-economic equality, dignity and access to
material well-being. Nearly one in three
persons, from the elite as well as the masses,
who offer any meaning of 'democracy'
associate it with some substantial outcome in
terms of equality and the fulfilment of basic
necessities of life, including security. An even
larger proportion opt for the satisfaction of
these "basic necessities" when asked to pick
the most essential attribute of democracy.
When asked to choose what they like most
about democracy, the feature people stress
aside from freedom is that democracy provides
dignity to the poor. The non-elite and poor
within the sampled set tend to use this
language more than do the rest. This difference
is reflected across the countries as well, as the
language of equality is more popular in the
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 region's poorer countries. Yet this difference is not
the kind that would suggest an opposition
between the language of freedom and that of
equality. It is not that the citizens place either
freedom or equality into the basket of
democracy; their interpretation of both
these values allows them to opt for
freedom and equality simultaneously.
Democracy in popular discourse
is associated with the language of
rights, and this language too sees a
major shift in South Asia. In their
adoption of this vocabulary,
South   Asia's   citizens   have
shifted the principal locus of
rights from the individual to the
community. It is the introduction
of modern politics, competitive
or  otherwise,  that provides
incentives for the creation of some
of these communities. Tn this
sense the community is less a
primordial  entity  and   more   a
political artefact. While the emphasis
on community rights provides an
opportunity for struggle by marginal
social   groups   and   communities,   it
simultaneously   creates   space   for    a
majoritarian interpretation of democracy. Note
that nearly two-thirds of the respondents agree
that in a democracy the will of the majority
community should prevail.
What about democracy understood as a form of
government? Not only does this occupy a secondary
meaning of democracy in the popular imagination,
but the South Asian rendition is somewhat
distinctive. Here, the idea of popular control takes
clear precedence over institutional mechanisms. For
instance, in spelling out what democracy means to
them, citizens mention 'periodic elections' more often
than they do political, parties. This should not be
interpreted as a rejection of the 'procedural' definition
in favour of a 'substantive' view of democracy. It is
rather that in South Asia, one kind of democratic
procedure - representation through regular elections
- is valued over other kinds of more impersonal
controls and processes. Thus, it is the.choice offered
by democracy that lies at the heart of the definition of
and support for democracy in the region.
Democracy is valued because it provides a possible
escape from the capriciousness
of rulers and an opportunity
to be the maker of one's
own destiny.
Even when they think of democracy as a form of
government, South Asians do not associate it with
the idea of the rule of law. Only a miniscule
proportion of citizens associate democracy with the
various institutions and practices that contribute to
the rule of law. Similarly, the idea of tyranny of the
majority does not figure high in the popular
consciousness and there are few takers for it even
when it is placed on the menu as a possible anxiety
about the workings of democracy.
Trust in institutions
Modem governance produces a range of institutions:
one set of such institutions is governments at different
geographic levels. Then there are other, non-elected
institutions. Finally, the political party is the central
institution in the functioning of democracy.
All institutions taken together, South Asia is
characterised by a modestly robust level of trust in
institutions. The democratic institutions in the
region have won the trust of a majority of the
population. Overall, trust in political institutions
Even when they think of democracy as a form of government,
South Asians do not associate it with the idea of the rule of taw.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 The idea of tyranny of the majority does not figure high in the popular
' is lowest in Pakistan and highest in Bangladesh.
Clearly, all institutions do not enjoy the same level
of trust. Broadly speaking, institutions that are not
elected by the people and that do not have to seek their
renewed mandate seem to be trusted more. For instance,
across all countries, the army enjoys a very high level
of trust, significantly higher than the national average
of trust in institutions. Is this because the army as an
institution is uvsually far removed from the public gaze?
Equally, it may be because the army conventionally
stands as a symbol of national pride and strength.
Trust in the army is high even in countries where it
has been involved in direct political action - Pakistan,
and for a period Bangladesh. Similarly, courts and
election commissions too enjoy a very high level of
trust, except in Pakistan - there, possibly because they
arc not seen as autonomous, the degree of trust placed
in them is no higher than in other institutions. The
general higher level of trust in non-elected institutions,
however, is not borne out in the cases of the
bureaucracy and the police, two main arms of
administration. It seems that institutions that have a
greater interface with the public score low^er than those
that are more distant. It is clear that political parties,
the crucial link between the system and the people,
suffer very low ratings - they have the lowest scores in
India, Nepal and Sri Lanka while they stand second
from the bottom in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Such low ratings for political parties augur poorly
for democracy. What is undeniable, however, is that if
political parties fail to adequately represent larger
sections of society and their aspirations, and function
more as instruments for the capture of state power,
they are more likely to be viewed writh derision. The
low trust in parties has created space for the
functioning of a non-party political domain - extra-
parliamentary movements and a voluntary sector -
representative of newer forms of political practice and
institutions. Finally, people have relatively higher trust
in institutions that are more abstract and general - not
just the army, courts and election commissions, but
also the higher levels of government - at the national
and provincial rather than local level. .The two most
visible political institutions having direct interface with
the people - the parliament and political parties - enjoy
low levels of trust, as do the police and civil
administration. All this
indicates that behind
the  challenges   faced by
democracy in the region lies the failure to make
governance more people-friendly.
The political parties
Nothing illustrates the place of political parties in the
political landscape of South Asia better than the
situation in Nepal. Just a couple of years ago, many
people had expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction
with and low trust in political parties, which were
seen not only as self-serving and corrupt but incapable
of effectively responding to the major challenges facing
the country, in particular the near civil war situation
resulting from an armed conflict between Maoist rebels
and the state. Such incapacity, in fact, was the major
justification advanced by Nepal's monarch in defence
of his decision to ban all political activity and assume
executive powers. Yet, and to the surprise of many,
these seemingly discredited political parties led a mass
movement for the restoration of democracy and
are today, in partnership with the erstwhile rebels,
working towards crafting a new constitutional
order. A recent survey in the country shows that the
popular level of trust in parties has shot up between
2004 and 2006.
Despite frequent attempts to ban or restrict the
functioning of political parties in the different countries
of the region, they have almost invariably bounced
back to claim public allegiance. Unlike in many other
parts of the world, political parties here remain the
principal force around which public contestations are
organised, serving to structure political alternatives
for the people, formulating policies and translating
them into a popularly intelligible set of choices.
Such vitality should be a matter of surprise to both
South Asians and others. Political parties in South
Asia are usually described in terms of lack: immature,
inchoate, insufficiently institutionalised, devoid of
organisational structure, not professional in their
functioning, and deficient in ideology or policy
agendas. This popular reading does not consider a
possible explanation of the vitality of political parties
in South a^sia: that parties occupy the role they do in
this region not despite but because of the absences
mentioned above. It is precisely because political
parties have not developed clearly-defined
organisational structures and have not acquired an
institutionalised, professional existence that they
manage to occupy a very large space in the pubtic life
of the region. Since most political parties are still very
The fact of a larger number of smaller parties brings parties closer
to the citizens and makes it easier for them to engage in
democratic action.
January 2007 1 Himal Southasian
 Trust in political parties shot up in Nepal between
2004 and 2006
How much trust do
have in
political parties?
1 2004
Wl 2006
Great deal/Some L
Not much/None L
No opinion E
1     I
young and not distanced from their mass mobilisation
phase, they can organise resistance and lead struggles.
It is because they are inchoate and undergo rapid
mutations that the parties can bounce back and
surprise everyone.
The nature of party-political competition in
South Asia has remained anything but stable over the
last few decades. Fragmentation of existing parties
and the rise of new parties have naturally
resulted in the proliferation of political organisations,
sometimes causing a virtual stampede in the political
arena. A close look at the level of citizens' engagement
with political parties shows signs of an expansion of
electoral demo-cracy's base. The fact of a larger number
of smaller parties brings parties closer to the citizens
and makes it easier for them to engage in democratic
action. More than two out of every five adults in the
region say they feel close to a party. If we go by evidence
available from India across four decades, the level of
party identification is on the rise. A question on the
degree of participa-tion in the activities of political
parties shows that one-sixth of citizens in South Asia
take part in party activities. This level of direct
participation is high for any democracy and higher
than peoples' involvement in trade unions, NGOs or
any kind of socio-cultural organisation, barring of
course religious organisations. The level of self-
reported membership of political parties in the region
is fairly high, higher than the global average. It seems
that the political parties of South Asia are
not facing a crisis of popular indifference and lack of
public involvement.
The various simultaneous demands on the parties
- that they represent and give voice to the people, help
them access state resources and, above all, respond to
their many demands and problems - seem to have
contributed to an 'expectation overload' over time,
resulting in a growing dissatisfaction with, and a
decrease in trust in, the functioning of these agencies.
This has led to a paradoxical situation: people feel
that political parties are essential for the functioning
of democracy but do not seem to trust them with the
task of making democracy work. Routinely, parties are
accused of having short-term horizons, falling prey to
populist agendas, and being obsessed with
winning elections without adequate concern for the
longer-term consequences of their actions. How parties
cope with these challenges, reorient themselves to
contemporary requirements and develop themselves
as agencies effective in discharging the functions
expected of them will determine the shape democracy
will take in the region.
Insurgency and democracy
An extreme manifestation of popular mobilisation, one
that seeks to challenge the very legitimacy of tlie state
and democratic politics, is armed insurgency. It is an
unfortunate fact of modern South Asian history that
all the countries of the region have experienced and
continue to be troubled by armed insurgencies, each of
which enjoys some degree of popular appeal and
legitimacy. Whether as expressions of embryonic
nationalisms, as struggles for autonomy within or
without the nation-state, or as a challenge to the
discriminatory and exclusionary process of growth
and development, insurgencies reflect the dead-end of
democratic politics, the inability of states and regimes
to accommodate the urges of disaffected peoples.
The relationship of these struggles with political
parties       and       the
democratic process is Naxalites enjoy more
. .  £., ,   sympathy among the poor
rarely straightforward.
Many armed struggles Those who believe that Naxalites
trace their genesis to are freinds of the people (%age)*
state bans of certain
parties or demands and,
in this sense, can be seen
as extensions of party
politics, albeit extra-
constitutional ones. The
use of physical force
and violence has
inevitably invited a
brutal res-ponse from
the state, the
strengthening of the
repressive apparatus,
and tire promulgation of
draconian legislation
restricting fundamental   a significant Naxalite presence
^Responses are for those who had heard
about (lie movement and live in states with
All institutions do not enjoy the same level of trust. Broadly speaking, institutions
that are not elected by the people and that do not have to seek their renewed
mandate seem to be trusted more.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 Since most political parties are still very young and not distanced from their mass
mobilisation phase, they can organise resistance and lead struggles, it is because
they are inchoate and undergo rapid mutations that the parties can bounce back and
surprise everyone.
All communities in Sri Lanka agree on
negotiating with the LTTE
Sri Lanka: Preferred way to achieve peace
Negotiations Military solution
rights and freedoms. Continued violence not only
brutalises the state structure but also society, with
ordinary citizens trapped bet-ween two warring sides.
Thus, though armed nsurgencies emerge out of an
absence of democracy, and usually claim to be
working to usher in a more sub—stantive democracy,
their very mode of functioning seizes the agency of
the people, makes everyday political
practice difficult and thereby serves to cripple and
delegitimise democracy.
lt is thus not surprising that the response of the
common citizen to the phenomenon of armed struggle
is somewhat mixed. For a start, not only are many
people, including those from areas not experiencing
armed insurgency, aware of insurgencies, but they
also claim to know about the various demands of these
movements. There is reasonably widespread
sympathy for the issues raised. There is, however,
much less support for the movements' methods.
Take, for instance, the case of the Indian
Maoists. Close to 40 percent of those surveyed felt
that their demands were genuine and nearly a fifth
felt that the 'movement' was working to meet the
concerns of the common people. Simultaneously,
a significant majority disapproved of their methods
and felt that they contributed to a generalisation of
violence. This might explain why there is much
greater sympathy, if not support, for a political
settlement through peaceful dialogue and negotiation,
rather than a military solution. Even in Sri Lanka,
after over two decades of violent conflict resulting in
the death of thousands of people and the
displacement of many more, over two-thirds of the
Sri Lankan people, both Sinhala and Tamil, believe
that durable peace is possible only through a
negotiated settlement. A mere six percent prefer a
military solution.
insecurity of the marginalised
Societies in South Asia are not very successful in
giving their minorities a sense of security. The feeling
of insecurity is higher among minorities in
Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A sense
of exclusion exacerbates this feeling. Thus, in Sri
Lanka the upcountiy Tamils feel more insecure than
do Tamils in general and the Tarai Dalits feel more
insecure in Nepal than they do in India. What is worse
is that some groups feel that this sense of insecurity
has increased over time. This is true not only of
Bangladesh's Hindus, but also of its Garos. In Nepal
too the feeling of insecurity has increased in the
Eastern and Mid-far Western regions.
Our discussion of security is further complicated
by two findings among minorities in India. Muslims
in Gujarat experienced one of the most concerted
attacks from Hindu fundamentalist forces in 2002,
yet this does not reflect in responses from Indian
Muslims. Is this because India's Muslims think
primarily in terms of locality, so that their perception
of security takes into account only what comes to pass
in their vicinities? Does this have something to do
Marginal groups are insecure
Those who say they feel 'unsafe' where they live (%age)
Tarai high caste B|
Tarai ethnic groups HI
Tarai Dalit H
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 with unarticulated fears within the community? Are
Indian Muslims comparing the present to the
immediate past of Gujarat violence and indicating
that they feel a little more secure now than they did
a couple of years ago?
The other riddle that India throws up is the more
articulated feeling of insecurity among Christians.
A smaller minority when compared to Muslims, and
perhaps in better condition than the Muslim
population objectively speaking, Indian Christians
feel more insecure than do Indian Muslims. Perhaps
the smaller size of the community makes it feel more
vulnerable to threats by Hindu fundamentalists.
Also, the Christian community is possibly more
articulate about its fears and conscious of the
distance being created by verbal and physical attacks
against it.
Many factors feed into the feeling of insecurity
among marginal and minority sections. One is
obviously objective material conditions; another is
social tensions and the level of tolerance of diversity;
a third, the official policy of the state towards
minorities and marginal groups; and finally, the level
of mobilisation based on identity among majority
communities in particular, but among all sections of
society, in general. Identity-based mobilisations
produce divisive imaginary histories, social
distances and political separation, leading to an
increase in feelings of vulnerability.
The material outcome
South Asia is the site of an audacious experiment to
realise simultaneously two of the most cherished
goals of humanity: freedom to decide one's destiny
and freedom from want. Since the region combines
the existence of mass poverty with experiments at
mass democracy, the fate of the South Asian
experiment can decide two of the most perplexing
questions of our time; One, is a certain degree of
material prosperity a pre-condition to the growth
It seems that the
political parties of
South Asia are not .
facing a crisis of
popular indifference
and lack of public
andenduranee of democracy? Two, is democracy a
reliable instrument for achiev-ing freedom from want?
An understanding of the objective presence of
poverty does not by itself give us a map for politics
unless we .understand how poverty registers in the
minds of the people. Tlie results of the survey do show
a mis-match between objective economic conditions
and subjective percep-tions of economic conditions.
Unlike in some other parts of the world, there is a
tendency in South Asia for downward economic
identification; most people think and say that they
are poor. When asked to place themselves on a ten-
step ladder, more than 60 percent respondents placed
themselves on the lowest three rungs. Even among
the most privileged, nearly one-third placed
themselves on the lowest three rungs.
Another seeming disconnect - that between
people's economic conditions and their level of
satisfaction - matters much more to democratic
politics. In spite of very negative economic indicators
in objective terms, people report a relatively high level
of satisfaction with their present economic situations,
alongside expectations of a better future. For one of
the poorest regions in the world, it is amazing that the
proportion of those who are satisfied with the current
economic condition of their households clearly
outnumbers those who are dissatisfied.
The fact that the people take a less harsh view of
Very few people are dissatisfied with their
economic conditions
South Asia: Current economic condition of their household
Clear rejection of
disinvestment in the
public sector..,
South Asia: Should public
sector units be handed
over to private companies?
Satisfied or
very satisfied
Mo response also ofthe
downsizing of
South Asia: Should the
number of government
employees be reduced?
or very
Index of satisfaction
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 Authors and methodology
The State of Democracy in South Asia is the
handiwork of the Lokniti Programme of the Centre
for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and
was supported by the International Institute for
Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm
and the Department of Sociology at Oxford
University. The principal investigators were Peter
R de Souza (CSDS), Suhas Palshikar
(University of Pune) and Yogendra
Yadav (CSDS). The country
coordinators were Imtiaz Ahmed
(University of Dhaka), Sanjay Kumar
(CSDS, Delhi), Krishna Hachhethu
(Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu),
Mohammed Waseem (Quaid-e-Azam
University, Islamabad), and Jayadeva Uyangoda
(University of Colombo). The report was edited by
Harsh Sethi, editor of the journal Seminar.
A number of methodologies were utilised for
conducting the study. A cross-section survey was
carried out in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan
State of Democracy in
South Asia: A Report
Publisher: Lokniti,
CSDS, New Delhi
sample of the population. This method was used to
tap the perceptions of people on a wide range of
issues such as the meaning of democracy, trust in
institutions, and security concerns. The survey
sample size by country was 3301 for Bangladesh,
5389 for India, 3249 for Nepal, 2854 for Pakistan
and 4616 for Sri Lanka. The mapping of public
opinion was balanced with a series of
dialogues with social and political
activists in different regions of each
country, which recognised the existence
and salience of varying positions and
viewpoints of the actors engaged in
    reforming and radicalising democracy.
Scholars were invited to join in by
conducting case studies. These case studies focused
on the uniqueness of situations, issues or locations,
in order to illuminate the 'performance dimension'
of democracy. Finally, the study developed a broad
framework for the qualitative assessment of
democracy in each country by a team of scholars
and Sri Lanka through a scientific selection of a     from that country.
their conditions than would objective data reduces
the pressure on the state and provides it with room to
engage with these questions of economic
circumstances in the long run. At the same time, this
very space can be used to disengage from or to mask
the issue. The people's 'misrecognition' of their
condition makes political mobilisation on issues of
class very difficult. At the same time, it also underlines
the autonomy of popular consciousness and expands
the scope of political intervention. Thus, the mismatch
between the objective and the subjective cuts both
ways: if an 'excessively' broad definition of the poor
expands the political constituency of the struggle for
freedom from want, the misplaced sense of satisfaction
and optimism serves to blunt the edge of this struggle.
The marginalisation of the struggle for freedom
from want is best illustrated by the divergence between
the opinion of the mass public and policies pursued
by all the states of South Asia with regard to what is
often described as economic reforms, and sometimes
LPG (liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation).
Beginning with Sri Lanka in the 1980s, all the region's
states have moved away from state-led strategies of
development and adopted economic policies of a 'free'
market and integration with the global economy. In
none of these countries was such a major change in
policy preceded by democratic debate and consensus-
building. Some of these decisions lack public sanction
even now, thus creating a sharp disjunction between
public policy and public opinion.
There is a general rejection of the idea of
dismantling the public sector and handing it over to
private companies in all five countries surveyed. For
every defender of privatisation, there are three or more
who reject this policy. The people still look up to the
government as a provider of basic services. An
overwhelming majority of the people reject proposals
regarding the handing over of electricity, schools,
hospitals, drinking water or bus services to private
companies. Ordinary citizens also view any proposal
for the downsizing of government with suspicion and
place it at par with the withdrawal of public services.
Opposition to liberalisation is weaker when it does
not directly affect public service or government. On
balance, more people in South Asia favour the entry
of foreign companies than those who oppose it, though
there are strong variations here along the lines of
country and class.
That the disjunction between economic policy and
popular preference takes place at a time when the
region is expanding its democratic structures and
institutions is a reminder of the two big questions
posed at the beginning of this section. It seems that
the first question has a happy answer; there are no
economic preconditions for the successful installation
of democracy. I iowever, the second question seems to
invite a rather unhappy response; while democracy
can be expected to deliver many tangible and
intangible goods, removal of poverty is not one of them.
Once again the experience of India and other countries
shows that people's rule can make peace with the
misery, poverty and deprivation of most of the
people. All one can claim in defence of democracy
is that at least a democratic regime is not
incompatible with the pursuit of economic well-being
and security for all. a
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The judicial activist
Are the courts of India straying into the
executive and legislative folds?
In 1993, political scientist Gerald Rosenberg
published a book on the American court system
titled Trie Hollow Hope: Can courts bring about
social change? At that time, Rosenberg's answer to the
titular question was negative, and he argued that courts
are constrained by a multitude of factors - institutional,
ideological and structural. Over the last two decades,
however, judges throughout the world have become
increasingly active in promoting 'non-justiciable'
vrights - those issues that by traditional practice cannot
be settled by a court of law.
Judges in India, Brazil and South Africa have ruled in
favour of rights to health, education, better environment
and housing, and women's rights, among others. Such
actions have prompted some scholars to note the
"decline and fall of parliamentary sovereignty", the
"global expansion of judicial power", and even the
creation of a "juristocracy". Indian judges have stormed
ahead, issuing judgements on seemingly every question
imaginable, including the sealing of illegal urban
constructions, affirmative action in educational
institutions, religious freedom, alcoholism and
pollution, and even castigating the behaviour of
governors and parliamentarians.
Are Indian courts encroaching on the domains of the
executive and legislative branches? Are judges telling
the legislature what to do, or are they merely prodding
the government to fulfil its legal obligations? A close
examination of some legal decisions in public-health
cases over the past couple of decades shows that the
latter is more often the case. What Indian judges have
done is to ease the process through which citizens can
. - ?,   ■
'^'r^-f^m&tit^'tW^^f'i,- $■$■
hold the government accountable for its failure to comply
with its statutory duties.
Since the early 1980s. India's Supreme Court has
increasingly become the champion of poor and
vulnerable citizens, handing down judgements in favour
of rights to education, livelihood, health and social
justice. In health, by the late 1990s the justices had
moved from a narrow focus on the rights of organised
workers to health benefits, to more expansive
judgements informed by the general right to health
for all citizens.
The failure of municipalities to provide adequate
public sanitation and clean water subsequently became
some of the most frequently litigated cases. Over 80
percent of these complaints were upheld on grounds of a
'right to health'. In a case dealing with the degradation of
Jaipur city, the court ruled that the 'right to life' included
rights to food, shelter, reasonable accommodation,
decent environment and a clean city. The ruling judge
said that through its proactive stance, the court could
compel a statutory body to carry out its duties to the
community, including the creation of sanitary conditions,
What's already promised
Why are Indian judges increasingly solicitous of social
rights? Some, such as legal scholars S P Sathe and
Upendra Baxi, attribute the change to 'penance' for the
judiciary's quiescence during Indira Gandhi's Emergency
rule of 1975-77. The post-Emergency period saw judges
such as P N Bhagwati and Krishna Iyer evolve procedures
that made it easier for citizens to approach courts,
including through public interest litigation (PIL). This
relaxation of procedural rules allowed public-spirited
persons to appeal to judges simply by writing a letter.
The judicial community in turn expanded the
interpretation of Article 21, which states that a person
cannot be deprived of life or liberty except according to
procedures established by law. The article was now
interpreted to encompass economic and social rights,
such as basic education, health, food, shelter, speedy
trial and equal wages for equal work. Judges even found
that, in order for a right to be treated as fundamental, it
need not be included in the fundamental rights section of
the Constitution. In the 1992 Peer/ess v Reserve Sank of
India, the court argued that "the right to self interest is
inherent in the right to life ... Right to life includes the
right to live with basic human dignity with necessities of
life such as nutrition, clothing, food, shelter over the
head, facilities for cultural and socio-economic well being
of every individual. Article 21 protects right to life."
A spate of judgements from the 1980s onwards
established precedents for a transformation by which
non-enforceable social rights - enumerated in the
directive principles section of the Constitution, but once
unprotected by the courts - became enforceable.   For
instance, according to one observer in 2003, the
introduction of midday meals in the primary schools of
India "would not have happened without the Supreme
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 Court cracking the whip."
Throughout this course, judges have carefully
Highlighted legislative actions as the basis for all shifts
towards justiciability, emphasising time and again that
their judgements have merely ensured that citizens
received the entitlements already provided to them by
law. During this period, Indian courts in various states
have directed the government to implement existing
laws on wearing helmets, sided with a PIL petitioner who
asserted that authorities must not provide groundwater
with high fluoride content (and subsequently asked the
state to consider evacuating affected villagers), banned
noise pollution and the sale of firecrackers, and
outlawed child labour for children under 10 years of age.
The Supreme Court has not lagged behind in this
process. During the past two decades it has directed
Pepsi, Coke and other manufacturers of carbonated
drinks to reveal the highly secret contents of their
products, upheld charges against those accused of
adulterating liquor, required the Uttar Pradesh
government to set up a monitoring committee to ensure
safe drinking water, awarded compensation for
negligence in medical treatment, directed that a
committee examine ways to improve services in
government hospitals, and ordered the state to evolve a
time-bound plan to deal with inadequacies in mental
hospitals. All of these decisions instructed the state to
follow through on issues that it had already promised to
act on by law or policy.
Contrast this with the small number of cases where
the courts have struck down new policies, on grounds
that they conflict with prior constitutional obligations. For
nstance, citing the obligation of the government to
improve the situation of public nutrition, the Madras
High Court halted a new method of distributing sugar
that allotted greater quantities to persons with higher
income, saying that it would result in inequitable
distribution and nutrition. Where new policies were
required, the judges usually asked (not directed) the
government to do so. The courts urged the central
government to pass legislation banning the use of
carcinogenic insecticides and colour additives; the
government of Kerala was pushed to issue a new order
banning smoking in public places: and a Delh
judgement compelled the state government to
switch to clean fuels by mandating the phasing out of old
taxis, unless they were converted to using compressed
natural gas.
Poor enforcement
Judges do not tend to be crusaders. After all, the
judiciary is an arm ofthe state, and judges are conscious
of the limits of what they can do within that structure.
The modus operandi of the court is to ask the
government to set up expert committees to assess
possible actions, and then to issue directives based on
the recommendations of those committees.
The enforcement of these directives tends to be
patchy at best. High-profile cases, such as those dealing
with the quality of air in Delhi or the sealing of illegal
buildings, have indeed generated some compliance by
the government. But preliminary findings from the
author's study assessing judicial behaviour on social
rights suggest that the enforcement of judgements on
complex issues, such as hospital management or
municipal provision of clean water, has been lax unless
civil-society organisations are actively involved in the
follow-up. Despite judicial support, the poor enforcement
of several important court decisions has prompted right-
to-food campaigners, for instance, to focus on non-legal
avenues to carry out their work.
The judiciary has proven itself capable of monitoring
enforcement only in cases where complexity is low and
solutions clear, So even when judgements have been
made alongside ringing declarations about the right to
life with dignity, universal human rights and the like,
mplementation suffers in the face of governmental
excuses, such as budgetary and manpower constraints.
It would be unfair to blame judges for the poor
enforcement of their decisions. Judges may have more
time to influence enforcement at the high-court level,
where they typically serve for 12 to 18 years, than at the
Supreme Court, where they serve less than six years.
High caseloads do not allow judges the time to follow up,
and so issues are not revisited unless individual judges
take a personal interest in them, as with Justice Kuldip
Singh's passion for environmental causes. Moreover,
social-rights litigation, which deals primarily with the
provision of public goods and failures of the government
to fulfil its public-interest obligations, does not lend itself
to easy solutions. To be successful, enforcement in such
cases requires greater budgetary resources and
coordination between different government agencies.
The only tools available to the court in cases of noncompliance are contempt-of-court orders. Given this,
what are judges to do when senior bureaucrats plead
their inability to. for instance, pay government teachers
salary arrears?
In this light. Rosenberg's 1993 assessment seems
still to hold true: courts can only have little impact on
social change. Legal victories rarely change official
actions or social relationships in significant ways,
because judges cannot influence social behaviour
without the support of the public and certain key actors.
Nonetheless, courts have become more important in
public life in India, and this is partly due to the general
deterioration in governance. Plagued by a splintering of
politics and the squabbling of coalition partners, the
executive and legislative branches have shifted some of
the burden of governance to the judiciary. In order to
avoid a meltdown in the next assembly elections, for
instance, the Delhi government has recently sought to
deflect ire over the sealing of buildings by reiterating that
the courts have been "forcing us to demolish shops". But
judges have not yet crossed the line into lawmaking. One
hopes that they never will. ■
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
Job Description:
ARD, Inc. is accepting expressions of interest from highly qualified non-US candidates for a Senior Conflict Management Specialist for a USAID-
funded activity in Afghanistan. This project has three main objectives: 1) to improve the capacity of sub-national governance; 2) to encourage Afghan
communities to begin taking charge of their own development and community well-being needs in partnership with legitimate local authorities; and
3) to promote conflict mitigation and community stabilization. This opening is immediate and will run the duration ofthe project, currently scheduled
for three years.
Management ofthe local stability initiatives (LSI) component includes the following responsibilities:
• Devise annual work plan proposals including budgets and implementation plans for LSI component.
" Develop conflict mitigation/transformation and peace building strategy for engaging both government and local communities.
• Design and implement dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms and activities.
• Supervise and provide assistance for the design and implementation of local stability initiatives.
• Assist in development and management of a Knowledge and Information Management System tD track conflict vulnerability and response capacity
of various sub-regions and local communities.
• Supervise the development and dissemination of conflict mitigation and transformation manuals, guides, and instructional materials, including
the design and delivery of appropriate.
" Establish performance indicators and assemble baseline and performance data in coordination with the Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.
" Reporting on project activities, including presentation to USAID, the Government of Afghanistan and international organizations.
• Advanced degree (minimum Masters) in relevant field;
• Minimum of 5 years field experience in Conflict Mitigation/Resolution and peacebuilding in a developing country;
• Demonstrated ability to supervise consultants and resource organizations;
• Monitoring/evaluation and indicator development experience;
• Experience working in an Islamic context;
• Experience working for USAID or other international donor preferred;
• English fluency required; Dari and Pashtu expertise is highly valued though not required.
Please email full, current CV in or fax to Erin Hughes at 802-658-4247 by January 30,2007.
Please refer to Afghanistan SCMS in the subject line. Applications that do not meet the minimum requirements listed above will not be considered.
No phone calls will be accepted.
US Citizenship is not required. ARD, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Wgbri ■
The late-November release
of the Rajinder Sachar
Committee report, which
found that India's Muslims have
been systematically excluded from
state institutions (save for the
dubious privilege of being
imprisoned), resulted in weeks of
spirited, countrywide debate. Tliat
report has of course confirmed
something that everyone already
knew; the challenge now is what to
do about it. Once the battle lines are
drawn, words like appeasement,
introspection, reservation, sub-plan
allocation and affirmative action fly
regularly across the ideological
divide. But there should be another
way to think about the report's
assembled facts and figures. What
is most crucial about the report's
pages is the kind of politics they will
ultimately be able to catalyse.
Being the brainchild of India's
economist-prime minister, the
thrust of the Sachar report is not so
much on the problems of security
or identity faced by the Muslim
communities of the 13 Indian states
with the highest Muslim
populations, but rather on the
question of economic equity. What
the Sachar panel mapped out is
what Amartya Sen would call the
'economic un-freedoms' of the
Indian Muslims. The real success
of the Sachar committee would be if
its report became a milestone in the
efforts to deliver equity to the Indian
Muslim community; if discussion
sparked by Mr Sachar were to go
beyond newsroom debates, and
become part of the popular parlance
in ground-level Muslim politics.
This would hopefully lead to a
situation wtherein education and
employmentbecome larger 'Muslim
issues' than are the Babri Masjid
and fatwas in the larger society.
As with all contested terrains in
a developing society, the idea of
equity brings with it its own
politics. For India's Muslims - or,
for that matter, any marginal group
- equity is among the three major
issues that shape the community's
political anxieties, the other two
being security and identity. While
it is impossible to talk of a
monolithic Indian-Muslim political
agenda, it is still possible to say that
the Sachar committee report gives a
thrust in one particular direction:
towards a politics of equity.
OBC dead-end
Politics for Indian Muslims in the
time after Partition revolved around
the quest for security. The
community's overwhelming
support for the Congress party was
perhaps due simply to the promise
of safety that Jawaharlal Nehru had
made them. However, this politics
was also rooted in the feudal
history of the country. The feudal
The real test of the new
Sachar report will be if it
cao catalyse a Muslim
movement in India
towards equity.
Muslim elites were comfortable
playing the mai-baap (top dog, the
provider), while the masses slowly
slid into a state of social
hopelessness. In the post-Nehru
era, the Congress party grew
increasingly apathetic towards the
demands of the Muslim underclass,
and simultaneously began its
flirtations with popular sentiments
among Muslims that were founded
on identity.
The Congress's shift from a
politics of security to one of identity,
however, was never completed. The
reason for this was a crucial shift
that occurred after the 1975-78 state
of Emergency and following the
splitting of the Janata Party - a shift
that was most visible in the Hindi
heartland of Uttar Pradesh and
Bihar, where a majority of the
country's Muslim population
lived. Muslims here felt that they
had a better chance if they stuck
with the lower-caste movement,
together with which they
could fight the common oppressor
- namely the upper-caste zamindar,
who in many cases would also be
the Congress representative. The
fact that Islam, does not allow
caste differentiation hardly made
a difference.
The Other Backward Class
leaders in particular were able to
wrest the Muslim electorate away
from the Congress counterparts.
Over the next two decades, as the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took
over the communalisation that the
Congress had started (with, for
instance, the Ayodhya issue),
Muslims fell for the charming
secular symbolism  of the OBC
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 movement. In Bihar. Lalu Prasad
Yadav championed the anti-
Hindutva cause, while the
Samajwadi partv chief, Mulayam
Singh Yadav, earned the sobriquet
of Maulana Mulayam.
Hut there was a crucial
disconnect. OBC politics was still
inherently one of identity, more
about breaking new ground with
symbolic assertions of power than
ai rcail politics of empowerment or
equity. Muslim support was
assured because the OBC leaders
promised to keep the forces of
Hindutva at bay. But with the
collapse of the Ram temple
movement, this basic premise
eventuallv fell apart. Indeed, the
destruction of Babri Masjid
catalysed ain important trend
among the Muslims in India - they
decided to take things in their own
hands. Strategies such as sticking
together (at the cost of ghettoisation)
aire not merely driven bv insecurity,
hut arc also long-term political
strategies to consolidate the Muslim
vote against the communal parties.
Though it is yet to make itself
fully visible, the rift between the
Muslim community and the lower-
caste Hindu leadership is a
growing phenomenon. There arc
significant indications that, sooner
rather than later, Muslims will
'make a break'. Already Lalu's
supposed pro-Muslim initige has
come under fire, and the bravado
he showed in tirresting L K Advani
during his IWO rally in Ayodhya
is a fading memory in the changing
political landscape. The results of
the recent Bihar elections are telling
in the wav in which the Fasmanda
Muslims went along with Chief
Minister Nitish Kumar, preferring
the Kurmi-heavy Janata Dal
(United) to the Yadav-influenced
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RID). A
majority of Muslims in the state
belong to the Most Backward
Classes, and economically come
closer to the Kurmis than the
Yadavs. The situation at hand for
Mulayam Singh Yadav is even more
apparent. Between open dissent by-
long-time supporters and Muslim
leaders such as Kalbe Sadiq floating
their own parties, Mulayam's
control over the Muslim electorate
is clearly facing a breakdown.
Few places to turn
As such, it will be interesting to see
which way the Muslim electorate
is headed. This writer believes thait
the shift will be towards a politics
of equity, because issues concerning
identity often deal in little more
than rhetoric, and because the
Muslim masses are coming to
understand this fact. The Personal
Law Board, the fatwas and the
burqas might make prominent news
headlines, and the media may insist
on raking up again and again the
discourse on terrorism, but such
issues do not really matter for the
Indian Muslim masses. While most
people have been appalled by the
findings of the Sachar report, it
should be good news for those who
dire willing to begin a debate
around the serious issues - the ones
affecting the Muslims of India,
and ones that the masses are
now making the core ot their
own politics.
Cine has only to look at the recent
state elections to see that this is in
fact the trend. In Assam, Muslims
have formed a new political outfit,
the Asom United Democratic Front
(AUDF), which succeeded in
securing double-digit figures in the
state assembly in April. While
security issues form the core of
political anxieties for the Asamiya
Muslims - who are often accused
of being illegal immigrants - it mav
not have been the most important
issue in these elections. At face
value, it might appear that the
AUDF appealed to the Muslim vote
bank because it represented Muslim
identity and addressed the issue of
security better then did the
Congress. But if one ignores the
'maulana' image that AUDF
supremo Badruddin Ajmal
projected to his voters, one still has
to contend with the fact that he was
a Bombay-based business tycoon
who moved around one of Assam's
poorest constituencies in a fleet of
luxury cars. What Ajmal really did
was offer the Muslims of Assam,
so far tied to the Congress, a chance
to get the best political bargain.
If the Assam case leaves any
doubt, at the other end of Indidi was
the KeraLi state elections, which
took place at the same time aind
clarify matters even better. For ai
long time now, Muslims in Kerala
have voted for either the Indian
United Muslim League or the
Congress Partv; communists had
ahvavs been considered off-limits.
This time around, however, Muslim
voters played a major role in
routing the Congress-led United
Democratic Front (UDF) and even
the Muslim League itself from
the state assembly. What Muslim
voters really wanted was someone
who could deliver equity - aind in
this case, they decided on
the communists.
But this is only one side of the
story. In states such tTs Gujarat,
Rajasthan and Madhya I'radesh,
the Muslim electorate still has no
choice but to vote for the party that
stands against the BJP - and that is
the Congress, Post-2002, the
Muslim communities in these stattcs
remain so gripped with fear over
Narendra Modi's Hindutva
experiment that thev can do nothing
but vote to keep the BJP from
coming to power. Such a political
attitude might last for as long as the
fears of Modi remains palpable,
and till then the slogans of equity -
demands for jobs, education,
healthcare - may not be raised
att all. And that remains one of the
most disheartening failures of the
Indian state; that it is uiiatble to
provide a community space where
talk of equity and development
can truly take place.
On the whole, it can be said,
Indian Muslims are ready to move
on to the politics of equity - perhaps
more eagerly than one would expect
- and away from the shackles of a
politics of security and the
stereotypes of identity. The real
success of the Sachar committee
report will be in its ability to
catalyse this movement. .-:■
Himal Southasian | January 2007
A   Hindi film called Mother
India, made by a well-
known director, Mehboob,
released in 1958, became an
unprecedented critical and popular
hit of its time. Our parents took us
to the theatre with the enthusiasm
of missionaries escorting children
to a moral science class. The
Statesman reported that it almost
won the Oscar for the best foreign
film, losing to Federico Fellini's
Nights of the Cabria by a solitary
vote in the third round.
The narrative was constructed
around the memories of an old
woman, Radha, eponymous wife of
Lord Krishna and therefore Mother
of India, who had been abandoned
by her depressed husband after he
lost his arms in an accident. She
had three sons: one drowned; the
second was a good boy; the third,
Birju, a rebel who grew up to
become a dacoit. Impoverished
Radha was a paragon of virtue, and
spurned the attentions of a leering
moneylender, Sukhilala, who
demanded sex as interest on his
loan. Whether this moneylender
was a symbol of the World Bank or
not was left unclear, but there were
plenty of other allegories. In a
climax that had father, mother,
brother and sister India in tears,
Mother India shot her dacoit-son
Birju to save the honour of the
village. It was an epic superhit, its
peasant-patriotism and femme-
nobility high on the approved
agenda of a nation that still wanted
to believe in itself.
Radha was played by Nargis, a
Muslim. Jaipal, Kalyan Singh's
slightly precocious son, thought this
ridiculous. Mother Pakistan was a
Muslim; how could Mother India be
a Muslim as well? Could Muslims
partition the motherland and still
claim ownership of both nations?
"You Muslims are greedy. You want
everything. You take your own
country, and then say India is your
country as well."
"Yes," agreed Shyam Singh,
"Muslims must make up their
minds. They go to Pakistan
when they like, they live in India
when they want. We Hindus can't
do that."
"My father was born in Pakistan,
so he went to Pakistan. I was born
in India, so I live in India," answered
Mustafa, who had inherited his
father's terse logic.
"Ha!" responded Jaipal, "you
stayed back because you want the
property that your father left
behind! You go and see him
whenever you want. What
difference does it make to you?
Only Hindus suffered in the
partition of their motherland,"
"What is there to argue about?
Indian Muslims marry among us, so
they are one of us," reasoned
Kamala, who was always anxious
to find balm in the most obscure
cupboard, for he hated
confrontation of any kind. "Nargis
married Sunil Dutt just after the
release of Mother India. Sunil Dutt
was her son, Birju, who she killed.
Sunil Dutt is a Hindu. She married a
Hindu, so it's all right, isn't it?"
Since Freud had not reached
Telinipara, no other interpretation
was made.
"You mean to say that I have to
marry a Hindu in order to become
an Indian?" asked Mustafa, with a
touch of anger. "I will never marry
anyone but a Pathan girl."
"Why are we taking film people
so seriously? It's all fake. Which
one of us is going to find anyone as
beautiful as Nargis?" said Kamala,
displaying his usual good sense.
"If it's all make-believe, why do
Hindus keep saying Raj Kapoor is
much better than Dilip Kumar?"
asked Altaf, rising above his
usual timidity.
Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar
were superstars; the first a Hindu
and the second, disguised by his
pseudonym, a Muslim. Multiple
identities stitched disparate
imperatives, but loyalties were
absolute. A superstar both
borrowed and returned identity to
his community.
I was bored by this conversation.
My favourite star was Dev Anand,
the third of the men who
dominated the film industry in the
fifties. Dev Anand lived on the
street and beyond religion. If he
had any faith it was in himself. He
would gamble with thieves, dance
with bar girls, drink to celebrate
and win the day without trying to
save the nation. Dev Anand was
liberation, and gave our generation
its first beautiful essay on love and
adultery, forsaking the world for the
gorgeous Waheeda Rehman in
that wondrous classic, Guide. Dilip
Kumar and Raj Kapoor carried the
past in their eyes. Dev Anand wore'
the insouciance of the future.
I loved the songs of Dev
Anand's films.
Main zindagi ka saath nibhata
chala gaya, Main fiqr ko dhooen
main urhata chala gaya.
I dealt with life as it came, I
turned worry to smoke rings.
I dreamt ofthe day 1 could start
Jo mil gaya usiko muqaddar
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 samajh liya, Jo kho gaya main
usko bhulata chala gaya.
What I got became my destiny.
What I lost, I simply forgot.
Could philosophy be more
enchanting than this? [...]
The best warren for a loaf was
the great Anarkali bazaar, named
after the dancing girl in the court of
the Great Mughal, Akbar, who won
the heart of his son and heir, Prince
Salim. The magic of myth
burnished these names from
history. Anarkali, blossom ofthe
pomegranate, made an empire
tremble with the flick of an
eyelash, lost her prince but won
her legend, and found an immortal
home in a grave in the heart of
Lahore. Akbar, lord ofthe world,
picked up his sword against a
cherished but obstinate son who
^referred the love of a slave to the
remands of empire.
Happily, while Anarkali and
Akbar heated my perennially warm
imagination, they also resolved
those nitpicking dilemmas of
Mother India in a film
called Mughal-e-Azam (The
Great Mughal).
I saw Anarkali reincarnated in
the exquisite poise of Madhubala,
the actress who defined beauty for
a generation. Lahore, mesmerized
by the movie, sparkled with her
image. She soared above the
Mughal skyline of Lahore on
dozens of huge billboards as other
faces faded in deference to her
grace. At Shah Alam Gate, Anarkali
looked up in prayer towards God,
mysterious, haunting, bewitching,
her face framed by a black dupatta
and lit by the soft touch of a
candle. She lived again in the
protective embrace of Salim,
glancing around the hem of a white
muslin dupatta, her lips parted in a
smile that was both a challenge
and an invitation, her eyes dancing
to a silent melody. And there again,
alone, unencumbered by
pretenders: she lifted a shimmer of
a veil with fingers dressed in
jewels; a large nose ring, swaying
slightly, was held by a thin bridge of
Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar were superstars; the first a
Hindu and the second, disguised by his pseudonym, a
Muslim. Multiple identities stitched disparate
imperatives, but loyalties were absolute. A superstar
both borrowed and returned identity to his community,
pearls that swept into her hair; her
eyes spun gossamer traps that
floated and disappeared and her
succulent lips - the arc of a bow
above, and lush heart of a melon
below - destroyed all the laws that
kept this world in place: morality,
order, obedience, fear.
I saw the emperor through
the looking glass of an
enchanting slave.
But it was the emperor who gave
me back my identity when we went,
a cluster of cousins, to see the film.
The curtains rose above a dark
screen on which, slowly, a map of
united India appeared. A deep regal
baritone spoke three simple words:
"Main Hindoostan hoon!" I am
India! I am Mughal. I am Muslim. I
am India. My India is not a part of
India. It is the whole of India. I am
not just Pakistan; I am this vast
Subcontinent that sprawls from the
rough-diamond mountains of the
Hindu Kush in the northwest to the
turbulent waves of the Bay of
Bengal and the sweet rhythms of
the Indian Ocean beyond the shores
of sultry, sunburnt Kerala. I am
Muslim. I am everywhere.
Through two hours of epic
narrative I found myself, my past,
my culture, my language, my
flirtations, my loves, my rebellion,
my poetry, my music, my intrigues,
my art, my suffering, my sacrifice,
my oath, my father, my mother, my
present, and perhaps even my
future. Who else could have made
this film except an Indian Muslim
from Bombay, K Asif, who distilled
history in a dewdrop and
squandered a fortune in pursuit of
an elegant glance? Who else could
have been Anarkali except
Madhubala, shy and erotic, in life
and on screen the quintessential
Indian Muslim lady? Life and art
overlapped repeatedly like the
streams of Muslim and Hindu
cultures. Akbar's son. Salim, was
played by Dilip Kumar, named Yusuf
Khan at birth. Salim's mother and
the emperor's wife, Joda Bai, was a
Hindu: Salim's blood fed from both
Mughal and Rajput genes. Prithviraj,
a towering Hindu Pathan from
Peshawar, acted the part of Akbar,
an empire-builder with bloodshot
eyes and iron will who bowed before
Allah while his queen worshipped
Krishna. Salim's childhood friend
was Durjan, the son of Raja Man
Singh, who gave his life to save
Anarkali. Anarkali, a Muslim, danced
to an ancient Indian Hindu beat,
while the immaculate voice of
Tansen floated, paused, rose and
fell, went back to the Hindu shastras
and then moved four centuries
forward to become the music of a
contemporary genius, Ustad Bade
Ghulam Ali Khan,
They did not toss their heads in
the Mughal court, they merely raised
their eyes. Anarkali destroyed her
nemesis when she looked an
emperor in the eye before being led
away to death, and passed an
immortal judgment: "Yeh kaneez
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar ko
apna khoon maaf karti hai!" This
slave forgives Jalaluddin
Muhammad Akbar for taking
her life!
In that summer of
discovery, Anarkali turned me into
a teenager. $
'ff/seivtiere' is a section where
Himal features writings from other
sources that the editors would like
to present to our readers. This
selection is from M J Akbar's book
Blood Brothers: A family saga,
published in 2006 by Rob Books,
Himal Southasian | January 2007
The Tehri dam is a
reality, but the
promises made to  ^
the displaced locals
have not been kept.      ~
The    .
have risen
' *,1
*S ^
"f *
 Construction of the controversial dam at Tehri
in Uttaranchal is now complete, and over the
summer the hydropower plant began
producing electricity. Following the shutting of the
dam's Tunnel 2 in October 2005, the town of Tehri
and other nearby villages are now completely
submerged, and more than 100,000 people have been
adversely affected, most of them uprooted and moved
elsewhere. But despite being at the centre of three
decades of legal wrangling, at the time of completion
many of the USD 1.2 billion project's most crucial
questions passed unanswered.
The Tehri Dam Project aims to supply an enormous
amount of crucially needed resources to increasingly
parched and energy-starved areas of North India.
Officials   with  the   Tehri   Hydro   Development
Uttarkashi earthquake.
Indeed, in 1991 then-Prime Minister P V Narsimha
Rao remarked that the earthquake raised, a significant
question about the project, a contention agreed with
over the past three decades by a string of officially
appointed committees. In 1996, the Hanuman tha Rao
committee pointed out that the dam was being built in
violation of the conditions that accompanied its
environmental clearance. Both the 5 K Roy committee,
set up by Indira Gandhi, and the 1990 Environmental
Appraisal (Bhumla) committee also recommended that
construction be halted.
Engineers from the Soviet Union, which had agreed-
to bankroll the project on concessional loans,
subsequently noted in reviews that the dam's site in a
seismic area had not been adequately considered by
the Indian planners. The International Commission
on Targe Dams - no great naysayer as to the
construction of dams - has declared the Tehri project
to be one of the most hazardous sites in the world.
Corporation claim it will generate 2400 megawatts of
electricity, supply 100 cubic feet of water per second to
Delhi, and irrigate 270,000 hectares of land in
downstream Uttar Pradesh. At the same time, apart
from the old town of Tehri, the dam is directly affecting
about 125 villages, completely submerging 33 of them.
Nearly 5200 hectares of land are being inundated, and
almost 5300 urban and 9250 rural families displaced.
Worries about the Tehri dam also exist on a much
broader scale. Tire dam is constructed at the confluence
of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers in Garhwal,
and the 855-foot-high edifice - the fifth tallest dam in
the world - is intended to hold back a reservoir that
extends 45 km into the Bhagirathi Valleyr and 25 km
into the Bhilangana Valley. Unfortunately, in
what many national and international experts have
said resembles an act of wilful ignorance, this 43 sq
km lake lies directly atop an active seismic area
known as the 'central Himalayan gap' - just 45 km
from   the   epicentre   of   the   6.8-strength   1991
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 Bimla Bahuguna, wife of activist Sunderlal Bahuguna - the last to leave
Tehri town
Such experts have repeatedly suggested that
an earthquake of large magnitude could
result in the bursting of the dam, which
would almost immediately swamp
downstream towns including Deoprayag,
Rishikesh and Haridwar. An estimated 12
hours after the dam broke, the city of Meerut
would be underwater.
The rehab game
Along with such catastrophic projections, a
more immediate concern has been the
government's poor record on rehabilitation
of affected families and communities over
the past three decades of development
project building. The Tehri oustees have .
themselves cited hundreds of examples of
discrepancy between what was promised
and was received, as well as a general
absence of political will for rehabilitation.
While the officials admit that more than 500
families are yet to be rehabilitated, those
affected contend that the number of such
families is over 1000. .Affected families were
promised employment for one adult at the
time of acquiring new land, but this has not
happened. Furthermore, the creation of fhe
town of New Tehri has significantly altered
the social, economic, cultural and
administrative dynamics of the entire area.
Besides those recently displaced, there is
also the plight of the families that were
resettled in areas around Haridwar and
Rishikesh a quarter-century ago, when the
Tehri project began. The promised hospitals,
roads, irrigation canals and link roads are
still nowhere to be seen. In addition,
resettled individuals have experienced the
disorientation of being cut off from their
traditional social fabric, which has
delivered social disintegration.
The numbers impacted by this 35-year-
old project run significantly higher than just
those whose lands have been submerged.
They include the myriad communities that,
in the process, have lost link roads, schools
and hospitals. But in the face of calls by local
villages for new roads, bridges and
ropeways, the government's rehabilitation
policy still does not clearly state anything
about the fate of these 'peripheral' people.
In the narrow-sighted drive to get the Tehri
dam built, such questions have long been
pushed off, to be dealt with another day. But
with electricity production and drinking
water now running in far off Delhi, they
remain unanswered - even as settlements
and infrastructure stand inundated.        k
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
"Seeking unity through equality9
Although five rounds of discussion have now taken place since 2002 between Beijing
and the Dharamsala government-in-exile, until recently little has ever been made
public about the substance of those talks.
Since 2002, representatives of
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
and the Chinese government
have completed five rounds of
discussions. These have gone a
long way towards establishing a
climate of openness that is essential
to reaching mutually agreeable
decisions regarding the future of the
Tibetan and Chinese people.
We Tibetans have been encouraged by the new focus within China's
leadership on the creation of a
"harmonious society". A society built
on harmony is a society built on
consensus, and one that takes
into account the needs of all its
peoples. This is particularly true
in a country like today's China,
which is comprised of so many
distinct nationalities.
Similarly, we are encouraged by the concept of
China's "peaceful rise", whereby it will develop as a
"modern socialist country that is prosperous,
democratic and culturally advanced". While this
philosophy candidly addresses a number of issues
that confront China today, to be lasting it must take
into account the aspirations of the Tibetan people;
peace and stability can only be achieved by peaceful
means. Embracing its diversity and protecting the
identity of the Tibetan people is integral to China's
successful "peaceful rise".
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's forward-looking
approach to Tibet's future shares a common vision
with these ideals of harmony and peaceful
development, as illustrated by his deep understanding
of humanity's interdependence and his philosophy
of universal responsibility. In an address to the
European Parliament, His Holiness said: "Today's
world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity.
The world is becoming increasingly interdependent.
Within the context of this new interdependence, self-
interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.
Without the cultivation of a sense of universal
responsibility our very future is in danger."
Ever since the re-establishment of contact between
representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese
leadership in 2002, concerned
individuals, organisations and
governments have shown a keen
interest in better understanding our
discussions. Up until the present we
have resisted giving details, knowing
that China prefers to operate
cautiously and free of scrutiny,
particularly on sensitive issues like
Tibet, and recognising that to
openly discuss the dialogue could
adversely impact the process. Thus,
in our public statements following
each of the five meetings so far,
we only provided a general
assessment without divulging the
content of our discussions.
In recent times, however, there
have been articles in the Chinese
media, under a pseudonym, detailing
our discussions with the Chinese leadership. Similarly,
we have learned that our counterparts in the United
Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist
Party have been briefing foreign diplomats based in
Beijing about our discussions. We do not take issue
with the Chinese authorities making this information
public. As a matter of fact, we would have liked our
dialogue process to be as transparent as possible from
the beginning. But, these developments have led to the
circulation of speculative, uninformed and one-sided
information about some of the important issues at
stake. This has not only sent a confusing message to
the international community, but also distorted His
Holiness the Dalai Lama's position on and good
intentions to the Chinese people.
Focusing on the future
The five rounds of discussions that we have had with
the Chinese leadership have brought our dialogue to a
new level. Today, there is a deeper understanding of
each other's positions and recognition of where the
fundamental differences lie. On the surface, it may
appear that there have been no breakthroughs, and
that a wide gap persists in our positions. But the very
Trom a speech given to the Brookings Institution in
Washington DC, 14 November 2006.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 fact that the two sides have been able to explicitly state
our positions after so many decades represents a
significant development. How can we even attempt to
make real progress unless we fully understand
our differences?
Our Chinese counterparts have also rerrjarked on
the progress we have made through our discussions.
Following our fourth round of meetings in July 2005,1
reported that Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun "stated that
we need not be pessimistic about the existing
differences, and that it was possible to narrow
down the gaps through more meetings and exchange
of views".
There are several issues which are of utmost
importance as we continue our dialogue with the
Chinese leadership: His Holiness the Dalai Lama's
firm commitment to a resolution that has Tibet as a
part of the People's Republic of China, the need to unify
all Tibetan people into one administrative entity, and
the importance of granting genuine autonomy to
the Tibetan people within the framework of
China's Constitution.
First, the status of Tibet. China's lack of trust in His
Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people is
one of the most critical obstacles we currently face in
our dialogue. To take a case in point, the Chinese side
seems to believe that because His Holiness the Dalai
Lama has stated that he wants to look to the future as
opposed to Tibet's history to resolve its status vis-avis China, he has some sort of hidden agenda. This
could not be farther from the truth. Revisiting history
will not serve any useful purpose, as the Tibetans and
Chinese sides have different viewpoints of their past
relations. We have therefore chosen to base our
approach on Tibet's future, not on the past. Debates
over Tibet's history, before we have reached mutual
trust and confidence, are counterproductive, making
it more difficult for the Tibetans and Chinese alone to
untangle this issue.
In 1979 Deng Xiaoping laid down the framework
for resolving the issue of Tibet by stating that, other
than the issue of Tibetan independence, anything else
could be discussed and resolved. Thus, His Holiness
the Dalai Lama has said we should recognise today's
reality that Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of
China. He is committed to his decision that we will
not raise the issue of separation from China in working
on a mutually acceptable solution for Tibet.
While the Dalai Lama's Middle Way approach
involves resolving the issue of Tibet within the
framework of the People's Republic of China, it also
embodies his deep concern for the survival of the
Tibetan identity, culture, religion and way of life. It
was adopted by His Holiness after deliberating at
length with Tibetan leaders in exile over many years.
It is now fully endorsed by the democratically
established institutions in exile, including the
Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies and the
popularly elected Chairman of the Cabinet, Professor
Samdhong Rinpoche. Rinpoche's role in this effort has
been crucial. Because of prevailing conditions, His
Holiness is not in a position to openly seek the
endorsement of the Tibetans inside Tibet. Nevertheless,
he has used every opportunity to explain his approach,
and has received favourable reactions from all levels
of Tibetan society. He has also been encouraged by the
strong support expressed by a number of Chinese
intellectuals and scholars.
The Middle Way approach represents the Dalai
Lama's commitment to look to the future, instead of
the past, to find a solution that will provide maximum
autonomy for the Tibetan people and bring peace and
stability to the People's Republic of China and the
entire region.
Second, concerning a single administration for the
Tibetan people. Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama
has addressed the fundamental concern of the Chinese
government about the status of Tibet, it is our
expectation that they should reciprocate by
acknowledging the legitimate needs of the Tibetan
people. Today, less than half of the Tibetan people
reside in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The rest reside
in Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures in
Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. All
Tibetans residing in these Tibetan areas share the same
language, ethnicity, culture and tradition.
Furthermore, just as the Chinese nation has sought to
unify many different regions into one nation, the
Tibetan people, too, yearn to be under
one administrative entity so that their way of life,
tradition and religion can be more effectively and
peacefully maintained.
Historically the division of a nationality area into
many administrative units contributed to the
weakening and erosion of that nationality's unique
characteristics, as well as its ability to grow and
develop. This can also hinder or even undermine the
nation's peace, stability and development. Such a
situation is in contradiction to the founding goals of
the People's Republic of China, namely the recognition
of the equality of all nationalities. Thus in order to
thrive, the Tibetan people cannot remain divided, but
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 must be accorded the equalitv aind respect befitting a
distinct people.
The Chinese side makes the argument that the
present-day Tibet Autonomous Region parallels the
area under the former Tibetan government. 1 hus, their
argument continues, our position that the entire
Tibetan people need to live under a single
administratis entity is unreasonable. This question
will lead us inevitably to the examination of Tibet's
historical legal status under the Tibetan government,
and will not help in reaching a common ground on
which to build a common future, the Chinese
government has redrawn internal boundaries when it
has suited its needs, and could do so again in the case
of Tibet to foster stability and to help ensure Tibet's
characteristics remain intact. The point here is not
about territorial division, but how to best promote
Tibet's culture and way of life.
The Chinese side is also characterising our position
as a demand for the separation of one-fourth the
territory of China, First of all, since the Tibetans are
not asking for the separation of Tibet from China, there
should be no concern on this front. More importantly,
it is a reality that the landmass inhabited bv Tibetans
constitutes roughly one-fourth the territory of the
People's Republic of China. Actually, the Chinese
government has already designated almost all Tibetan
areas as 'Tibet autonomous entities' - the Tibet
Autonomous Region, fibet Autonomous Prefectures
or Tibet Autonomous Counties. Thus, our positions
on what constitutes Tibet are really not so divergent
Having the Tibetan people under ai single
administrative entity should not be seen as an effort to
create a 'greater' Tibet, nor is it a cover for a separatist
plot, it is a question of recognising, restoring and
respecting tbe integrity of the Tibetans as a people and
distinct nationality within the People's Republic of
China. Furthermore, this is not a new or revolutionary
idea. From the beginning, the Tibetans have raised this
issue, and representatives of the Chinese government
have recognised it as one that must be addressed. In
fact, during the signing of the 17-Point Agreement in
1951, Premier /hou F.n-lai acknowledged that the idea
of unification of the Tibetan nationalities was
appropriate. Similarly, in 1956, Vice Premier Chen Yi
was in Lhasa and said that it would be good for Tibet's
development as well as for the friendship of fibetans
and Chinese if in the future the Tibet Autonomous
Region included all ethnic Tibetan areas, including
those now in other provinces
The Tibetan people are striving for the right of a
distinct people to be able to preserve that verv
distinctiveness through a single administrative entity.
'This would give the Tibetans a genuine sense of having
benefited by being part of the People's Republic of
China, and would em bod v the respect for the integrity
of the Tibetans as a distinct people.
The Chinese leadership is clearly aware that this
aspiration of the 1 ibetan people is voiced not just by
I lis Holiness the DaJai Lama and tbe Tibetans in exile,
but bv Tibetans inside Tibet, including prominent
members of the Communist Party. Knowing this, certain
elements of the Chinese leadership have lately been
Irving to alter the public perception by orchestrating
and arranging written opposition to the aspiration by
some of the Tibetans inside Tibet.
IhB importance n\ bbibboibb'j
Third, regarding genuine autonomy. According to the
Chinese Constitution, the law on Regional IThnic
Autonomy as well as the White Paper on Regional
Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet, the Tibetan people are
entitled to the following rights: full political right of
autonomy; full decision-making power in economic
and social development undertakings; freedom to
inherit and develop their traditional culture, and to
practice their religious belief; and freedom to
administer, protect and be the first to utilise their
natural resources, to independently develop their
educational and cultural undertakings. The
Constitation also states:
.Au nationalities in the People's Republic of China aire
equal. The state protects the laivful rights and interests of
the minority nationalities and upholds and develops the
relationship of equalitv, unity aind mutual assistance
among all oi China's nationalities... Regional autonomy
is pract iced in areas where people of minority nationalities
live in compact communities, in these areas organs of
self-government are established lor the exercise of the right
of autonomy.
In treating the Tibetan people with respect and
dignity through genuine autonomy, the Chinese
leadership has the opportunity to create a truly multiethnic, harmonious nation without a tremendous cost
in human suffering. As Hu Yaobang, former General
Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, said: "It is
not possible to achieve a genuine unity amongst the
nationalities of the country as long as complete
autonomy is not implemented in the areas of the
minority nationalities."
Some detractors in the Chinese government allege
that our proposal for a single administrative entity for
the Tibetan people and the implementation of genuine
regional autonomy as provided in the Constitution is
really an effort to restore Tibet's former system of
government in Tibet today, or an effort by His i loliness
the Dalai I.ama to personally regain power over all of
I ibet. Nothing is farther from the truth, in his 10
March 2005 statement, His Holiness reiterated his
position, saying:
,Mv involvement in the affairs of Tibet is not for the purpose
of claiming certain personal rights or political position for
mvselt, nor attempting to stake claims lor the Tibetan
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 administration in exile. In 1992 in a formal announcement
1 stated clearly that when we return to Tibet with a certa i n
degree of freedom I will not hold any office in the Tibetan
government or am- other political position, and that the
present Tibetan administration in exile will be dissolved.
Moreover, the Tibetans vvorki ng in Tibet should carry on
the main responsibility of administering Tibet,
The task at hand is to develop a system that would
grant the kind of autonomy required for the Tibetans
to be able to survive as a distinct and prosperous people
within the People's Republic of China. So far, in our
discussions with our Chinese counterparts we have
not proposed specific labels for how Tibetan areas
would be designated, although it should be noted that
the Chinese-authored 17-Point Agreement does
propose a similar arrangement for Tibet. _\or have we
specifically proposed formulas that ask for higher or
lower levels of autonomy than Hong Kong and Macao.
T'.ach of these areas has its unique characteristics, and
in order to succeed, their solutions must reflect
the needs and qualities of the region. We have
specifically conveyed to our counterparts that we place
more importance on discussing the substance thm on
the label
The Tibetans have the legitimate right to seek special
status, as ctan be seen in the following quote by Ngapo
Ngawang Jigme. He is the most senior Tibetan in
China's hierarchy who, by virtue of his position,
has endorsed many of China's views on Tibet, In 1988
he said:
It is because of the special situation in Tibet that in 1951
the 17-Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation oi
Tibet, between the central people's government and tbe
local Tibetan government, came about. Such an agreement
has never existed between the central government and
anv other minority- region. We have to consider the special
situation in Tibetan history while drafting policies lor
Tibet in order to realise its long-term stability. We must
give Tibet more autonomous power than other minority
regions. In mv view, at present, the Tibet Autonomous
Region has relatively less power of autonomy compared
with other autonomous regions, let alone compared with
provinces. Therefore Tibet must have some special
treatment and have more autonomy like those special
economic zones. We must employ special policies to
resolve the special characteristics which have pertained
throughout history.
Other important Tibetan leaders, including the late
A single administrative entity would give
the Tibetans a genuine sense of having
benefited by being part of the People's
Republic of China,
Panchen Lama and political leader Bapa Phuntsok
Wangyal, have strongly advocated the legitimacy of
Tibet's special status. Similarly, the former General
Secretary of the Chinese Communist Partv, Hu
Yaobang, had acknowledged that Tibet is unique from
other autonomous regions and provinces, and has
argued that the validity of Tibet's special status must
not be contested.
There are some other issues, which are based on
misperceptions of His Holiness's views by detractors
in the Chinese side, including tbe allegation that His
Holiness the Dalai Lama is asking for all "Tibetan areas
to be populated solely by Tibetans and to be rid of the
People's Liberation Army. The detractors in the
Chinese government have deliberately misinterpreted
His Holiness's concerns in these areas, just as they
denounce any effort to manifest the Tibetan identity as
separatist. His Holiness has very honestly expressed
the need for the Tibetan people to maintain their
distinctive way of life and protect Tibet's fragile
environment, i Ie has had this in mind when ho raises
concerns about the large influx of people from other
parts of the People's Republic of China and the
extensive militarisation of Tibetan areas. We are fully
aware that these are issues of concern to the Chinese
government, as these matters have been extensively
discussed during our meetings. I am confident that
through tbe negotiations process we will be able to
dispel these concerns.
The solution
The Dalai Lama is widely recognised and admired for
His honestv and integrity. He has been pragmatic and
flexible in wanting to negotiate with the leadership in
Beijing on the kind of status Tibet should enjoy in the
future, and has held steadfast to his commitment to
non-violence and dialogue as the onlv logical means
of resolving the issue of Tibet, It is a reality today that
in spite of their tremendous suffering resulting from
some of China's policies, the Tibetans have not resorted
to non-peaceful means to respond to this injustice. This
is largely because of the unwavering insistence on
peace and reconciliation by the Dalai Lama and the
hope be provides to his people.
Some detractors in the Chinese government seem to
believe that the aspirations of the Tibetan people will
fizzle out once the Dalai Lama passes away. This is a
most dangerous and myopic approach. Certainly, the
absence of the Dalai Lama would be devastating for
the "Tibetan people. But more importantly, his absence
would mean that China would be left to handle the
problem without the presence of a leader who enjoys
the loyalty of the entire community and who remains
firmly committed to non-violence. It is certain that the
Tibetan position would become more intractable in his
absence, and that having their beloved leader pass away
in exile would create deep and irreparable wounds in
the hearts of the Tibetan people. In the absence of the
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 The absence of the Dalai La^a wouM be devastating lor i.ho Tibetan people. But
more importantly, his absence would mean that Chins would be iefl to han^e tb
problem without fhe presence of a leader who enjoys ihe loyalty of rhe entire
community and who remains firm'v committed
Dalai Lama, there is no wav that tbe entire population
would be able to contain their resentment and anger.
And it onlv takes a few desperate individuals or groups
to create major instability. This is not a threat., but ai
statement of fact.
The Dalai Lama's worldview, his special bond with
the Tibetan people and the respect he enjovs in the
international community, all make the person of the
Dalai I.ama kev both to achieving a negotiated solution
to the Tibetan issue and to peacefully implementing
anv agreement that is reached. This is why we have
consistently conveyed to our Chinese counterparts that
far from being the problem, His Holiness the Dalai Lama
is the solution
Providing genuine autonomy to the Tibetan people
is in China's interest, as it makes efforts to create a
peaceful, stable and harmonious sociciv. But resolving
the Tibetan issue is also important to the international
community, particularly to our region. The historically
volatile Central Asian region has revived and has
already become an area of conflict. Here Tibet can play
a stabilising role, which is important to the countries
in the region such as India, China and Russia, as well
as to the United States and other countries. Tibet, which
for centuries played the vital role as a buffer in the
region, can help create a more cohesive and stable
region by serving as a valuable bridge. A number of
political observers from the region also acknowledge
that resolving the Tibet issue is an important factor in
the normalisation of India-China relations.
Understanding the great mutual benefit for all
concerned, His Holiness has consistently supported
closer India-China relations
There is also increased awareness of the vital
importance of the Tibetan plateau from the
environmental perspective. Just on the issue of water
alone, it is an undeniable fact that over the next few
decades, water may become as scarce a commodity as
oil. Tibet is literally the life-source of the region, serving
as the source of most of Asia's major rivers. Therefore,
protecting Tibet's fragile environment should be
accorded the highest priority.
To date, the Chinese authorities have resorted to
political and military pressure, and intimidation to
stifle the Tibetan people. This is clearly demonstrated
by some of the recent actions by the top partv leader in
the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as the persistent
attempt to deny the Tibetan people their religious
freedom and other human rights. These actions can
not only harm the sincere efforts by both sides for a
mutually beneficial reconciliation, but also create
embarrassment and difficulty to the Chinese
leadership; thev wilt do substantial damage to China's
efforts to be a peaceful and responsible power
intemationalK , and the creation of a harmonious
society at home.
We have no illusions that coming to a negotiated
solution will be easv. Having identified each other's
position and differences, it is now our sincere hope
that both sides can start making serious efforts to find
a common ground and to build trust. In furtherance of
this goal, His Holiness has made the offer to go
personally to China on a pilgrimage. This has met
with considerable opposition from Tibetans, both
inside and outside Tibet, as well as from friends in the
international communitv who are not convinced of
China's sincerity. But llis Holiness is committed to
doing everything he can to dispel the climate of
mistrust that continues to exist.
We fully support China's effort to create a
harmonious society, as well as its aspirations for a
peaceful rise. After all, its successful, peaceful rise will
depend on internal harmony and stability, which can
hardly be achieved without the Tibetan issue being
resolved. The People's Republic of China is a multiethnic nation state whose internal diversity is a reality.
I.t is based on this reality that a harmonious society
needs to be created. And in looking forward to finding
a solution for Tibet, it is in China's best interest to
have the ! ibetan people accept their place within the
People's Republic of China of their own free will.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan
people are deeply grateful for the outpouring of interest
and support from the international community. It is
an invaluable source of inspiration. At the same time,
we dre fully aware that ultimately the issue needs to
be resolved directly between the Tibetans and Chinese.
1 also want to note that mv delegation has received the
warmest hospitality and the highest courtesy from
everv level of the Chinese government during our visits.
Similarly, the personal conduct of our counterparts
has been exemplary
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a vision of the
Tibetans being able to live in harmony within the
People's Republic of China. Today's China was born
out of a historical movement for the people's self-
determination, and the Constitution asserts that it is
based on principles of equalitv. Let us build our
relations on this equality, aind give the Tibetan people
the dignity to freely and willingly be a part of this
nation. We cannot rewrite history, but together we can
determine the future, ;■
Himal Southasian | January 2007
C K Lai
A republic and two kingdoms
speakers in
descendents of
Pathans in
I anw
labourers in Sri
Lanka and the
Kashmiris ol
form the
threads that
bind this region
The fences have grown into n jungle,
now how am I tell mis children
where we came from?
- Tenzin Tsundue in TZxile House
Bhutan is still one of those quaint
kingdoms where the anniversary of
the ruling dynasty is also its national
day. On 17 December., even as the royal
government in Thimphu was celebrating the
99th vear of Wangchuk conquest, Bhutani
police at Bhuntsoling arrested a group of
refugees who wanted to return home. That
was to be expected. Like all supremacist
regimes, Druk Yul has always been
extremely hostile to alt forms of difference,
dissent and diversity. But in their 16th vear
in exile, the attitude of the largest democracy
in thi' world must ha\e frustrated the
Lhotshampa refugees to no end. For it was
the Indian police who, for the umpteenth
time, helped thwart the homecoming
by turning the refugees over to the
Bhutani authorities
India does not want to play a facilitator's
role when it comes to the Bhutani refugees'
return home. New Delhi insists that the
question of the refugees is a bilateral one
between the Bhutani kingdom and Nepal,
with no role or responsibility for the republic
that must be crossed to get trom one to the
other. That is the line Indian Kxternal Affairs
Minister Pranab Mukherjee parroted once
again in Kathmandu during his December
visit. Mukherjee told media persons on 17
December that Nepal and Bhutan should
take the initiative to solve the problem.
At least he recognises that it is indeed a
problem. The Wangchuk regime refuses to
accept even that.
At the United Nations, Bhutan was
considered as an extra vote in the breast
pockets of Indian envoys, ever since the tiny
Himalayan kingdom was recognised as a
member of the world body in 1971 at the
behest of the then-Soviet Union. Aware of
his limitations in the international arena,
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk used his
apparent Shangri La-esque vulnerabilities
to the hilt to enthral Westerners and entrench
his rule. He turned Bhutan's postage
stamps into much sought-after exotica by
having some of them printed in three
dimensions, lie enhanced the lure of his
country bv admitting no more than 6000
tourists per vear. As an absolute ruler for
over three decades, King Jigme cultivated
connections and built relationships that
would protect and patronise his line at all
times. Just as the international community
was about to get inquisitive about kings and
their ways in the wake of Gyanendra's
adventurism in Kathmandu and the royal-
militarv coup in Thailand, King Jigme pulled
a fast one: he declared that he was
abdicating in favour of his son.
As the son rose in Thimphu in
mid-December, the Delhi-based press was
gushing over the abdication of the
statesman-king and the instalment of this
Oxford-educated prince. The fact that
Bhutan has the dubious distinction being
the second worst human-rights violator in
Southasia was hardlv mentioned in
dispatches from New Delhi. Bhutan
routinely proscribes cable television,
controls the national press and severely
punishes any opposition. But such things
are overlooked bv the regional and
international media, which choose instead
to highlight the absence of traffic lights in
Thimphu. Not adequately informed by the
mainstream press, verv few even in
Southasia know that Bhutan holds the
record of having expelled the highest
proportion of a national population
anywhere in the world.
The cleansing in Bhutan has been so
pervasive vet under-examined that nobody
even knows the real number of Lhotshampa
who hav e been tortured, maimed, killed and
evicted from their homes by the Wangchuk
regime. Besides the 107,000 in the Nepal
refugee camps, some estimate that about
100,000 of them are scattered around in
India. Thousands others have migrated to
countries outside Southasia. i.hotsampa
miseries and struggles have gone unnoticed
bv the region's intelligentsia.
No less galling is the silence of the
normally voluble Indian civil society over
the plight of the refugees who have been
languishing in the makeshift camps ot
eastern Nepal for a decade and a half. A
January 2007 \ Himal Southasian
 generation born and brought up in these
camps have come of age as exiles. They have
seen the rise of Maoists in Nepal and their
subsequent rehabilitation, transparent and
with the aid and abetment of Indian
authorities. The lessons they draw may be
completely different from what the Joint
Secretary (North) in the Indian Foreign
Ministry reads in reports arriving at his desk
horn the Jhapa refugee camps. For now, the
tentative resettlement offer for 60,000 select
refugees by the US has succeeded in
confusing a lot of exiles who are without
identity, jobs or future in the temporary
camps. However, such a step cannot
succeed for one simple reason: symptomatic
treatments are ineffective, if not actually
counterproductive, as long as the
underlying cause of the malaise is not
addressed holistically.
Messy monarchies
The root of all evils in Bhutan is the bigotry
of its monarchy. Even the well-oiled
propaganda machine of the Thimphu
regime operating out of the Indian capital
cannot hide the fact that it is one of the last
bastions of racial purism in the world. While
this may keep curious outsiders happy, it
cannot be the basis of building a tolerant
society and resilient country. This is the
lesson that Bhutan's new king, Jigme Khesar
Namgyel Wangchuck, all of 26 years old,
will do well to learn from the experiences of
the 250-year-old Shah monarchy of Nepal.
As he ascends the throne, he is exactly' where
King Birendra was in 1974, in socio-cultural
terms. Though educated at Eton, Harvard
and Tokyo universities, Birendra chose to
tread the traditionalist path of his father,
and modernised the institution of monarchy
only in name. Today the future of the Shah
line itself is under assault. From all we know,
the new king's father's experiments are
smarter than but otherwise not different horn
Apart from being the oldest state in
Southasia, Nepal is a large country in terms
of population. Though badly-bruised by the
decade-old conflict, it will survive the
present shake-up, and may even emerge
stronger for it. But should a fate similar to
that of Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot districts
- in all roughly the size of Bhutan - befall
Druk Yul, it is doubtful whether the country
would emerge as tenable a state. Had it been
just the future of Bhutan that were at stake,
there would not have been as much cause
for alarm. After all, mountains
did not move in the wake of
the politically' engineered
annexation of Sikkim. into the
Indian Union. But there are
at least two dimensions that
make Bhutan a test case for
tolerance of diversity in the
Southasian region.
First, the risk of democratic struggles in
Bhutan being construed as Buddhist-Hindu
confrontations is extremely high. It has
happened before in Sri Lanka. Unaware of
regional complexities, neo-Buddhists from
the West have been foolishly highlighting
religious angle in their dispatches on Bhutan
out of New Delhi. This is a danger that
Thinley Penjore, the president of the Druk
National Congress, takes pains to point out
to anybody who listens. He is one of few
Drukpas to have chosen self-exile, and
worries about the consequences of portraying
a political struggle in black-and-white terms
of racial conflict. Even though he knows that
what the Thimphu regime has done is
nothing less than ethnic cleansing, he tries
to highlight the plight of every Bhutani
national under an autocratic monarch.
Second, there is a long history of
voluntary migration in Southasia. Faced
with political, cultural, economic or natural
hardships, people have for centuries moved
across all boundaries in the Subcontinent.
Nepali speakers in Burma, descendents of
Pathans in Bangladesh, Tamil plantation
labourers in Sri Lanka and the Kashmiris of
Kathmandu form the invisible threads that
bind this region together. But since a chain
is only as strong as its weakest link, a souring
of communal relations in Thimphu can
cause tremors in Thiruvananthapuram.
This is something that US diplomats, so keen
to provide simplistic success to the Jhapa
refugees, will not be able to understand
unless Maharastrian intellectuals explain it
to them: the experience of the Bombay blasts
had consequences for communal relations
in Gujarat. Tet the US diplomats understand
that national aspirations cannot be bought
by offers of ad-hoc resettlement policies.
During the last 12 months of political
developments in Nepal, the Indian political
elite has displayed a sense of maturity
seldom before seen. It remains to be seen
whether a similar sagaciousness will
end the ordeals of over 300,000 Lhotshampa
in all, and all Ngalongs and Sarchops
in Bhutan. ^
/ft    y,..;::: ■: i
2SSm7, ■■ Vs'   :
As the new
king ascends
th& throne, he
is exactly
where King
Birendra was
in 1974
Himal Southasian [ January 2007
HH I   Nandita Das      a tine actor of Hindi
H^2 (and    Marathi.    aind dither
^^P .X" 'regional') cinema, known for her
^E^T^^H down-home, dhoti-clad, rural /urban,
^^fc H lower-middle-class characters. Her
:Mf fl specialties are a bindi on the forehead,
k   ^m   ■ braided tresses, a frou n on her line
brow, and the camera invariably
catching her in harsh light. Essentially, your young
Shabana A/mi. But she does have an alter ego, who
dons a boy-cut hairdo, bare arms, and looks as svelte
and Western-urban as thev come in soft, indirect light.
To locate the chameleon in this lady, Chhetria Patrakar
had to go to the pages of the Karachi magazine,
Newsline. Das was in the city-by-the-sea to act in a film
directed bv Mchreen Jabbar, in which she played the
part of a Sindhi woman. So Xandita, will it be braids
and bindi once again?
Conde Mast, the LSD 2 billion publishing house, has
decided to make a grab for the Indian market,
announcing that it will put mags such as Vogue, CN
Traveler, Glamour and GQ on stands by next autumn,
for this, it has already hired ex-MTV chief Alex
Kuril villa as CF.O of Conde Nast India. Listen to the
guv, speaking to Financial Express: "The cover price [oi
V'ihjki'] will be over Rs, UK), so the segment we arc
targeting is niche. These people typically enjov fashion
and luxury and arc looking for a premium offering...
Aspirations are growing here and so is the market for
luxury brands... there has been a dumbing-down of
content because of a mass-market approach... Both
advertiser and consumer pressure, in my opinion, will
compel media houses in the country to bring
quality into their work. As international publishers
and brands make a beeline for India, I see the quality
ethic creeping into the system here." Smart man. He
will make much money.
>   This poignant picture of Lhotshampa
refugee kids being shielded from the
wrath of Tashichhodzong, the seat of the
Bhutani government, by a Christ-like
figure, comes as a New Year greeting
card    from    the    Lutheran    World
Federation, which  has supported
^ j    ,   ..."0.    i  refugees in the Jhapa camps for more
jP^"i, ytjr-T.'   than a decade and a half now. At a
A_> ,f Ikistf 7o
ijjJ \\-HUS?-:'""*" time when donor fatigue has caused
?■■""" so   many    supporters   to   evade   the
interminable refugee problem, LWT has remained
true to its motto, "Uphold the rights of the poor and
oppressed", bv not forgetting the Lhotshampas. The
image is bv Amit Subba of the refugee camp Beldangi-
II in Jhapa District, east Nepal.
Nai Duniua
fcT?3T?r el>f rRTTTT
breathless coverage of hig-monev media matters, have
lately been carrying upbeat, confident ads bv bullish
Hindi dailies of North and West India (UP and Bihar
still clearly lag behind). Read their boastful text, gawk
at their circulation
numbers (as certified
bv the National
Readership Survey
'06), and vou can just
taste their self-
assurance when these I nglish language ads, aimed at
Anglo media buyers and ad agency -wallahs, let them
know in no uncertain terms who's got the real power.
NaiDuiiia, out of Nagpur: "Finally, the truth has
prevailed. Nai Hun ia has added T42 lakh new readers
in the last one vear. With this phenomenal 44"<i growth,
the leading Hindi daily now officially has a total
readership of 1 1.07 lakhs. So, if vou want to be heard
loud and clear, vou know where to put your money."
Further on down in Impact, Dainik Bhaskar announces
in loud print that it has "I crore, 11 lac readers in
Rajasthan." Additionally, 56 percent of this 1 1.1 million
readership reads only Dainik Bhaskar. And about the
Bhaskar Punjab edition, in another full-pager, the
publishers announce, "There's a whole new Punjab
out there. A Punjab that's progressive and modern,
where the old and the new exist together in perfect
harmony. .And Dainik Bhaskar is proud to be the voice
of this new, multi-faceted state." The
energy these ads
exude confirms that
something is boiling
in the Hindi press,
and the Anglo press
had better be
watching out!
Dainik Bhaskar
From Dawn of Karachi, we have a report of extreme
harassment suffered by reporters in the tribal areas of
NWFP at the hands of the government authorities and
militants alike. These were journalists working in South
and North Waziristan, Mohmand, Orakzai, Khyber
and Kurram agencies and Darra Adam Khel. Three
journalists, Amir Nawab, Allah Noor and Hayatullah,
were killed recently, while others, including 'Shakir',
'Mujib' and Dilawar Wa/ir, narrowly escaped attempts
on their lives. Manv reporters have fled for the safety of
Peshawar, while others have left the profession
altogether. Some time ago, there were 28 journalists
working in South Waziristan and 25 in North
Waziristan, but today there are hardly any. Said a
journalist from North Waziristan: "The local Taliban
calls us spies while the political administration and
law-enforcement agencies do not let us report freely."
The pages of Impact, "the media, marketing and     Reporters sans Frontiers'"journalist of the Year" prize
advertising weekly" from Delhi, which usually provide    for 2006 was awarded on 12 December to 76-year-old
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Burmese journalist U Win Tin,
who was sentenced to 20 years
in prison for "subversion" and
"anti-government propaganda"
in 1989. After more than 17 years
in lnsein jail near Rangoon, he
refused to renounce his
commitment to the National
League for Democracy. A
political mentor of Aung San Suu
Kyi, U Win Tin's health is said to have been attenuated
by two heart attacks, hi 2001, this newest RSF laureate
was awarded the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World
Press Freedom Prize and the World Association of
Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom Award.
But what yvill the old man do with all these awards
in prison? What can be done to rescue him and
other great Burmese souls from the grip of the
dictatorial junta?
The November issue of the in-flight magazine of Air
India, Namaskar, proudly announced that the carrier
was unanimously selected "Best South Asian
Airline" by readers of the Travel Trade Gazette
periodical, with the award "given out at the glittering
17th annual travel awards ceremony by TTG Asia
Media in Pattay^a." Then C Patrakar went to the Jet
Airways website, and there it was again: "Jet Airways
has [been] voted India's best airline at the 17th Annual
Travel Awards 2006 function of TTG Travel Asia at
Pattaya." This required some head scratching. Hard
to believe that the Maharaja actually made tire grade,
given that we happen to know of other competent
airlines such as Sri Tankan, and including of course,
Jet. Also, what exactly is it that makes AI 'Southasian',
given that it serves more overseas destinations than
its own sister carrier Indian Airlines? And why is Jet
tlie best only in India, and not Southasia as a whole,
when it clearly outclasses every airline in terms of age
of fleet, in-flight service, khana, and so on? The
scratching continues.
Chhetria P is always tickled to find items that highlight
South India as an entity separate from the rest of the
country (though no separatist support intended - I
like India as it is, thank you). So here is a plug for the
South India Commercial Directory 2006. Available
for INR 524 as a CD-ROM, the directory has the dope
on 31,000 companies from the manufacturing, trading
and service sectors of this region, covering more than
a whopping 1000 categories. So for those who want
to expand their markets in South India, what are you
yvaiting for? Go for it! Might not be a bad idea for a
certain (and 'only') Southasian mag, eh?
was exhumed by filmmakers Tareque Masud and
Catherine Masud and converted into the acclaimed
documentary, 'Muktir Gaan' ('Song of Freedom'). On
15 December, ten years after it was first shown to wide
acclaim, the film was re-released in Dhaka. Said
Tareque Masud, "Our main aim is to present some
incidents of the liberation war before the young
people. We hope that they will be able to realise that
the war of our independence was a result of people's
united effort." Good show!
Valuable footage taken by American cameraman
Teonard Lear during the 1971 war, which languished
in his basement in New Jersey for a quarter century,
The country with the least inter-media civility in our
corner of the globe has to be Bangladesh. In the middle
of December, one media group accused the high
profile sister dailies Daily Star and Prothom Alo of land-
grabbing on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in downtown
Dhaka. The publishers of Star and Alo responded
credibly enough, reasoning that the deal was done
above-board. But this being Bangladesh, they had to
go one step further, claiming: "The campaign against
us is an attempt to protect the ill gotten wealth of Al-
Haj Mussadeq Ali Falu, Chairman and shareholder
of NTV, RTV and daily Amar Desh." So it was not
them, but in fact Mr Falu who abused access during
the tenure of the BNP rule, "taking full advantage of
his proximity and closeness to former Prime Minister
Khaleda Zia to amass huge amounts of personal
wealth, property and personal power." Then,
naturally, a columnist of Tlie New Nation of the Ittefaq
Group got into the mess, all high-sounding but having
his own axe to grind. After firstly declaring how such
"vitriolic, fanatical and baseless critique" debases
journalism as a whole, he went on to darkly claim
that the one "Bengali daily" involved in all tills was
staunchly AL-partisan, and itself took "recourse to
tendentious reporting and commentary towards
denigrating BNP, and advancing AL political
causes." And how could you have reached this far
without reference to the 'foreign hand'? Wrote the
columnist, "Tliere is a credible school of thought that
believes that the AL-partisan virulent tendentious
reporting is being carried out at the behest of a foreign
intelligence agency working towards seeing a
compliant AL government gain state power."
There is a lady of Indian origin who
did a space walk outside the space
shuttle Discovery the other day.
Tlie dailies of India then had a field
day, front-paging a very poor
photograph of Sunita Wrilliams
taken from space. But there yvas an
apparent lack of enthusiasm in the
press     of    the    neighbouring
Southasian countries. Such is the
level of nationalist parochialism we have achieved,
don't know who to thank for it.
- Chhetria Patrakar
Himal Southasian | January 2007
Six decades ago, when Zohra
Sehgal asked Prithviraj Kapoor
why his traveling theatre
company was called Prithvi Theatres,
in the plural, he explained that his
dream was to have a theatre in every
town in India. Today that dream may
remain unfulfilled, but Prithviraj's
vision has taken shape in a different
way - in the form of the Prithvi
Theatre in the suburban Bombay
neighbourhood of Juhu. Here, the
gates are never closed, and in fact
there are no gates to close. The
Prithvi Theatre, set up in 1978 by
Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendall,
hosts over 400 performances by
over 50 groups throughout the year,
providing them with complete
professional and technical facilities.
The policies of this intimate 200-
seat playhouse - its scaled leasing
practices and reasonable ticket    .
pricing - have long offered great
support to Bombay theatre. In all,
around 65,000 viewers come to see
plays at Prithvi every year, and not
just for the celebrated Irish coffees
at the theatre's cafe.
Three and a half years before
Independence, Prithviraj had started
a professional theatre company with
the motto Kala desh ki seva mein,
"Art in the service ofthe nation". With
2006 being Prithviraj's birth
centenary, this year the annual Prithvi
Festival adopted Prithviraj's motto
for its theme. For three weeks in
November, the festival brought
together 28 productions and 45
shows, as well as free platform
performances in the Prithvi courtyard
and discussion sessions with
playwrights. Spread over four venues
- the buzzing Prithvi stage itself, the
magical Horniman Circle Garden at
the other end of the city, the
amphitheatre at Land's End in
Bandra and the Yashwant (Matya
Mandir at Matunga-Dadar - the
festival kept the spirit of theatre
burning bright in Bombay,
But Kala desh ki seva mein is a
difficult motto to work with in 2006.
What do these words mean for us
today? "60 years down the line,"
wonder organisers Sanjna Kapoor
and Sameera Iyengar in the festival
bulletin, "what role do theatre artists
and their art play? What role do we
want to play, as theatrewallahs, as
citizens of this country?"
Some answers were provided in the
choice of productions hosted during
the festival. Take the Arpana theatre
company's "Cotton 56, Polyester
84", a play written by Ramu
Ra man atha n, translated by Chetan
Datar and directed by Sunil Shanbag.
This rich and textured story set in
Girangaon, Bombay's textile-mill
district, pays tribute to the labour of
the mill workers. The festival bulletin
quotes Parvatibai Mahadik, the
widow of such a worker, in
conversation with Hridaynath Jadhav,
who plays a mill worker in the
production: "My husband worked for
13 years before the mill closed
down. He would come home with
vegetables or fish, just like Bhau Rao
in the play. I would also examine his
dabba to see if he had eaten
everything. That's how my life was.
That's why I liked the play."
Another well-known Bombay play,
Manoj Joshi's "Shobhayatra", written
by Shafaat Khan and directed by
Ganesh Yadav, is a dark and
energetic romp through textbook and
contemporary history, "Kashinama"
by Usha Ganguly's troupe
Rangakarmee, inspired by Kashinath
Singh's "Pandey Kaun Kumati Tohe
Lage", is set in the ghats of Benaras
and is a paean to, in Ganguly's words,
the "shyness, simplicity,
carelessness" of this holiest of cities.
"Parkadal" ("The Milky Ocean"), a
Tamil play with English subtitles
performed by the young members of
the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, uses a
combination of different media,
theatrical as well as technological, to
tell the old story about the churning
of the ocean. P Rajagopal, the
director, explains his objective:
"Perhaps we - the collaborators in
this production which cuts across
ages, beliefs and backgrounds -
wanted to emphasise that, in spite of
'modernity', the universal themes of
peace, identity, responsibility, sharing
and compassion that enable life
have not really changed."
Other productions included Abhijat
Joshi's "Aanthma Taranu Akash",
Ahmedabad-based Fade In Theatre's
fresh and daring Prithvi debut;
Bangalore's young Harami Theatre's
"Butter and Mashed Banana", a wry
take on censorship;
"Bhagavadajjukam", by the Abhinaya
Theatre of Thiruvananthapuram, a
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 classical piece given a contemporary
treatment; Nilu Phule's lively tamasha
"Kunacha Kunala Mel Nahi!!!" and
Satish Alekar's "Mahanirvan". There
were also productions that attempted
a direct response to painful
contemporary issues such as
communal violence. "Hidden Fires",
written by Manjula Padmanabhan and
directed by Jayant Kripalani, was a
series of monologues that dealt with
the Gujarat riots: and "Kharaashein",
directed by Salim Arif, was based on
Gulzar's writings on communal riots.
In reference to the ironic silence after
the violence, the play reads:
No one was killed in the city.
They were only names. Murdered...
No one was beheaded
They were mere caps with heads
And this blood stream on the
From the voices slaughtered.
The high point ofthe entire festival,
however, was Kanhailal's classic
"Pebet" (See picture), performed by H
Sabitri and the Madras-based
Kalakshetra team in the dreamlike
venue of the Horniman Circle Garden.
In more than three decades of its
performance, the play has lost none
of its relevance or its angry intensity.
Folk-theatre legend Habib Tanvir led
the standing ovation at the end of the
riveting performance, For Kanhailal,
the play is part of his ongoing effort to
discover a new theatre in the
indigenous Manipuri context, "that
could shatter the ways of seeing
and doing of the city theatre
convention ... 'Pebet' was created for
the spirit of resistance that is
incarnated in the being of the actor
without assertion or ideology.''
This is now it was
A Tagore festival, brought to Bombay
in partnership with the Calcutta-based
Happenings, consisted of four plays:
Naya Theatre's "Raj-Rakt",
Sopanam's "Raja". Kalakshetra's
"Dakghar" and Trityo Sutra's
"Raktakarabi". Curated by Habib
Tanvir in Calcutta in August 2006, this
project, which attempts a rediscovery
of Tagore as a playwright,
brought together such celebrated
directors as H Kanhailal. K N
Panikkar and Tanvir himself.
"Raja", performed by the
Sopanam, is about a king who has
never been seen. Panikkar uses the
folk-ritualistic art form of Theyyam to
represent the king shrouded in
darkness. "Raj-Rakt", Naya Theatre s
most recent production, is a powerful
depiction of the struggle between
religious and secular power. By
adapting Tagore's 1890 play
"Visarjan" and melting it with his
1887 novel Rajarshi, Tanvir
dramatically restructured a play that
was flawed and difficult to perform
(both Tagore's and Shombhu Mitra's
ater stagings being considered
failures) to create a truly effective
dramatic collision between the will to
sacrifice and the will to preserve.
Kalakshetra's "Dakghar" is a
multilingual production in Manipuri,
Bengali, Assamese, Rabha. Bodo and
Tripuri. "Dakghar" became for
Kanhailal "an instinctive choice as it
depicts what it is to be natural with
nature and human with human
society ... Through destruction and
reconstruction of the text, I created a
performance text which centres
around the 'inner action' of the
actors, that leaps to 'controlled
ecstasy' in evocation of a
dream in tune with Tagore's
sensibility and aesthetics."
Not only the success of the
festival, but also the health of theatre
h India, can be gauged from the
sheer diversity and varied experience
of the theatre groups that
participated at the Prithvi festival.
The Rangakarmee troupe, for
instance, which has completed 30
years of existence this year, leads the
Hindi theatre presence in Calcutta.
Set up in 2002 as a residential
school for underprivileged rural
children, the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam
of Tamil Nadu seeks a balance
between maintaining the creative
spirit of the Kattaikkuttu theatre
tradition and finding ways to survive
in a changing world. And Manipur's
Kalakshetra, set up in 1969, is a
research theatre that has
continuously sought to create a new
theatre idiom - a physical language
based on sound and movement and
impelled by the force of live theatre
in its indigenous context. Based in
Imphal, the group has constantly
shifted locations within the city.
Since 1997, it has been working in
the Langol Laimanai neighbourhood,
where it now has its own land, with
kutcha sheds for office, work and
performance spaces,
Free platform performances ran
every night of the Prithvi festival.
These included songs by Nageen
Tanvir. performances of Naya
Theatre's Ponga Pandit and Sarak,
poetry readings by Naseeruddin
Shah, and renditions by the sweet-
voiced young choir of the Indian
People's Theatre Association.
The Prithvi festival is truly a
festive occasion, when Bombay
neighbourhoods are adorned with
paper lanterns, glittering masks,
silver and gold tissue, and many
welcoming faces. In a city of
punishing distances, and one where
so many things happen at once, the
festival is one of those events during
which members of the audience are
forced not only to make time for
theatre, but also to choose between
equally compelling productions that
are being performed on the same
evening in different parts of the city.
Invariably, impossibly, we make
the time. And then, when it is all
over - not only the crazy, exhausting,
zigzag commutes across town, but
also those intoxicating moments
when drama unfolds gloriously,
magically before one's eyes - we
begin to look forward to the next
year's festival. We recall the words
of Parvatibai. the mill worker's
widow, after she saw "Cotton/
Polyester": "I started crying while
watching the play. My friend asked
why I was crying, and I said, 'I see
everything - Bhau. his Muslim
friend, tne drinking, reading
newspapers, their son, the mother
who is afraid she will lose
everything.' I remembered my life ...
this is how it was." ~
Himal Southasian | January 2007
Politics of resource patriotism
Debates over questions of
livelihood, subsistence and
peoples' rights have figured
large in recent discourses on the
environment, both popular and
academic. This is a shift away
from previous debates, which had
been primarily concerned with
conservation, ecological balance and
sustainable development, and had
been triggered by the effects of
global warming and environmental
degradation. The current discussion
tends to place particular focus on
identity politics, especially in the form
of rights over nature and claims
over resources. These have been
articulated through various political
and cultural assertions, including
outright ethnic movements.
Ecological Nationalisms offers a
new way of understanding the
relationships between the concepts
of nature, nation and identity
in Southasia. Gunnel Cederlof, a
historian at Uppsala University in
Sweden, and K Sivaramakrishnan,
a professor of anthropology at
the University of Washington, have
chosen a host of contributors
that do much to redefine debates on
both environmental politics and
histories of the region. These
provide many interesting stories of
struggle over nature and natural
resources, and how these struggles
have been intertwined in claims of
national identity during the 19th and
20th centuries.
In the book's introduction,
"Claiming Nature for Making History",
the editors write that the aim of the
book is to explore "the relationship
of struggles over nature, and its
conservation, to issues of citizenship,
subjecthood and nationalism". By
redefining nature as "the space or
reference point for national
aspiration", they are able to blend the
concepts of nature and  nation.
Cederlof and Sivaramakrishnan
contend that claims of identity are
often made as political assertions to
legitimise rights over nature or land.
Emphasising that these are political
claims to territory, resources and "the
desire to maintain subsistence", they
argue that indigenist and traditionalist
claims cannot be dismissed as mere
"acts of strategic self-essentialising
cultural identity politics."
The editors define ecology as "the
interrelatedness of environment and
organism", and emphasise that the
concept of 'ecological nationalism'
involves a radical change in
the relationship between human
beings and the environment.
Elaborating on this concept, they
present two different types of
ecological nationalism - the
"metropolitan-secular" and the
"indigenist or regionalist". While the
former sees nature in terms of how it
could be used materially and
economically for the country, the
latter is a reaction by indigenous or
regional groups to such exploitative
practices of the state, or by
marginalised populations to global
capitalism's encroachment on their
lives and livelihoods.
The use of the term ecological
nationalism is apt, for it points out the
problematic nature of the current
academic division of 'nationalism'
into two main types. The first is 'civic
nationalism', in which membership in
the nation is determined by
citizenship of a territorial state. The
second is 'ethnic nationalism', in
which the nation is defined in terms
Ecological Nationalisms:
Nature, livelihoods, and identities
in South Asia
edited by Gunnel Cederlof and K
Permanent Black, 2006
of ethnicity. When it comes to
environment, civic nationalism is
associated with the metropolitan
secularists; this group tends to place
unitary nationalism above all else,
and align themselves with forms of
ecologism that reject a complex
web of sub-national claims and
rights to land and nature. Ethnic
nationalism, on the other hand,
is seen as providing "a space
where right-based identities are
produced in combination with place-
based identities mediated by claims
on nature,"
In national interest
Ecological Nationalisms is divided
into three sections. The first, "Regional
Natures, Nation and Empire", is
comprised of three essays, each of
which highlights how state
intervention is legitimised and how
this process destabilises the authority
of indigenous communities over
nature. Anthropologist Kathleen D
Morrison investigates the history of
interaction between hill and
plains people in the Western Ghats
during pre-and early colonial periods,.
and explores how claims to
resources were reflected in the
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 way in  which  distinct identities
formed and were sustained.
Cederlof then looks at two
decades (1820-1843) in the history
of the people of the Nilgiri hills.
He describes how this area was
gradually integrated into the British
administrative structures with an eye
towards providing "security and
prosperity", and how this has resulted
:n the dismantling of the local ethnic
Toda authority. The third essay, by
human geographer' Urs Geiser,
examines the environmental history
of the North-West Frontier Province,
focusing on the official forest
bureaucracy and its "century-old
discourses". Geiser demonstrates
how contemporary forest officials in
the NWFP justify and reproduce that
colonial discourse by stressing
the ecological importance of
sustainable management of forests,
while simultaneously emphasising
the 'national interest' to legitimise the
scientific management of those
forests. They ascribe the failure
of their so-called 'mission' to
'uninformed' people.
The book's second section is titled
"Competing Nationalisms", and
focuses on the relationship between
nature and nationalism. In this,
'nature' features as a point of
reference in the imagination and the
cultural construction of identity. One
example of this is the essay by
University of Sussex historian Vinita
Damodaran, which recounts the past
century-and-a-half of marginalisation
of the hill people of Chotanagpur in
Jharkhand, an area that in recent
decades has seen significant cultura
resistance. Damodaran contends
that, in the post-Independence era,
the projection of the Adivasi identity
versus that of diku (outsiders), and
the focus on a history of injustice,
have produced a symbolic landscape
of Chotanagpuri identity.
New Zealand anthropologist Antje
Linkenbach then examines two
relatively recent movements of protest
in Uttarakhand - the Chipko
movement, and the statewide
assertion for political autonomy and
separation from Uttar Pradesh.
According to this essay, territory and
resources play an important role
alongside culture and religion in the
formation of identity in Uttarakhand.
A similar argument is made by Bengt
G Karlsson, the director ofthe Nordic
Centre in India, who explores the
dynamics between forest and
community in Meghalaya. In the
Northeast, Karlsson writes, "the
politics of nature is intrinsically linked
to ethnic mobilisation and aspirations
for increased political autonomy."
Two Canadians. Claude A Garcia
and J P Pascal, then examine the
politics of a sacred forest in Kodagu
District in Kamataka. After a
systematic investigation of the
ecological character of the area, they
refute the idea that sacred groves are
environmentally virgin forests.
Instead, Garcia and Pascal note that
various stakeholders have very
different views of sacred forests: they
are alternately valued symbolically,
as resources and also simply as
"space". The authors conclude by
observing that sacred forests "merge
environment, history and religion",
and are fundamental in the
definition ofthe relationship between
man and nature.
Local knowledge
The final section in Ecological
Nationalisms is titled "Commodified
Nature and National Visions". The
four essays included here are
concerned with the confrontation
between the 'metropolitan-secularist'
and the 'indigenist or regionalist'
views on nature, as discussed above.
German social anthropologist Gotz
Hoeppe analyses the entrance of the
state into the lives of fishermen
in Kerala. Taking two cases,
Hoeppe looks at the contradictions
between the state's scientific
knowledge and the local knowledge
of the fishermen. He subsequently
concludes that, in both interventions,
the intimate local relationship
and indigenous knowledge with
nature is marginalised by the state's
scientific knowledge for the
exploitation of nature.
German anthropologist Wolfgang
Mey presents a fascinating historical
account of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
emphasising that the state's
definitions of development and
identity have excluded the hill people
in the national discourses on
history and identity. Sociologist
Sarah Southwold-Llewellyn then
analyses the cosmopolitan and
nativist claims of rights to the forests
in a village in the Hindukush
mountains, and illustrates how
ecology and access to resources
defines the conceptualisation of the
Pakhtun socio-political organisation
and identity. The section ends with
sociologist Nina Bhatt's interesting
analysis of the forest bureaucracy in
Nepal in the aftermath of absolute
monarchy and the advent of multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.
Bhatt examines the links between
national parks and national identity
through forest staff's understandings
of their roles as "stewards" or
"defenders" of national interests in
nature management through "hard
work [and] ... bravery". But, in the
changed context, Bhatt notes that the
"experience of the bureaucratic
subjectivity" suggests an ambiguity
regarding duties to the park and
duties to the country.
The importance and relevance of
Ecological Nationalisms lies in its
novel treatment and methodological
contribution to the current debate on
identity politics and ethnic
conflicts in Southasia. One point of
departure from earlier ethnic studies
is this work's addressing of the
problematic nature of 'nature'
and its related concepts in the
understanding of identity politics. The
conceptualisation of the relation of
struggle over nature, and the politics
of identity formation or 'national'
identity, is a significant breakthrough
in the study of ethnic politics. The
political landscape of Southasia is
dotted with diverse forms of ethnic
politics, and this book provides a new
approach in understanding this
complex scenario.
The interdisciplinary approach of
the book enabled the authors
to view and engage with such
diverse issues as livelihood,
nationhood, identity, subsistence,
conservation  and   politics.   From
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 historical, ethnographic, environmental, political-geographic and
political-economic perspectives, the
authors unearth the complexities and
relations of identity politics and
struggles over nature. Ecological
Nationalisms will be of great
service for both social scientists and
students of environmental conflicts
and identity politics, and will help
in leading to a greater understanding
of the nuances of contemporary
regional conflicts and politics. One
of the book's contributors poses
the question. "Can a journey into
[environmental]   history   help   us
understand, or grasp at least some of
the underlying dynamics of these
struggles?" This reviewer would
answer affirmatively, and would
strongly recommend this work for
students of politics, history, economics,
anthropology, sociology, ecology and
globalisation in Southasia.
Don't let the light go out
In 1981, the cinema theatre near
my home in Calcutta became a
mehfil-e-mushaira. At the end of
each show, majnoohs walked out of
the darkness humming tunes and
reciting ghazals. Muzaffar Ali's Umrao
Jaan allowed non-Urdu speakers to
revel in the richness of Urdu culture,
which most of us non-Muslims saw
as exotic and attractive, yet distant.
(Muslim culture would be further
rendered exotic in 1982 in two films,
Nikaah and Deedar-e-yaar.) These are
all films of decline, where a
supposedly homogenous Muslim
culture is rife with problems - some
easy to overcome (divorce rates), and
others intractable (the demise ofthe
kotha culture). The elegance of the
language thrilled many urbane
Indians, who enjoyed the patois but
felt uncomfortable with the working-
class and rural sections that actually
spoke it.
As Ali's movie thrilled, Biharsharif
burned. The local Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh chapter
provoked a major fight over cemetery
and, the first confrontation since
1945. The riot that ensued left many
dead, and inaugurated a new
dynamic in Indian politics. In the mid-
1980s. 60 riots shook the small
towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh.
Late   in   that   decade,   in   1987,
Anthems of Resistance:
A celebration of progressive Urdu
by Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir
Roli Books, 2006
Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana
(written by Rahi Masoom Raza)
entered the homes of millions of
people. All this prepared the terrain
for the rise of Hindutva. and for the
mayhem of the 1990s.
Umrao Jaan's lyricist Shahryar
anticipated this evolution, as the
courtesan travels to Faridabad. the
town that neighbours Ayodhya. and
sings. 'Teh kya jageh hai. doston."
What kind of place is this, friends9
With Anthems of Resistance. AN
Husain Mirand Raza Mir, two brothers
hailing from Hyderabad, in the
Deccan, come bearing a substantial
gift. Archaeologists of a lost sensibility,
they tear the wild foliage of
communal hatred aside and take us
to a promised land: this is not freedom
itself, but the articulation of revolution
by a generation of poets. The story
begins   in   1934,   at   a   Chinese
restaurant in London, where some of
the greatest artists of the day met to
found the Progressive Writers'
Association (PWA). Their unabashedly
modernist manifesto called upon
artists to "rescue literature and other
arts from the priestly, academic and
decadent classes in whose hands
they have degenerated so long: to
bring the arts into the closest touch
with the people: and to make them
the vital organs which wil! register the
actualities of life, as well as lead us
to the future."
The Urdu writers in the group
inaugurated a tradition known as
taraqqi-pasandi (progressivism), and
poets such as Firaq Gorakhpuri and
Josh Malihabadi wrote revolutionary
anthems to shake off the cobwebs of
custom for the creation of an
enlightened future. Majaz. in 1933.
offered "1917" as example:
Kohsaaron ki tarai se surkh aandhi
Jabaja aabaadiyon mein aag si lag
Aur is rang-e shafaq mein ba hazaraan
aab-o taab
Jagmagaaega vatan ki hurriyat ka
A red storm is approaching from over
the mountains
Sparking a fire in the settlements
And on this horizon, amidst a thousand
Shall shine the sun of our land's
The progressive writers, who
delved into the rich resource of the
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 Urdu language and the imagery of
Urdu poetry, delivered verse at a
prodigious rate. Duringthe 1930s and
1940s, there remained spaces for
poets to enthral (mostly male)
audiences, and to find their couplets
on the lips of millions who went in
search of freedom. These were, as Al
and Raza Mir put it, "anthems of
resistance". But from the start, they
came with equal parts hope and
disappointment. A decade after the
inauguration of the PWA, the
Subcontinent parted and the full
freedom of the socialist imagination
never happened. Sahir Ludhianvi
bemoaned the "same procession of
robbers", who now "wear new
clothes". Faiz Ahmed Faiz's evocative
"1947" poem begins wearily
and despondently, "Yefi daagh, daagh
ujaala, ye shab gazeeda sahar"
(This tarnished light, this ashen dawn),
and then asks, "Where did the
morning breeze come from, which
way did it depart?"
Cinema ghazals
Buttheirgrief did not last long. Ali and
Raza Mir tell us that the poets were
"disillusioned by the nation-state" -
although it seems from their own
evidence that they were merely
angered at the direction taken by the
new countries. Strong poems for the
Telengana fighters (from Makhdoom)
or against religious obscurantism
(from Kaifi Azmi) indicate that these
poets sought to throw in their lot
with the struggles of the people
to build a better world. Their
despondency did not remove them
from the fight - too much was at
stake. The claustrophobia of their
feudal society, the chimera of
capitalist freedom and the
frustrations of thwarted desire for
independence led them, as with
Sikandar from M S Sathyu's 1973
Garam Hawa, into the arms of the
communist and people's struggles.
Theirs is the tradition of song, the
ghazal. and it is fitting that the poets
found employment writing songs for
Hindi cinema. Sahir, Kaifi Azmi,
Majrooh and others took to the
medium with gusto. Pyaasa, from
1957, was the apex, with Sahir's red-
hot indictment of the political class:      Living tradition
Zara mulk ke rahbaron ko bulaao
Ye kooche. ye galiyaan, ye manzar
Jinhen naaz hai Hind par unko laao
Jinhen naaz hai Hind par voh kahaan
Go. fetch the leaders ofthe nation
Show them these streets, these lanes,
these sights
Summon ttiem, those who are proud of
Those who are proud of India, where
are they?
Currents that had borne this
generation of poets along and
extended their political horizon now
began to shift. Between 1947 and the
early 1970s, the dominant classes in
India were held back from self-exertion
by the clamp of secular, socialist
nationalism. The state did not move in
a communist direction, but it also did
not move toward full-fledged
market capitalism. The freedom
movement charged the government
with the regulation of license and the
sheltering of the indigent. By the
1970s, the freedom movement's
coalition exhausted its potential,
and its objective basis withered:
globalisation's lures smashed the
import-substitution industrialisation
model. The patriotism of the bottom
line dominated over forms of
national solidarity.
The thug was now as much a hero
as the outcast (Awara) and the
nherently socialist farmer (Do Bighaa
Zamin). Cinema's Muslim, for
instance, was not to be the exotic
nobleman or the nationalist partisan,
but rather the gangster's ruthless
henchman, the miyanbhai. Cinema's
music also withered. Repetitive beats
and meaningless lyrics pulsated
through storylines that reflected either
the pursuit of wealth or the
individualistic revenge of the slum
child. The poet no longer controlled the
yric, but was told to produce a set
piece. "It is like being told that a
grave has already been dug." Kaifi
Azmi grunted, "and now an
appropriately sized corpse has to be
found to fit in it."
As the progressives died, their
tradition appeared to die with them.
But Ali and Raza Mir point us in two
particular directions, from both sides
of the Indo-Pakistani border.
Pakistan's Kishwar Naheed and
India's Javed Akhtar, both born in the
early 1940s, are heirs ofthe tradition,
but marked by their different
locations. Anthems of Resistance
offers a chapter dedicated to the
work of the latter, who stands in for
an entire tradition. Akhtar commands
a large audience - not only because
he is one of the premier songwriters
for Hindi cinema, but also because
he has parlayed his success into a
poetry career. He does not mimic the
tradition that he comes from, but has
produced a style in keeping with the
modern age. A mirror placed before
the world shows it to be venal and
hypocritical. Akhtar also inherited the
tradition from his family (his father
wrote for the cinema, and his
maternal uncle was Majaz), and it was
perhaps irrelevant that the broader
culture had begun to turn away from
the mehfil arid its charms.
Kishwar Naheed, on the other
hand, worked within a different social
framework, where Urdu had not lost
its central place. Naheed and other
feminist poets (Femida Riyaz, Ishrat
Afreen, etc), Ali and Raza Mir
explain, "are the true inheritors of the
tradition of progressive poetry. Its
champions, and its trailblazers".
Pakistani arts cultivated that milieu,
and its social conditions produced its
poets. Zia-ul Huq's misogynist laws,
the disembowelment of Pakistani
civil society and the increased
militarisation of the state created the
objective conditions for sentiments
such as this, by Kishwar Naheed:
Yc hum gunahgaar auraten hain
Ke sach ka parcham utha ke niklen
Tojhoot se shaah-raahen ati mile hain
Hare  k  dahleez pe sazaaon   ki
daastaanen rakhi mile hain
Jo bol sakti theen voh zubaanen kati
mile hain
It is we sinful women
Who, when we emerge carrying aloft
Himal Southasian | January 2007
 the flag of truth
Find highways strewn with lies
Find tales of punishment placed at
every doorstep
Find tongues which could have spoken,
In May 2002, Kaifi Azmi passed
on. The fires from Gujarat continued
to smoulder, and the anguish of those
bitten by the snake of communalism
weighed heavily on progressive
hearts. A generation had passed
away, but its problems had been
bequeathed to another. The
generation of the PWA poets had
worked in an internationalist era
where poetry had been meaningful to
a broad segment of society; the same
could be said for Chile's Pablo Neruda
or Turkey's Nazim Hikmet. Now,
outside the lyrics of cinema music,
poetry does not command the kind
of mass audience that it once did.
Not for nothing, then, is Anthems
of Resistance a celebration - a
nostalgic look at a combative
tradition that no longer has a popular
appeal. The feminist poets of
Pakistan and Javed Akhtar's verse
continue the form of the Progressive
Writers' Association, but they cannot
have its impact on the broader culture.
The medium has shifted, and others.
in different media than poetry, will
carry forward the values of the PWA.
That is the hope of AN and Raza Mir's
evocative and powerful book. If not,
what kind of place is this, friends? &
Fluid dynamics:
A prediction for the 24th century
These are warning signs, the end of
the world is nigh.
- Kavita Pai, Turbulence
In a clue so cryptic as to
discourage even the doughtiest
crossword zealot, Turbulence,
the latest Reader from the New Delhi-
based new-media initiative Sarai,
gestures towards a fast-forward
future - one that has already arrived,
and is very chaotic. Dubbed "a
practice for and of a time that has
no name" by an editorial collective
based in Delhi and Amsterdam.
Turbulence is the sleekest, edgiest
and grittiest avatar yet of the Sarai
Reader Series.
Now in its sixth year, the Reader
has acquired a reputation of being
the wild child of the publishing
calendar. It has become known for
Sarai Reader 06:
edited by Monica Narula,
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Ravi
Sundaram, Jeebesh Bagchi
Awadhendra Sharan and
Geert Lovink
Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies, 2006
collections so ambitious and diverse
that each preface over the years has
included a defence of 'eclecticism' -
and every review has chosen to
comment on it. While proving that it
is possible to be both eclectic and
consistent, Turbulence seeks to push
the boundaries beyond a mere
celebration of communicative
diversity, by setting out to map terrain
that is, at times, unnerving.
The title of this new volume is
perhaps the most intriguing of any
Reader to date. Turbulence, as any
student of science knows, is a crucial
ii i»tm,i:\ci;
factor of fluid dynamics, and refers to
the opposite of the phenomenon of
'laminar flows' - an ordered flow of
fluid such that information about
future behaviour of that flow can be
predicted by determining the exact
nature ofthe present,
Turbulent flow, on the other hand,
while proceeding in the same general
direction as laminar flow, has
to contend with the additional
complexity of randomly fluctuating
velocities. A further engagement with
physics reveals deeper, more
profound, metaphors: turbulence is
the transition from order to disorder;
turbulence increases with an increase
in velocity; turbulence increases with
friction and gnttiness, and remains
one of the unsolved problems in
physics. However, it is by only the most
veiled of gestures - the cryptic clue
mentioned at the beginning of this
review - that Sarai Reader 06 reveals
its intention to serve as an atlas-cum-
almanac for the exact point of
transition into turbulence: 2300 AD.
This is, admittedly, a long shot. But
as the opening quote of art writer
Cedric Vincent's "Mapping the
Invisible: Notes on the reason of
conspiracy theories" states, "there is
January 2007 | Himal Southasian
 no such thing as a coincidence ...
Nothing happens in this universe ...
unless an entity wills it to happen."
Apart from signalling the dawn of the
24th century. 2300 also happens to
be the critical value of another
scientific term - the 'Reynolds'
constant', at which a fluid normally
shifts from laminar to turbulent flow.
Hence, 'Re 2300' is the point at which
turbulence is achieved in a fluid
system under normal conditions.
ideological and obdurate
Turbulence clarifies its intentions with
R Krishna's opening piece, "The Time
of Turbulence". From that point on,
the collection sucks the reader into a
compelling and chaotic world of
pirates, profiteers, hyper-textual
encounters and "modernity's fractally
germinating, ever questioning
bastards". Vincent's succinct
unpacking of the concept of the
conspiracy theory sits shoulder to
shoulder with anthropologist Michael
Taussig's excellent "Cement and
Speed" - a text that somehow speaks
simultaneously of the love of craft, the
violence of development, and the
collapse of time, space and distance.
The Reader itself is divided
into short sections that are both
internally coherent and
chronologically cohesive. Both
Taussig's and Vincent's texts are
found under the first section,
"Transformations". In the "Weather
Report" section, the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina lies alongside a
first-person account of the tsunami
that struck Southasia's southern
shores in 2004. A funeral party
mourning the killing of a 16-year-old
girl in Kashmir by security forces is
witness to the fury of the almighty in
"Zalzala", meaning 'earthquake'.
"Strange Days" is one of the most
engaging sections ofthe Reader, and
provides a historical context to the
present-day flux. Ground-level texture
from the ghadar of 1857 sits uneasily
alongside Bangladeshi journalist
Naeem Mohaiemen's account of the
deification and contested legacy of
Shiraj Sikder, the leader of
Bangladesh's violent leftist
Sharbahara Party. Meanwhile, Delhi
literature professor Debjani
Dengupta'stext is a narrative carefully
pieced together around the Direct
Action Day that took place in 1946
in Calcutta.
As with the Sarai Readers that
preceded it, Turbulence moves beyond
the purely textual, with images by Ravi
Aggarwal and Monica Nam la, among
others. "Like Cleopatra", a graphic
series by the Delhi- and Assam-based
artist Parismita Singh, stretches the
fabric of street-survival and alienation
to breaking point, as it builds a
seemingly innocuous narrative of life
in Delhi University's North Campus.
SaraJ Reader 06, like the rest ofthe
series, works precisely because the
contributions seem to have been
edited by a thoughtful and light hand.
Each text speaks out for itself,
unburdened by the baggage of its
neighbours. The Reader's single
underlying theme, if there is one, is
probably best summed up by Berlin-
based computer wizard Frank Rieger's
closing text. "If we don't enjoy taking
on the system, we will get tired ofthe
contest," he notes. "And they will win.
So instead of being angry, ideological
and obdurate, let's be funny, flexible
and creative." k
Regional Coordinator for
TVE (Television for the Environment), South Asia
(Based in New Delhi, 1 year with extension expected)
TVE is a UK based non-profit organisation which produces and distributes television and video
programmes on environment and development, working with a network of 44 partner
organisations in 41 countries.
TVE has seven Partners working in South Asia and we are offering a challenging opportunity to
the right person to co-ordinate TVE activities in the region. This is a new post and we are
looking for someone to act as representative for TVE in South Asia. The postholder will be .
responsible for fundraising activities, managing local projects, developing partnerships and
building TVE's presence and reputation in South Asia.
To be considered for this position, you must be a talented fundraiser and have experience of
raising funds for. and an understanding of media in, South Asia. Outstanding interpersonal
and communication skills are essential as is up to date knowledge of environment and
development issues. You must be self-motivated, with a high degree of initiative arid creativity
as well as able to lead and drive projects forward. Fluency in English is essential.
The post is based in New Delhi with remuneration of approximately SNR 1,200,000 gross p.a.
Initial interviews by telephone are scheduled for January 19th 2007 and final panel interviews
will be held in New Delhi on February 9th.
For an application form and further details, please call +44 (0)20 7901 S855 or email CVS will not be considered. Closing date for receipt of applications
is 8th January 2007.
TVE is an equal opportunity employer and appoints on merit and ability only.
Himal Southasian | January 2007
There is a particular way to eat pickle. You
reach for the earthen, porcelain or glass jar
standing on the shelf, and open the airtight
lid. First, let the oily, spicy aroma permeate your
olfactory nerve-endings; dig in with a spoon and
add the stuff to your daal-bhaat; and then ascend
towards heaven. This is how it has been since
time began in Southasia.
Cut to the seat 29D in cattle class, looking at the
poor specimen of roti and mutter-panecr
that the airline chef has deigned to
make part of your destiny this
afternoon on the Kathmandu-
Delhi flight. All of it pretty
bland, and the taste buds
unanimously send the
signal to the brain: "Pickle!
We want Pickle! Help us
tackle this loss!"
Brain gets the SOS.
Instructs eye. Eye scours the
tray for the piclde container, and finds the
guy trying to hide behind the bowl of raita,
staring up at you menacingly. Mixed Pickle,
produced by Merry Food (Rasulabad,
Allahabad-4), tries to sneak away. Grab it before it
jumps off the tray.
Next comes the challenge of opening the Mixed
Pickle container. Now, the opening of a small,
sealed plastic-and-foil container is just about as
far as you can get from the Southasian tradition -
nay, the very culture - of ingesting pickle. And it
doesn't help that this container is designed not to
be opened, as if the Rasulabad pickle-wallah were
afraid the secret selection of condiments would
become public knowledge if some brave
adventurer actually managed to break into the
strongbox and get at the innards.
Whoever thought the innocent act of eating
pickle would require the resilience of an explorer
in the deep Sahara? That is the level of
perseverance and mechanical acumen needed to
open this sachet (as some would call it, after Pan
Parag) of Mixed Pickle, mixed because it
contains 15 gm of seasonable vegetables, salt,
edible oil, chilly, mustard, fenugreek, turmeric, and
asafoetida powder.
There is supposed to be a flap here where it says
"Peel", but it is invariably impossible to locate,
howsoever many flights you fly and howsoever
many Mixed Pickle containers you are provided by
the airline catering department.
The very idea of peeling requires that there be a
section that can be lifted. It should be possible to
get a finger-nail in there, lift the flap, get more of a
hold on the foil, and pull it all the way back to
reveal the tablespoonful of masalafied mango-
citrus concoction within. But what do you do if the
flap is actually pasted firmly against the container
top, so that no act of peeling can possibly take
place? You can keep trying, and so the hour-and-
half flight is spent wrestling Mixed Pickle, while
Lucknow passes underneath starboard, and then
Faizabad, until it is time to prepare for landing and
stow one's tray.
* m * Tire point being made by
fVI fJCgjlj^j, way of this foray into
the technique and
frustrations of
opening pickle
sachets is that in
Southasia we
must either do
something well, or
not do it at all.
Getting an idea, or
setting the agenda, is
not enough. You have to
have the ability and willpower
to see the thing through. This rule of thumb goes
for any activity: driving a bus, conducting an
insurgency, being Prime Minister, running an
airline, or placing pickle into pickle containers near
the confluence of Jamuna and Ganga.
You, down there, in Rasulabad. Yes, you, Sir.
Can we have a show of Southasian genius by
ensuring that pickle is not only to be imagined to
exist inside a very fine-looking container? The idea
is to allow access, so that one can enjoy the
mouth-watering achar that you have doubtless
produced. Let us just get the technology of
unbolting sorted out. Jt
A On the way up
mi    Ull UIO Wl
January 2007 | Hima! Southasian
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